Posts Tagged ‘transparency’

I thought about making the title of this post “I’m Right – They’re Wrong.” While I like the cloud for data everywhere and for syncing of data, I don’t believe in data ONLY in the cloud. There has been a lot of press around putting everything in the cloud. The Chromebook is one attempt at this. On the surface, my techie side gets excited. I hear cheap, long battery life, one data set and a unified experience across devices. The major thing I hear is low upkeep. Someone else does most of the application updates and makes sure things work. This last part, however, sounded hauntingly familiar. Then it hit me. This was the promise of thin clients. A long time ago in a different computing world, thin clients were going to save companies lots of money. The clients themselves would be cheaper. Falling PC prices killed that as a major selling point. The second thing was ease and consistency of software maintenance. The problem was that the world went mobile. People couldn’t afford to lose software access when they weren’t on the corporate network. In the end thin clients failed. Fast forward to today. The same issues apply to the Chromebook. Why get a Chromebook when a netbook can do so much more? Then there is the issue of connectivity. What happens when there isn’t a WiFi hotspot around? Are you thinking 3/4G? Think again. Look at today’s data plans and their capped data. Most people can’t afford to have everything they type, every song they play, every picture they look at and every video clip they show go over the network. Local storage can solve some of this but then you have independent data and the programs to access that data on the local machine. In other words you are back to managing a PC again.

Currently I am visiting my sister in Mobile, AL. I realized I needed to freshen up my blog and waiting till I got back home would be too long. No problem I thought. I have my iPad with me and it will be a chance to learn the basics of Blogsy. That’s what I’m doing now but it has been an enlightening experience and is the genesis of this post. What you need to know is that my sister’s house lacks WiFi. Since she and her husband spend a lot of time traveling in their RV, they use a Verizon 4G modem plugged into their laptop. That works for them but it doesn’t help me unless I go sit on my brother-in-law’s laptop. Of course there’s no need for that since my iPad has 3G. Oops! One big problem – the connection is unreliable. Here I am in Mobile, AL, a few miles from their regional airport and I can’t get a reliable data connection. I could launch into an AT&T tirade but that would miss the bigger picture. Mobile, AL is a major city. If I have problems here then what about more remote places? What about other countries? What if I were using a Chromebook? Right now I am writing this post. I will upload it when I have a better connection. I just can’t see buying into a usage model that demands 24/7 connectivity. For that reason I have no desire for a Chromebook. The Chromebook will fail.

Transparency of use is still coming but it will happen in a way that takes into account the issues I have just raised. Apple’s iCloud will sync data and leave a copy on each device. Microsoft Mesh does the same. I still believe that a modified version of this together with the Chromebook approach will win in the end. The difference will be that the modified Chromebook (phonebook?, Plattbook?, iBook?) won’t connect to the internet directly but will be a peripheral device for the phone. Your phone will be your wallet and as such always with you. It will also be your primary data device. It will sync with other devices through the cloud and be backed up to the cloud but interactive data access will be to the phone.

Pioneer announced the AppRadio a few weeks back . You can read about it here. I got excited at first. I thought they had really integrated the iPhone into the radio. Instead it runs its own apps. I want it to display my iPhone on a screen in my car so that I run the apps on my iPhone. I don’t need yet another device to get apps for. I want to run the ones I already have on my iPhone.  I was kind to Mulally in my last post. That’s because I feel he is pushing Ford in the right direction. Still, will someone please “get it” that the phone is primary and the car should include an interface to the phone rather than duplicating the smartphone’s functionality?

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.

It may seem like I have been mostly regurgitating news. Look deeper. I am trying to point out the trends of convergence and transparency and how they are reaching everywhere. On the surface Google Wallet is a nice tweak to how you pay for what you buy. In terms of those affected it is easy to see the retailers, banks and credit card companies. If you look on the surface at semiconductor companies you might just think about those chips which enable NFC. This is part of something much bigger that affects many more companies. NFC services like Google Wallet will make transactions more transparent i.e. easier and more convenient. They also converge services into the phone and continue pushing the phone towards becoming your dominant computing platform. This is what I started this blog off with. It doesn’t matter if Google Wallet in it’s present form becomes big or not. It’s a symptom of a larger movement. No matter what business you are in you need to evaluate your strategy with convergence and transparency in mind. How will your business play out when the phone is the dominant computing platform? Intel and AMD are reacting to this today. For once the interests of AMD and Intel are aligned. They need to bring the X86 architecture to tablets and then mobile phones. Microsoft is also reacting as they worry about Windows being marginalized. Think how differently this would have been had the iPhone and iPad been based on the Atom processor. For the other chip companies there is the increasing importance of LTE and the cloud. Flash memory will continue to be pushed to grow in density and decrease in price. The world is moving towards one gigabyte of storage in the phone. Remember reading about how over built the global network is? Think again. OLED screens will finally become a mainstream technology driven by the phone. Eventually they will grow to be the dominant technology in both laptops and TV’s.  This shift affects media. The RIAA and  MPAA continue their vain attempts at protecting intellectual property rather than embracing the technology trends and profiting from them. That’s an entire blog (or two or three) in and of itself. Is your company preparing for the upcoming changes? More importantly, have you looked deep to see how convergence and transparency will change your business landscape?

In looking back at my comments on transparency I realize I might be giving the wrong impression. Data transparency is moving along. However, creating software that makes moving from one device to another transparent is very hard to accomplish. It involves making the transition from one UI to another transparent or, coming from the other direction, involves making one UI work across several devices. Consider where this has been most successfully done i.e. the iPad and iPhone. Both the iPhone and the iPad use the same OS with the same UI. However, in accomplishing this, the tablet version of iOS has been hindered by the need to work well on the much smaller screen of the iPhone. Google has taken a different approach. Their tablet version of Android is noticeably different from the phone version. The result is that Apple and Google are coming at the problem from opposite directions. With Ice Cream Sandwich, Google will try to unify the tablet and phone experience and thereby improve transparency when moving between the devices. Apple, with iOS 5, will try to bring better functionality to iOS so their tablet offering is less restricted by the OS and is able to come closer to the functionality of a full blown laptop.

But tablets and phones are closely related. Any problems encountered while working to achieve transparency between the two pale compared to merging the experience with other devices. Consider the TV set. It lacks a touch screen. Any keyboard linked to the TV set will almost certainly be less than full sized. It would be easy to claim that the TV is fundamentally different and to forget transparency altogether.  That would be a mistake. There is too much money at stake to take the easy way out. Here is where human factors specialists will have to shine. They will have to craft a different OS interface than that on a phone or tablet but one which feels very similar to the phone OS interface such that knowing the phone OS takes the TV OS learning curve to zero.The same will be true when looking at the man-machine interface in the automobile. Here, minimizing driver distraction will be the main goal. There are two aspects to driver distraction and they will sometimes work against each other. On the one hand, making the automobile UI look like the phone UI will allow use to be more second nature and thereby require less conscious thought on the part of the driver. The problem is that a phone OS will sometimes require that the driver look away from the road. That’s not good. A compromise will have to be reached. Like the TV, there will be other ways of interfacing to the UI than just a touch screen. There will be voice, steering wheel controls and probably a mouse like device similar to what BMW uses on its infamous iDrive.

This high difficulty level extends to applications. I really like those iTunes store apps that have the plus sign next to the price. You pay once and you get something that works on both your iPhone and iPad. I hate paying twice for an app just because I want it on my iPhone and my iPad. Down the road I want to buy an app once and use it on whatever device is handy. This trend is already in full play. Just take a look at Steam. When you buy a program through Steam, you can download and install it on any machine you like. You log into your Steam account to gain access. The main problem here is that you have to download a large program for each device but that could be easily automated. Also, as more programs exist in the cloud, this will be less of an issue. Already some programs allow the user to start playing while sections of code not in use continue to download. The big problem is interface design. Imagine making Crysis work on everything from a phone to a TV set. That’s not easy. It is particularly difficult if the user wants to pick up a game in progress on one device, say a TV, where he left off on another such as his phone. To get an idea of the scope of the problem look at Foreflight. This is a great aviation app with an excellent user interface. However, their iPhone and iPad apps are two completely different animals. With Foreflight this isn’t too big of an issue since the apps are free and the database subscription allows use on an iPhone and an iPad at the same time. The photos below show how different the interface has to be because of screen size.

The iPad version of Foreflight allows selecting different pages from any current page. Look at the bottom of the picture below.

Sections like AIRPORTS and DOWNLOADS can be selected on the bottom. Now look at these screen captures from the iPhone app. The first shows the page equivalent to the iPad page shown above.

Here you select CLOSE which takes you to this page:

Now you can select the page you want.

I am not picking on Foreflight. Rather, I am highlighting what they have done as an example of adapting to the different screen sizes of the two devices while maintaining a lot of the same feel so that the learning curve is low. However, this is the easy part. Adapting to TV, car, laptop etc. will be a lot more difficult. If you are a pilot you might be wondering why anyone would want to use this program across so many devices. But, if transparent use and data is really achieved then imagine the following scenario. You are watching TV with some friends when the talk turns to playing golf on Hilton Head the next day. You bring up Foreflight on the TV and flight plan the trip to find out the flight time and take an initial look at weather. The next morning you quickly update and file the flight plan using your laptop. On the way to the airport you notice that the morning clouds haven’t burned off as expected so you decide to check the current airport weather. Your car interfaces into the Foreflight app on your phone and you are able to bring up the weather. In the air passengers follow the flight’s progress on the iPad using the same program. You have bought one application and used it across numerous devices. It feels easy and natural to do but it was only easy for you. For the developers it was a tough task. They had to sweat the user interface and how it would appear on different devices. The device manufacturers had to sweat the user interface of the OS to make sure this transparent usage would , well…, really be transparent.

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%.

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.