mobile internet

The Adobe – Apple Flame War

The short version:

Who, in his right mind, expects Steve Jobs to let Adobe (and other) cross-platform application development tools control his (I mean the iPhone OS) future? Cross-platform tools dangle the old “write once, run everywhere” promise. But, by being cross-platform, they don’t use, they erase “uncommon” features. To Apple, this is anathema as it wants apps developers to use, to promote its differentiation. It’s that simple. Losing differentiation is death by low margins. It’s that simple. It’s business. Apple is right to keep control of its platform’s future.

The longer version:

The upcoming 4.0 release of the iPhone OS will come with licensing language that prohibits the use of Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone compiler. The compiler is a clever way around the absence of a Flash interpreter on Apple’s smartphone OS. It takes Flash code in and outputs iPhone OS code, allowing Flash content and apps to run on the iPhone (and iPad). Problem solved.

Not so fast, says Apple, we’ll only allow applications that are written “natively” with our tools. No cross-platform tools, no Flash-to-iPhone compiler, no Flash.

Less than 24 hours later, an Adobe employee, Lee Brimelow, posts a virulent critique of Apple’s latest prohibition, titled “Apple Slaps Developers In The Face”. He concludes with a vigorous ‘Go screw yourself Apple’ and then adds a postscript: ‘Comments disabled as I’m not interested in hearing from the Cupertino Comment SPAM bots.’ Ah, yes. The one-way mirror…
[What the irate gentleman fails to say is this: The only developers slapped in the face are those who don’t use Apple development tools because they want to write a cross-platform app that may or may not use the particular features of the iPhone OS.]

He’s not alone in condemning Apple. In his blog, sunnily called “Why does everything suck?”, Hank Williams asks if “Steve Jobs Has Just Gone Mad” and wonders about “Insane Restraint of Trade”.

Adobe appears to be worried. In its latest SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission, the stock market regulator) filing, the company admits that its ‘business could be harmed’. If Apple succeeds in turning developers away from Adobe’s tools, a new version of which, CS5, is about to be announced, well, the money pump will stutter.

There are calmer minds, however. In his highly-recommended blog, Daring Fireball, John Gruber explains why Apple changed the iPhone OS licensing agreement. It’s strategic, really: Apple doesn’t want anyone else to have control over which OS features the applications have or don’t have access to. I’ll explain in a moment why it’s rational for Apple to fend off cross-compilers, and why it’s not too rational for Adobe employees and others to criticize Apple for keeping control of its future.

But, first, a bit of history.

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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.

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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

iPad: Publishers look for the winning formula

Among Australian media executives, like everywhere else, the talk of the town is the iPad. I was in Sydney this week, giving a talk at the Media 2010 conference. This gave rise to vibrant discussions of the ways in which the Apple device could transform our industry.
Among the group of speakers, the most enthusiastic one about the opportunity was Marc Frons, the chief technology officer of New York Times Digital. (Marc oversees a huge team of 150 tech people in New York). Three weeks before Steve Jobs’ January 27th iPad keynote, Marc dispatched a team of developers to Cupertino to crash code an iPad application. According to Marc, the quality of the interface, the speed of the iPad, its software will make it a game changer for the media industry. From a commercial perspective, The New York Times still hasn’t decided how to deal with its upcoming iPad bizmodel: charging or not, and how much. The context is the Times’ recent announcement of a paywall based on a metered system: a few pages a month for free; then you pay. See our recent story The Numbers behind the Paywall).

For all publishers, many obstacles remain. The first one is dealing with Apple. Media executives I talked to in Sydney are unanimous: Steve Jobs’ company is difficult to work with. It is utterly secretive, willing to give only minimal information to content providers. “When we met with the Apple people here, said an executive of Fairfax Digital, they didn’t bring an iPad with them, they were telling things like “it has a ten hours battery life“… C’mon guys…” Fairfax Digital operates 284 websites in Australia, including the two big dailies’s sites – The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age – viewed by 24m uniques visitors each month, which is not bad in a 21m people country.

Apple needs the publishing industry, it should treat it better. When it launched the iPhone in January 2007, the device was a revolutionary product just in itself, one that could wait for more than a year to open its platform to third party applicatios. This isn’t true of the iPad. Unlike the iPhone, the iPad will leave or die by the content it will deliver. Especially for a device priced between $500 and $800.  As for today, everyone is excited by the platform’s technological promise. But being able to offer a reader experience such as the Bonnier Mag+ concept or the recently released Wired demo is one thing. Finding the right economic model is another. 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

The iParanoid Scenario

I’m not through with the iPad. Actually, I’m just warming up. For today’s column, let’s focus on the perils of a closed system.

I live in a country (France) where censorship is a big deal. It comes mostly from greedy celebrities (sorry for the truism); they use a legal system that largely favors them. Often, they find a compassionate judge when it comes to extracting money as compensation for a supposed privacy violation or for some other unauthorized disclosure. Convictions are frequent and expensive; they can lead to the seizure of a magazine or even of a book. France has a long history of such practices. In the early sixties, the country was waging a colonial war in Algeria. Then, for the most avid news readers, the game was to get the weekly magazine l’Express at the kiosk as early as possible before French authorities seized it. (No such risk with today’s Gallic newsmagazines).

Let me reframe this in the context of an upcoming iPad era. An iPad newsmagazine publishes an investigative piece that triggers a legal injunction: remove that from the publication or face a $10,000 penalty per day. No, says the publisher, who has guts and money (proof this is a fiction), we want to fight in court. The plaintiff then turns to Apple. Same talk: face a huge fine, or remove the offending content. Furthermore, says the plaintiff’s attorneys, thanks to your permanent and unique electronic link to your proprietary devices and the fact that the electronic kiosk now resides on the device – yes we can argue that point, they say– , you must extend the deletion to each user’s tablet. C’mon, you keep pushing updates, and various contents bits to these gizmos, you can push a delete instruction code.

What would Apple do? This is a question of balance of power. If the legal action involves some neuron-challenged celebrity, chances are Apple won’t balk. But what if Nicolas Sarkozy or his whispering-singer wife are the plaintiffs? Truth is, given the pattern of legal actions against the press in France, it is more than certain a French judge will be tempted to request an immediate remote deletion of a presumed infringing content. Then we’ll see a replay of what happened last summer in the 1984 case, when Amazon remotely deleted a copy of George Orwell’s novel in the Kindle of buyers for copyrights issues. Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos apologized profusely for the mishap (plus it involved 1984 not Alice in Wonderland, tough luck). More

iPad Thoughts

Let me start with an important caveat. For this I’ll refer you to a post from my favorite high-tech blogger, David Pogue. “Don’t pass judgment until you’ve tried it!” Wise counsel: three years ago, industry sages “knew” Apple had no business making a phone. Normal humans voted with their wallet.

Customers come in two categories: cats and dogs. Put new cat food before your feline companion, she’ll walk around the dish, indifferent to your entreaties, suspicious, bidding her time. Dogs aren’t that complicated: they jump on the new dog food and greedily scarf it down.
I’m a dog, I’ll try (almost) any new high-tech product. But, as the advertising lore likes to say: Will the dog come back to the dog food? That’s how you know you have a viable product. We’ll see in a couple of months if I keep my new iPad or if our daughter Marie resells it for me on eBay – for a fee, she’s a businesswoman.

In the meantime, five thoughts.

First, we have no idea of what the iTunes App Store will do for the iPad. As usual, the temptation is use derivative thinking: The iPad is like ___ only bigger, or smaller. A bigger iPod Touch is the more common thought. So, yes, most iPhone or iPod Touch apps will scale nicely. But this much bigger XGA (1024 by 768) screen is “more enough” for iPad applications to be genuinely different as opposed to mere derivations of iPhone apps. Apple comes up with their own iWork apps showing but one example of uses that aren’t just an extension of the iPhone world.

Gizmodo has one of the few posts, among the tens of thousands of iPad-related blog entries, focusing on in-app purchases. Last Summer, a new iPhone OS release introduced the ability to make purchases from within an application, without jumping out to a Web site. As a counter-example, look at the current iPhone Kindle app: when you want to buy books you leave the app and go to a dedicated page on Amazon’s site to order the book and direct its digital delivery to your iPhone. Apple offers a simpler mechanism: buy what you need, weapons or lives in a game, virtual reality clothes, furniture or buildings from within the gaming or VR app. Apple smoothes out the transaction, billed to your iTunes account, takes 30% for its services. This is great for some merchant but Amazon doesn’t see it that way.
This is relevant to Frederic’s point about newspapers and magazines in today’s note: the Financial Times could deploy a free FT app on the iPad, complete with teasers for today’s paper or for a special research report. Click and you download the paper, or a magazine. See here what the Swedish group Bonnier thinks of the new possibilities afforded by powerful tablets. The Mag+ demo is very Apple-like, I’ll even say Jon Ive-like, complete with a veddy Briddish accent.
I can’t wait for the things I can’t imagine coming out of the brains and loins of my fellow geeks.

Second, real users, paying customers, as opposed to geeks and braying critics.

I’m going to get in trouble for this, but hear me out.

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Mobile Payments

Last week’s note on Apple licensing generated a good flow of comments, all appreciated. I’ll respond, but not before we get Apple earnings and the putative Jesus Tablet out of the way.

I’ll approach today’s topic, mobile payments, using an Apple Store moment.

Some cables keep disappearing. In particular, the ones that connect MacBooks of various vintages to conference room projectors. As much as some of us admire Apple’s minimalist fixation, the parade of video-out connector generations can grate. The world outside of Cupertino is inelegant, imperfect, we know. But that world features one universal projector connector standard: VGA.
In recent years, Apple moved from mini-VGA to DVI to mini-DVI to micro-DVI to mini-DisplayPort, creating the need for a (dis)array of “to VGA” adapter cables – see the links earlier in the sentence. Elegance at a price. Let’s hope the mini DisplayPort will stay blessed for a while.

So… Entrepreneurs come to our office for a presentation; they forgot the VGA adapter for their MacBook, I lend them one from my private stash. You know what happens next, they’re entrepreneurs. I go back to the Apple store for a replacement.
Adapter in hand, I approach an Apple Store employee with a hip-mounted sales terminal, whip out my credit card; a couple of minutes later, we’re done. No bag, receipt by email, life is good.
But, why use a credit card?
I have an iPhone, the Apple sales terminal is an iPhone as well, why can’t I just touch an icon, enter a PIN and be done? That’s what I do when I buy the Inglorious Basterds movie, a Bo Diddley Blues album or the (very buggy) Kayak application via iTunes on my iPhone.

The iPhone (as well as many other devices) contains a micro-SIM, a Smart Card module similar to what you’ll find in many European payment cards. Insert one of those in the payment terminal, key your PIN and you’re done. Why can’t we do this with a smartphone and get rid of credit cards? Simpler transactions, neatly listed on the device, if desired, and in an on-line account, as it’s done today.

The idea isn’t new. More

The Nexus One Puzzle

Let me state it at the outset: I understand the buzz generated by the Google Phone a.k.a Nexus One. But, the more I look into details and their ramifications, the more I’m puzzled. What exactly is Google trying to do? Make Android, their smartphone OS platform the “Windows” of the new era of really personal computers? Or become a dominant handset player to effectively compete with RIM’s Blackberries or Apple’s iPhones? Or, third possibility, dominate the new world of mobile advertising as it does the “old” universe of Web ads for PCs?

Let’s start with the product.

It’s not really a Google Phone. Its real name is Nexus One and it’s made by HTC, the well-regarded Taiwanese handset maker that produced the first G1 and G2 Android phones — as well as their Sidekick ancestor from Danger. Microsoft bought that company but the CEO, Andy Rubin joined Google as head of the Android team.
But, you’ll object, most cell phones and smartphones are made by one company, a manufacturing subcontractor and branded and sold by another. Apple doesn’t make its iPhones, nor does RIM make any of its Blackberries, to use but two well-known examples. Indeed, the Nexus One is sold by Google at www.google.com/phone. If you already have a Google Checkout account, the purchase process can’t be simpler.
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