By Shadoe Huard

May 26th 2011

LTE iPhone Still a Ways Off

Steve Lyb, on the probability of an LTE iPhone sometime in the near future:

So let’s say that, staying true to AT&T’s timeline, 15 cities will have LTE (I refuse to call it 4G) by this time next year, if not later.

Battery issues aside, could you really imagine Apple releasing a phone with such porous LTE coverage this soon?

File this one under 2012, folks.

I agree. While we might see an iPhone with an improved 3G antennas (the nebulous 4G telecoms are talking about now) relatively soon, a true 4G iPhone is probably not even in the cards for 2012.  Apple is going to wait until true 4G coverage is available wherever iPhones are sold, not just in the U.S. In Canada, 4G LTE networks might not be in place until at least 2012.

Don’t hold your breath.

Posted at 1:27am and tagged with: LTE, iPhone, AT&T, cellphones, tech, 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 17th 2011

The Syncing Music iCloud Cerberus   

Stephen Hackett shared his thoughts on the iTunes music cloud service the other day and I’ve gotta say, his best case scenario sounds pretty awesome:

If Apple called me up, and asked me what I would want out of a cloud music server, these would be the major points:

  • Purchased music automatically being pushed to the cloud and my local library.
  • Let me sync/cache songs from the cloud to my iOS devices on the go. Kill the USB cable, Apple.
  • All music, regardless of origin, can be uploaded.
  • 3G streaming on the go. Pandora, Rdio and others have this working. Hell, it even works via the Dropbox app .

A real pipe dream would be for this cloud service to sync selected media across my Macs, the web and my iOS devices. What a crazy world it would be if I could rip a CD on my iMac, let the sync app do its thing and then download those files on my MacBook Pro or iPad later.

Objectively, I think he is pretty close to a realistic scenario.  I don’t think Apple would let us upload any music from any location to the cloud and then let us download that music onto multiple devices.  Any service Apple launches is bound to be attached to your iTunes account and have some sort of device limit attached to it. Also, as evidenced by the offerings from Amazon and Google, a fully cloud based music library has some serious limitations and useability issues.  Wireless speeds & reliability (both up & down stream) just aren’t there yet for most consumers, no to mention the huge data sucks using such cloud services might be.

I think Apple forsees not only the logistical problems they might face, but also all the issues a user’s might encounter.  Ease of use seems to play an important role in the way Apple designs iOS software.  I think there are too many potential potholes in an entirely cloud based service for Apple to pursue as described by Mr.Hackett.  Again, look at what people are saying about what’s currently on the menu.

If iCloud rumors turn out to be about music, I think an acheivable scenario might be for Apple to introduce a streaming service over both Wi-Fi and 3G. Content you purchase from the iTunes store could be browsed and streamed over your devices, no uploading or downloading required.  iTunes could just browse the index of purchases linked to your account and make them available to you.  I could envision movies and TV shows also being available to stream, albeit only over Wi-Fi.  A service like this would also pave the way for a subscription service, another popular rumor, allowing you access to a certain amount of music at some fixed rate. Subsciption models are definitely gaining traction and Apple is well positioned to make a move in that space.

A scenario like this makes most sense to me for three reasons:

1. It’s the simplest logistical solution, from Apple’s perspective.. 

2. A scenario such as this one is probably easiest to negotiate with the music labels.

3. It’s the easiest solution for the end-user.  Just login with your iTunes account and the music can just appear in your iPod app. No worrying about space on your iPhone, upload times…

While I’d be happy with the scenario I’m describing, I’m starting to have doubts music is what Apple has in mind with iCloud. 1  What I’m begining to think iCloud will actually be is a develloper API, as proposed by John Gruber on episode 41 of The Talk Show. Gruber thinks this API wouldl allow developpers to build small data syncing into their apps so a user could have access to the same data over multiple devices.  An obvious application would be to allow games like Plants & Animals to sync user progress over to someone who has purchased the game on multiple iPhones or iPads. There’s also a whole slew of apps that use Dropbox kung-fu for syncing that could benefit from such an API. Gruber uses iBook as an example in his article on the subject:

iBooks does this. If you pause while reading a book on your iPad, then resume reading on your iPhone, it picks up on the same page in the book. Kindle and a bunch of other e-reading services do this too. The point isn’t that iBooks is unique or ahead of the curve in this regard. It’s that you don’t need MobileMe for iBooks. It’s all handled by the iTunes Store itself. You buy books on your device, you read them on your device, and your history, bookmarks and other metadata all get synced to your iTunes account in the cloud. And it works great. But a lot more apps should work like this. Should wireless Safari bookmark syncing cost $99 a year? Shouldn’t it be easy for iOS game developers to sync progress for the same game across multiple devices using the same iTunes account? App Store developers shouldn’t have to rely on another third party — Dropbox — for this sort of functionality.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense that this is what Apple has in store for us with iCloud. One way or another, WWDC is hopefully going to have some exciting surprises for us.

1. I’m sure we’ll see some cloud based iTunes solution too, I just don’t think it will happen first.

Posted at 2:09pm and tagged with: music, iTunes, iCloud, sync, iPhone, iPad, Gruber, one column,.

May 14th 2011

Instantly Convinced

I often wonder why I’m so convinced Apple products are the best. Yes they work and look great but there’s other computers and phones, made by other companies, that really aren’t that bad and that I even find enjoyable.  I’d like to own a Palm Pre and I often run Windows 7 on my Macbook Pro.  Yet, if anybody asks me what company they should get their phone or computer from, the answer is invariably always the same.

I figured it out watching TV at night with my girlfriend, after watching a Motorola XOOM spot. Turns out, it isn’t that Apple has some vastly superior race of workers or some secret foresight into the future that companies like Microsoft or Google lack. They too have good engineers and developers capable of creating innovative and useful products. It’s not even the “Reality Distortion Field” people think Steve Jobs emits.

It’s much simpler. What Apple commands over their competitors is a distinct ability to create compelling commercials and brand identity. Further still, the inability of it’s competitors to do the same goes a long way towards explaining why their products consistently become pop culture items.

Commercials have a simple objective.  Promote a certain product to a certain demographic of people.  Toys for kids, soda drinks to teenagers or mutual funds to boring folk.  The idea is to convince people to give you their dollars.

As I was watching this particular XOOM commercial, it struck me that either Motorola wants to sell tablets to kids and super soldiers masquerading as underwear models or they have no idea who they’re trying to sell these things to. As an iPad competitor, I thought maybe it would try to reach the same customers.  The worse part is that the ad is just a poor commercial. A mess. To be fair, Motorola does have a history of putting incomprehensible messes on TV screens.

Apple commercials, in contrast, are like a surgeons hands: precise and calculating.  The goal of their TV advertisements is to get an iOS or Mac device into any and every household.  And for the most part, their advertisements are very good at doing just that.

Especially compared to the competition.

The Demonstration

The main type of iPhone commercial is a deceptively simple one.  You’ll recognize the plot : A closeup of a nondescript hand holding the latest iPhone against a plain white background(black, in the original series), gracefully navigating the phone’s interface through a series of specific actions demonstrating a few specific features of the device and it’s apps.  A voice intones variations of:

“Hi, this is an iPhone. It can do these neat things, look.”
“Hi, did you always wish your phone could do X/Y/Z? The iPhone does.”
“Hi, I’m the NEW iPhone. Now I can do all these other neat things.”

It’s a demonstration of the phone, wrapped up in great production values and a catchy tune. There is no nonsense. It’s a clear, simple and concise message meant to reach the broadest audience.  People like you and I tend to pay less attention to them since we already know all about their content.  But start to think about how much your mom, your sister, that jock at school or your overbearing boss at work found out about the iPhone.  How they can name specific apps without ever having held one?  How many times, when they see you take your iPhone out do they ask you if it can do that thing where you can find out the name of that song playing on the radio?

“You know, from the commercial…”

Now compare this, say, to commercials for the original HTC G1, the first Android powered phone. There’s a wider shot of the phone,  sans hand and less prominent, over a similarly white, yet not uniform, background. The phone floats and moves about in sync with some overlaid copy describing features of the phone.  There’s a catchy, more punchy tune. Similar gestalt.  Here’s the phone, here’s stuff it does.

How many of you even remember the G1?

Go watch that iPhone commercial again and you start to notice the differences.  Pay attention to the intimacy, the precise movements of the hand, belonging perhaps to the narrator. Pay attention to the dialogue, the conversational tone. How personal it all feels.  When you watch it, do you find yourself paying attention?  Did you picture your hand holding the phone, sliding and pressing your fingers across it’s glass screen?  As you ask yourself “what does this do”, the narrator, his voice inside your ears, already has the answer.

Simple. Concise. Clear.

It’s those nuances commercials like the G1’s are lacking.  It isn’t personal, it’s a just a window display.  The text, often filled with complex jargon, is distracting.  If you focus on the phone you miss the text telling you what your supposed to be looking at. If you eyes focus on the text telling you there’s a full query keyboard, your not see what it looks like.  The more stimulus your brain has to process, the less time it can allocate to each one.  Whatever message they are trying to get across gets diluted.  You saw the text and the phone at the same time sure, but you weren’t as focused.   Were you paying attention?

The demonstrative iPhone commercials let you imagine that you’re in fact the one receiving a call from John Appleseed.   Too often, ads from competitors distance you from the product. This Motorola Droid commercial is a good example to compare with.  In one of those two commercials, you subconsciously start to feel ownership of the product; you’re pretty much sold. In the other, you might be a victim.

There are variations on this demonstration approach. my favorite of which feature some sort of slow or dramatic reveal. The level of success varies.  Some don’t even tell you what the product is called, much less  show you what it does. The goal is to build anticipation; lust for the device in question.  Anticipation works best when your customers know what they’re supposed to be anticipating, like say the next Star Wars film. Take for example the early iPhone 3Gs spots.  It’s supposed to be a slow reveal to an “iPhone Killer” which, as it turns out, is simply a new iPhone.  It’s humorous but the effectiveness comes from being already familiar with the brand.  If you already thought the iPhone was great then it’s easier to feel a genuine sense of anticipation towards the next one.  In the case of Palm, which doesn’t have immense brand recognition like Apple, it’s harder to create that emotion with a non tech savvy audience.  Apple has been doing these types of commercials for their desktop and laptop lines since the introduction of the iMac. I think they work better today because their brand is stronger, but those ads still stuck to being simple, concise and clear, which probably still made them effective. Not to mention the cinematography and productions values that always brilliantly illustrate their products.

This dedication to detail and to creating a unified message is what helps Apple draw in such a large audience.  That’s how they are able to find the sweet spot that appeals to both geeks and grandmas.

It’s not so much what you do, as what you don’t do.

Microsoft has some of the funniest ads I’ve seen from any company.  They know humor. But most people have no idea what those ads are supposed to be selling.  Maybe they are supposed to be creating the idea that they are cool and hip.

Unfortunately, trying to show that your cool is often the sign that your not.

Let’s try a experiment: Watch this Window’s Phone 7 commercial and replace any instance of the phone or the name Microsoft with any other product or brand. Try bagels.  The ad still works.  That’s not a problem in and of itself, but no one remembers or cares about the phone.   When you bring up this ad at the water cooler the next day, it’s because you want to talk about how you wished you had beamed your dad with a baseball when you were younger.

What situational commercials like these lack in product integration, they make up for in entertainment.  They’re really hyper short films a designed to keep people watching. However the potential for failure is enormous. Worst case for the Microsoft spot, it’s likely the narrative is more compelling then what it’s supposed to be shilling.  Worse still is when creative agencies start getting too focused on the narrative component.  Sony Playstation commercials are probably the most notorious for this.  In the smartphone universe, look no further than Palm.  Even the narrative is getting loopy.  They might still be interesting, but they’re ineffective as advertisements.

Which brings us full circle back to that XOOM commercial.  It’s immediately recognizable as some cousin of the Droid commercials.

Dark, gloomy atmosphere: Check.

Crazy sci-fi situation alluding to power/weapons/violence: Check.

Quick shot of something cybernetic in the protagonists body: Check.

Makes sure to be unmemorable to anyone past puberty or not really into sci-fi. Check.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with making commercials aimed at people who like that sort of stuff.  There isn’t anything wrong with the execution of that spot.  A long time ago, I would have killed for some awesome device that let me pretend it could morph into some awesome battleship.   There’s certainly a gamer’s flair to it, and I’m sure it tested well with that particular audience.

However, casting a narrow net is the difference between this and this.

“Their commercials are so good. You’re instantly convinced.”

Those are the words of my girlfriend, after seeing this, the same night I watched that XOOM commercial.  She didn’t mention that one.

The best part about the “We believe” spot isn’t that it can convince you that’s what Apple believes, it’s that it makes YOU think you believe in those things.  If you already have an iPad, it’s a kind of affirmation that you’re a sort of scientific aesthete, part of the team.  Who doesn’t want to believe those are the issues that should truly matter? In this case, the commercial IS able to make the product cool and fresh. Everyone believes in magic to some extent.

Apple and other highly successful brands don’t just cater to the tastes of a particular demographic, they create emotional bonds with large swathes of people.

Again, the difference between this, and this.

Incomparable.

You really start to feel the difference when you compare the competition’s ads against spots like “If You Asked” and “Meet Her”.  They just don’t compare.

Simple premises. Concise messages. Clear, distraction free presentations. They invoke an emotional and personal response.  And while they involve a narrative, the product has an active, rather than passive role.  The iPhone acts as a gateway in the FaceTime commercials while the iPad plays the role of some sort of portable Room of Requirement in it’s ad.

Apple focuses on promoting something anyone could find useful because they believe everyone is a potential Apple customer. They think their products can enable you to explore life to it’s limits. The other guys just want to tell you their phones have(soon) Flash installed on it.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” - Sun Tzu

We like to pit Apple, Google, Microsoft and Blackberry against each other and analyze the ins and outs of who’s best and who’s worst based on long lists of specs and performance benchmarks.  Which is good; companies should strive to create products that excel in both build and function.

Equally important in a company’s success is the way in which they promote those great products they create. People can quip that the iPhone is successful only because it’s cool and hip but that’s just diminishing one of Apple’s greatest strength: It’s ability to convince you to buy their stuff.  No finer example can be found then through their television ventures.

Apple assails from multiple fronts. They have both great products and great marketing.

Other companies are lucky to defend just one.  


Posted at 9:53pm and tagged with: Apple, Droid, TV, Xoom, commercials, iPad, iPhone, two column,.

May 9th 2011

iTunes Redux   

Apps have been on my mind lately, none more than iTunes.  iTunes is almost always working on my Macbook Pro, and I stream all my media through it to my AppleTV.  I use it daily and I will more than likely be doing so long into the future.  It’s great most days, but all too often, I seem to find it lacking in one area or another.  I wish it was better at being a control center for my media, rather than just an archive. I’m tired of just coping and compromising with the functionality that is available. A selfish thought, sure, but one I’m sure many share.

To be clear, my issues with iTunes aren’t these.  As a power user however, it’s become increasingly clear that iTunes isn’t designed with people who consome lots of media in mind. The more you do consume, the more you start to feel like you are no longer in control.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t lots of ways you can control iTunes.  If you’re up to it, custom playlists and Automator scripts well enable for a lot of deft maneuvering of your library.  Except that solutions like those are far from intuitive or simple for most people.  It’s a band-aid to a bigger injury; that iTunes is no longer really suited to being hub in your media lifestyle.

What iTunes doesn’t need is more features or customizability. What it does need is a paradigm shift.  It needs to realize that simply being a repository for the media in your computer no longer makes sense in 2011.

So as an excercise, I’ve decide to imagine how iTunes could look in the future, with improvements I would personally find useful and that might be useful to others as well.  I think there are two significant changes that I would make, the first being an overhaul to the UI and navigation of iTunes and the second addressing it’s online components.

And so that’s what I’ll be talking about over the course of the week.  If you have ideas of your own, don’t be shy to share.

Stay tuned.

 

Posted at 11:48am and tagged with: iTunes, Mac, Windows, iPod, iPhone,.

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.

October 25th 2010

The Mac as an IOS Device   

While there’s been lots of excitement around the newly announced Mac App Store, there’s also been a huge sense of caution in taking Apple’s closed ecosystem to the desktop.  Gizmodo spoke of a “completely controlled platform”, the coming of 1984.  Over at GDGT, Ryan Block wondered whether there’d even be enough apps to actually sell through the store proper.  While both raise legitimate concerns, I think they’re also both missing the point of what an App Store could be and who it is for.  

If we think as the Mac App Store as simply a gateway for existing applications and their ilk, it almost seems illogical since:

1. Huge productivity apps (like photoshop) are simply to complex to exist in the simple access world of the App Store.  Never mind that there is no apparent reason why big software developers like Adobe would need an intermediary like Apple to distribute their product.

3. The App Store Guidelines( well, restrictions) don’t allow for lots of the complex things we like our desktop apps to do. 

2. Revenue split:  A lot of applications for the desktop are already distributed for free or paid for through their own websites.  Why give up revenue when you can take care of the distribution yourself?

The Mac App Store is not for desktop applications as we know them.  While there will be incentive for smaller developers who can benefit from the exposure to jump onto the store, there just doesn’t seem to be any real advantage for most companies.  Unlike the Iphone and Ipad, the App Store isn’t the one and only way to get onto people’s computers and into their wallets.  

From that perspective, Block’s argument makes sense; what can you sell through the store, and just who is it for anyway? 

App developers, of course.

Apple doesn’t really want Mac OS developers to bring over desktop “applications” to the App Store.  It wants IOS developers to bring their “Apps” over to the desktop.  Again, Jobs and Co. are “taking it back to the Mac”.  While it’s easy to see how an app store for desktop applications can go awry, it’s also equally simple to see how popular IOS apps stand to be just as popular on the desktop.

Take for example Plants and Animals, available on both the Ipad and Iphone.  While it is already available on the desktop through services likes Steam, it’s popularity largely exists within the confines of the App Store ecosystem, and another outlet to that system, namely on the desktop, is nothing but upside for thousands of IOS developers.  The Mac App Store effectively transforms the Mac into another IOS device with an already huge install base, a lot of whom are probably already familiar with the App Store.

For IOS developers, staying within the Apple ecosystem (and it’s revenue split) is exactly where they want to be; it’s where the customers are.  People who want to purchase regular desktop software know that’s it’s available through the internet.  People who want to play Doodle Jump on their laptops know to shop for it in the App Store.

The Mac App Store isn’t primarily for desktop applications in the usual sense, it’s for the hundreds of thousands of original and innovative IOS applications that don’t yet have a home outside mobile devices.  

*** I’m particularly excited to see photo/image editing apps you can find on the App Store transition to the desktop.  Image editing on the desktop is a space where lots of innovation can be made, especially in terms of simplicity and ease of use.  Photoshop doesn’t have to be the only answer when you just want one specific tool for treating your images

Posted at 1:51am and tagged with: app store, IOS, mac, apple, developers, games, iphone, ipad, software, OS X,.