Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

IntoNow

Posted: August 1, 2012 in Apple, iPad, Smartpone
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If you like Shazam or SoundHound, you might find another app, IntoNow, interesting. It listens to the sound from your TV and figures out what you are watching. It then presents you with various information relative to the program. I tried it last night and it handled the easy task of figuring out I was watching the Olympics. Among the information offered was current medal count. Supposedly IntoNow can also identify songs that are on TV. I haven’t tried that yet but so far this is one of the more interesting apps I have run across in the past few weeks. IntoNow for iPhone/ipad is free  so give it a try and post back with your thoughts.

At WWDC we got another chance to see Tim Cook in action. Steve Jobs was always the master presenter and many had wondered how Apple would fare with Cook at the helm of events like WWDC. This year’s event brought us iOS 6, OSX Mountain Lion, MacBook Pro with Retina Display and some minor updates to other Apple hardware. By the time it was all done I was in lust wanting the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I can’t wait for Mountain Lion or iOS 6. Why? Heck I don’t know. I’m sure, however, that it will be great.

As time has passed I realize I can live with my old laptop another year and Mountain Lion and iOS6 will be nice when they get here but I’m doing just fine right now.  You have to admire how great a show Apple puts on. It is polished and has enough hype to excite but not so much that you stop believing. All in all a masterful job and Cook is keeping the tradition alive.

When it comes to Tim Cook at WWDC a few things thing stood out. He didn’t try to be Steve Jobs. He didn’t say “insanely great” every other sentence. He was himself while at the same time being a long term Apple employee. He exuded the culture. He was calm and confident but dressed down. Without mimicking his predecessor, the feeling that great things were being shown emanated from him. Color me impressed.

Oh how Steve Balmer needs lessons from the Apple book on giving presentations. Shortly after WWDC, Microsoft called a meeting to introduce the Surface line of tablets. Balmer looked like a person with a losing hand trying to make people believe it was great. The sad thing is that the Microsoft announcement had more meat than Apple’s WWDC event. Some of the other presenters were pretty good. The point was driven home about seeking perfection in even the small things such as how the stand sounds when you close it. That, however, just served to highlight how important the master of ceremonies is at these things. Every time the event turned back to Balmer, it was like a chill fell over the presentation.  What was needed was a Steve Jobs clone telling me how insanely great this was and making me feel that my life was going to be different because of it. It need someone who could make me believe. Balmer made me lose faith. What is sad is that, in hindsight, the Microsoft announcement is major and has long term implications including putting pressure on Apple and Google. I’ll discuss why in later posts. This post is about form over substance.

One final thought involves the effect this has on the press. After WWDC the press was mostly positive. There was disappointment at no MacBook Airs with Retina Display and some discussion that the rest of the updated MacBook Pro line was a stop gap measure. All of this was done with what Apple would consider appropriate reverence and the tone was, overall, very Apple fanboy in nature. Compare that to the Microsoft Surface announcement which led to many skeptical articles with everything being dissected – power, RT incompatibility, product line confusion, display resolution etc. Where are the raves? It seems to come down to nothing more than the fact that Microsoft isn’t cool and Apple is.

This is certainly a belated post. I have been meaning to write it for many months but kept getting distracted. CES came and went with little that was earth shattering but a lot that was incremental. TV’s are more connected than ever while also getting bigger and thinner. Computers are slimmer and faster. The Macbook Air line is finally getting some serious competition but the pricing appears to be less than stellar. Here is a case where the Apple tax may be less than people suspect. SSD’s are slowly replacing hard drives and SSD speeds continue to increase. If you haven’t replaced your main hard drive with an SSD then you are in for a treat along with the concomitant blow to your wallet. Tablets are rushing forward. Vastly lower pricing should open tablets up to many more people and cause Android market share to surge. NFC is moving forward and uses are expanding. By 2013 I expect most top end smartphones will support NFC and that includes Apple.

There was, however, one area that brought a small amount of excitement – automotive. I have blogged before about Ford and their moves forward. There is a summary of the automotive announcements at Engadget so I won’t repeat a lot of it here. In general, phones, especially the iPhone, are being better integrated into automobiles and the move towards running apps on the automobile’s systems gets closer to reality. Right now most apps are proprietary but their numbers are increasing. Automobiles are getting more tightly connected to the web with the ability to send data between car and home. Back in 2009 GM and Ford announced that they intended to build Android cars. Here it is 2012 and we are still waiting but things are moving forward. The Chinese are there with the Roewe 350. Ford, GM, Mercedes et. al. are moving closer. In the end transparency of use and data will prevail and the automobile will merge seamlessly with the phone, TV and tablet.

I decided to read the biography of Steve Jobs. Because it was Steve Jobs’ biography, it seemed appropriate to use iBooks. This was my first experience downloading and reading a large book in iBooks. I had previously used iBooks for a number of PDF files so I was familiar with the program and I viewed it positively.

The book itself was fascinating. I give it an A-. It is extensive and comes across as balanced. The main downside involves keeping track of timelines. When the author covers Jobs’s romantic life, the timeline being discussed overlaps the timelines previously covered. I wish there had been a graph showing how the events from different areas of Jobs’s life lined up. Other than that it was an enjoyable and informative read. I won’t cover what was in the book. Buy it and read it. The author did a better job than I ever could.

One of the themes in the book was Jobs’s obsession with creating a consistent and cohesive user experience. Here is where I ran into a problem with iBooks. As mentioned above, the book was an interesting read. I got engrossed in it one day and found the battery on my iPad running low. I decided to charge the iPad and continue reading on my Macbook Pro. Imagine my surprise when I found out you can’t read an iBook on a Macbook Pro. Had I bought the book through Amazon and used the Kindle app I would have been fine. There are Kindle apps for iPhone, iPad, Android (tablet and phone), PC and, yes my dear readers, Macs. Apple needs to fix this immediately. It runs counter to the Apple philosophy and strikes me as glaringly inconsistent. While I think it would be in Apple’s best interest to release iBooks for the PC (but not Android), it is absolutely necessary to at least release it for OSX i.e. Mac. Right now I am advising everyone to stick with Kindle. There are too many reasons to want to be able to read a book on your laptop or desktop computer.

Reading the biography reminded me of my days selling Apple computers. It was 1978 and I was a graduate student in the physics department at Louisiana State University. To earn some extra money, I had taken a part time job at a small store called The Computer Place. It was a lot of fun. We sold Apple II and Commodore Pet computers and later added the Atari 400 and 800 with the Apple II being the big seller. I still have the old Apple II Red Book owner’s manual. I learned the rudiments of Basic, Pascal and Lisp while playing on the computers and solving customer problems. It was a time when the games that came with the Apple II were named Breakout and Star Trek. Only later would Apple be contacted regarding trademark and copyright violations. One Saturday I was trying to answer a customer’s question and was stuck. I decided to call Apple. Steve Jobs answered the phone. He was cordial and answered my question. What that question was I don’t remember. I do remember being impressed that Jobs was there on a Saturday and that he had answered my question as if I was a big time customer. That’s the only contact I ever had with Steve Jobs and it was a very short and minor moment but a fond memory just the same. Little did I know then that I would later be involved in a Silicon Valley startup, Cypress Semiconductor, and have my own up close and personal set of experiences with an intense and focused CEO i.e. one T. J. Rogers. However, that, as they say, is another story.

RIM Keeps Falling

Posted: December 3, 2011 in Android, Apple, Google, RIM, Tablet
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I was never impressed with the RIM Playbook. I guess others weren’t either. RIM has written off a lot of the inventory as the Playbook continues to have dismal sales figures and has to be heavily discounted to move. HP and RIM are losers in the tablet wars but the implications for RIM are bigger. The smartphone and the tablet are becoming tightly linked. With a failing ecosystem surrounding it, the Blackberry is in danger. Never mind the good Blackberry sales mentioned in the link above; the future looks gloomy. Just look at the latest market share data:

Google (Android) and Apple (iOS) are gaining market share at RIM’s expense. RIM is now a distant third and I don’t see the trend reversing.

 

While there was some buzz, I wonder if most people fully understand the meaning of Google’s announcement that they will no longer support the GMAIL app for Blackberry. HP has already exited the mobile battle (phones and tablets). The Google announcement shows how far RIM has fallen. RIM’s tablet is a non-starter. iOS5 adds a lot of the functionality of BBM. You have to ask yourself what makes Blackberry special. If Blackberry is just another smartphone then Android and iOS are more compelling. Apple has broken RIM’s hold on the corporate world. That wall has been breached. I wish I had good advice for RIM but it may be too late.

Steve Jobs may be gone but his influence continues. The latest sign is Adobe’s announcement that Flash is dead. OK, the actual comment in their blog post says they will no longer develop Adobe Flash for mobile platforms. In reality this means that Flash will die. Mobile platforms are reaching dominance so exiting the mobile market will effectively kill Flash.

Steve hated Flash and its absence from the iPad and iPhone is the root cause of the announcement of Adobe’s exit from the mobile Flash market. This is a big victory for Apple. The lack of Flash on iOS devices has been one reason to pick Android. It can be very frustrating browsing a web site and not begin able to view content due to a lack of Flash support in iOS. However, sites will almost certain shift to HTML5 so it is only a matter of time before Flash is irrelevant.

First and foremost Apple sells a polished user experience. Apple sweats the details. From the moment you walk into the store the experience is polished and first rate. Unboxing your purchase continues the experience. Even Apple’s service group, AppleCare, is different. You get lots of attention from people who know what they are doing. Apple hardware has a lot of refinement. The OS feel is consistent and people consistently talk about Apple products as intuitive and easy to use.

I have written about convergence and transparency. These two trends play right into Apple’s strengths. Apple is selling more and more laptops because people have purchased iPhones. People who have purchased iPads are now buying iPhones. The release of OSX Lion moves the laptop closer to iOS. The iPhone and the iPad use the same OS. This means transparency of use. But, for the first time, I see Apple moving backwards. Their new policy requires that Apple receive 30% of any in-app purchase. I can see how Apple reached this point. Games would be offered for free in the Apple App Store. Once you started playing the game, you found out you had to do an in-app purchase to go beyond level 3. Apple saw this as a direct end run around their app store policies in order to avoid paying Apple their cut. Admittedly, at 30% that cut is big and hence companies, especially small ones, are highly motivated to avoid this form of app store “tax.” None of this is a big problem as long as we are talking about games. Things are different when it comes to magazines and books.

So far the best example of the move towards transparency has been the Kindle ecosystem. There are Kindle apps for just about every device. There are apps for Android, iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Windows. If you buy a book through any one app it is available on all of the others. Bookmarks are shared. You can read on your tablet, pick up on your phone and finish up on your laptop. In every case, when you move to a new device, the app knows where you left off on the old one. This is transparency of use in action. Now Apple is working to hinder that transparency.

Reading books is still a transparent experience. However, buying them now involves exiting the Kindle program and using a web browser to go to Amazon.com. You can’t even click a button in the Kindle app and have it open Safari using the appropriate URL. You can in the Mac Kindle app. What should really happen is that the Kindle store should be built into the Kindle app. I suspect it eventually will be on Android. It will never be on iOS devices. Apple’s 30% cut would change a money maker into a loss leader product. Not only is 30% too high, I see no reason Apple should get anything. The books aren’t being bought through Apple’s online store. Besides, it is anticompetitive. It gives Apple’s own iBooks a competitive pricing advantage. The problem is, iBooks isn’t as universal as Kindle. This small chink in Apple’s image is becoming a growing crack. Online forums have end users griping about it. This is a chance for Google to press Apple and change the image of Android vs. iOS.

Until now, Android has been an interesting phone OS beloved by techies for its openness and many features. Most consumers have viewed, and in fact still are viewing, Apple’s iOS as the more polished and bug free operating system for phones and tablets. Apple’s greed could change that. Android gets more and more polished day by day. If in app purchases become the norm for Android and the exception for iOS then consumers will see Android as the easier and more transparent operating system. Imagine the difference is Amazon makes Kindle apps have smooth integration with the Kindle store except for Kindle on Apple devices. As more people buy and read ebooks, this will push them towards Android instead of iOS. All you have to do is read this to see how Apple may be inadvertently causing apps to be less friendly. Android versions of the apps won’t be so limited.

Right now Apple’s new policy has done little other than make Apple richer and tick off some app writers. However, as Android keeps getting stronger, this policy might come to threaten Apple when consumers begin to find buying and reading ebooks and ezines easier and more transparent on Android than iOS.

HP paid $1.2B for Palm. Now they are dumping that and more. I have been saying that the only ecosystems that will survive are Apple, Google (Android) and Microsoft. The carnage has started. WebOS was a good OS. That doesn’t matter. It was too late, too poorly marketed and never got traction. Now it is essentially dead. RIM will follow although not in the near future.

More shocking is the announcement that HP may exit the PC market. HP leads the PC market in market share. How can they possible be wanting to exit that market? To understand why HP could even be considering this you need to look a little deeper. The laptop market is very competitive. That translates to low margins for everyone except Apple. Only Apple has a customer base willing to consistently pay a premium for their laptop product. Additionally, HP’s market share has been falling. But… here is the main reason. The phone is becoming the dominant computing device. The laptop is rapidly becoming secondary. Desktops are already secondary devices. The only way to shore up laptops in a way that would maintain margins was to develop an ecosystems with laptops as part of that. WebOS was a poor attempt at that. With the failure of WebOS, HP laptops will have to compete as just another part of the Microsoft ecosystem. That’s OK now but it will be a position that gets worse each day. If you count tablets as part of mobile computing then Apple has already surpassed HP in market share. What HP is afraid of is being trapped in a market that is losing relevance, decreasing in size and so commoditized that there is little differentiation. All that will lead to little or no profit.

The big take away from this is that it is not an isolated event. It is a part of the convergence trend I have been discussing. There will be more Titanic changes to come and they will involve more than RIM.

By now most readers will be aware that Google is buying Motorola Mobility. I started to write about this when I first heard the news but I wanted to think about it and explore the implications and potential reasons. Time is up. Here are my thoughts.

The most straight forward reason is patent defense. When Google lost out to Microsoft and Apple in the bidding for the Nortel patent portfolio it left Google in a very bad position. Android violates several of the Nortel patents. Google launched an offensive claiming Apple and Microsoft were using patents, as opposed to compelling solutions, as a way to attack Google. We must remember that Google also bid for these patents and, had they won, would have probably used them against Microsoft and Apple. Furthermore, an offer to join with Microsoft and Apple in acquiring the patents was rebuked by Google. If the purchase of Motorola Mobility is indeed a defensive play then this is nothing more than another round of that old patent game “I’ll cross license mine if you will cross license yours.” Considering the large amounts of cash Google is sitting on, this might be a very sensible move.

Could there be more to the acquisition than patents? Google has made cell phones in the past when it was jump-starting Android. But, should they be a cell phone producer? In the PC space Apple has been a small closed ecosystem compared to the loose and very diversified Microsoft ecosystem. The result was a larger, cheaper and more diversified hardware and software ecosystem for Windows (Microsoft) compared to OSX (Apple). Recall that, at one time (Apple II), Apple dominated the desktop space. The diversity of the Microsoft based environment resulted in Apple becoming a niche player. Today, despite Apple’s early lead, there is a strong possibility that Android will be the Windows of the smartphone and tablet space. I see no reason for Google to try to “out Apple” Apple. Think of the strange relationship that is going to exist with companies like HTC and Samsung. In the recent past, market pressure pushed those companies towards Google. Apple was closed to them. Microsoft Windows Phone 7 was open but Nokia was clearly customer number one and in a special, preferred customer, position. Now Google is not just a supplier but a competitor. I think Microsoft is secretly happy about all of this. It makes their relationship with Nokia look tame by comparison.

Could this be herd instinct? Apple makes the iPhone. HP bought Palm. Microsoft is in bed with Nokia. RIM makes Blackberry. Perhaps Google fell victim to the “everyone else is doing it” syndrome. Somehow I doubt it. The people at Google are nothing if not sharp. Still, it has happened at this level before.

One possible reason for the acquisition might be to push NFC. NFC requires that very specific hardware be placed inside smartphones. The Motorola Mobility arm of Google could push this. However, I think NFC can be effectively pushed without making the phones themselves. I don’t buy this as a reason for the acquisition.

That brings me to one final reason for the purchase – set top boxes. I have discussed how the real goal is a very broad and unified ecosystem. The TV is a big part of that. Google could merge GoogleTV into the Motorola Mobility set top box units. As a competitor in the set top box space they might be in a good position to drive their ecosystem. I have argued before that consumers don’t like extra boxes and hence AppleTV and even external game boxes (PS3, Wii, Xbox) are interim solutions. The one external box that has some life left is the cable box.  Google could merge the cable box, GoogleTV and Android games into one piece of hardware. Moving between cable product, internet streams and applications could be made very unified and essentially transparent to the consumer.

Summary: This acquisition is all about the patent portfolio and using it as a counter to Apple and Microsoft. However, Google is left with a hardware business that competes with key customers.

My recommendation: If I was willing to tell Apple what to do then why not another multibillion dollar company that is highly profitable? So Google, here is what you should do. Sell off the mobile device arm of Motorola Mobility but keep set top boxes. Keep all of the patents and just license them to the entity acquiring the cell phone business. Finally, merge GoogleTV into the cable box and make GoogleTV fully compatible with Android games. Use your new found cable box presence to drive a broader ecosystem that is more unified than what consumers have now.