Archive for May, 2011

If you have been following along with my comments on transparency you might think the only big prize is owning the phone market or the tablet market or both. There’s another prize that’s very big. To understand it you need to take a look at PayPal. When I am online I like it when PayPal is a payment option. I don’t have to pull out my credit card. I just have to remember my PayPal login and I can complete my desired purchase. What if every transaction in the US went through two or three companies? This would be like a super PayPal. It wouldn’t just be online transactions but local purchases such as groceries, gas, clothes and dining.

It’s time for some simple math fun. April 2011 retail sales in the US were approximately $390B. One percent of that is $3.9B. If a company could get a third of this it would be $1.3B. That’s per month or $3.9B per quarter. This is only for the US. How do you get 1% of every transaction? You make them flow through your device. With NFC, the phone is the gateway to your credit card. When watching TV,  think GoogleTV or Apple TV. What if all you needed was one account with Google or Apple and you could cover all of your bills using your phone or your TV? This makes iTunes look puny. Don’t kid yourself, both Google and Apple are eyeing this. I suspect Microsoft is too but they are a bit late.

Amazon, a company I haven’t mentioned till now, sees this  too. Their solution has been to be the central online shopping site. However, remember how the Germans went around the Maginot Line? Remember how I said Apple and Google were doing a similar end around on the Wintel alliance? We could have another end around play here. Imagine your phone being your main device for purchases i.e. replacing your credit card. Apple and Google could move in on Visa and Mastercard. Now that they have you funneling your purchases through them it’s a small step to begin guiding those purchases. Think Apple App Store on a huge scale. Think of the Google Market Place but selling more than apps. Both of these companies are sitting on large amounts of cash and looking for ways to turn that into even larger revenue and profits. What can Amazon do? They can take a clue from their Kindle line. I don’t own a Kindle. However, there are Kindle apps on my laptop, my desktop, my phone and my tablet. When I buy ebooks my first choice is through Amazon. I don’t buy through iBooks because iBooks isn’t as broadly cross platform as Kindle. It’s that old transparency of data thing again. By buying through Kindle (Amazon) I can read the book on all of my devices. I read them where I want, when I want, and on the device I want to use.  Amazon needs to be the one company that will allow both your Apple device and your Android device to use the same account. At all cost they need to make sure the various platforms are open enough to allow them to be the central clearinghouse for your purchases. The same can be said for Mastercard and Visa. Those two companies dominate the landscape right now. However, fundamental changes are afoot and that always spells opportunity for others. For the first time Visa and Mastercard are vulnerable.

When will this take place? No time in the near future as far as the general public will see. However, the initial steps are being taken now. At first you will just place your credit card information in your phone and use it instead of the physical card. This is only slightly different from having Amazon store your credit card information with your account. From there it’s a small step to add extras to the Apple and Google app stores. Finally, Apple or Google issue you the credit line and push Visa and Mastercard out. They will be able to do this by offering incentives from the savings generated by not shipping Mastercard or Visa 2%.

Fragmentation in Your Face

Posted: May 12, 2011 in Apple, Google
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I thought I was done posting for today. Then I saw something in the Android Marketplace. I don’t own an Android phone so I don’t go roaming around market.android.com very often. I do however, think Netflix is a very influential company and that media streaming is where TV is headed. So, rummaging around I found this:

Get Netflix on your Android phone. Just download this free app and you can instantly watch TV shows & movies streaming from Netflix.

• It’s part of your Netflix unlimited membership. Not a Netflix member? Start your FREE trial today.
• Watch as often as you want.
• Resume watching where you left off on your TV or computer.
• Browse movies and manage your instant Queue right from your phone.

Currently Netflix playback is supported on the following phones:

• HTC Incredible with Android 2.2
• HTC Nexus One with Android 2.2, 2.3
• HTC Evo 4G with Android 2.2
• HTC G2 with Android 2.2 
• Samsung Nexus S with Android 2.3

You can click the link if you must but the key info is above. What struck me was the limited number of devices. Now I use an iPhone. There are certainly apps that won’t work with older iPhones but most do. Besides Apple users are expected to upgrade every two to four years anyway <BG>. What strikes me about the above listing is how many recently introduced Android phones aren’t listed. Shouldn’t any Android phone introduced in the last two years automatically be on this list? This is a big issue for Android. The Android brand needs to mean something. It’s OK to say any phone with Android 2.2 or later. The key should be the ANY PHONE part. If you can run a certain version of the OS then you should be able to run the app if your phone is a relatively new one. Now I suspect that may really be the case but the fact that it isn’t stated that way on the app store is a problem. Maybe it could say Android 2.2. and 1.0GHZ processor or faster and 512MB RAM. That’s a bit of a pain but it is generic. That’s what happens in PC land. What if every PC program had to have a model list that you checked to see if it would run on your machine? Crazy right? Fragmentation is a real issue for Google and the Android brand.


I’m going to go out on a limb and make some suggestions to Apple. As their recent meager earnings and growth show, they really need my advice.

Apple TV needs to be transformed. Start by allowing apps to run on it. The goal should be to make it a casual gaming platform. Card games would work especially well. The TV would show the overall table. Each player would view his hand on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. A simple controller could be developed and sold for people without the above devices. The key is that this would integrate the Apple community of devices. iOS devices have already reached a portable gaming market share that challenges Nintendo DS.  It’s time for Apple TV to attack the Wii.

As the trends of transparency and convergence move forward it is going to be more and more important that moving from device to device is seamless. iOS on Apple TV needs to be the same overall as iOS on the iPad etc.

I said Apple TV needs to be transformed. That includes the hardware form factor. The present product is fine as an add-on device. However, GoogleTV is a big threat and the largest threat will be from TV manufacturers integrating GoogleTV into their TV sets. That will remove a lot of the value of getting an Apple TV device. This presents a dilemma. How does Apple retain total control of Apple TV, including the hardware, while attacking GoogleTV. The answer is to build a version of Apple TV in a slim card format that can be installed in a standardized slot on a TV. The manufacturer will get to advertise “Apple TV inside.” Apple will get to control the hardware and software. Furthermore, while TV sets have long replacement cycles, Apple will still be able to tempt consumers to update their Apple TV card every two to four years at a $99 cost. As GoogleTV gets built inside of TV’s this will be an issue for Google. We already see that the original Android phones can’t run the newest releases of Android.

When OSX and iOS merge, Apple will have a single solution across desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, and TV. Furthermore, most of their solution will fit the model of upgrading every two to four years. That not only generates increased revenue but it allows the software to move forward without being hampered by legacy device issues. Microsoft has been hindered by the need to have Windows run on old hardware. This has been less of an issue for Apple. Apple should work to maintain that advantage.

Eventually the content on your phone will link to your TV. Video calls will transfer seamlessly from device to device. The winning companies will be the ones that generate an integrated and transparent ecosystem of devices. Apple has a tremendous opportunity here. The iPhone and iPad are seamless to move between. OSX, with the introduction of Lion, will look more like iOS. That leaves the TV. Apple can certainly position the iMac as a TV. However, that market will be small compared to the TV market as a whole. They will be in danger of being overwhelmed by GoogleTV. Today companies like Panasonic offer their own, proprietary internet connectivity solutions. In the future they will look to go with a mainstream third party solution. Apple needs to make sure they are a big portion of the solution.

Apple TV has been almost a hobby device for Apple. That is changing. It’s time for Apple to see how important it is to make Apple TV become the standard for TV connection to the internet. Eventually it become a streaming media world. As convergence progresses the DVD player will disappear as will the set top box. The game console will disappear too. There will just be the TV. Apple needs to make sure they are in that TV.

Nit Picks for Apple

Posted: May 12, 2011 in Apple
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Here are some small things I would like to see Apple change.

  1. Make printing in OSX consistent across apps. I can print to a PDF in Preview but not from iPhoto and not if I select a file in Finder and then select Print.
  2. Make printing return addresses easier. You can easily print contacts to address labels but you can’t fill a sheet of address labels with one contact. This makes printing a bunch of return address labels very frustrating.
  3. Allow placing the menu bar on individual windows like in Windows. Being in a window on the lower right of a 30” monitor makes it a pain to go all the way to the upper left of the monitor to get to File Print.
  4. Make it so iTunes uses the Pictures, Music and Movies directories and create a new standard directory named Books. Use these. If possible make iPhoto use them too.
  5. Add automatic backup to iWorks applications.
  6. Allow access to a directory structure in iOS. At the least generate a Documents directory and allow access to it and the creation of subdirectories. I should be able to save a PDF and open it with multiple programs. Similarly, when a web site wants me to upload a fie I should be able to place the file in Documents and then select it for upload using the website’s interface.

Near field communications, NFC, is about to be a big deal. NFC is a very short range radio link which can read passive tags such as RFID tags on items. Two active devices can share data similar to syncing devices. An example might be transferring contact information or sharing a document. Rather than repeat a lot I’ll let you read the Wikipedia entry here. Other interesting applications include letting your phone be the key for your car or allowing your phone to use stored credit card information to check out at the supermarket. NFC is key to the phone becoming the central convergence device. As I keep saying, convergence is big; very, very big. It will take longer (think many years) but the phone will become your house keys too. The idea is to eliminate all of those separate items you load into your pocket and wallet. I am not claiming that everything will be eliminated but it will be thinned down. This is powerful stuff and I expect to see the phone s credit card becoming mainstream soon. There has been speculation that iPhone 5 will support NFC. If it doesn’t then iPhone 6 definitely will. Ice Cream Sandwich, the upcoming unification version of Android, hs NFC support including something Google calls 0-click. This shows that Google is actively working on transparent usage models. The potential, and the danger are large. Security will be an issue with the usage model having to make sure that things that you don’t want to happen don’t happen inadvertently. For instance, you might not want someone to have your phone number. Still, the attraction will be overwhelming. Take a look at this “How to NFC” presentation from Google I/O 2011. It’s a long video so, if you aren’t a developer,  jump to the 6 minute mark but be sure to watch through the 17 minute mark.

This is transparency coming to your life and it’s just a start. What Google is showing is the basic enabling interface technology along with a few demo applications. Developers will take this and run with it.

The financial impetus for this is huge. Think PayPal. What if every credit card transaction went through the iTunes store or through Google with Apple or Google taking a very minor piece of the financial action? The numbers are staggering. With huge dollars at play expect a long term battle to be your NFC transaction supplier.

One reason Windows won over the Mac was broad hardware support. Anyone looking at the variety of Android phones and tablets will see the same thing being done by Google. There is another area that Microsoft attacked as well and that is peripheral support. At Google I/O 2011, Google announced support for Arduino based peripherals. If you aren’t familiar with Arduino, it is a flexible, if simple, platform that is easy to work with and very popular in the hobbyist community. This should allow for quick and easy development of a lot of Android peripherals. Check out the Android Open Accessory Development Kit by clicking here.

As reported by VR-Zone, it looks like Intel’s upcoming Cedarview Atom platform will sport PowerVR graphics from Imagination Technologies. This is a big deal. PowerVR is also used in Apple’s chips that power the iPhone and iPad. PowerVR is set to be the standard for graphics across a broad range of hardware. This will make it difficult for other technologies to enter the space as PowerVR becomes the industry standard. The loser here is Intel. For Cedarview, they are passing over their own graphics technology in favor of PowerVR. That means paying royalties to Imagination Technologies. One of those cracks in Intel’s armor just got a little bigger.

The main trends I keep coming back to are convergence and transparency. Google is holding Google I/O 2011 and these trends are front and center. There is a lot to cover. To start, let’s talk about Ice Cream Sandwich. No, not the dessert but the update to Android. As I mentioned after looking at the Xoom, a problem with Android tablets is that they are more than a little divorced from the Android phone experience. Ice Cream Sandwich solves that by bringing a lot of the tablet features to the phone. This gets Google back on track and makes them a serious threat to Apple. Goole seems to finally recognize that, while variety may be the spice of life, variety, in the form of platform fragmentation, is also the enemy of convergence and transparency. Fragmentation of the Android platform is a big problem but Ice Cream Sandwich is a big step toward reducing fragmentation. That means a common user experience between an Android phone and an Android tablet. This is a hallmark of Apple’s iOS. Absent from all of this is Microsoft.

Lesson of the Week

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Apple, iPad
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“Save your work.” I have given that advice more times than I can remember. I should have taken my own advice. I had a couple of topics ready to post today. I wrote them yesterday and figured I would read them over this morning. Late yesterday I went to update my iPad from 4.3.2 to 4.3.3. This is a minor update that has been giving me fits. Yet again the update failed. I called AppleCare and was told I had to completely uninstall Norton 360. It seems Norton was keeping my Mac from communicating with Apple’s server. It made sense so I uninstalled Norton. A reboot was required. I was very good about shutting down Windows and then Parallels before the reboot. Unfortunately, the problem is still there. This morning I went to reread the blog posts I created yesterday. They weren’t there. I had forgotten to save my work. Not to worry I thought. There should be a recovery file. Well, there isn’t. Recently I have been using Pages instead of Word. While less full featured it is cleaner and easier to use for the simple work I have been doing. It seems it lacks the autosave feature of Word. There is no recovery file. Crud. Lesson learned. There is a program, Foreversave, that fixes this but this feature should be a part of all of the iWork applications. Gripe about Microsoft if you will but their Office line dominates its market for a reason.

The old school model has been data everywhere and in its proper place. This directly relates to an old world paper model. Whether at home or at work each bit of data had a place. There was a file folder, nicely labeled, and placed in a drawer. That’s why, when you go to the doctor, you get to write the same information down several times on different sheets of paper. Each sheet has a purpose and a location it will get filed into.  As we have moved into the computer age we have carried this model with us. There was data on the desktop at work, data on the desktop at home, data on the file server and data on the laptop; oh, and data on the phone.

Lo and behold we found that, sometimes, data wasn’t where we wanted it. The first solution was manual transfer. I mean a really manual transfer. We would write data on a piece of paper and enter it back into another computer. Some people still do this when moving contacts from their desktop to their phone. This was replaced by sneaker-net where data was copied onto a storage medium and then read back in on another computer.  First there was the floppy disk and today there is the USB thumb drive. Next came the network. Finally data was easy to move. That is it was easy as long as you were on the net.

The problem was that home wasn’t connected to work nor was the hotel room connected to either one. This was attacked via remote logins and by sending email messages with files attached. However, attachment file size limits have made email problematic for the transfer of large files. FTP transfers had no such limitation but were cumbersome. Another attempt, still widely used today, is syncing. You sync your iPhone and iPad to your home computer so your songs and data travel with you. Less successful have been attempts to sync laptops to your desktop. The latest attempts at fixing this issue have been Dropbox, Yousendit, MobileMe, Windows Live Mesh and Live Sync. These help and are the first steps towards a cloud computing solution. Well, technically, Live Sync and Yousendit aren’t cloud based but I see them as very related. Live Sync can be viewed as a peer to peer extension of classic synchronization software but it feels closer to the cloud solutions when you use it. Actually, Dropbox, MobileMe, and Windows Live Mesh are really a merging of synchronization and cloud services. Synchronization has the advantage of maintaining a local copy so work can continue smoothly when the network is down or slow. The cloud aspect means that you can access your data even when you are away from a machine that is being synchronized. As an example, if a PICTURES folder is on the MobileMe iDisk, under the Dropbox folder, or is selected for Windows Live Mesh, the content in PICTURES can be accessed from a friend’s web browser with the proper login. Sharing content with others is also fairly straightforward. If you haven’t used these services be sure to try them. All but MobileMe are free at the basic level. MobileMe is about to get a major change so hold off on it till you see what the changes bring.

What we are seeing is the rising importance of transparency. In this case it is transparent data access. We want our pictures, music, movies and documents whenever we decide to view them, wherever we happen to be, and using whatever device is handy at the moment. The methods above aren’t totally transparent but they are a big improvement. When I got my iPhone, I left the Apple store with email, contacts and my calendar on my phone. Today, between my laptop, iPad and iPhone, a contact, calendar event or email added to one appears on all of the others.  If need be, I can access it all through a web browser on any machine with web access. Key files, including the document I am editing now, are synchronized across devices as well as being stored in the cloud. What we are seeing is the beginning of data transparency. There is a lot more to be done. In the end you won’t think about where your data is.

Recall what I said about major trends. Do the approaches above seem too similar? Is transparency just a minor trend that seems major? Was I wrong about trends and is this a case of one with a clear development path?  The answer is no to all of the above. There are other directions to data transparency.

Look at the RIM Playbook.Its Blackberry Bridge technology takes a different approach to transparency by tethering the Playbook to a Blackberry phone. One advantage of this is a single data connection, and hence a single expense, for both the phone and the tablet. By definition email is in sync since email is really through the phone at all times.  A big problem with this is that the tablet becomes tethered to the phone in such a strong way that it is no longer a separate device.

Need another direction? Look at the Motorola Atrix with its laptop dock. In this case the laptop is just an accessory screen and keyboard for the phone. Like the Playbook, the laptop is worthless without the phone. For some reason I don’t see that as a major problem. However, layz person that I am, I dislike the idea of having to plug and unplug the phone from the laptop accessory.

Yet another approach was outlined by HP CTO Phil McKinney here. He describes the Fossil Metal Watch which will allow you to carry your data with you.  All of your devices connect to the watch for data access. One problem, among several, is that a lot of people don’t wear a watch anymore. Furthermore, the watch screen is useless for data access. This means that you must, at the minimum, carry a phone in order to have access to a useful screen. Since you are carrying the phone anyway, why not just build the ability to be the data hub into the phone? In reality, that is what is going to happen.

So, what is the final answer? All of the above or at least parts of all of the above will survive the cut. The cloud will become very important and syncing will hang around. Rather than wearing a watch with our data stored on it, we will carry our phones. The phone will move from being an accessory to the laptop to being the main computing device with the laptop as an accessory. The current iPhone has 32GB of storage. It won’t be long until 1TB will be the standard. At that point there will be enough storage for the phone to be the primary data store. But, there will still be a need for offline storage. Also, there is the need to make sure critical data is backed up. That means syncing will stay around. This also means a cloud services component. Cloud services will allow access when the device isn’t with you and the sharing of files with friends. Mixing syncing with cloud services will mean gaining access to you apps and songs and OS updates without resorting to a PC. Expect to see iTunes move more completely to the cloud very soon i.e. in the next few months. What about the Atrix type device? My problem with the Atrix is that I am lazy and I think others are too. I don’t want to take out my phone and plug it in. Instead, I want it to link wirelessly to a keyboard-screen combination. Imagine going home and sitting at your computer. It lights up with what you were working on last. You get up and walk away. The screen goes blank. When you get to work and sit down the screen lights up again with what you were working on. A quick click of a mouse button switches the device to your work configuration and you are on your way. Your tablet will link to your phone to transparently gain access to your data. The same will be true for your TV. Imagine a video call on your phone. You sit down, tap an icon on your phone and the call is transferred to your TV so the entire family can see and talk to Grandma. Wherever we are, we will use the device that suits us at the moment. That device will have immediate access to all of our data. We will move from device to device easily even when we are in the middl of a task. The companies that best develop and integrate with this ecosystem win.