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.
Tags: App Store, Apple, atoms versus bits, desktops, DIDO, iMac, iPod, post-hardware, revenue share
May 30, 2012
Follow 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:
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.
Tags: competition, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, Kickstarter, pre-orders, startups
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.
Tags: Apple, flatland, folders, iOS, iTunes, MFS, navigation, personalization, Search
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
Tags: GPS, indoor location, IPS, LBS, locaiton, mapping
April 12, 2012
In 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.
Tags: Accessories, Apple, continuity, ecosystems, form factors, industrial design, iPad, iPad 2, third-generation iPad
October 20, 2011
The past few weeks have been an incredible time for smartphones. Apple launched its iPhone 4S, sticking with its successful iPhone 4 design and repeating a play that the company used before when it launched the 3GS as a follow-up to the 3G. The move bespoke a confidence in its approach, focusing efforts on where the company thinks it matters while resisting temptations such as a larger display or LTE.
And if the introduction of the iPhone 4S was classically Apple, what happened the following week was classically Android. Within 24 hours, two Android licensees announced bleeding-edged phones. The Motorola Droid RAZR packed LTE into a .71 mm splashproof, Kevlar-coated, stainless steel-supported profile. And the other side of the globe, Google and Samsung teamed up to reveal the first Ice Cream Sandwich phone, boating a 4.65” AMOLED display, NFC to enable Android Beam, and face recognition-based unlocking. Both handsets are headed toward Verizon, the high-end Android cup of which seems like it will overflow this holiday season.
Tags: 800, Android, Apple, Nokia, nokia world, sea ray, Windows Phone 7
October 17, 2011
Some recognized that HP’s decision to exit the handset market was a small boost for RIM, Not only was HP thought to be more aggressive in going after RIM’s enterprise customers with a vertically integrated offering, but the scuttling of the Pre 3 left the Torch as one of the few vertical sliders in the market.
However, separate from the recent BlackBerry network outage that we’ve seen before, there’s at least two reasons for the lack of enthusiasm around the company. The first is the challenge in getting people excited about its latest developments in BlackBerry 7. RIM has focused on finally tackling the BlackBerry’s generally lagging animation and greatly accelerated its browser. They were likely the moves that would have yielded the best return on effort and RIM has been effective on both fronts, but these are catch-up maneuvers.
Tags: Blackberry, BlackBerry Tag, Siri
June 17, 2011
When Apple debuted its portable digital music player that would interact with iTunes, it named it iPod. This left many scratching their head iPod? Why not iSongs or iMusic, particularly since Apple was almost exclusively focused on that content at the iPod’s debut. Over time, though, Apple added support for more media types to the device, including photos, videos and games.
Years later, Apple introduced the iPhone, claiming that it was the best iPod it had ever produced. In fact, the app that played back music and videos was called “iPod” to play upon the familiarity with the blockbuster portable device. This always seemed a bit odd to me, though – assigning what had previously been a hardware brand to software. Indeed, the metaphor fell apart when Apple introduced the iPod touch, and renamed the “iPod” app Music to avoid recursion.
Now, a decade after the debut of the iPod, and as Apple may finally leave the iPod classic behind this fall, it’s all becoming almost completely logical and consistent. Apple still has the fixed-function iPod shuffle, but the flagship iPod touch is indeed a container for many seeds; the floodgates have been opened completely with a rich app library. And the iPhone’s “iPod” app will disappear with iOS 5, being replaced with separate apps for music and video. This move signals that – as much as the iPod has been synonymous with music – its brand and capabilities have grown into things more consistent with its name.
Tags: branding, iPhone, iPod, music
May 22, 2011
I’ve had mostly good experiences with products from XtremeMac (even though none of them have ever actually been used with a Mac). The first iPod case I bought from them was great, ditto for their HDMI switcher. I also liked the design and features of the Luna Voyager alarm clock dock, but had found it difficult to get certain devices to fit in their dock adapters and the dock adapters themselves very difficult to remove. Plus, I had to jump through hoops to get a digital copy of the manual. (When repeated e-mail exchanges proved fruitless, I picked up the phone and talked to a person who resolved it within five minutes.)
Those who have an older car or one without a Bluetooth, though, may want to take a gander at their recently announced InCharge Auto BT. (The company also produces a version for the home using standard AC outlets.) While there have been countless products over the years to send music from a cell phone (or just about anything else) via local FM transmission, the result is often terrible in cities with many FM broadcasters. In contrast, the clever XTremeMac approach acts like a standard USB charge for a smartphone, but integrates Bluetooth reception and a cable to connect to any car head unit that has an aux jack.
I suppose this begs the question, “Why do you need Bluetooth?” You could just charge the phone and run a cable from its headphone jack to the AUX jack. For one, this approach should prove a little neater with a shorter cable and provide for more flexibility in terms of where the phone is placed in the vehicle. On the other hand, if you’re not above doing a little installation work in your dashboard (or paying for it) you might just want to start anew with a car stereo that has built-in Bluetooth.
Tags: Bluetooth, car audio, InCharge, XtremeMac
February 20, 2011
The iPhone distinguished itself with a single home button for returning from an app to the launch screen. While its functionality may have been strained a bit as the platform has progressed. e.g., having to tap twice to bring up the app switcher, its single UI depression concession made a statement about minimalist simplicity that few platforms (webOS may be one example) have answered.
In contrast, Android launched with four major UI buttons (Home, Menu, Back and Search) and Windows Phone launched with three (Windows/Start, Back, and Search). Exactly how many – if any – buttons is optimal can be debated by user interface experts or considered personal preference. As is the case with much of what I consider Android variation, the media has jumped upon the tendency for different vendors to implement the Android button order in a different way, even in different handsets from the same manufacturer.
I don’t see that as such a major issue, but the Search button, in particular, always struck me as gratuitous. Yes, we know Google is a search company, but that doesn’t mean I need a search button omnipresent on my device. And I was somewhat disappointed that Microsoft followed suit (since, of course, Bing is really important, too).
Now Google, if not having so much seen the error of its ways, will give licensees the option to forego any and all buttons in Honeycomb tablets and presumably Ice Cream handsets. Perhaps this was due to the influence of Matias Duarte, a notion that buttons are trickier to place on a tablet versus a generally vertically oriented handset, or simple feedback from partners.
The drawback is that now, in addition to potentially having different button layouts, Android devices may now have different combinations of buttons and gestures for the same task. Regardless, these devices now have the potential to look cleaner and more streamlined because of the change. Perhaps that’s one of the liberties that Nokia will feel free to take as it balances its unique customization privileges against compromising the consistency in the Windows Phone ecosystem.
Tags: Android, buttons, differntiation, Google, IIce Cream, iPhone, Matias Duarte, Search, Start button, tablets, user interface, webOS, Windows Phone