By Shadoe Huard

June 1st 2011

If You Want to Get Better, Steal.   

A while ago, Marco Arment wrote a post about the design of smartphones before and after the introduction of the iPhone, citing how most smartphones now feature a similar design to Apple’s phone. As a result, smartphone hardware benefited from Apple’s entry into the market, speeding up smartphone innovation at an unprecedented pace. It’s a similar pattern that we are seeing in the tablet market today. Microsoft pioneered the idea of Tablet PCs early in the 2000s, but the design remained stagnant until the arrival of the iPad. Now every tablet is a large touchscreen surface.

This pattern also seems to be gaining popularity the high end laptop market. Putting a smirk on Mac enthusiasts everywhere, the recently announced Dell XPS 15z and Asus UX series laptops make litte attenot to hide their design influences. Despite being produced by huge PC manufacturers, one should be forgiven for throwing the word Knockoff around when describing these two computers. Even if they are merely settlling for creating copycats, it’s hopeful to see that PC OEMs are finally realizing that there is a desire for well designed computer hardware, a good thing for all of us.

PC hardware, especially laptops, have historically been atrocious. Outside of Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of notebooks, you would have been hard pressed to find a laptop or netbook that wasn’t:

  • Heavy, yet flimsy.
  • Made of cheap plastic
  • Using a terrible 6-cell Li-Ion battery
  • Lacking a good display
  • Burdened with terrible ergonomics, keyboard and trackpad

This was true also of the high end PC laptop market. Apple, with their critically acclaimed notebooks, has been dominating that market for years. NPD reported in 2010 that 90% of computer sold for 1000$ and up were Apple branded. PC OEMs, apparently having grown tired of being eviscerated in this space, have finally decided to try and create computers that could compete with the industrial design espoused by Apple’s line of computers. Heeding the words of Picasso, PC OEMs started to simply design desktops and notebooks that liberally borrowed from the concepts of iMac 2 and Macbook line. This trend became most apparent in 2009, with the introduction of HP’s Envy notebook line. With the Envy, it was apparent that HP had taken design cues from Cupertino on how to build a high-end notebook. It didn’t get everything right, notably the trackpad and battery 3, but the Envy’s combination of a light and sturdy metal casing, impressive display and high performance internals showed that it was possible to create a laptop that -ahem- Macheads could be envious of. Subsequent iterations were much improved.  Dell attempted something similar with the Adamo notebook line, a device clearly influenced by the Macbook Air. Unfortunately, Dell killed the Adamo earlier this year, presumably because it still couldn’t compete with the Air, which was getting better components while slashing its price.

That didn’t mean Dell was done taking hardware cues from Apple. Since simply inspiring themselves from the Macbook family hadn’t worked out, with the Dell XPS 15z, they simply decided to stitch together spare Macbook Pro and PowerBook pieces together and call it a day.  Asus, for their part, joined into the fray by repurposing a Macbook Air sample they managed to get their hands on and creating a whole new category to go with it. To HP’s credit, the Envy line at least managed to not cross the line between inspiration and theft.

It is easy to criticize this copycat approach to building notebooks. For consumers however, it’s a breath of fresh air to finally be able to purchase a top quality Windows laptop designed for adults. Every one wins when more laptops feature attractive, sturdy designs and long-lasting enclosed batteries. There is one downside. So long as OEMs continue to crib directly from Apple, they’re hardware will always be one step behind. Whenever it actually ships, the Asus UX series laptops will seems comparable to a MacBook Air today 4, but it will surely immediately fall behind as soon as Apple introduces a refreshed model.

Perhaps more interesting is the reason why it took so long for PC notebooks in this style to start appearing in the first place. Apple has been providing amble subject matter to steal from since the introduction of the Powerbook, so why are we only seeing these copycat designs now? I suspect that as Apple’s brand awareness has skyrocketed thanks to the iPhone and iPad, consumers have also become more aware of their other products, forcing other companies to offer something similar. Just as cellphone salesmen started to hear “Do you have something like the iPhone?” back in 2007, computer vendors are probably getting more and more questions related to “Something like that Macbook Pro”. It remains to be seen whether PC makers are looking at Apple for inspiration simply as a quick fix solution to this problem or because they are actually trying to drive hardware innovation. Watching what happens at the middle and low end of the computer market and seeing if the improvements made at the high end segment trickle down might be a good indicator.

Overall, there’s nothing wrong with all these copycats. Consumers win because they have a broader range of high quality computers to choose from. If PC computers continue to innovate and offer competitive products, it’ll provide extra incentive for Apple to continue to deliver the groundbreaking products that they’re known for.

That should be enough to put a smile on everyone’s face.

—————
1. And really, the whole market.

2. PC OEMs still offer very few all in one desktops. Most of them are HP touchscreen enabled computers, which are rather atrocious.

3. You could blame the poor battery life on the early generation i5 & i7 processor in the envy, which weren’t optimized for mobile use.

4. Possibly beating the Air to Sandy Bridge







Posted at 3:27pm and tagged with: apple, asus, copycat, dell, macbook, one column, tech, readlater,.

May 31st 2011

Let Us Explain Why You're Going To Hate Us Even More

No one knows why, but Lodsys is still answering questions on their blog. On why they’ve started litigating third party developers:

Lodsys chose to move its litigation timing to an earlier date than originally planned, in response to Apple’s threat, in order to preserve its legal options.

Translation: TIME TO CASH OUT!

Posted at 5:15pm and tagged with: lodsys, tech, apple,.

May 31st 2011

iCloud a Reality at WWDC

Apple went ahead and revealed the 3 subjects they they’ll be discussing at WWDC, revealing the existence of their iCloud service in the process.

I’m in agreement with Stephen Hackett, who thinks the announcement is simply to set expectations from the get go. Apple rumors these days, especially those concerning iOS devices, have a tendency to make their way into mainstream media. It makes sense for Apple to want to control the message at that scale.

I’m particularly amused by the ambivalent description of iCloud:

“iCloud®, Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering.”

Nice way to confirm it’s existence without giving anything away.

Posted at 11:42am and tagged with: tech, apple, WWDC, iCloud, Mac,.

May 26th 2011

More Square Than NFC   

It was only a matter of time, but Google finally made the first move in the digital wallet arena, announcing Google Wallet, a new service adopting Near Field Communication technology to enable Android users to make contactless payments for all sorts of transactions. Along with the help of MasterCard, Sprint and CitiBank, Google is looking to redefine the point of sale experience for both consumers and business owners. For the sake of maintaining their aura of openess, Google announced they would be making Google Wallet available beyond just Android devices, presumably through an app. It’s astonishing, given how implausible, they even bothered making such an empty statement.

Today’s news is only going to push rumors of when we might see Apple’s NFC implementation in the iPhone. As one of the more popular rumors floating around for the last little while, we’re to hear even more from speculators and analysts on when we may see an NFC equipped iOS device. Rather than wondering when, we might be better served wondering whether Apple is even interested in the technology.

Before we get ahead of ourselves however, let’s use some numbers to try and obtain some perspective on the state of contactless payments as they stand today.

From the consumer’s end

As of the end of 2010, there were approximately 88 million MasterCard PayPass (RFID) enabled credit cards, out of 975 million total cards in circulation. This amounts to roughly 9% of total cards.

Visa boasts a total card circulation twice the size of Mastercard, with around 1.9 billion cards. Finding statistics on the number of cards with Visa’s version of PayPass, called payWave, was a bit tougher. For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s around the same percentage as MasterCard, around 9% , about 171 million cards. 1

The 2009 Boston Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Payment Choices seem to corroborate these percentages. Their study found that while 24% of U.S. Consumers owned a contactless payment device, only 9% of those were linked to a credit card account.

From the vendor’s end

The statistics don’t seem to quite matchup in this instance, but it’s worth looking at them anyway. MasterCard claims there have 276 ooo Paypass locations worldwide. Meanwhile, David Eads from Kony Solutions estimates in an interview with CNET that there are 750 000 NFC enabled terminals in the U.S, alone. He clarifies that the number represents about 1% of total sales terminals in the country.

Concerning the number of transactions, the SCPC study found that about 3% of transactions carried out in 2009 were done using a mobile device. 1.3% of payments were made through NFC enabled devices.

Getting an idea of the numbers is important because there’s just too much PR fluff going on. When taking stock of Google’s announcement today, it’s good to keep in mind that relative to the entire industry, the lofty figures they throw around is but a small drop in an enormous bucket.

Despite the relatively small figures, there is still lots of money to be made, which is why Google and it’s partners are pushing hard for the transition to NFC payments. Specifically, they are after a chunk of interchange revenues, consisting of fees collected by banks and third parties for actually processing your credit card transactions when you shop. 2 From the same CNET report:

“Electronic payments in the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve was $40 trillion in 2010,” David Eads, who leads product marketing for Kony Solutions told CNET. “So for every 1 percent of mobile payment adoption that happens of that number, that’s $407 billion in transactions.” Eads, who has a background in the mobile payments industry, founded the mobile consultancy Mobile Strategy Partners and held positions at mFoundry and Tealeaf Technology. He explained that the big ticket item in that magic $407 billion number was the “interchange” revenue, which is where various parties get a cut from fees. That can run anywhere from $4 billion to 6 billion on each $407 billion chunk. It also makes things more competitive among the various parties that take fees, since retailers can choose the card or payment provider they want to support.”

NFC solutions are desirable to banks and credit card companies because they are an evolution of a their current business model. A chip replaces a card, but the transaction is still done over a custom POS terminal, where various interchange fees can be collected. They are the ones who stand to gain most from NFC technologies; it’s a reason to charge more money. Obviously, Google wants in on this action. And while their presentation seemed to paint a bright and rosy picture for the future of NFC payments, there are quite a few unresolved issues to deal with. Biggest of all is that the technology isn’t particularly attractive to merchants.

Businesses, especially big chains, are notoriously slow to make any sort of technological change. Any potential changes are bound to be carefully considered and planned well ahead of time. Hence why Google wallet is only starting with a field test in San Fransisco and New York. I don’t think their official launch in the summer is going to be much bigger.

There is some upside for retailers to transition to contactless payments. MasterCard claims that clients with PayPass cards used their cards 27% more frequently than clients with regular cards. There is also the speed and ease of mobile payments. Time is always money in the business world. Finally, as demonstrated by Google, there’s a large potential for the creation of apps that can deliver context based advertisements and deals directly to consumers. All good things for retailers.

The flip side is that there is no pressing reason for merchants to jump onto the NFC bandwagon. With few NFC enabled phones actually out in the market ( I can only think of the Nexus S), there’s not much incentive to make the upgrade immediately, especially taking into consideration the extremely low percentage of sales actually made by NFC payments. It’s a sort of catch-22; that one percent figure is only going to go up if merchants adopt the technology and phones are made available, but they themselves aren’t likely to make a move unless they see that figure rise first. The costs involved in the transition to contactless payments is also something businesses are taking stock of. Even more than just the cost of upgrading or installing new point of sale terminals, the emergence of a whole new slew of players in the interchange fees game might be off-putting. As the ones ultimately footing the bill for those fees, the costs involved are an essential factor. It’s yet unclear how much Google and it’s partners is going to charge for their services, but it stands to reason that costs are probably not going down. If Apple or other companies also get into NFC payments, we’re likely going to see a fragmentation of the market as retailers pick and choose which services to offer.

This is without delving into issues relating to security. The jury is still out. Banks and credit card companies will obviously claim NFC payments are secure, but there isn’t any real hard data to test to. Swiping account numbers and personal data from physical cards is a more labor, time and skill intensive endeavor for potential criminals than something requiring only a few software hacks. 3 This is a problem all mobile payment systems are going to face, not only NFC technology.

Google doesn’t seem concerned with those issues. Beta services are in their DNA. Their philosophy is to just engineer issues away as they arrise. Which brings us to Apple. What might their move be?

Unlike Google, Apple is going to survey the wireless payment landscape before making any decisions. Like any other emerging technology, Apple is never in a rush to jump into any beds unless it has a clear reason to do so. It’s almost certain they will make a move with mobile payments, but it may not necessarily be with NFC technology. Yes, Apple is researching the technology, they’d be remiss not to. That doesn’t guarantee that your next iPhone is going to have an NFC chip in it.

Apple is going to want two things with any mobile or contactless payment system they decide to implement in their devices:

- Curatorial control over the design and delivery methods of any payment or virtual storefront applications. User experience is sure to be primordial.

- A cut of potential profits that corporate partners are likely to find onerous.

Apple is always going to negotiate for these two points, their argument being that they believe no one else can match the popularity, awareness and technical superiority of the iOS platform. With so many people involved in processing an NFC transaction 4, it’s possible Apple sees they won’t be able to negotiate favorable terms for themselves with everyone and that they’d rather not bother with all the bureaucratic hurdles.

Technical factors is also something to take into consideration. Fitting an NFC chip into the internals of their iOS devices, however small, might be something they’d rather avoid, given the limited space. And given Steve Jobs penchant for simple and elegant hardware solutions, it’s possible he may just not like the whole process of an NFC transaction.

So where else could Apple be considering? One option might be to forgo NFC chips altogether and use third party apps that deliver software solutions over a wireless network. Such an example is Square, an application which transforms an iOS device into a portable POS terminal and inventory manager that can deliver a wide range of services. Using a proprietary card reader, which plugs into a headphone jack, business owners can carry out credit card transactions simply and effortlessly. Furthermore, Square recently announced the introduction of Card Case, a customer application that allows businesses using Square as their POS terminals to send menus, advertisements and bills directly to customers using Card Case. One feature they announced, Tabs, allows customers to make payments directly over their phones at participating businesses, after making an initial physical credit card transaction. Your data is stored afterwards with the business and they simply bill you over the air subsequently.

Square is about redefining the entire Point of Sale experience, for both the consumer and the merchant. On their website, Square elaborates on the advantages their system provides to restaurants and small businesses. For them, it’s an easy,simple and affordable solution. Square charges one flat interchange rate and doesn’t require that the business owner meet a certain quota of sales or enter into a contract.

Some critics think that while Square’s solution works for the restaurant industry or small businesses, it doesn’t exactly scale up to large retail operations, where inventory and book keeping needs go beyond what Square can provide. While that may be true presently, it take a serious lack of foresight to be unable to imagine a similar solution at a larger scale. Apple stores already show this is possible. Apple specialists roam the salesfloor with customized iPhones that have bar code scanners and credit card swipers to process transactions anywhere in the store. It’s also not hard to imagine their new iPad sale displays being morphed into an app customers could access directly from from their iOS devices. You could imagine they could allow customers to make purchases directly from their iPhones, with an Apple employee bringing the merchandise right to them.

Following this chain of thought, it’s possible to imagine why Apple might prefer to emulate Square and offer their own App based POS solution rather than adopting the proposed NFC model. This option would definitely satisfy the two main criteria outlined above, concerning design control and profit share. They could develop their own POS application for both retailers and and consumers, where transactions could be handled simply through the credit card number stored in your iTunes account. Unlike Square’s tab system, no initial physical transaction would be required. Adopting this route eliminates the need for Apple to negotiate deals with banks and credit card emitters. They can simply charge businesses one flat fee, from which only they profit. 5 They could also sell customized iOS devices to larger businesses who need access to bar code scanners and have more complex logistical needs. It might be an extremely ambitious move, but it is still a plausible one.

Why might Apple prefer this route?

- They retain control over the whole experience.

- They provide the software and set the financial terms.

- No need to deal or negotiate with anyone else.

- No hardware restrictions. No need to build devices with NFC chips.

- Unlike NFC enabled devices, there is already an enormous iOS device install base.

That last point is one area where Apple could entice businesses in a way that Google Wallet can’t. There is already an established and global presence of iOS devices with iTunes accounts waiting for retailers to use. There is no need to wait and see how long it takes for NFC devices to become popular. Google doesn’t necessarily care about owning the whole experience. Their strength lies in advertising and reaping profits from those avenues. They are happy being just another middleman in the POS experience. However, Google Wallet’s success depends on a whole bunch of different factors, many of which they can’t really control. Dependent isn’t in Apple’s vocabulary.

Near Field Communication is a technology that, similar to Blu-Rays in the video industry, runs the risk of being leapfrogged by something more effective. NFC payments as currently imagined don’t benefit business or consumers so much as banks and advertisers. Which is why Google is so quick to get in the game. Mobile payments are the way forward, no doubt, but they are still a ways off. When Apple makes a move, and it probably won’t be soon, it’ll be because they are ready to make an impact. It’s entirely possible Apple will still adopt NFC for iOS devices and enter into some sort of partnership with major credit cards and banks, much in the same way Google has. Despite this, the trail being blazed by Square shouldn’t be discounted. Their approach is trying to enable an entirely new way for business and customers to interact with each through rich and feature filled software. It’s designed with the retailer and consumer in mind, not interchange fees.

So in trying to consider what Apple may do, think of what Google Wallet and Square are trying to accomplish. Compare them and ask yourself, which model seems more like something Apple would think of?

——

1. Visa doesn’t seem to really focus on payWave numbers in their press releases and media kits, at least from my own research. Generally, when companies don’t tout numbers, it’s because they aren’t that good. My 9% figure might be generous.

2. Which is part of at the reason why I think there isn’t so much talk about using NFC technology with debit cards. It probably isn’t as enticing since only really the banks are involved in the transactions.

3. There are so many ways it could be done. Off the top of my head: rerouting wireless transactions to another device. Or criminals could set up false “storefronts”, pretending to be the store customers are shopping at.

4. The only way vendors would accept to use NFC payments from various companies is if a multipurpose terminal is available for them to use. This would involve, at some level, negotiations between Google, Apple and any other mobile provider. It’s hard to imagine all of them coming to an agreement easily or amicably.

5. Obviously, Apple pays their own interchange fees when processing transactions from iTunes account. They can cover those costs through the fees they charge the business. The advantage for the business owner is that they only have to deal with one middle man, rather than several, something they would inevitably have to deal with using NFC terminals.

Posted at 7:53pm and tagged with: Square, NFC, apple, google, visa, mastercard, tech, one column,.

May 25th 2011

Nothing Wrong with Some Friendly Competition   

Today, Barnes & Noble announced an all new Nook eBook reader, eschewing it’s the previous model’s bells and whistles and instead focusing on the essentials: Great form factor, excellent display and most importantly, great price. With the introduction of this device, it’s safe to say that the eBook market, just hitting it’s stride, is entering a period of healthy competition with device manufacturer’s offering a variety of enticing products and platforms and a publishing industry ready to move into the digital age. It’s an environment we haven’t seen during the digitization of any other form of media.

When music started going digital, there was no precedent for what devices should be and how the content should be distributed. As history shows, the iPod came out of nowhere and stole the market, becoming ubiquitous. With the introduction wildly successful iTunes music Store, Apple almost singlehandedly dictated what shape the market would take with regards to price and distribution.  Music labels followed along until they realized they didn’t like the agreement they had signup up for. They raised a stink over DRM, eventually dropping control of that too.  There wasn’t anyone for them to turn and flee Apple to. Everyone had been caught off guard with the rise of digital music. Everyone save the folks at Cuppertino.

When video decided to make the leap to digital, everyone was somewhat more prepared. The rise of smartphones and media center boxes ensured there were lots of hardware options beyond just what Apple had to offer. We should see more innovation and competition in this space but standing in the way are the movie and network studios. Having seen what happened to the music industry, they decided everyone would be playing ball on their terms. Even worse, the film & TV industry is being pulled in seperate directions, towards physical media and digital delivery simultaneously. As long the content providers support both, any real innovation is stifled as decisions that are made to aid one type of media hinder the other, and vice versa. It’s worse for digital content, as it’s distribution is fragmented across several devices and platforms and littered with various sorts of DRM.  Content providers, unwilling to be cooperative,  stonewall negotiations in their favor to make sure they don’t get burned as the music industry did, simply refusing to provide movies and shows if they don’t like the terms.  Or threating to go elsewhere.  The consumer, in all of this, is left to fend for himself.

Which brings us backs to eBooks. Unlike music and video, the book market actually finds itself in the enviable position of having a competitive hardware environment and a publishing industry that is both ready to move away from print and willing to work in partnership with hardware makers to forge the future of the market.  It’s in this enviroment that eBooks are on the fast track to outselling it’s print sibblings.

Where hardware is concerned, consumers are blessed to have three viable platforms to choose from.  Apple of course, brings it’s ever popular band of iOS devices and the credit card numbers of millions of iTunes account holders with it to it’s burgeonning iBooks platform. Then there is Amazon, already the biggest online book vendor, using it’s retailing expertise and resources to create the Kindle, probably the best selling eBook reader.4 Kindle is in fact an entire platform, available as an app on several other devices.  The third viable option is Barnes & Noble, which hasn’t shied away from bringing innovative devices to the market, first with their dual screened Nook Color and now with the new Nook’s advanced e-ink screen.  All three offer excellent products, each differenciated from the other and offering consumers different reading experiences.

An important part in all this is that no one device has cornered the eBook market. Having various options is always a benefit from users and the industry as a whole.  Choices equals opportunities. The existance of rivaling devices and platforms, especially between the Nook and Kindle, is helping push eReader innovation forward at a much faster pace than might have been expected. Barnes & Noble’s announcement today is testament to that.

Print publishers are also playing a role in this. They seem genuinely interested in moving beyond print, making themselves widely accesible to most platforms. There’s also the sense they don’t harbor any ill-will towards hardware manufacturers.  Part of the reason might be that some of the main players this time are partners they have  already maintained relationships with for many years selling print products. There’s a certain level of trust to begin with.  There isn’t a fear of having only one company cornering the market and dictating terms to everyone. Sure, publishers are still insisting on DRM and negotiating archaic pricing schemes, but overall, there’s the sense that they want to move the digital print industry forward. If publishers are committed to the platform, we’re bound to see some truly great leaps in how we envision written content, both in terms of design and delivery.

With a plethora of eBook platforms to choose from and the active participation of the publishing industry, consumers are surely going to benefit in ways they couldn’t with digital music and video. The digital print industry is a buyer’s market; in order to compete companies are going to be forced to offer the best services, the devices and perhaps most importantly, prices. Win. Win. Win.

However, a competitive market is also going to have issues of it’s own. Problems of the past can no longer be solved simply by having one company use it’s overwhelming position in the market as a kind of leverage. Some publishers, especially those with subscription models, will try to monetize eBooks in all sorts of ways. Some desirable and some less so. DRM also remains an issue.  Apple doesn’t have the sort of leverage in the print industry as it did with music, where it could use it’s position to push for DRM free content. As eBook sales continue to soar, what would happen if one platform were to pull ahead and steal publisher support from the others? Is it better to have a true market leader?

It’s going to be fascinating to watch unfold.

Posted at 1:48am and tagged with: Apple, Kindle, Nook, iPad, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Tech, one column,.

May 24th 2011

Ed Bott, Crusader of the Flood

More “reporting” from Ed Bott on the “growing” Mac Defender situation and Apple’s response to the “flood of customer calls” they are getting on the issue.

How big is this flood, you ask? According to his anonymous “sources”, Apple might have received between 60 000 or 125 000 on the matter.

Wow that’s big. 

Apple sold 3.6 million Macs last quarter. 125 000 is 3.47 percent of 3.6 million.

Big.

Too bad “Assholes Finish First ” is already a book.  Would have been a great title…

Posted at 11:37am and tagged with: Ed Bott, Tech, mac defender, Apple,.

- Bruce Sewell, senior vice president and general counsel for Apple, in a letter sent to today to Lodsys.

Probably not what Mark Small was betting on. It’ll be interesting to see if all this ends right here or if Lodsys is gonna push all their chips across the table…

Full Letter can be found over at Macworld

Posted at 3:03pm and tagged with: Apple, Legal, Lodsys, tech,.

Therefore, Apple requests that Lodsys immediately withdraw all notice letters sent to Apple App Makers and cease its false assertions that the App Makers’ use of licensed Apple products and services in any way constitute infringement of any Lodsys patent.

May 22nd 2011

Less Ping is More Ping   

One of my favourite things about Skype is an option that let’s you set your mood message to display instead what is currently playing in your iTunes library.  It’s laughably simply, but it has been a conversation starter more times than I care to remember and a source of some great musical discoveries. Naturally, when Apple announced Ping, its’ music themed social network, I was excited merely for the potential.

Today, 8 months into the service’s existance, I tweeted this:

iTunes, can you drop Ping already?

It was a hasty judgement, written out of both frustration and disappointment at what Ping is today. Perhaps a better statement would have been:

iTunes, can Ping stop being Facebook already?

Or maybe:

iTunes, make me WANT to use Ping already.

The idea of Ping is a good one. So here are some things I’d like to see more of, and less of, from iTunes “social network”.

More Than Just Music

Ping needs to be more than just music. If your sitting in front of your Apple TV, why not be able to see what movies your friends have seen? Forgot the title of the book your supposed to read for class? No worries. Fire up the iBooks store, browse to your Ping section and figure out what book your classmates are currently reading they all mysteriously purchased around the same time.  Wondering what weather app Ben Brooks is using currently? Why not check out his recommendations directly from the App Store?

Music is as good a place to start as any, but Ping could really take off if it were to be integrated into everything sold though the iTunes and App store ecosystem.  While you might not care for the musical tastes of some of the people you follow, you might however prefer to know what apps they use for writing, or what is currently on their digital nightstand.

It could all be seamless, from whatever Apple device you’re using. An Apple TV would show you only the Ping messages related to movies and TV shows, for example. Same for books and apps. Simple

Apple is probably hard at work on this. It’s an obvious way to boost sales. For the user, it’s the ultimate mixtape club. Hopefully, we’ll see this arrive sooner rather than later.

Less of Everything Else

Unfortunately, Ping’s current implementation is overreaching. It tries too hard to be an actual social network.  Here is a brief list of the essential functionality Ping needs:

1. Show you what your friends bought, listened to or liked.

Everything else needs to go, including(but not limited to):

1.The ability to make comments.

2. Your entire profile page within the iTunes store.

3. Artist Pages littered with show dates, obtuse PR messages and lots and lots of spam.

If you want to keep up with the adventures of your favourite bands, or make clever comments about your friends’ preference for Dave Matthews Band, that’s what Facebook is for. Or Myspace. Or Twitter. What Ping wants to be is something a ton of other services are already providing in bigger and better ways. It’s extra work that almost assuredly turns people off immediately. It’s just not something Apple should be pursuing.

So What Does Less Look Like?

Integration across the entire Apple product line and iTunes ecosystem. Remove the profile page and everything that comes along with it. Replace it with a preference pane in the iTunes store that let’s you set what you want Ping to broadcast to followers and make a list of recommendations for media and apps. When browsing the iTunes or App store, the Ping category should just show your friends’ recent activity and things they liked, within the context of what you’re browsing. Clicking on a link from this list takes you to the appropriate page to make a purchase. Clicking on your friends’ picture icon opens a new page, showing their recommendations for the appropriate media.

Nothing Else. Simple like the Skype display. Infinitely more useful.

 

Posted at 11:49pm and tagged with: iTunes, apple, tech, Ping, 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,.