Archive for the ‘Convergence’ Category

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.

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When it comes to cellular bandwidth we have two trends on a collision course. On the one hand we have smartphones moving into the dominant position among phones. Furthermore, convergence is rapidly making the phone the dominant computing platform. Layered on this is the expansion of mobile connectivity into laptops, tablets and even automobiles. If you watch the ads you will see download speed sold aggressively. 4G is the new buzzword. It all sounds so very wonderful. In a few weeks we’ll have a 4G (LTE) enabled iPad. Later this year there will be a 4G iPhone. Wow! Times are great. Hidden in all of this, however, is a very dark trend.  Both ATT and Verizon have eliminated unlimited data plans. People who are grandfathered in have still been smiling. Recently, however, ATT and Verizon have quietly begun capping usage or limiting speeds even on unlimited plans. The most onerous example is the recent action by ATT. Some users are getting throttled down once they exceed  2GB. After reaching that milestone speed is reduced by about 10X for the rest of the month. The data connection effectively becomes useless. Surprisingly, a 3GB plan costs the same as the grandfathered unlimited plan and won’t get you throttled. Users on the unlimited plan are being treated worse than new users. Even Sprint has begun to slow down heavy users despite what their ads say.

The problem is that there isn’t enough bandwidth to serve users. The providers keep pushing the wonderful capabilities of smartphones and their new 4G networks all the while knowing that the capacity isn’t there. How did we get here? It’s partly because smartphones have taken off faster than the providers can keep up. They don’t want to lose customers so they can’t come out and just tell people to slow down. They pretend all is well. That’s the surface reason. There is a deeper issue at play. The two big providers, ATT and Verizon, are like Ford and GM in the 60’s. Both are content to make minor improvements while they rake in big profits. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and they signal each other to move at a pace that maintains profits at the expense of bandwidth delivery. ATT and Verizon form a duopoly much like Visa and Mastercard. Short term profits rule at the expense of a larger, longer term vision. The major players have settled into a comfort zone which protects profits at the expense of moving portable computing forward. Because of the nature of cellular service, this duopoly enjoys a protected status. Once you own the spectrum space and have the basic infrastructure in place, it is near impossible for a new company to gain traction. Customers have no place to run.

How do we solve the cellular bandwidth problem before it becomes totally devastating? That I will address over the next week.

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.

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.

Lately I’ve watch a number of interviews with Ford CEO Alan Mulally. I find a lot to like in this guy. He puts forth a good image for Ford. Moreover there seems to be substance to back up the talk. When you look at Ford you see a company on the upswing. Quality has improved to where it competes with the best out there. Furthermore I sense a spirit in the company which wants to lead rather than follow.  I don’t always agree with what’s being done but I admire the attempt. A good example is the use of Microsoft’s Sync product. It’s flawed. I have concerns because it is from Microsoft. Then again I would have concerns if it was from Apple.  It does NOT do what I think it should. Mulally seems to understand this. Here is a good interview that speaks to convergence and transparency.

Pay particular attention to the 7:40 and 10:10 time points. Mulally mentions making the digital life in the home merge with the digital life in the car. I like this guy. He accepts criticism of Sync but stands by it as the right direction even if presently flawed. I like a guy willing to believe in a direction and work to perfect it even if the initial attempt isn’t what it should be.

I mentioned that Mango showed that Microsoft could come on strong once they recognized they were behind. I saw a few unexpected features in Mango and it gave me hope that Microsoft was still in the game if very far behind. However, with the release of more information about Windows 8, I am truly surprised. Microsoft really gets it. They see the need for a unified OS across platforms and for a transparent user experience. Furthermore, Microsoft is using its strength on the desktop to leverage itself into the tablet and phone space. This isn’t my pick for the easiest path in general but it is the easiest and best way for Microsoft. More than other releases, Windows 8 will be about an aggressive business strategy. I love it when business, the consumer, and engineering mesh at such an intimate level.

Windows 8 is important on several levels. First, let’s start with the fact that it will not only run on X86 CPU’s but on ARM. Wow! Let that sink in. This means Windows on a CPU that isn’t compatible with the Intel X86 architecture. There will be no emulation layer so current X86 apps won’t run on ARM based hardware. However, this is important in and of itself. Microsoft will be encouraging developers writing lighter apps to write in Java and HTML5 so the apps will be independent of the CPU used. Add this to Apple toying with the idea of an ARM based MacBook Air and you know why Intel is nervous.

The next surprise is the breadth of Windows 8. It is really a tablet  OS where the mouse and keyboard can substitute for touch. You read that correctly. The OS is, in many ways, a tablet OS first and a desktop OS second. This doesn’t mean a compromised desktop OS. What it does mean is an OS with touch infused throughout.  The same OS will run on tablets, laptops and desktops.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and the next surprise is best illustrated with a couple of pictures. Here is one of Windows 8 on a PC:

Next I have a picture of the home screen from a phone running Windows Phone.

Do you see what I am excited about? Just like Apple, Microsoft is making the desktop OS look and feel like the phone OS. Do you believe me now when I talk about the push for transparency of the computing experience? Now go back to the comment above about Microsoft pushing for apps written in HTML5 and Java. Those will be easy to port to Windows Phone and vice versa. Microsoft may be late but they are coming on strong.

What does this mean on the business side? Obviously the push onto ARM is a threat to Intel and AMD. In terms of the other hardware and software players here is how I see it. RIM is in an increasingly bad position. They have zero desktop presence and Microsoft is stronger in the corporate world than RIM. Windows 8 might seem independent of RIM’s Blackberry world but, in actuality, it has the potential to do great damage. HP may take a hit too. They are betting a lot on WebOS. I don’t see what the value add is for WebOS. Call this one more wait and see but be skeptical. HP could quickly shift to being Windows 8 centric if need be. Heck, they are Windows centric today.  Apple probably fairs OK in the near term. Longer term they might lose some of their momentum. However, I see Apple as the best positioned against Windows 8 if they can continue to move towards merging iOS and OSX. I’m still very strong on Apple. Next up for Apple is iOS 5 and iCloud which will be announced next week. Windows 8 could be problematic for Google. I have trouble believing in Chrome as a desktop OS. Google will still be ahead in the TV space but compared to Microsoft and Apple they lack the desktop. Android is the largest selling smartphone OS and we are about to be inundated with Android tablets including some excellent ones such as the Samsung 10.1. I still see Microsoft being behind Google but it is a lot more interesting than it was a day ago. Apple just made iWork available on the iPhone in addition to the iPad and OSX devices. Microsoft will have Office running across all devices. Will people buy into Google’s idea that web based solutions are the best answer for their productivity apps? People may but only if Microsoft screws things up. Then again, Microsoft mucked things up in the past with poorly conceived products like Works.

I was reading about the Asus Padfone and it got me second guessing some of the things I have written. Am I wrong that the phone will be primary with a wireless link to other display devices? Or… perhaps I am correct and these are just steps along they way. That happens when a trend is major as I previously discussed. The problem with my solution is battery life. What the Padfone brings is the large battery in the tablet. Having a full time high bandwidth link will require major improvements in battery technology. That will come but it isn’t here right now. Perhaps each device should be able to stand on its own. If so then what happens to my dream of the phone as the central device? It stays alive in a modified form. Rather than transmitting the display perhaps the devices are sync’d so each has the same programs and all that needs to be transferred is current status and data. This will minimize data transfer and hence battery consumption. Switching from device to device won’t be quite as seamless but the basic idea will be there. As battery technology gets better we will eventually reach full integration but right now we’ll have to be satisfied with incremental steps. As I’ve said before, this is going to be interesting and a lot of fun to watch.