hardware

Science Fiction: Nokia goes Android

OPK, that is Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia’s CEO calls his new head of mobile devices, Anssi Vanjoki in his office, hidden inside the company’s research center at 995 Page Mill Road, in Palo Alto, California. On his desk, three devices: a Nokia N900, a Motorola Droid and an iPhone.

‘Anssi, we’re hosed.
I assumed the dumb customer position and bought these three devices all by myself.
For our N900, I had to order on-line, the locals don’t carry our Maemo device. See what happened…’
He turns to his iMac, [this is science fiction, remember], types Nokia in the search window and gets this:

Now, a click on the “sponsored link” gets this:

.

A blank window. [This is not science fiction].
Anssi protests: ‘This must be a problem with Apple’s browser!’ But, no, the bug repeats itself with Chrome, Firefox, even with the Nordic Opera.
OPK continues:
‘We pay for this sponsored link and it gets us to a blank page.
Either Google is after us, or we’re incompetent, or both.

Anyway, I found our on-line store, a bit too complicated for a user like me. So, I saved time and a few dollars buying my own N900 from Amazon, one click, much simpler. By the way, Anssi, what are we doing selling, or trying to sell, or trying to give away a Windows 7 netbook? Don’t answer.
Then I needed to get a SIM for my $459 unlocked N900. I went  to the big AT&T store down the road. Boy, these guys make it too complicated and they don’t fully support the N900. Fortunately, things get better on University Avenue, I’ve done all my shopping there. First, the friendly people at T-Mobile got me a SIM, installed it, checked everything, even the micro-SD card I bought.
Next block: Verizon, a little less friendly, a little slower but they got me a Droid under 30 mins. Three blocks down, the Apple store. They were a little surprised I wanted an iPhone as their new device was coming out “Real Soon Now”. The manager came out, a Turkish engineer who recognized my name on the driver’s license, smiled and set me up in less than 15 minutes. You should see their portable sales terminal, all the sales people carry one on their hip, an iPhone with a scanner and a credit card reader.
How come we don’t make one? Don’t answer. More

Thus spake Steve Jobs: The PC isn’t dead yet

Daniel Lyons, the Newsweek tech writer notorious for his Fake Steve Jobs blog, penned an epistolary piece last week (R.I.P., Macintosh) in which he asks and answers the question: “Is Apple ignoring its signature line of computers and laptops? Yup.”

The columnist claims that with the iPhone and the iPad as the Dear Leader’s new pets, Steve Jobs has kicked the Mac to the curb (or kerb for our British readers). Lyons backs his claim with the following evidence: Apple’s 2010 WWDC was focused on the iPhone OS only; there were no Best Applications awards for the Mac, only for iPhone/iPad apps; and, drum roll, the iPhone OS was renamed iOS (the name is licensed from Cisco, just as the iPhone moniker was).

Lyons may be onto something, but in his desperate quest for page views at Newsweek (itself kicked to the curb by its soon former owner, the Washington Post Company) our columnist has yielded to the crass motives and hyperbole he loves to lampoon.

Yes, Steve Jobs said the PC (including the Mac) isn’t “the future”, but he didn’t go on to euthanize it.

Let’s go back to the evening of June 1st, 2010. We’re at the D8 conference discussed here last week. Steve Jobs is interviewed by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher; you can find the entire 95-minute video here.
(Sorry, iPad users, it’s Flash…but, wait…nevermind. Although the interview shows up as Flash on my antique personal computer, when I watch it on my iPad, behold!, the site detects the iPad client and spews an H.264 video stream. We can take this as a sign that the WSJ doesn’t want to miss the advertising revenue of 100 million iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad devices out there, and as a preview of what other sites will do, as well. And perhaps it’s a problem with my old desktop machine or older eyes, but the video look better on the iPad than it does on my PC.)

I’m watching the video as I write this. It completes and, in places, corrects my recollection of the event. Whatever one thinks of Steve Jobs—and the video won’t change many minds—the conversation contains a number of gems, such as Steve’s pithy view of the enterprise market (between 28:30 and 29:15), his take on the Adobe controversy, his pronouncement of carriers as “orifices” (that was a few years ago, recalled by Walt for laughs), the importance of editorial functions (Jobs doesn’t want us to “descend into a nation of bloggers”), how he looks at his job (around 59:00), and more. I know an hour and a half is a lot, but pay attention to what’s said and not said and, just as important, the face and body language.
The bit about the future of the PC comes between minutes 45 and 51. There, Apple’s CEO lays out his vision of the post-PC era in a string of very carefully weighed statements, interspersed with personal insights into the changes in user interaction brought about by the new very personal devices.

As Apple unties the software platform from the iPhone, one can imagine a number of iOS-powered devices in its future. Apple won’t necessarily follow HP’s example, but the latter has made it clear that they’ll use the newly-acquired Palm WebOS in devices such as printers. This is a high volume business, one where the traditional embedded software is user-hostile. Just imagine a Palm Pre screen grafted onto a printer. More

Very Personal Computing

The center of financial gravity in the computing world—the Center of Money—has shifted. No longer directed at the PC, the money pump now gushes full blast at the smartphones market. One of my colleagues, Bob Ackerman, calls smartphones the very personal computers. Measured by size and potential, they’re both smaller and bigger than today’s PCs.

The Math

Consider the numbers: HP, the world’s foremost PC maker, sold $10B of “Personal Systems” in its last reported quarter:

(turn “on” display image in your mail reader
to see the graphics)

Despite their premier position, HP isn’t making much PC money: $500M, 5% Operating Profit. (The full HP Q1 report in PDF can be found here.)

Now let’s turn to Apple’s most recent quarter. Smartphones constituted 40% of the company’s revenue:

When we add up the numbers, we see that the iPhone = Mac + iPods. And this rough calculation “misunderestimates” the weight of the iPhone OS. In the more mature iPod category, the iPod Touch (the iPhone without a phone) grew by 63% year-to-year according to Apple COO Tim Cook in the most recent earnings conference call. (Full Q2 2010 SEC filing available here.) More

iPad: Which way do you lean?

The iPad is a strange animal—we don’t know where it fits, yet. Is it a laptop replacement? Is it an entertainment device? Can I do “real work” on it or is it merely a brobdingagian iPod Touch, a more colorful Kindle with better email and Web browsing?

Spiritual traditions associate the angle of the spine with the state of mind. We use the phrases “lean back” and “lean forward” to differentiate between “production” and “consumption” activities. When I write, I lean forward; when I watch The Fugitive, I lean back in my airline seat. Laptops are mostly lean forward devices, even if we watch the occasional movie on the road. Is the iPad a lean back device?
Apple’s ads for the new product, on TV and Silicon Valley billboards, depict lean back use with (insufferably clean-looking) models in lounge attitudes as they surf, flip pages, and select videos. And their posture doesn’t change when they tap their way through the iWork for iPad productivity suite. What, I’m supposed to do work while reclining like the models in the ads? It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation that illustrates the tablet PC’s uneasy positioning. If you don’t offer an office suite you’re pilloried: This product is useless! But if you deploy the obligatory word processor+spreadsheet+presentation triad your ergonomics/UI contradictions are exposed.

(The apps in the iWork suite—Pages, Numbers, and Keynote–show great promise, which is a way to say that they’re imperfect. See last week’s comments on file sharing.)

Apple’s properly black microfiber iPad Case accessory valiantly struggles against the posture incongruity. It folds into a lectern and offers a better typing angle than when the device rests on your thighs:

The lectern works reasonably well in landscape mode, but shows its kludgy side when you rotate it to portrait. The raised top side becomes the left side, still raised. Ah well…

My occasional frustration with the iPad’s shortcomings is partly due to their contrast with the device’s shining qualities. For me, the half skeptic/half enthusiast, the charm hasn’t worn out after three weeks. The iPad is fast, the touch UI is very well executed, the battery lasts forever, and I can fly through “office tasks” such as pruning, reading and replying to email, or traversing the fifty or so blogs I follow on a daily basis.

When we turn to printing, however, we see another illustration of the iPad’s unsettled position. At home or in the office, I’m on a WiFi network that lets me see the printers on my PC or Mac. Windows 7 and OS X can find and connect to them quite easily so I’d expect to see my printers from my iPad, as well. But no. If I want to print from my iPad, the simplest solution—and trust me, I’ve tried many—is to email my file to a PC and print the attachment.

Just as on the iPhone, peripherals aren’t part of the picture. It’s part of the iPhone/iPad ethos: No peripherals, no need to get the right driver. Move right along, sir, nothing to drive here. But that hauteur hasn’t thwarted enterprising geeks. On the iPhone they came up with a number of file sharing and printing workarounds. I bought a few and wasn’t too impressed. On the iPad, I tried PrintCentral and Fax Print & Share Pro.

They both try to bridge the device’s limitations but, in my certified klutz experience, they create more problems than they solve. Network connections break, documents don’t print or else print gibberish, to say nothing of instructions such as “Enter your iPad’s address on computer: http://192.168.1.122:8080.” Right…so much for simplifying computing.

PrintCentral asks you to install a software module (WePrint Server) on your PC or Mac so it can take your iPad document and print it “normally”. And so it does, if you can manage your way through a forest of menus and settings. On the other hand, PrintCentral does provide file sharing. I can download a file from a server (I tried both Word and Pages files), open it in one of the applications the iPad supports, and then edit and save it. This is in contrast with the iPad’s native file sharing where I can click—pardon—tap on a document residing in (remote) file server, such as iDisk, and view its contents, but nothing more. Better than nothing but not good enough for production purposes.

The other app I tried, Fax Print & Share Pro (beware of longish names on anything, cars, banking services, software) is even more ambitious. It purports to print directly to my Brother 2170W wireless networked printer, but no deal—it prints gibberish, even if I carefully re-install it (I’ve been trained on 12 years of Windows) and select the recommended “IP Printing” variant.
(As a side note, I’m partial to Brother printers. They’re made by a Japanese sewing machine company, thus the delicate mechanics of moving paper inside the beast tend to work. Further, they don’t insist on installing hundreds of megabytes of self-serving crapware on my machines, and the drivers are updated nicely via Apple’s Software Update channel.)
The Fax part of Fax Print & Share Pro comes with four free fax transmissions. I used up three of them trying to get it to work. On the first try, it faxed the cover page but not the document. Second attempt: No cover page and the app told me that the file couldn’t be faxed. Finally, I tried a simpler .rtf document. It worked, but the impression had been made. Third time wasn’t a charm.
I haven’t tried the app’s Fedex Online Printing module. Click on the link and you’ll see that “strange” file formats aren’t supported. As we say in America: Some restrictions may apply.

The diversity of supported and unsupported file types gets us back to the driver problem, one that bedevils normal humans—and could $$pell an opportunity for Apple and others. The printer driver converts your file’s contents—what you see on the screen—into instructions that the printer understands. The problem is that files are built in a bewildering but necessary variety of ways, and there’s no real standardization in printing.
When you see a printer on the network and say Print, the document ought to print. It’s almost as simple as that on a personal computer, even if the chain is sometimes fragile and a link breaks. The iPad isn’t there yet, but if I can see a network printer on the device, “driverless” printing for The Rest of Us can’t be too far behind. I’m not assuming the iPad will ever offer all the printing capabilities that we “enjoy” on a PC/Mac—that would ruin the simple (too simple, some say) iPad user experience. However, I believe the day isn’t too far off when I’ll be able to open and save a document from/to MobileMe’s iDisk without a third party app. (Today’s iDisk app works on the iPad, although it’s still the small screen iPhone version.)
The next step for Apple or an enterprising developer would be to take my file, convert it somewhere in the cloud, and then send it to my printer without asking me to deal with the plumbing. It’s more complicated than I make it sound but, as the PrintCentral example shows, we’re already doing it locally. Replace my local PC acting as an intermediary between my iPad and my printer with a remote server and we have direct printing. Present tense used with poetic license.

As for the iPad’s louche identity, nothing that a couple of million units won’t make taxonomically correct.

JLG@mondaynote.com

iPad Second Impressions

I’m “stuck” in Paris (poor me), volcanic ash from Iceland has closed the airports. Stranded but not ignored. I have my iPad. In business meetings, in cafés and restaurants, the iPad is, as I reported two weeks ago, an all-around guy- and-chick magnet. Sit down, stroke the screen, and Parisians, not normally the easygoing sort, admire and strike up a conversation. Norway’s Prime Minister, stranded as well, used his iPad to govern remotelytrès chic. I’ve never seen anything like this.

I gave myself two weeks to form an opinion of the iPad. (And note well the my and opinion: I may let a fact sneak in here and there, but I intend to convey my personal impressions. (As we say on-line: YMMV. You might come to a different conclusion.) I carried my brand new iPad everywhere, and I mean everywhere: From the smallest room in the house to the office, out to the coffee shop, into the 747 cabin and then on, to a magazine industry conference in Paris. I wanted to know if this dog would come back to the pail after a fortnight. Call me a skeptic, but I’ve spent too much time inside too many sausage factories to trust a demo, a first impression.

I’d pre-ordered two iPads and was given an appointment on launch morning at the Palo Alto Apple Store. In and out in a few minutes, then back home for the unveiling. Initial setup was easy, although you should learn from my mistake: I’d forgotten to prevent iTunes from synching automatically. I have thousands of pictures in my iPhoto library; this was going to take hours. My suggestion: Get the apps you want from the App Store and start enjoying your new iPad right away. Sync your media while you sleep. With more than 3,000 programs, most of them written for or adapted from the iPhone, the App Store is a pleasant and welcome surprise. My existing iPhone apps look a bit dwarfish on the bigger screen and pixelated when blown up in 2X mode, but they’re serviceable.

So how does the iPad feel?

Work
I purchased the iWork productivity apps: Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (presentations). This isn’t the iPad’s strongest suit. When you transfer a document to the iPad, the hyperlinks are “unfolded”. Here’s the original…

…and the same file on the iPad:

I hoped the URLs would somehow fold back “under” the linked words when re-imported into my Mac, but no.

The trouble doesn’t stop there. On a networked PC and Mac you can drag-and-drop a file from one machine to another by using a shared folder arrangement. Here, the desktop metaphor breaks down because the iPad (and the iPhone) doesn’t have an explicit, exposed file system. To ship my Monday Note draft from my Mac to my iPad, I have to email it to myself as an attachment, or use a convoluted iTunes service. The email method is simple. I click—sorry—tap on the attachment and the iPad automatically offers to open it in Pages.

The iTunes method, slightly more complicated, uses the File Sharing section in the Apps tab that you see when you connect your iPad:

This is, in effect, a folder. You add your PC or Mac files and they’ll show up in My Documents on your iPad after the next sync. When you’ve finished tapping your Great American Novel, you can sync it back to your desktop computer through the same mechanism.

Applications such as Air Sharing HD and GoodReader help, but not completely. With Air Sharing and a WiFi connection, your iPad can show you the files on your PC or Mac, but you can’t use them—you can’t open them in your iPad apps.

There’s also a Mac app called PhoneView. Once your iPad is connected, you’ll see “everything” inside. Proceed with caution.

Geeks can go here to see more details about the promising doc compatibility and sharing features…and “promising” is the right word. I’m disappointed. I can’t perform tasks such as writing (or editing) a real-life, hyperlinked document on my iPad. Let’s hope the iWork software updates will quickly make the promise a reality.

Email
Very nice. Fast, easy to set up, easy to use. For me, it’s fully functional; not much to say beyond that. I hear we’ll get a “unified” mailbox some day.

Web Browser
Browsing shows off the iPad’s speed and smooth finish. It has the Apple design “touch”, literally. Scrolling and pinch-zooming are well-tuned and convenient. The browser doesn’t have tabs, but bookmarks sync with my Mac through MobileMe.

Speaking of scrolling and zooming, the Maps app (in collaboration with ex-friends at Google) is spectacular on the iPad. Treat yourself to a satellite view of your favorite city, move around with one finger, zoom with two. I just sent myself this iPad screenshot; you push the Home and Sleep buttons to take it, just like on the iPhone:

As on the iPhone, the iPad’s built-in Safari bookmarks show a User Guide, very nicely done. Enterprising geeks have discovered that Apple uses a specific framework, dubbed AdLib, to create a “desktop-like” Web application. They speculate that this augurs well for more high-quality Web apps from Apple.

Entertainment
Everything works well–even very well. I’ve loaded iTunes movies, rented one, I’ve used Netflix and the ABC app. Same for the iPod function and its CoverFlow. “Nothing to see, here”, by which I mean no trouble, no disappointment, the iPad does a spectacular job.

Games
I have nothing to say about games; I’m simply the wrong customer. Out of curiosity I loaded Smule’s Magic Piano, and Korg’s iELECTRIBE, Accordio and miniSynth Pro. Very impressive although, again, I’m not the target. As food for thought and extrapolation, I typed “iPad game” into Google: 112 million hits.

eReader
After two weeks, Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle still look good. I hear the debate about e-ink versus backlit screen. I don’t mind reading on a computer screen, but I also like paper. I can load a math textbook from the Kindle bookstore on my iPad, and solve exercises using pen and paper. As an investor, I’ll be watching what the iPad (and its competition) does for–or to–the textbook industry.

Turning to newspapers and magazines, I like the agitation surrounding the iPad. The presentation I gave to the Presse Magazine conference in Paris last week confirmed the  enthusiasm and the anxiety. There’s much skill, energy and €€ in play.

I’ve tried the New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Popular Science, GQ, the Zinio magazine distribution app, Paris Match and Le Monde. They’re all promising but they show that the genre still needs work on both the UI side and particularly with the business models. I have an aversion to subscriptions that make it difficult to cancel, and only Le Monde lets me buy a single issue using their in-app purchase mechanism.

Regarding the UI, the gold dust needs to settle for some, while others need to lose their East Block smell. The former (names withheld) enjoy the new UI toys a bit too much. They’re tiring, distracting. The latter need to do better than a timidly sexed-up screen replica of the paper-based product.

Still, I’m hopeful. There’s no good culture without bad taste; the excesses prove that designers are pushing the envelope and conquering uncharted territory. The medium has yet to coalesce and find its sui generis place, but I’m optimistic because there’s enough competition, interest, and customers to make “it” happen—a thriving electronic newspaper and magazine industry. As for Apple’s role as an advertising platform (iAd?), that, too, will be worth watching.

Presentation
Keynote, Apple’s PowerPoint-compatible superset app, shows us the iPad idiosyncrasies. I brought the official iPad-to-VGA adapter with me to Paris, hooked it up, and hoped for the best. Zero setup, as we have come to expect, with no fiddling with F-keys or Desktop Properties. The projector displayed the presentation while my iPad displayed a (limited) presenter’s console. But, wait, switching out of Keynote, there’s no way to display the main screen. The iPad manual says I can display photos using a projector, but there’s not a word about a general replica of the iPad screen. At the conference I tried to show a movie but got an “Unauthorized” message, instead.

The conference organizers had insisted: Don’t forget the VGA adapter for the iPad. I didn’t. But, while I brought two machines for friends, I forgot to pack mine. No problem…almost. My configuration automagically resurrected itself on one of the spare machines when connected to iTunes. This gave me the opportunity to use MobileMe’s Find My iPhone service. It found my two iPads, the one left behind in my office and its freshly minted clone. The one in it found in Paris is shown below:

I could lock it, display a message on it, or remotely wipe its content. I chose the latter, I’ll see the results when I get back. In the meantime, as advertised in the screenshot above, the one left behind is now “dead”.

Conclusion and memoriam
Has the long-suffering tablet device finally emerged? The iPad isn’t perfect but, for me, it’s more than good enough, and extrapolating from the iPhone trajectory since 2007 we’ll see a steady string of improvements, especially if competitors such as HP and (the now-disliked) Google spur Apple and drive investment and creativity.
A final word…for Bill Gates. In 2001, he predicted that within five years, the Tablet PC would be the most popular form of PC sold in America. The timing was off, but he might end up being right, even if he might not enjoy the fruits of his vision.

Being a visionary is a bitch.

Bill’s prediction was only one of a long string going back to Dynabook, Newton, Grid, Go and other prophecies. The iPad might be the real thing, finally.

JLG@mondaynote.com

Catching The iPad Wave: Seven Thoughts

1. Design

The iPad is all about design, and interface expectations. From a graphic design standpoint, with the iPad, the quantum leap is its ability to render layouts, typefaces, page structure. No more web HTML lowest common denominator, here. What comes out from an art director gets WYSIWYGed on the iPad — if the implementation is right.
Two things will be needed, though : talent and tools. Talent requirements for the iPad won’t be limited to conceiving great graphic arrangements fitting the 9’7″ (25cm) screen. As in multimedia  journalism where storytelling talent is to be enhanced by technical skills, layout and contents will have to be supported by great technical implementation. Clumsiness is not an option.
As for the tools, there is a need for what I’ll call “the first  layer” of content creation, i.e. the design phase that stands above the hard coding. What we need is a set of tools to be used by production people to arrange contents; it is badly needed: consider how often multimedia designers rely on… PostIt to sketch their projects out. Apple could provide this toolkit, of course. As for others, don’t count on Quark Xpress, they badly missed the web design train, but rely more on Adobe, they’re said to have an iPad design toolbox in the pipeline.

The WSJ.Com – OK for a Generation 1 app, but...

The WSJ.Com – OK for a Generation 1 app, but...

2. Innovation / Disruption

The app market is likely to split into two different paths. “Generation 1″ iPad applications will be a direct translation of the print reading experience, slightly improved using the finger-as-a-pointing-device feature for browsing and zooming. That’s the Wall Street Journal way. No point in blaming their designers; like everybody else, they had to crash-code their apps: game developers are handled console prototypes 12 to 24 months in advance of the actual release; for the iPad, it was just weeks. (We’re told many apps never “saw” an actual iPad before they shipped, they were written and tested entirely on the software simulator that comes with the Apple development tools…)
“Generation 2″ apps will have to reinvent navigation, the invitation and handling of user input, the integration of videos or animated graphics, a key challenge.
Publishers will be well advised to stimulate out-of-the box thinking by drilling into new pools of designers, through public, crowdsourced contests. Inevitably, great stuff will emerge; it will not be applicable before a year or two, but this innovative/disruptive stimulus approach is essential (not only for media, but also for books). More

Wanna see my Japanese etchings — on my iPad?

The frenzy surrounding Apple’s new product, the iPad, could give a new life to the old pickup line. I just got mine, that thing is an equal opportunity guy and chick magnet. Better than the proverbial (and fake) Ferrari car keys negligently dropped on the counter in a bar. Here, with the iPad, you can forget to take your bicycle pant clips off, the magnet will still work.

Seriously, I’ve never seen such excitement since I’ve been in the high-tech business (42 years). Not the Macintosh intro and its justifiably historic “1984” commercial, not the iPhone launch in January 2007. The fact I’m only citing two Apple events already signals how Apple, and I actually mean Steve Jobs, have been able to engineer launches as well as (sourpusses will say better than) its products.

But, before we proceed, let’s deal with the product review. I want to use it for a couple of weeks, just to see how the initial reaction evolves, how the dust and the bugs settle down, how the iPad feels at work, at home and on the road – I’ll take mine to Europe in a week.
In the meantime, here are a few reviews by recognized experts:

- Starting with a negative one, by Cory Doctorow, a science-fiction writer and Open Source, anti-DRM advocate, here. A useful counterpoint to the overriding enthusiasm.
- David Pogue gives us a friendly tongue-in-cheek, his usual tone, walk through the pros and cons, here.
- The Wall Street Journal’s hugh-tech guru, Walt Mossberg, gives it a pretty good pat on the pad, calling it a game changer, here.
- At Wired, Steven Levy (ex-Newsweek) explains: Apple’s iPad is “One Small Step for Tablets, One Giant Leap for Personal Computers”, including a tip of the hat to a just deceased PC pioneer, Ed Roberts, here.
- An enthusiastic BoingBoing piece by Xeni Jardin, here.
- Lastly, Dan Lyons (the Fake Steve Jobs author turned Newsweek columnist when Steven Levy left) switches his opinion. He panned the iPad at the January 27th event but graciously changes his mind in a piece titled “Think Really Different”, here.

And, many, many more (Google gives 74 million hits for “iPad review”), mostly positive.
I’ll conclude this section with a Steven Levy quote: “The iPad is like the Beatles of 2010, it takes something that we thought we knew and makes it seem fresh.”
Can the iPad live up to such an endorsement?

And, we have the launch itself, which makes Red Army precision marching drills look like a drunken Spring Break outing. Consider the synchronization: all the Big Media reviews came out Wednesday March 31st evening at the same time exactly. iPad App developers were under strict embargo orders, which they respected: no press releases before Launch Day. The order got rescinded and we had a deluge of on-line PR material starting Friday morning – at 10:00 am.

Saturation bombing comes to mind when you see all TV channels, ABC, CBS, NBC…, news and comedy; all newspapers, from The NY Times to USA Today; magazines such as Time and Newsweek:

and

And, of course, the Apple fans themselves, lining up outside Apple stores the night before.
You’ll find pictures take at the Palo Alto Apple Store here, scenes like this are all over the Web.

More

The Jesus TV: What For?

You’ll recognize an echo of the August 2009 note: The Jesus Tablet: What For?

This time, we’ll walk around another increasingly popular topic: Apple’s putative entry into television sets, a huge Consumer Electronics segment.

The argument for Apple making TVs is two-pronged: the money and the UI.

For the money, there is the $31B television set market, one where Apple should go next, according to Piper Jaffray’s analyst Gene Munster. The gent is one of the usual suspects, I mean an oft-quoted “industry observer” following Apple. (Oft-quoted and no less often wrong: in February 2009, our Gene predicted Apple TV would get a CableCard and a Digital Video Recorder capability by the end of last year.)
For Apple to continue to grow, the reasoning goes, it must enter new markets. This clearly implies Apple’s existing product categories can’t supply double-digit growth; this no less clearly overlooks the huge growth spurt provided by the smartphone segment. The iPhone is Apple’s fastest-growing and largest and most profitable business. And this with less than 7% of the total worldwide market for smartphones, a market that is going through a huge growth spurt as these devices emerge as “the next PC, only bigger”. So much for the lebensraum, room for growth argument.
Furthermore, getting into a huge commoditized (meaning very low margins) consumer segment as TV sets can also be viewed as we sometimes call the Great Chinese Soft Drink Market Fallacy. ‘Chief, if only each one of these guys buys one can of our newest power drink a month, one billion cans, we’re rrrrich!’ – But they don’t. Fighting the Samsungs and the Sharps of that world on their own ground is a risky bet.

To counter the commodity market giants negative, we have the User Interface argument. Picture, if you will, the back of an Apple television set: two connectors, one coax for the cable signal, one RJ 45 (Ethernet) for the Net connection (if not achieved thru the coax cable). Inside, an embedded computer and hard drive, a WiFi link. Outside, an iPod Touch or iPhone as a remote. Instead of the touchingly antiquated Made in East Germany UI of our Comcast cable box (mine can only display two digits for the hundreds of channels it switches), we get to search TV schedules and movie libraries the way we search the Net or our hard disk. All this is Apple style. (Or Google style, as we’ll discuss in a moment.)

This isn’t a new vision: this is exactly what a friend of mine and real industry insider, a serial entrepreneur, Peter Yared, CEO of Transpond, described in his August 2008 blog post:

Up Next from Apple: Apple TVs

Apple’s next move occurred to me while I was walking by my local Apple store: Apple iTV, which will be:
Wall-mountable 37″, 42″, 50″, 60+” LCD screens
Look cool, with a hip Apple logo
Stream iTunes video and audio content from the web and from your Mac
Have special apps on the appstore that run on your TV (sports scores, etc.)
Cable card compatible so you won’t need a cable box
Wirelessly display your MacBook’s video feed
iPhone-like touch screen remote control
Include a browser controllable by above remote control’s keyboard
Built-in DVR
So a very cool looking TV that is plug-and-play capable of showing video rentals and playing music. This will do to Sharp/Sony/Samsung/Comcast what the iPhone did to the Blackberry and AT&T: cost more, eviscerate the market, and bypass the network operator. Sweeeet.

If this is so obvious, why hasn’t a “TV done right” happened yet? Or, to be even more derivative, why hasn’t Apple added a CableCard and a DVR software module to its “hobby” Apple TV and thus cause it to graduate to the full-on product status?

I know, I’m mixing two threads here. One train of thoughts is the fully integrated television set made (designed) by Apple, the other is the Apple TV external box.

Let’s start with today’s external box, Apple TV, a strange creature that’s neither a set-top box, nor a PVR (a.k.a. DVR), nor an AV receiver for a home theater (home cinéma for Europeans). The hobby is more like a Roku, or a Vudu with expected Apple twists: clean UI and pairing with your iTunes and iPhoto libraries on your PC or Mac. Why hasn’t Apple made the obvious move of extending it by adding a CableCard and a DVR software module? More

Who will buy Palm?

by Jean-Louis Gassée

Who will buy Palm?

If you’re in a hurry: no one.

If you have more time, here is the sad story: in one day, this past Friday March 19th, Palm shares collapsed, -29% in one Nasdaq session, closing at $4. The obvious question is why? But a second query immediately comes up: why $4, why not zero?

For months, the Wall Street “sentiment” — I didn’t know there was such a thing there — let’s say the calculation was this: ‘Sure, Palm’s cooked but one of the Big Players will buy it.’

By “cooked” the haruspices meant Palm had no future as an independent company.

Why?

You’ll recall the sky-high expectations raised by its main investor, Roger McNamee, from Elevation Partners, a private equity firm. (Since October 2007, Elevation Partners has invested $460M, 25% of its $1.9B fund in Palm, for 30% of the company.)
In March 2009, Roger claimed the just announced Palm Pre would cause iPhone users to switch smartphones: “June 29, 2009, is the two-year anniversary of the first shipment of the iPhone. Not one of those people will still be using an iPhone a month later. Think about it — if you bought the first iPhone, you bought it because you wanted the coolest product on the market. Your two-year contract has just expired. Look around. Tell me what they’re going to buy.”
Palm quickly disowned such statements, but the damage was done, lofty, out-of-reach expectations were set.
Apple said little but announced a new iPhone model and lowered prices to $99 for the older model in June 2009, just one week after the Pre shipped. Worse, Palm’s “savior” and “iPhone killer” smartphone suffered from a lethal combination of self-inflicted problems: ingenious but clunky hardware implementation, promising but buggy software, restricted SDK (software tools for applications developers) availability and sophomoric cat-and-mouse games with Apple over iTunes synchronization, to name but a few.
Most of the saga is documented, or opinionated here at Endgadget, one of the more “animated” high-tech blogs.
Now, Palm’s CEO, Jon Rubinstein (a.k.a. Ruby) offers his own if-only-coulda-shoulda-woulda explanation: according to him, bad luck struck Palm when Verizon launched Motorola’s Droid two months before shipping Palm’s Pre. This type of lame explanation is embarrassing. Jon always knew Verizon to be a better channel than Sprint, 91 million subscribers for Verizon vs. 48 million for Sprint. What very probably happened is this: initially believing his own propaganda, Ruby didn’t want to yield to Verizon’s demands. Palm’s CEO bet a successful launch with Sprint would cause the bigger carrier to come around — only to take a less advantageous deal later and too late. By then, everyone knew about the Pre’s tepid reception at Sprint, taking any leverage away from Palm in discussions with other carriers. More

Mobile World Clusterf#^k

It happens all the time: when CEOs don’t know what to do, they create a strategic alliance. Alone, they’re exposed. As a group, they must be doing something right because everyone  else in the herd does it too. In the early nineties, my friend Denise Caruso, a NYT columnist and editor of the Digital Media newsletter, listed over 150 such alliances.

They often amount to worse than nothing: agitation, confusion, hard-to-reconcile cultures, hidden agendas and fears of losing control of one’s destiny.

In the best of cases, the product of the announcement is the announcement, a short burst of mildly favorable publicity. I know whereof I’m speaking, I’m hereby pleading guilty to the Apple-Digital Equipment Strategic Alliance, that was in the late eighties. We know what came out of it: nothing. Luckily, once the talking heads left the stage, the engineers in both companies, in their usual fashion, disregarded executive orders and decided they had better things to do. No monstrosity was created.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. There are countless examples of companies making a huge, expensive mess of a forced attempt at harnessing groups, cultures with different agendas under a politically correct standard, in the name of a warm and fuzzy goal.

Remember AIM? Apple, IBM and Motorola, an early nineties strategic alliance. (I had no part in that one, having left Apple.) The idea was to harness the technology and people of these three companies to create a new object-oriented operating system, Pink, running on the IBM/Motorola PowerPC architecture. The whole thing was folded into a new company,  Taligent — dissolved in 1998. The whole thing cost hundreds of millions of dollars. (Fortunately, in 1997, Steve Jobs masterfully crafted a “reverse acquisition” of Apple; he promptly put the NeXT software engineers in charge and we know the rest of that story.) More