Apple Music Events: They’re Not Just for iPods Anymore

Apple recently hosted their yearly “music event”. As expected, they introduced new iPods. However, this particular event had a lot of little nuggets of tantalizing information. Now that I’ve had some time to digest it all, I’ll be writing a series of articles on these nuggets. However, I thought I’d quickly touch on a few topics.

Steve Wozniak was in attendance. Steve Jobs seemed genuinely surprised and delighted. Does this have any significance? When was the last time Woz attended any official Apple events?

It’s interesting that Apple introduced printing into the upcoming iOS 4.2 update for November. My guess is they got enough complaints about the iPad not being able to print, especially from business users, that they added it into this update. I felt that by not including printing originally, Apple was trying to make a point that the iPad was in many ways a replacement for paper. Perhaps the world just isn’t quite ready for that yet.

Steve Jobs made it a point to emphasize that an iPod Touch is an iPhone without a contract. Why would he do this? If he was simply trying to make clear that the iPod Touch is an iPhone without the phone, it seemed like overkill. It also seemed like he slowed down and wanted to really drive this point home. Was Steve taking a jab at AT&T? Or was he swinging at the entire wireless industry? Or perhaps he was foreshadowing something else altogether.

Apple finally revived the Apple TV at this event. Which is somewhat interesting because Apple calls this their yearly music event. Everything else discussed at this event was music related, yet the Apple TV is obviously geared towards movies and TV shows. It simply could be the fact that this was good timing for Apple to release an updated Apple TV prior to the holiday shopping season. But it could also be a sign that Apple has finally figured out how they want to position the Apple TV. And maybe they feel the mainstream market is now ready to receive the Apple TV in earnest. The next few weeks and months should tell if Apple is really ready to take the Apple TV out of “hobby” status.

Steve Jobs also took a subtle swipe at competing devices. While discussing what consumers have taught them about the Apple TV thus far, he said, “They don’t want a computer on their TV. They have computers. They go to their widescreen TVs for entertainment, not to have another computer. This is a hard one for people in the computer industry to understand. But it’s really easy for consumers to understand. They get it.” This is a good point that I believe has relevance beyond the home media market.

When Netflix announced their app for the iPhone a few months back, I was a little surprised that Apple allowed it, since it seemed to compete with their iTunes movie service. So you can imagine my surprise when Apple themselves announced Netflix support in the Apple TV. Suddenly it seems Apple is very cozy with Netflix. What could this mean?

Finally, there seems to be some tension between Apple and Facebook over Apple’s new Ping social network. I noticed during Steve Job’s speech that Ping showed that you could log in with your Facebook ID. I even mentioned to my wife that this was a great move on Apple’s part. Yet the next day I read reports that this feature was not available. Sure enough, this feature was not available, even though it still mentioned FaceBook on Apple’s web site. Something interesting is going on behind the scenes and I can’t wait to find out what that is.

So stay tuned as I tackle some of these topics in more depth very soon.

The Nets are Dragging

Profits from netbook sales are lower than expected. So much so that HP and Dell are significantly reducing their investment in the “10-inch” market. HP reportedly is even considering getting out of the 10-inch business completely. Is this really a surprise when netbooks live in a cut-throat, race-to-the-bottom, low-cost market? People like to point out when certain products cost more than bottom-of-the-barrel options, but they rarely realize that certain markets can’t support themselves at razor-thin profit margins. To quote the article:

Most of the second-tier and white-box netbook vendors have already quit the market after first-tier players started cutting their netbook prices in the second half of 2009 to compete for market share.

What is also interesting is that this news comes right on the eve of the 9.7-inch iPad launch. Could HP and Dell be conceding the 10-inch market to Apple? And if they do, will the 11 or 12-inch markets matter anymore?

Don’t Forget the Wii

With all the talk about the iPad and the iPhone, it is easy to forget another technology device that shook up the established markets just a few short years ago. An article I recently read reminded me of this fact. The Wii, rather than catering to the traditional “gamer”, created a device that would appeal to the mainstream. Similar to the way so-called experts downplayed the iPhone and are downplaying the iPad, many gamers chided the Wii’s relatively weaker graphic capabilities and simplified controllers. Of course, their viewpoints were narrowly focused and didn’t take into account that the Wii would redefine the gaming market. The rules of the Old World don’t apply in the New World. The following quote from the article, “Is casual gaming destroying the traditional gaming market?”, sums this up:

The big videogame console makers and developers catered to performance-oriented customers who demanded more and better and who were repeat buyers. Then in 2006, Nintendo’s inexpensive Wii console came along, emphasizing accessible game play over elaborate scripts and point harvesting. So far, Nintendo has sold 28 million units of the Wii in the U.S., while Microsoft (MSFT) has sold just 19.4 million Xbox 360s and Sony (SNE) 11.7 million Playstation 3s—despite both launching before the Wii.

The parallels between the Wii and the iPhone (and it seems with the iPad) are almost eerie. New World technology shakes up the Old World markets and most of the people who are experts in the Old World seem completely caught off guard.

Less is More

I just read an article that nicely sums up why, regardless of what the technocratic elite believe, the iPad will be a huge hit with mainstream users. It’s the KISS theory – Keep it Simple Stupid. It doesn’t matter how powerful a tech device is – if it is not simple, people won’t be able to harness that power. The iPhone changed the world not just because how powerful it was, but because it was the first smartphone that an average person could pick up and understand how to use almost immediately.

Hey, I get it. The fact that non-technical users are being empowered to use technology with little need for assistance is very threatening to many of those who make a living from or pride themselves on their technology knowledge. To those I say: “Welcome to the New World. Adapt and Survive.”

IDC Nailed It!

I just realized that I posted an article back on December 6th where research group IDC predicted that technology spending would increase in 2010 in part due to “… the arrival of Apple’s iPad tablet computer.”

Kudos to IDC for nailing the product AND the name exactly – and kudos to me for picking up on this article 🙂

Speaking of Strikeouts …

As I mentioned in part 3 of my iPad series of articles, many commentators were downplaying the iPhone prior to its introduction. I stumbled upon this article from 2007, titled “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone“. It is a classic example of the type of old world thinking that still predominates the technology industry today. After the runaway success of the iPhone this article reads like a parody. It includes such gems as:

“It’s the loyalists who keep promoting this device as if it is going to be anything other than another phone in a crowded market.”

“…the mobile handset business. This is not an emerging business. In fact it’s gone so far that it’s in the process of consolidation with probably two players dominating everything,”

“During this phase of a market margins are incredibly thin so that the small fry cannot compete without losing a lot of money.”

“As for advertising and expensive marketing this is nothing like Apple has ever stepped into. It’s a buzz saw waiting to chop up newbies.”

“… phones go in and out of style so fast that unless Apple has half a dozen variants in the pipeline, its phone, even if immediately successful, will be passé within 3 months.”

“…its survival in the computer business relies on good margins. Those margins cannot exist in the mobile handset business for more than 15 minutes.”

“If it’s smart it will call the iPhone a “reference design” and pass it to some suckers to build with someone else’s marketing budget.”

(This last comment is very interesting in light of what Google is trying to do with the Android.)

Apple’s track record since the return of Steve Jobs has been to introduce revolutionary devices into stagnant markets. This author assumed that the iPhone was just going to be another me-too phone. He failed to have the foresight that the iPhone was going to change the rules of the how the game was played. The iPhone was such a breakthrough device that it completely transformed the cell phone market. Now, this same author is writing articles such as “Apple’s iPad is far from revolutionary“, with the same type of logic that he used with the iPhone article referenced above. I guess some people will never learn.

Apple iPad – Home Run or Strikeout? Part 3: Criticism

If you have been following the coverage of the iPad announcement, you will have noticed quite a bit of negative commentary regarding the iPad – along with the positive reviews to be sure. Some people are surprised by this, considering all the hype leading up to the iPad introduction. Certainly, many more people now pay attention to the tech market than they did when the iPhone was introduced. They likely don’t recall the same type of negative press that the iPhone received 3 years ago. Now, as then, most of the negative remarks seem to be coming from people who are not the apparent target market of the new device or who simply don’t get what the new device, in this case the iPad, represents.

I’ll admit that as the iPad was being introduced, I was disappointed that it would not run Mac OS X applications. I was hoping the iPad would be a hybrid Touch OS/Mac OS X device. That was the technical user in me doing the thinking. But as I kept listening and began to grasp what the iPad could do and how people will make use of it, I realized that this was not a real issue at all.

The first thing to understand is that the iPad is not going to be a suitable replacement for many users’ desktop or laptop computers. It should be pretty clear that the iPad is a new type of device. While it is a computer, it is not a “general purpose” computer like we know today, but rather more of an “appliance”, as I described in my previous article. For most users, the iPad will do everything they need and a lot of what they want. But for other users, especially highly technical users, the iPad can not (at least not yet) do everything they need and want.

Now keep in mind that these types of users are not the target market of the iPad. However, they are the ones complaining the loudest about the iPad. Because users who are more technically-inclined are also more likely to write articles or post complaints on the Internet, it seems to slant a lot of the coverage of the iPad in a negative fashion.

The same thing happened with the iPhone. A lot of commentators downplayed the iPhone and many technical users focused on perceived flaws of the phone. Of course, none of that mattered as the mainstream public fell in love with the device and the rest is history. It seems very likely that the same thing is going to happen with the iPad, especially considering that the new device already has the momentum of the iPhone, iPod Touch, and the Apple App store to begin with.

Ironically, many of the technical users who are complaining about the iPad simply don’t get what the iPad can represent to them. These users appear to have the perception that Apple is trying to convince them to replace their existing computers with iPads. As I explained above, this isn’t the case. And by taking this attitude, they are blinding themselves to a very important idea. The iPad can be a great augmentation to their existing technology – if not for themselves, for their families. Consider a household with a general purpose computer for the more technical needs of a family and then a few iPads for the rest. The iPads can be picked up for quick use, satisfying the Internet needs and other digital media functions that most average users need a computer for. I predict that even highly technical users will begin to appreciate the iPad for those impulsive computing needs where their desktop or even laptop is not convenient or accessible.

For example, my wife and I for years have talked about some sort of computing device that would live in our kitchen. We often have wished we could look up recipes while in the middle of meal-making. While a laptop can sort of fill in that need, it is not an ideal device to have in a kitchen environment. Aside from the risk of spilling food or liquid on an expensive device, the keyboard and mouse interface is simply not convenient when your hands are busy preparing food. Consider an iPad that is mounted on some sort of arm and/or protected in a food-proof case similar to what is available for iPhones. This could be exactly the device we’ve been waiting for. Certainly I am a highly technical user. I’m not considering replacing my laptop with an iPad. However, I can certainly see myself using an iPad in many situations, such as the one I describe in the kitchen.

Finally, there are those users who are going to resist change for any reason and fight tooth-and-nail against it. While I don’t agree with their viewpoints, I can understand that many people feel threatened by change and also the idea that much of the knowledge they posses in the current computing environment may be made irrelevant by new advancements. I could write a great deal about this, but instead I direct you to this article that sums up my thoughts on the topic almost exactly. The author basically lays down an argument that the “old world” of computing (i.e. computers as we know them today) are giving way to a “new world” of computing (in which he basically describes my idea of appliance computing). I especially like the way he describes that new world computers are focused on the 80% of the 80/20 rule. This is precisely why the iPad will be successful. The 80% will love the device, no matter how much the 20% complain about it. I highly encourage you to read this article.

So bottom line, if you hear or read negative comments about the iPad, keep in mind the viewpoint of the commentator. Are they a technical user who fits the above profile I describe? If so, take what they say with a grain of salt. While it is often a good idea to listen to people who have more knowledge about a particular topic, in this situation their old world 20% viewpoint may not be relevant if you are a new world 80% user.

Apple iPad – Home Run or Strikeout? Part 2: Dawn of the Appliances

I’ve talked to many people over the years about my vision for the future of computing. In a nutshell, I feel that the computers of today are entirely too complex. Advancements in technology will allow computers to evolve into much simpler devices. I’ve used the term “appliance” to describe these simpler future computers. I believe appliance computers will be more like information portals than the general purpose personal computers we have today. Like the appliances we think of today, future appliance computers will be ubiquitous, they will serve more specific functions, and most importantly they will be extremely easy to use and much more reliable. Apple has certainly started down this road with the Apple TV, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Now, I believe the iPad will be the first device that will firmly begin to entrench the idea of appliance computing into the mainstream.

What makes the iPad more like an appliance than a PC? As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, the size, weight, and long battery life of the iPad make it already seem like an appliance from the future. Because iPads won’t be sitting on a desk like a desktop PC, or need to be attached to a charger for long periods of time like a laptop, the iPad will be a lot more accessible to their users – similar to appliances of today. Additionally, the streamlined Touch operating system of the iPad make means users will be using it in a more concise manner. I think users will pick up their iPads to perform fairly tasks at hand – again like an appliance. Finally, we expect reliability from our appliances and believe they will simply work when we need them. We don’t put up with “crashes” or odd behavior from appliances like we’ve become accustomed to with computers of today. The fact that the iPad does not have hard drives or fans will make it more reliable from a hardware standpoint and again the Touch OS ensures reliability from the software side. I don’t expect that the iPads will be “perfect” from a reliability standpoint, much as the iPhone and iPod Touch are not perfect, but compared to most computers of today, they are extraordinarily reliable.

By my criteria, appliance computers need to be ubiquitous. I believe the iPad will almost undoubtedly see widespread adoption. The low cost of the iPad and momentum that Apple has from the iPhone and iPod Touch will almost certainly assure that the iPad will gain a foothold in the market. I expect that early adopters will form lines at Apple retailers just like with the iPhone. From there, I believe the iPad will start eating into the low-end of the personal computing market – but not just in the netbook/laptop market. I think the iPad will also put dents into the low-end desktop market. Why would “grandma” spend $500 for a cheap desktop PC along with all the cables and complexity (not to mention low-quality) when she can spend $500 for an iPad? She’ll be able to do everything she wants and more in a simple device that doesn’t take up a lot of room and can be carried all around the house.

In addition, I can see that the iPad will grow the overall market of personal computing devices. The trend is already for multiple computer households. The demands of kids and family members to get access to the Internet have pushed the growth of multiple computer families. However, multiple computers means significantly higher complexity. The low cost and simplicity of the iPad will allow families to buy and make use of multiple iPads a lot easier than they can buy and setup multiple desktop or laptop computers. Many families who will not purchase multiple computers will purchase multiple iPads. This will allow the iPad to grow the computing market in a way the PC of today can not.

What I see for the future is the desktop and laptop computer as we know them shrinking into niche products. I can see that many homes will have probably just one main desktop or laptop computer (if needed) along with several iPad-like devices. As the iPad improves, it is entirely conceivable that the market for the general purpose computer of today will shrink down to only graphic artists, engineers, computer software developers, photographers, videographers and other highly technical users. This won’t likely happen overnight, but I feel the landscape of the computer market in the next five or ten years will be significantly slanted towards appliance computers like the iPad.

Of course, this transition won’t come without significant grumbling from those who are invested in the PC market of today. Not surprisingly, those are the people who are already downplaying or criticizing the iPad – just like they did the iPhone. I will respond to those criticisms in part 3 of this series, coming soon.

Apple iPad – Home Run or Strikeout? Part 1

Now that I’ve had time to study the iPad, read comments by others, and contemplate it all, I am ready to give my thoughts and opinions on this “magical device”. Because I have a lot to say, I will be breaking it down into at least three articles to make it a little easier for you to digest. I will begin with talking about the iPad from a hardware and software standpoint and how I think it will fare in the marketplace.

As usual, I will not go into a lot of detail on the features of the iPad. All the features and tech specs are available at Apple’s iPad website, which if you haven’t taken a look at, I recommend you do so right away. Instead, I will discuss some features which are the most important to this device. The iPad is in some ways a brand new type of device. In other ways, it is an improvement on previous tablet computers. There are a few main differences between the iPad and previous tablet computers which are critical to note.

The first is that the iPad’s main interface is a touchscreen that can be used without a stylus. While the iPad can be used with a keyboard attachment or a wireless keyboard, the majority of interfacing with the device will be by touching the screen with one’s fingers. Previously, most tablet computers required the use of a stylus, which was inconvenient as they could be easily lost. The iPad requires no such accessory for its use, keeping in line with Apple’s goal of creating products that are as simple to use as possible.

The second and most important distinction is that the iPad uses the same operating system as the iPhone and iPod Touch (which I will henceforth refer to as the Touch OS). Most previous tablet computers used the Windows operating system and some custom tablets used the Mac OS. Either way, these operating systems were designed for desktop computing. Desktop computers, and by extension, laptop computers have a keyboard and mouse as their primary interfaces. As evidenced by the lackluster sales of previous tablet computers, operating systems and software designed for desktops did not translate well to devices that used touch interfaces. Apple’s approach with the iPad was the to take an operating system that was designed for a small touchscreen and scale it up to a bigger screen. It appears that this approach will be a success from a usage standpoint. The ease of use that the iPhone and iPod Touch are known for seem to carry over to the larger iPad.

The final differences revolve around the size and battery life of the iPad. Previous tablets were the size and weight of laptops and often were laptop/tablet hybrids with keyboards and a pivoting screen. The iPad is only 1.5 pounds and is only half-an-inch thick. While the smaller size and weight may not seem like a big deal, the reduced size and weight of the iPad will make it very easy to carry around. As well, the 10 hour battery life means that the iPad will spend less time on a charger. All this will result in the iPad being more accessible to their owners which will result in much greater overall usage of the devices. The more they are used, the more their owners will become accustomed to and then attached to their devices. I’ll speak more to the “impulsive” appliance-like nature of the iPad in my next article.

So will the iPad be useful for most users? Realistically, most computer usage today revolves around the core functions of the iPad: web browsing, e-mail and digital media (photos, video, music). Throw in contacts, calendar, notes, and mapping capability and it is a well rounded device up to this point. The next big feature is the iBooks app and store, basically turning the iPad into an electronic book reader like an Amazon Kindle. This is a potentially “killer app” and one I will write at length about later. Finally, the iPad can run virtually all the apps from the Apple App Store.

Even before it hits the market, the fact that the iPad already has a very large pre-existing library of apps gives it a solid start. I think most users will find the iPad very useful and it will likely become a hit like the iPhone and iPod Touch have. But the iPad is a new type of device and it will not replace the personal computer – at least not yet. I will talk about this more in part 2 of this series so stay tuned.

It's All About the Touch

Now that the same operating system that is used on the iPhone and iPod Touch will be used on the iPad, I officially declare that Apple must name the operating system something besides “iPhone OS” – which itself was never an official name. Up to this point, to be completely correct, we have had to refer to the OS as the iPhone/iPod Touch OS, or something along those lines. This was quite awkward. And it will be quite a bit more awkward if we now need to say iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad OS.

Therefore, I suggest that Apple use “Touch OS” for all their touch devices. I think this makes sense because the defining feature of all these devices is the touchscreen interface. From this point on, I will refer to the OS as the Touch OS and I suggest that all authors do the same. If you think this is a good idea, spread the word and let’s see if we can make it stick! Be sure to leave a comment as well.

When I came up with the idea, I did a quick search to find out if anyone else had this idea or if the name was already taken by another operating system. I did not find that the name was already in use, nor did I find that anyone had the exact same idea. I did find that someone had a similar idea almost two years ago. They suggested “Touch OS X” at the time, because the operating system was derived from Mac OS X. So to be fair, I thought I’d give them props here.

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