apple

Science Fiction: An Apple-Curated App Store

In an alternate universe, Apple has announced the App Store Guide and Blog. Choice morsels from the PR material follow.

“We came to realize that a quarter million apps meant worse than nothing to Apple users”, said Apple’s CEO. “I get confused too! Reviews are often fake, lame, or downright incompetent. PR firms have been caught astroturfing reviews, publishers have resorted to flooding the App Store with shameful clones of successful applications. I won’t let one of Apple’s most important, most imitated innovations sink into anomie.”

[Remember, this is sci-fi.]

“So…Today we’re proud to introduce the Real App Store Guide, written and maintained by Apple experts. We’ll review new and existing iOS apps. We’ll tell you which ones we grok (and that grok us) and give you the straight dope on the offerings you shouldn’t touch, even if they’re free. In our Guide, you’ll find a series of paths: For the Traveler, the Gamer, the Music Lover, the Graphic Artist, the Oppressed Enterprise Windows User, Teachers, Parents, Doctors… The Guide will also feature a blog, a running commentary on the iOS App landscape with intelligent answers to cogent questions. And in keeping with our usual standards for decorum and IQ, the blog will be moderated…”

And so it is, the App Store is fully curated, at long last.

As always, this doesn’t please everyone…at least on the surface. In reality, the usual naysayers are thrilled: More pageviews! Ryan Tate jumps on the opportunity and frenetically fires at Steve Jobs’ inbox, trying to start another late night email séance. But this time the Emailer In Chief doesn’t bite.

Customers, on the other hand, like the Real App Store Guide. Users can finally find their way through the twisted and confusing maze of programs. They learn to adjust for a particular writer’s opinions, much as we’ve all learned to compensate for the biases of, say, movie reviewers. The blog gives civilians a forum where they can argue (politely) with the named authors of the reviews—there’s no anonymous corpospeak here.

App authors…some of them aren’t so keen on the idea. The ones that get tepid reviews are understandably furious and threaten lawsuits (in vain…their attorneys are told to re-read the App Store T&Cs). With a modicum of care with words, that’s what the Guide’s editors are for: Safe negative opinions. 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

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

Crowdsourcing Propaganda

Once again, Apple, or, getting to the point, Steve Jobs defies common wisdom. This time it’s about communication, positioning, propaganda. Never let others take control of the story, don’t let anything go unanswered, ever. (Well, almost anything, there is the ‘When did you stop beating your wife’ exception.) The recent and still on-going –raging might be a better word – public discussion of the iPad makes the received wisdom point: Apple lost control of its story, the Great Helmsman is leaving others steer the discourse.

I was tempted to agree. But a friend stopped me in my tracks as I was starting to point communication rules violations such as bragging statements better left to third parties. As the French like to say: Don’t make claims about your performance, leave it to grateful third parties. (You guessed it, the French are a tad more specific, but this is a family oriented newsletter.) ‘Look, said the friend, you’re in Steve’s office. Among the papers on his desk, you see his bank statement. Being an experienced businessman, you know how to look without looking and how to read numbers upside down. On that bank statement, do you see a line saying: Steve, you’re screwing up? No? See: there is no reality feedback telling him how wrong he is and how right you are.’
Skipping over rare exceptions, yes, my friend is right. This got me to take another look to the on-going “iPad conversation”. Using a different perspective, I come to a different conclusion. Conscious design, luck, instinct or, more likely, thanks to a retroactive, reverse order combination of all three, it looks like Apple is crowdsourcing its propaganda, its promotion of key iPad issues, its product positioning.

But, first, what is crowdsourcing?
For us, non-native English speakers, it is yet another manifestation of the great creativity, plasticity of American English, of its ability to constantly invent very practical, very compact words and phrases. Behold astroturf: it designates not artificial turf, the original definition, but fake grassroots political movements. We have outsourcing for the practice of moving the making of goods or services outside, to have someone else make those for you. We’ve all encountered the outsourcing hell of customer support. We also read the label on an iPod: Made in China, Designed in California.
Moving one more step in the continuous deformation of language: using the Web, we’ve come to see the crowd as a source of ideas and, in some cases, services such as answers to questions, guidance, directions. Wikipedia is one good example. Actually, it offers a good definition for crowdsourcing. A direct quote from the crowdsourced encyclopedia: “a neologistic compound of Crowd and Outsourcing for the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group of people or community.”

Back to the iPad stories, what do we see? Or what do I choose to see? 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.

More

The Apple Licensing Myth

Legends die hard. In the pre-Web days, they got printed and reprinted, told and retold and so became official, like spinach being good for you because it held the iron your red cells needed. After decades of the disgusting veggie inflicted upon young kids – I remember, a scientist went back to the bench and found out there was no digestible iron whatsoever in spinach. You don’t get calcium by ingesting chalk, you need a calcium compound that’ll get through the sophisticated filters in the digestive system. Eating spinach gives you as much  digestible iron as sucking nails.

The spread of legends gets worse with the Web. Stories, I’m avoiding the word “information”, travel fast, I’ll sidestep “light-speed”. Yarns bounce around a world-wide echo chamber. If I hear it from five sources, it must be true. Never mind the so-called sources heard it from one another in sequence. Worse indeed, as the Web never forgets, everything gets cached, archived and will be unearthed by search engines.
This creates a need and entrepreneurs pop out of the quantum vacuum ready to fill it: a Google search reveals at least three companies, reputationrestore.org, reputationrestorer.net and restore-reputation.com who promise to clean up your besmirched Web image. Actually, these three look like the same company and, at the risk of unfairly tarnishing their own rep, they look like one of these only too frequent scams purporting to protect you from scams. Ah well…

So it goes for a tenacious legend, the one that Apple “lost” the market because it failed to license the Mac operating system to “everyone” and thus get to own the market instead of losing it to the “obviously inferior” Microsoft product.
A few days ago, no less than über-blogger Henry Blodget, the Internet Bubble repentito now head of Business Insider blog hub fell for it. This industry observer who admitted he never set foot in an Apple Store, not a sin if your territory is the quick oil-change industry, chides Apple for “making the same mistake again”. In Dear Henry’s view, just like in the 80’s, Apple insists “on selling fully integrated hardware and software devices, instead of focusing on low-cost, widely distributed software”. As a result, Apple will lose to the Open Source Android, just like Apple lost to Microsoft.

I know we shouldn’t let facts get in the way of a good story, but let’s take a closer look at today’s as well as yesterday’s data. More

The Meaning of Droid

Literally, Droid is the new Motorola phone sold by Verizon and running Google’s latest Android 2.0 release. The early reviews are good and, cleverly, Google issued a new turn-by-turn navigation application for the platform, also well received, complete with voice control and street view pictures. The Droid starts selling later this week, on November 6th, I’ll get one ASAP and report.

Earlier Android-powered phones weren’t so great, I bought a T-Mobile G1 exactly one year ago and wasn’t overwhelmed. I then called it “just a first effort” and wrote: “It’s only a question of time before most phone makers and cellular carriers offer an Android model, 12 months or less.  Motorola, for example, is building a “social networking” Android phone.  This is precisely the beauty of the Android Open Source, it lets phone makers and carriers try different implementations, specialized models, vertical applications.”

One year later, we have a new situation, a real contender for the lead position in the exploding smartphone market. How will Android impact the rest of the industry: Motorola, Garmin, TomTom, Palm, Nokia, Microsoft, RIM and, of course, the iPhone’s meteoric rise?

For Apple, the short answer is: the iPhone will continue to apply the Macintosh method, that is controlling all or most of the user’s experience, with similar results: smaller market share, disproportionally larger profits than the separate hardware-software crowd. More on this later.

Let’s start with a tip of the hat to Motorola. Last year, I questioned Motorola’s strategy and even its survival. Their “mobile devices” business was going to be spun off, the smell perhaps, from the more dignified “institutional” business, selling communications gear to government and enterprise customers. Fortunately, the new co-CEO for the mobile devices business, Sanjay Jha, came in, saw the on-going wreckage, dumped everything, starting with the Windows Mobile anchor. Then, listening to his techies’ advice, Jha bet on Google’s Android. The result is the Droid smartphone, making Motorola a strong contender again. More