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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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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.

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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

Microsoft ambivalence

Lots of earnings reports this week, mostly good ones. Apple did better than expected, even by the most enthusiastic earnings seers, so did Amazon whose shares went up 26.8% today, adding more than $10B to its market cap in one day. I’m happy to see a quality company, one that treats its customer better than the vast majority of short-term oriented businesses, reap rewards for a combination of long-term vision and everyday attention to detail. We’ll get back to Amazon in a future Monday Note, when we discuss the flurry of e-book readers.

You might have heard Microsoft just launched Windows 7 this past Thursday, to good reviews and newish Apple ads, more installments of the ‘I’m a PC, I’m a Mac’ age-old campaign. The gent who plays the PC, John Hodgman, is much more than the character he’s become known for. See the speech he wrote and delivered at the June 2009 White House Correspondents dinner: he roasts the newly elected Barack Obama, calling him the first nerd president. This YouTube video won’t bore you, I’m not sure I can say the same for the latest, somewhat repetitious Apple ads.

As for Windows 7 itself, I haven’t updated any of the four candidate computers I mentioned last week. In part because I want to hear from early upgraders before I take the plunge, I still have the expensive and painful memories of being a Vista early adopter in 2007. I was the first one in line at Fry’s, in Palo Alto, at 8:00 am on January 30th — and proud of it. When the door opened, I turned around and saw I was also the only one in line. Instead of taking the hint, I forged ahead, bought a big HP laptop and the full Office 2007 Professional DVD. I had grown reasonably adept at running Windows Xp machines and couldn’t imagine how painful the Vista experience would turn out to be. I’m more careful, this time.
There is also the money. Upgrading the four machines, including a first install on a Linux netbook will cost me about $800, plus some application software, plus my time. Upgrading five Macs in my family cost me $49 and not too much time as the process was, for me at least, uneventful.
(This said, I plan to write a few short subjects on strange bugs, UI caprice or ergonomics non-sense in Apple’s products. Being a polite optimist, I’ll marvel: if the products sell so well in spite of these kinks, imagine what would happen if these problems disappeared!) More

One Bit

This is going to be a busy week. Monday we have Apple’s earnings and, later in the week, Windows 7’s release. The deafening noise will make it hard to understand the real, lasting consequences of these events. Fortunately, deep into the bowels of a server, a smaller happening, a bit flipping from 0 to 1 portends more fun, more intelligible things to come.

The Apple Q4 (fourth quarter) 2009 numbers matter less than the volume of comments will make it appear. If the numbers are good, fans will sing ‘I told you so’ and naysayers will object the good times won’t last. If the revenue and profit indicators are less than stellar, the ‘I told you so’ and ‘it won’t last’ will switch sides.

A similar pattern applies to Windows 7’s launch: this is the greatest thing since Vista, just kidding; this is disappointing; this works; this doesn’t; this threatens Apple; this is very good for Apple. (Apparently, Apple is intent on channeling the Windows 7 noise to its own uses with an aggressive campaign, likely targeting the pain Xp users who, supposedly, will endure a particularly arduous upgrading experience. We’ll keep this for later: I’ll upgrade a few computers from Xp, Linux, Vista Ultimate and Vista Home Premium and report back.)

Sages have already offered their obligatory contributions to each part of the libretto. And, things on the Web being immortal, wags have dug up equally authoritative 2 1/2 years-old claims from the same business and tech gurus when Vista was launched. Said wags invented a term, “claim chowder”, for such an amusing or embarrassing confrontation between past and present pronouncements. If you google the phrase, you won’t get much because the ever-obliging search engine thinks you mean New England’s “clam chowder”. Fortunately, Google Reader, the blog-reading engine, is more forthcoming and offers a bevy of examples such as this one, or this one.

The confusion and contradictions are understandable: I believe the computer industry is in a transition that makes divining the future by reading today’s tea leaves more difficult than usual. For example, how and how much will Cloud Computing really change the landscape? Or, what about netbooks, a fad or a lasting trend encouraged by a bad economy pushing consumers and business towards the bottom of the price range? Will smartphones continue to eat into PC “face-time”, into out use of desktop and laptop computers and, if so, how quickly? More

Inhale, it’s Free

“Free”, as a business model, is a figment of the imagination. In itself, “Free” is not a business model, it is only a component of broader revenue system. Unlike Chris Anderson, author of the book “Free” ($18.00) — a bestseller not a bestfreebie — I happened to actually practice the free “model”. Between 2002 and 2007, I was the editor of one of the most successful free quality daily newspapers in the world.  20 minutes is now the most read newspaper in France with 2.7m readers, every single day, in eight major cities.

To put things in perspective, the US equivalent would be a free daily distributed in about 20 cities, with 13 millions readers. More than Japan’s Asahi Shimbun. 20 minutes is not a mere compilation of newswires. It is a “real” newspaper, with original content provided by an 80+ journalists newsroom. And readers love it. Free it is. But so costly.  When we reached our cruising altitude, we needed about €200,00 ($280,000) in advertising to break even (which the paper eventually did achieve). In Spain, too, 20 minutos, became the largest daily in its market with 14 different editions and a good profit margin — that was before the recession struck hard. (The Norwegian group Schibsted owns 100% of Spain’s 20 minutos and half of the French edition, in joint ownership with the regional group Ouest-France).  

I was then an advocate for the “free” press and I still am. Applied to the print media, the free concept brings many great things. 20 minutes’ readers turned out to be :

  • New : 75% of them didn’t read a newspapers before.
  • Young : they were about 10 to 15 years younger than the average French reader.
  • More gender balanced: we had an equal proportion of male and female readers.
  • More professionally active (almost no retired people, for instance).

This was no accident, it was the result of a well-crafted strategy. More