July 30, 2012

It’s a pundit’s cliché to prognosticate something like “this will be the last generation of game consoles” or “Blu-ray will be the last physical format” (maybe not). If you want to go out quite a bit further into the future, though, you can listen to the likes of OnLive CEO Steve Perlman, who says that, eventually, virtually all computing devices will go away in a world that can take advantage of ultra-high-speed wireless technology like DIDO.

Are these the ramblings of a mad scientist? Not for Perlman’s former employer, Apple, which has traditionally made money from devices supported by software and content. The latter has historically represented relatively little of the company’s revenue when compared to its well-known hardware products.

But that is starting to shift, at least on a relative basis. In a charting of Apple’s YoY third-quarter revenue shares, Stuart Carlson shows the growing  influence of the iPhone and iPad over time. But look a bit further down the Y-axis from those ascendant lines and you will see that revenue form the iTunes store, while down on a percentage basis from a few years ago, now accounts for more revenue than desktops and the iPod, two products that are still strongly identified with the company. This has more to do with cannibalization of these products by notebooks and iPhones than a particular surge in digital sales. I wouldn’t expect this revenue stream to overtake iPhones or notebooks any time soon. Still, it demonstrates that Apple is positioning itself for a world in which bit distribution may pick up growing importance versus devices.

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June 11, 2012

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It may not be the most glamorous activity, but if you’re going to ship at least a tablet with any credibility, it’s helpful to have a suite available to read and preferably edit Word and Excel files. Microsoft has noted that its leading Office suite will be included with Windows RT and presumably the tablets on which it will run. With its market leadership, Apple has had the liberty of charging pretty handsomely for the pieces of its iWork suite, which still attracts more than its share of customers versus iPad alternatives such as Quickoffice and Docs To Go, which was acquired by RIM and is bundled on the Playbook,

At the tenth All Things D conference, Google executives promised that we would see offline Google Drive functionality in a matter of weeks. As an extension of Google Docs, Google Drive presents links to files on the Web, which is only marginally more convenient than going to the Web page to begin with,

On the surface, Quickoffice puts Google into the local productivity suite business, but Quickoffice will likely simply serve as the software that facilitates offline editing of Google Docs. Without Windows and Mac versions, though, Google may be missing out on important offline platforms. it would be nice to see a simple preference to have popular native ffice suites (or OpenOffice) support Google Docs file types. In any case, it seems  there’s a way for Google to put what is more or less the existing Quickoffice product to work, which is apparently not the case for Meebo Messenger.

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June 8, 2012

imageNo matter what your home gaming console platform presence is, the influence of tablets was evident in the presentations of the Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. The main claim to fame of the Wii U, of course, is its second screen, basically a small tablet with gaming controls. Sony took a moment to highlight the renaming of PlayStation Suite to PlayStatiion Mobile with designs on expanding beyond its own tablets as certified devices. And Microsoft, of course, surprised many with SmartGlass, a second-screen architecture that goes beyond gaming into XBox’s new and broader entertainment domain.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that tablets are about to be as disruptive in the home console space as smartphones have been in the handheld console market. Nonetheless, beyond the game platform triopoly, the influence of tablets was not only evident in presentations from major publishers such as Activision and EA, but also in a pair of companies that may be less well-known to at least U.S. gamers. Social mobile platform Gree showed off six titles. There were also several companies showing off gaming controllers to try t bring back some of that tactile control to the tablet’s frictionless and often imprecise display.

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May 30, 2012

imageFollow the often tech-relevant Product Design section of Kckstarter for a while and you’ll see quite a few kinds of devices resurface – iPhone and iPad cases and mounts are popular as are and all manner of photographic stability aids, mounts and dollies. Lately, though, it seems that there have been a curious number of overlapping funding campaigns for products with a somewhat similar focus. Take your pick if any of the following are of interest to you:

Gooseneck-like cables that allow one to prop up a smartphone
Une Bobine: http://kck.st/J99EY1
The limb.al: http://kck.st/IWN4Wr

A way to conveniently carry and use a keyboard with your iPad
Brydge: http://kck.st/IDUJEU
TouchType: http://kck.st/IAOGjV

An AirPlay-based network audio adapter
TuneBridge: http://kck.st/Kebc3J
playGo AP1: http://kck.st/JUWvmL

A magnetic camera mount that allows fast and easy tilting and rotation
Mais 360: http://kck.st/LSqyyP
Static: http://kck.st/KJIp9C

A way to stabilize smartphone cameras and diffuse light for macro stills
The Nimbus Dome: http://kck.st/MI1l9G
Scanbooth: http://kck.st/JAAPJ3

Now, the similarities among thee pairs varies a bit. Still, having similar projects compete against each other is not just bringing Kickstarter closer to how tings work in traditional private equity, it could be the basis for a whole new competitive means to drive funding. So, is this some plot by Kickstarter to drum up drama by adding a more competitive dimension to fundraising? More likely it’s a coincidences driven by the site’s growing popularity. That would indicate that there’s room for competition, perhaps from a more transparent party that would be willing to stand by its users and insure against loss of pre-order dollars in the event a project falls through.

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May 26, 2012

I believe Nokia when it says that the company has no Plan B, or that Plan B is to make Plan A a success – at least for now. Perhaps it would prefer not to consider such an alternative until it saw that Windows Phone was failing to make inroads after an extended period of time. Of course, the big question is, how long would that period be?

The line from Nokia is that the ecosystem of Windows Phone must succeed for Nokia to succeed. But I’m not sure it’s so black and white. Apple, and for years before it, RIM, succeeded with no other licensees of its operating system. There was that brief window where PalmOne was the only successful licensee of Palm OS, owned by PalmSource. And, really, which major handset provider besides Nokia was wildly successful with Symbian?

Indeed, while few doubt that Nokia will be the most successful Windows Phone licensee, a successful ecosystem does not necessarily make for a successful licensee. Some would argue that, if Windows Phone proves a failure beyond Nokia, than Microsoft should just purchase Nokia. But Stephen Elop, in recounting the story of how Nokia came to license Windows Phone, says that that was never on the table. Indeed, Nokia would be about as comfortable inside Microsoft as Motorola Mobility still looks inside Google. Not needing the IP, or being able to leverage it without purchase, Microsoft would be loath to buy Nokia no matter how high its share of Windows Phone became.

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May 7, 2012

I was excited when Apple announced support for folders in iOS 4. Folders were the solution to the iPhone’s home screen limit and Apple implemented folder creation in a pretty slick way – dragging one app icon atop another, even suggesting a name in the process .But while I appreciate that Apple has tried to simplified the organization system in iOS when compared to the hierarchies in Mac OS and Windows, folders have become more frustrating than helpful to me.

First, the limit on the number of items (which varies depending on whether you are using an iPhone/iPod or iPad, forces arbitrary organization schemes. I’ve found this to be particularly true for games, the abundance of which on iOS has left me scratching my head as to how to group them. Is Traffic Rush a skill game? A strategy game? A  driving game? I’ve mostly given up and just created sequentially named Games folders that lead me to forget what is where.

But this creates another problem because you can’t search for folder names. If you’ve forgotten which folder you’ve used for an app, about your only alternative aside from opening every potential folder to spot check is to search for the app every time you want to launch it.

Finally, even after you’ve gone through the painstaking process of creating folders – a task not particularly enhanced by the iTunes desktop interface – restoring your folder organization can be a dicey proposition.

Old Mac hands will remember that the Mac’s first filing system, the Macintosh Filing System (MFS), also had folders that were merely cosmetic and not hierarchical. Apple could better balance the needs of those wanting a more robust organization scheme and novices by creating a one level-deep hierarchy as it sort of has in iPhoto. It would also be great to see Apple create a more powerful desktop tool to organize apps, screens and folders, But  I’d happily pass on either of those options if Apple would simply offer the option to keep apps and folders alphabetized as they do on the Mac and as they are in the Windows Phone app list and Android’s stock  launcher. This creates a default way to find things as the number of apps grows.

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May 3, 2012

Google Play may not be the least confusing name for a digital storefornt and the collection of wares that it offers exclusives the Web apps that are offered via its Chrome Web Store. But the rebranding of what was primarily Android Market best represents what an integrated way to purchase the main digital media types – apps, music and video, and books and magazines – should be. While Amazon has subbrands e-books (Kindle Store) and its music and video service (Amazon Instant Video), but these are under the Amazon umbrella brand that is synonymous with retailing..

Apple, though, remains stuck with three different stores for music and video, apps, and books. And two of those storefronts use the iTunes name which, in addition to mixing the function of an organization tool and a storefront, is far out of date with respect to what might be considered relevant to a “tune.” Yes, Apple, can take its time in revealing how a brand makes sense after all, but “iPod” connoted something general. In contrast, iTunes connotes something specific.

Indeed, Microsoft has been on a similar path. It has the Windows (Phone) Marketplace for apps, Zune for music and videos, and its new partnership with Barnes and Noble will result in a Nook-branded e-book store. If iTunes is too broadly associated with the success of one type of digital media, though, Zune of course has the opposite problem, and I’ve never understood why Microsoft would hang on to a brand so strongly associated with a device that failed in the market. The company has decided to move on from its branding of Windows Live, but it also has been known to keep services limping along forever.

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May 2, 2012

A few weeks ago I attended the Telenav Waypoint event. Telenav is the company that produces the navigation service that powers AT&T’s and Sprint’s navigation services and is also the company behind the iPhone navigation app Scout.

An interesting location-based issue, however, surfaced before I even arrived at the event. At the airport, I was supposed to rendezvous with another attendee, but I didn’t know his flight was due in at about the same time as mine, but only a third party had both of our contact info and that party was unreachable.

A little combination of sleuthing and help from the Information Desk revealed that the other guy was in another terminal. I dragged my bags over there and  found the person I was to meet whom I knew by appearance. Could the incident have gone smoother through better planning? Sure. Or perhaps it was just a failure of the social graph and not location-based technologies per se. But there was no real facility for my counterpart to signal where he was, to reveal his location. I couldn’t find him even though he was in the same set of buildings I was in.

Image credit: Garmin.com

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April 12, 2012

imageIn a recent Switched On column about the iPad, I talked about how Apple can lavish “a level of favoritism that Google and Microsoft can never have for any given device running its licensed software.” Keeping the software consistent has been one of the hallmark’s of Apple’s iOS device appeal, but there is also something to be said about keeping the industrial design relatively consistent as Apple has done between the iPhone 4 and 4S and now between the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad. I don’t expect that this will be the last form factor revision for either device although Apple has stayed very faithful to the current designs of the iMac and Mac Pro line for years.

Particularly for these mobile products, keeping a consistent form factor amplifies the advantage that Apple has versus competitors in the accessory-rich tablet and smartphone markets. Obviously, every case-maker breathed a sigh of relief when it saw the dimensions of the latest iPhone and iPad did not stray from the previous generation. But there are also a large number of keyboard clamshells, stands, mounts, clips, docks and all manner of other accessories. By preserving continuity across iDevice generations, Apple may forfeit some excitement that comes at the differentiated shape of a new thing, but it gains in preserving the consistency of the platform (in the broadest sense) with a device that hits the ground running in a ready-made accessory ecosystem, one where the hardware may even be optimized ahead of the third-party software.

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April 9, 2012

imageWhoever said 90 percent of life is showing up will be proven wrong in the next few years. We’re increasingly seeing more affordable technology that can work with Wi-Fi or cellular connections – and usually smartphone apps – to enable us to remotely control and monitor just about anything and video chat is becoming ever more feasible.

But there are certain applications for which the nearly complete removal of distance confines may have questionable utility. Take, for example, Evoz, “the baby monitor with unlimited range.” The idea of remotely monitoring a room with what is essentially a network-enabled microphone and companion app has obvious interest to those who practice espionage. However, I first saw the product on ThinkGeek, where a commenter snarked that the product was a good fit for parents’ “for when you leave your baby at home while you go to the grocery store.”

Then there’s the Viper SmartStart, which lets you unlock and start your car from afar. You won’t find any accusations of bad parenting to go along with this product; the remote range is a neat feature to have when, say, you are leaving an office building on a wintry day. Here, cellular is a real enabler, but the notion of unlimited range is again questionable. I can see the case of remotely unlocking a vehicle in case someone accidentally got locked out, but how often does one really need to be able to start one’s vehicle from across the country?

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