By Shadoe Huard

June 15th 2011

Growing Schisms   

With iChat

When the iPhone was introduced back in 2007, many believed that it made sense for Apple to include a mobile version of iChat, it’s proprietary chat and video calling application, in iOS. Such a version of iChat failed to ever materialize. In fact, nothing like iChat appeared in any form until 2010, when Apple opted instead to introduce FaceTime for video calls and in 2011 with iOS 5,  where iMessage arrived for text based communication duties.

While there isn’t any outstanding reason to question why Apple choose to create two new apps on iOS to fill in for iChat, there are some questions to be asked now that we’re seeing those appsinfringe on iChat’s space on the Mac. Despite being able to already do both video calls and messaging, Apple has left iChat in solitude on its own island, making FaceTime it’s own unique application. One might assume that if there were to be a Mac iMessage app, it would also be a standalone icon in your dock. Porting the same apps from iOS over to Mac OS makes sense from a usability standpoint. Having the same applications across both platforms makes it easy for users to orient themselves.

So why chose to port FaceTime over to the Mac rather than iChat to iOS?

One could argue that the early iPhone hardware lacked the front facing camera that would make video calls possible, handicapping much of iChat’s core functionality and appeal. While the release of the iPhone 4 solved that particular issue, it was FaceTime that got to take advantage of the new optics, not iChat. It’s likely that the advantage for Apple is how FaceTime and iMessage can be touted as new and unique features of iOS, equally useful for both promotional and strategic advantages. The term FaceTime is easy to understand and far more marketable. It’s a better bulletpoing in a feature list.

Now FaceTime is on the Mac as well and while Lion is still a month away from release, Apple has made no sign of dropping iChat or having it replaced. It’s continued existence reveals what seems to be a growing schism between different Mac users. On the one hand, it’s highly probably that longtime Mac users are still making frequent use of iChat, having grown with it over many years. Meanwhile, people considering a Mac for the first time because of their experience with an iOS devices are ignorant of iChat’s existence, looking instead on their docks for similarities between their new Macbook and their iPod Touch.

“Hey…FaceTime is on there too…”

Going forward, it’s obvious that FaceTime and iMessage will become far more popular platforms - if they aren’t already - than iChat ever will be. Yet, something has to give. It’s going to look increasingly bizzare to support two or more apps that are essentially the same. Will we see iChat be rebranded as something new?  Or will it simply fade to irrelevance and be completely replaced, as the trend seems to indicate.

With Thunderbolt

A few weeks ago, I outlined some scenarios for the future of Thunderbolt. My guess was that Apple would most likely introduce a Thunderbolt enabled iPhone before an iPhone that could sync wirelessly. My argument being that wireless connectivity, for a number of reasons, wasn’t an adequate replacement for tethered syncing yet. My own logic implied that the best way to push the adoption of Thunderbolt would be to require it on one of the world’s most recognizable and popular products, strongly encouraging consumers towards a new Mac.

Obviously, Apple doesn’t care so much for my logic.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with choosing to go wireless now rather than later. If anything, it’s the best choice, I just wasn’t convinced it was feasable. One is left to wonder though exactly what part Apple thinks Thunderbolt is supposed to play in the future. From the Apple page on Thunderbolt:

Intel co-invented USB and PCI Express, which have become widely adopted technologies for data transfer. Apple invented FireWire and was instrumental in popularizing USB. Their collective experience has made Thunderbolt the most powerful, most flexible I/O technology ever in a personal computer.

The language is arranged together in such a way here as to emphazise how their partnership should result in nothing less than a revolution, and rightfully so. Thunderbolt’s abilities are such that it should really be the only port left on your Mac computer sometime in the future, capable of handling anything thrown it’s way. Unfortunately, there’s little reason to convince consumers to take the plunge. Here, the schism grows between wired and wireless connections. While Apple could still release the next iPhone with a Thunderbolt cable in the box, its’ lack of neccessity negates any incentive to adopt it. If iCloud works as proposed, it’ll be an even larger sign that wireless connections are primed to overtake physical inputs. No matter how good it is, an even better wireless option forebodes Thunderbolt’s fate as the next Firewire rather than the next USB: a niche feature for power users.

While it’s a tough pill to swallow for its’ partisans, it’s music to the hears of its’ detractors. Say what you will for the potential of Thunderbolt but there isn’t much to say about what you can do with it today. No Thunderbolt supported hardware is available on a store shelf. No PC OEM outside Apple is selling a computer with the technology.

The exact opposite is true for USB 3.0. It goes without saying that rollout of a new input device takes time, but Thunderbolt is racing against the cost advantages and interoperability that USB 3.0 offers. Thunderbolt might be faster than USB 3.0, but it’s a case of “Win More” rather than a true advantage. USB 3.0 will probably be more than most ever need for the foreseeable future. Apple and Intel’s trump over USB was it’s stable of iOS devices, providing millions of consumers an instant reason to switch. Without that ace, nothing currently stands in the way of USB 3.0 adoption getting an enormous and possibly insurmountable head start.

Thunderbolt might not be out of the game yet but now neither is the possibility of seeing USB 3.0 on a Mac.

Posted at 12:24am and tagged with: tech, apple, readlater, one column, iChat, Facetime, iMessage, Thunderbolt, messaging,.

May 18th 2011

Two Hypothetical Thunderbolt Scenarios   

Scenario # 1

In the summer of 2012, Apple introduces the next generation versions of the iPhone and iPad. These devices have a new 30 Pin Dock Connector port capable of accepting both USB and Thunderbolt connections.  In an agressive move by Apple, both the iPad and iPhone ship with a Thunderbolt 30-Pin cable in the box as a standard option. A USB cable is sold seperately.  Updates to Mac laptops and desktops in late 2012/early 2013 drop Firewire ports entirely and contain a majority of Thunderbolt ports. USB 3.0 is never an option. Expensive Thunderbolt adapters are made available for devices with legacy or USB 3.0 connections. Beyond 2013, Apple drops USB ports on their computers altogether.

Other PC OEMs continue their slow rollout of USB 3.0 computers.  Tablets and Smartphones from manufacturers like HP and Motorolla begin to offer USB 3.0 compatibility while favoring wireless management solutions like the ones offered by the Android platform.  OEMs adopt a “wait and see” approach in regards to Thunderbolt.

Professional AV/Storage vendors produce and bring to market equipment that feature USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connections.  The profesionnal market overwhelmingly favors Thunderbolt for their workflow. PC OEMs begin to offer Thunderbolt connections on top of the range machines to meet this demand.

Consumer electronics vendors, while mainly offering USB 3.0 connected devices, begin to offer Thunderbolt connected devices, mainly cameras, as part of their high end offerings. Combined with the ubiquity of iOS devices, a mass market demand for Thunderbolt enabled PCs begins to form. Going into the fall of 2013, thanks to lowering component costs, PC OEMs begin to offer Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connections on most of their products. Consumers are increasingly able to find electronics of all prices with either USB or Thunderbolt connections.

Over the course of 2013, with the aid of government investment and legislation, high speed broadband and wireless networking access is available throughout the United States, finally making cloud based computing solutions feasable for most of the population.

iPhone and iPad releases that year are connected by Thunderbolt exclusively. Furthermore, full cloud syncing features are implemented through updates to both iOS and Mac OS (X?).  This untethered experience is available only to Mobile Me Subscribers.

Over the next few years, the market penetration of Thunderbolt Devices, led primarily through sales of iOS devices, matches and surpasses that of USB 3.0, which is gradually phased out from the industry entirely. Thunderbolt becomes the new standard for I/O in the personal computing market. Meanwhile, R&D labs are hard at work on the search for an even faster connection standard.

Everyone is happy.

Scenario # 2

In the summer of 2012, Apple introduces the next generation versions of the iPhone and iPad. These devices have a new 30 Pin Dock Connector port capable of accepting both USB and Thunderbolt connections. The iPad and iPhone continue to ship with the standard USB 2.0 30-Pin cable in the box; a Thunderbolt cable is sold seperately.  Updates to Mac laptops and desktops in late 2012/early 2013 continue to offer more Thunderbolt ports along with USB 2.0 and Firewire 800. USB 3.0 is never offered. Expensive Thunderbolt adapters are made available for devices with legacy or USB 3.0 connections.

Other PC OEMs, led by HP, throw their support behind USB 3.0, never releasing Thunderbolt enabled computers.  Tablets and Smartphones from manufacturers like Blackberry and Motorolla begin to offer devices with USB 3.0 compatibility but favor wireless management solutions like the ones offered by the Android platform.

Professional storage vendors like Lacie produce and bring to market equipment that feature USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connections. The profesionnal market overwhelmingly favors Thunderbolt for their workflow. They flock to Apple solutions, the only computer vendor supporting Thunderbolt..  Pro A/V equipment from manufacturers like Canon, Sony and Nikon adopts USB 3.0 exclusively.  Adoption of USB 3.0 trickles down into consumer level products.

While component costs for Thunderbolt become cheaper, USB 3.0 manufacturing costs are even cheaper. Adoption of the latter technology greatly surpasses the former’s.

During the course of 2013, with the aid of government investment and legislation, high speed broadband and wireless networking access is available throughout the United States, finally making cloud based computing solutions feasable for most of the population.

iPhone and iPad releases that year have replace the USB 2.0 connection with USB 3.0. Thunderbolt is still offered through accessory cables. Furthermore, full cloud syncing features are implemented through updates to both iOS and Mac OS (X?).  The untethered experience is available to all iOS users.  Mac releases that year begin to replace USB 2.0 ports with USB 3.0 ones to meet market demands.

Over the next few years, a transition from USB 2.0 to 3.0 is succesfully completed.  Thunderbolt ports remain exclusive to the Mac platform and are used primarily by professionals for speedy connections to external storage. USB 3.0 becomes a new standard for I/O in the personal computing market. Meanwhile, R&D labs are hard at work on the search for an even faster connection standard.

Almost everyone is happy.

Posted at 8:53pm and tagged with: iOS, intel, mac, thunderbolt, one column,.

May 18th 2011

What’s More Likely…   

…to happen first, a completely untethered iPhone or one that connects only via Thunderbolt?

Posted at 10:58am and tagged with: cloud, iphone, questions, sync, thunderbolt, one column,.

May 18th 2011

From the Desk of Captain Obvious: HP Picks USB 3.0 Over Intel's Thunderbolt for Desktops

Looks like the lines are being drawn.

via Daring Fireball

Posted at 1:25am and tagged with: hp, intel, apple, thunderbolt, usb,.

MG Siegler, over at Techcrunch, talking about future Thunderbolt enabled iPhones.

When I wrote about Thunderbolt the other day, it struck me that the most obvious way for Apple to push Thunderbolt adoption was through it’s stable of highly successful iOS devices.  It’s inevitable, but I don’t think the rollout will be as fast as Siegler thinks it will be.  

Assuming that Apple has figured out the engineering issues such as whether the iPhone hardware  can support a Thunderbolt bus(and what costs might be associated with that), there just aren’t enough Thunderbolt enabled computers to take advantage of the technology.  Nor is the adoption rate of new Macs likely to be anywhere close to that of iOS devices.  To wit, Apple reported sales of iPhones and iPads to the tune of 18.6 and 4.6 million units, respectively, versus just 3.7 million Macs.

Sure, going Thunderbolt only on the next generation of iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches might force some early adopters to upgrade but more likely, it would leave millions, if not billions, of potential sales on the table.  

Instead, I expect Apple to rollout future iOS devices with 30-pin dock connectors capable of both USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt (No USB 3.0)  In the box, you’d get the standard USB 30-pin cable you get today. If you’d want to use a faster Thunderbolt connection instead, Apple would be more than happy to oblige with a “sold separately” Thunderbolt cable.  

How many people would be willing to upgrade their computers just to take advantage of a Thunderbolt enabled iPhone? 

Posted at 11:39am and tagged with: Apple, iPhone, iPad, mac, thunderbolt,.

My hunch is that we will hear something from Apple later this year about Thunderbolt use with iPads/iPhones. Perhaps during the iPhone 5 unveiling in the fall. Now that the technology is out there on two of their most popular devices (MacBook Pros and iMacs) and probably pretty soon on another one (MacBook Airs), Apple will have to address this.

May 3rd 2011

Es-tu Thunderbolt?   

New iMacs today, some sporting not just one, but two whole Thunderbolt ports, presumably, for the monitor jockeys in all of us.  At least until there’s actually something else to attach it to.

With this kind of push, it’s clear Apple (and Intel by association) is going for broke with this.  With a tiny footprint, and a tech spec sheet reading like any power user’s ultimate fantasy I/O device, it’s not hard to imagine Apple doing away with every port save the magsafe and as few thunderbolt ports as needed on some future ultra svelte Macbook.

If only USB 3.0 didn’t stand in the way. While not as technically proficient, the latest USB spec does have a few advantages, namely broader OEM support and lower manufacturing costs.  To the latter point, some agree with me:

“Mind you: daisychaining can be a good thing … if you’re a user: it saves you the cost of buying a hub. But it only transfers that cost to the device OEM. And when there’s another more established connectivity standard out there that’s “fast enough” and cheaper to implement, the OEM’s going to choose it instead. Another ironic downside of daisychaining is that because it exists, the incentive for developing hubs is sharply reduced. Ever seen a Firewire hub? Neither have I. This means that peripheral OEMs either absorb the cost of an extra port or ship a 1 port device that severely limits the utility of the end user’s PC Thunderbolt port.”

While I don’t espouse Judah Richardson’s overall pessimism towards Thunderbolt, I do share his questions about daisychaining:

“Did I mention how hard it is to troubleshoot a daisychain? With USB, disconnecting a device means severing only the connection between it and the host PC or it and the hub. With a daisychain, unless the device in question is at the end of the chain, you have to disconnect 2 cables and then connect the other devices that were ahead of and behind the troublesome device to each other. 3 times the effort.”

How are regular people supposed to use daisychaining without falling into a mess? You have to presume that Apple wants you to use this feature rather then them including a bevy of ports on future Macs. Yet, beyond just the troubleshooting woes, it seems like it would be a chore to manage anything beyond two devices linked together.  Devices like hard drives aren’t so bad since you don’t have to move them often but for things like cameras, iPods(or equivalents) or any other mass market consumer electronic you need to use often, it seems so counter-intuitive. Imagine the caucophony of plugging and unplugging going on as a family tries to orchestrate all their devices on a single Thunderbolt enabled computer.  Ugh.

And, just like in war, there is no room for two winners.   While thunderbolt is clearly the superior technology, both it and USB 3.0 are vastly superior to anything existing right now, and it’s not clear that there’s a mass market need for such thoroughput speed, even in the forseable future.  Not everyone is doing such extravagant things in their everyday life.

If Apple and Intel’s plans work out like they plan, all the better.  Like I said: power user’s fantasy.

Just saying we should excecise some cautious optimism here.

Posted at 5:40pm and tagged with: Apple, thunderbolt, macbook, air, pro, mac, usb, firewire,.