Posts Tagged ‘apple’

One thing at a time

June 10th, 2013 No comments

A few hours from now, Apple will be hosting a keynote speech at their 2013 developer’s conference. Apple hasn’t released much for quite some time and is often the case around these events, rumors have begun to swirl like tornado in the plains. There’s a lot riding on this presentation because it’s finally time to start seeing if a post-Steve Jobs Apple can still make a big splash.

And that’s a big dilemma. The market, from Wall Street to main street is expecting products and announcements from new operating systems and user-interfaces for both desktop and mobile to new iPads, cheap iPhones, new ultra-thin portables and a power user MacPro.

If Jobs we’re still in charge I would confidently predict what Apple will do this afternoon: they’d release just one (maybe two) of those things (probably a MacPro, and maybe MacBook Air). They’d talk about software and keep things nuts and bolts for developers, letting the interface changes stay locked away for a while longer, while focusing on one or two products at a time.

Wall Street would punish them for not being innovating enough, but the media would focus on those products and the market would have enough time to digest the news and run out and buy whatever it is they want before the next bit of news is released.

With the stock price off more that 25% from previous highs and people grumbling about the lack of entirely new product spaces, CEO Tim Cook may feel compelled to placate and release news on all of these fronts.

If your small business is ever the power house of development that Apple can be, resist this temptation. There’s nothing in it for you. No matter how exciting and innovating each product is, only one of them is going to get the limelight, and worse, you might not be able to choose which one that is. It’s a waste of marketing effort and money, even if expectations are high.

As for Apple, I’m really hoping they resist the unusually high temptation to show it all, but if I had to bet, I’d say it’s going to be a big show. Too bad.

Categories: Business Tags: , ,

Nouns are more important than adjectives

March 6th, 2013 No comments

Bloomberg quotes Thrivent analyst Nabil Elsheshai “It’s no coincidence that Google’s rise has coincided with Apple’s demise. Making money from services versus devices is growingly perceived as a better business model.”

Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but somebody has to make something for a service to actually be of any value at all.

You service your car; no car, no service.

You get information from the web about where to buy things; nothing to buy, no reason to search for info about it.

Crowd sourcing tells you which restaurant you want to eat in and Pandora streams music to your desktop, but the food had to be prepared and musicians had to create the music; everything, it seems to me, starts and finishes with things.

Right now, Google makes much of its revenue related to advertising. It’s genius really, all the ways they skim money from that business and what it’s done for them. For that Google should be commended. But to suggest that services are more valuable than devices seems crazy to me. On the plus side, Google makes money from the advertising of, well, anything. That’s, no question, a pretty big stream of money, but it’s literally pennies an ad. Margin per transaction is important for a business because each transaction, even with Gooogle’s efficiency, costs something.

Meanwhile, thing-makers, like the companies I usually work with, have to set aside some of their margins for advertising—money they’ll pay maybe to Google in order to get the word out about their new thing.That advertising dollar can never be greater than the money made from the thing in the first place though, can it? Google’s ultimate market, if unopposed and if they get every advertising dollar out there, is certainly large and, likely larger than Apple’s. Apple can make only so many different categories of iDevices after all. Except Apple, and all of us thing-makers (manufacturers) typically make quite a bit more money every time someone buys our object; even if we pay Google a little bit to help convince them. The broader suggestion, that services are more valuable than things is ludicrous.

It’s annoying because one thing may be true about this quote: perception. Small startups selling real live things you can touch and use have a hard time just competing for investor ear-time with thousands of software models based on some variation of ‘get a load of users for a service and then sell the users to advertisers.’ Usually this business model is called a service, but it’s driven by advertising, and there is only so much advertising revenue to go around. And it’s always going to be smaller than the revenue from selling actual objects.

In other words, without the nouns, there’s really no reason to bother describing them.

Slowing the development cycle

February 20th, 2012 No comments

Apple’s a bit slow. The iPhone has been followed up, twice now, with incremental upgrades. The iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4S were both relatively minor tweaks on the previous model. Bloggers complain, customers barely notice, but one group is absolutely thrilled: developers.

I work with an Apple developer and it turns out, that despite all the hoops and regulations they have to jump through to even sell something related to the Apple an Apple platform, it’s all worth it because Apple has made the big picture much easier. The write-once-deploy-anywhere notion is sort of true in Apple-land in a way that Andriod can’t even dream of. Once a piece of software or hardware is developed for an Apple product, it will plug into the same port, in the same location and have the same application hooks on iPods, a range of iPhones, and a couple of different iPads. That’s a pretty big deal when compared to developing an accessory for an Andriod-based phone or tablet. In that world, it’s develop once, and then try try again for nearly every phone or tablet on the market.

Apple will release an iPad “3” in March, but, like their other incremental upgrades, it isn’t the time to expect much. Rumors are starting to shake out that there won’t even be an all new A6 quad-core processor, for example. As if anyone but the technorati even cares. The iPad is firmly in the lead among tablets; there is little reason to rock this particular boat. I could, for example, imagine that the real feature of the new iPad will be its price: cheaper than the last ones. Such a move would be devastating to the competition who are making compelling products but struggling to make them as inexpensively as Apple has (with the obvious exception of Amazon).

A cheaper iPad could be decimating to the only real competitor: Amazon’s Fire. Seeing as the iPad already runs Amazon’s Kindle app, a cheap iPad would fill a visible niche. Not to mention how happy developers would be. They wouldn’t have to re-design accessories for this new product. Keeping developers happy is critical in these days when your product isn’t just a shrink-wrapped device, but rather that whole eco-system of market channels, accessories, and add-ons.

Still, I’ve taken up this prediction thing, lately, so, I’ll predict that, in spite of my hopes and dreams, Apple will not be lowering their iPad 3 price. They can always (and likely will) sell last year’s model for cheaper, but really, why would they want to cannibalize their own margins to sell a few extra units? The Kindle has proven no real threat and there is little point in being both the performance and low-cost leader.

Forget coming, the Chinese are already here

January 25th, 2012 No comments

I haven’t been back to Photonics West, the premier conference and trade show for the photonics industry, in years. I’ve missed it! But being away gave me a chance to notice something that, while obvious, might have slipped by the regular visitors.

Years ago, many of us in the industry debated the role of the Chinese in the photonics marketplace. Low quality, many reasoned, but the rest of us recalled hearing that argument before about Japanese manufacturing, then Korean, Thai, and everyone else. We could guess that today’s low quality were gathering skills to compete directly with U.S. manufacturers.

Only five years ago many companies were already feeling pressure from Chinese manufacturers (indeed, in lower skill assemblies) but today the tradeshow floor wasn’t filled with Chinese made products from American and European designs. It was filled with Chinese people selling Chinese products. From optics to lasers, all the way to complex instruments the Chinese were no longer content to offer cheap labor to product manager’s problems, they were here today to meet with researchers directly, and see how well the fruits of their labor would solve their problems or create the next markets.

This dilemma and what exactly is behind was well documented< recently by the New York Times. While the problems and trends described in that article sound intractably difficult to solve, the photonics industry is different. Unlike Apple’s supply chain which has almost completely translated off shore, from nuts and bolts to qualified engineers, photonics still enjoys a significant infrastructure here in the United States.

The challenge that this high tech industry faces is whether our experts are willing to make the sacrifices that our Chinese colleagues often have. Are we willing to pay for opportunities with a bit more risk and yet still receive less pay off than fellow executives and entrepreneurs do? It’s well known that people value their own wealth only in comparison to their own peer group. That’s too bad, because the U.S. is a rich nation, and making the choices that Chinese companies must do every day feels much more painful to our entrepreneurs. They argue it’s not worth it to them; they’ve invested so much into their small businesses. One of my industry colleagues spoke of the kind of deals he can accept these days; he has to feed over 20 employees in his small business and he’s got to find opportunities that keep them safe, but also provide him a good return. It all made perfect sense, and he’s by no means rich, but I wonder if his Chinese competition would be willing to accept much less.

I hope he’ll reconsider. I want him to be rich: he’s had a business for more than a decade already and he’s grown slowly and steadily. He’s a critical part of the infrastructure that remains here in this very high-tech industry. If he can’t compete with the Chinese at his door, then our industry may mirror what’s already happened in the iEconomy and what could have been a beachhead to maintain our position in the world economy, will go to the far east, just like Apple’s semiconductors and the engineers who support them already have.

Building an eco-system

January 17th, 2012 No comments

I remember buying used books in the college book store. I was amazed how expensive they were, but I remembered most how heavy they were as I quickly learned not to carry them with me to classes. That’s a shame because having the book there to refer to right after a lecture might have made it easier to work out the problems assigned. We actually used books during class in elementary school; keeping these heavy things with us was a necessity. So was a sturdy backpack.

I predict Apple wants to change all that. In the process, they want to improve the way we learn and even the way books, themselves, are created. The Kindle and Nook are both excellent eBook readers. They are light and easy to read in typical light. But textbooks, especially those for earlier grades, are in color. Interacting with textbooks can make them more effective and more stimulating. Have a textbook that’s attached to the internet, so it can be updated, fact checked, compared with other sources, and shared with friends makes it even more powerful. E-readers fall short on interactivity because their beautiful screens are slow to refresh, and their unsophisticated, but perfect just for reading, software is limited. That’s what keeps them cheaper (around a fifth of the price of an iPad) but whypreferred iPadsto Kindles.

The iPad isn’t new, so why hasn’t it already become the text book replacement I suggest it should be? Apple’s been here before, but it’s all about the eco-system. As each new Android phone is released with better and better specs, even than Apple’s offering, pundits predict it will kill off the iPhone. It doesn’t happen because, like buying into a camera system, buying an iPhone is gaining access not only to a nifty phone, but also a huge app-store, and giant accessory market.

In order to bring iPads to classrooms, Apple needs an eco-system. This, I predict, is what Apple will announce Thursday, 19 January. Many are calling it GarageBand for text books. It really means that by making the tools available to develop textbooks, new, interactive textbooks that take advantage of all of the iPad’s features, Apple can crowd-source the eco-system that it needs to build out this market. This is not to say that suddenly everyone will be able to make text books that the Texas Board of Education is likely to accept, but there is still a need for iPad compatible tools that make this development much easier. Tools that expand the interactivity of the book with the rest of the world. Imagine how much better Facebook would be if kids we’re able to share references from their homework instead of just the latest “re-post this if you think….” Apple has a long history of enabling content creators, and not just content consumers. Not a bad strategy if you develop tools to both consume and create digital content. If you want to know where Apple is going in the future, expect them to look for opportunities to enable one side or the other of the content equation.

And check back in a couple of days to see if this is at the heart of Thursday’s announcement.

Smug satisfaction of being right

October 5th, 2011 No comments

So that is why people like to predict the future. It’s because of the overwhelmingly smug satisfaction we get from being right! After all, we rarely highlight being wrong, so I get to claim an unblemished record for now.

Yesterday I made some predictions about the tech moment of the day: the Apple iPhone announcement. I predicted Apple wouldn’t change the form factor, that they’d upgrade the hardware making it faster and improving the camera, and that the presentation would focus on the new software, iOS 5 and its capabilities. I even mentioned that voice activation might be the surprise that steals the show.

I guess you could say I nailed it. But wasn’t it too easy this time? Frankly, I am not such a huge fan of the current form factor for the iPhone. The glass on the back of my phone is cracked, the phone is less comfortable to hold and more difficult to tactily find the front/top of than it used to be. Tech pundits didn’t want to solve any of these problems, they wanted a bigger screen, because, well, other phones have a bigger screen.

The iPhone has a fantastic screen. Probably the best screen out there. It’s not bigger, but it does display more pixels than almost any other, and I am quite surprised, actually, that folks really want to carry around even bigger phones. Isn’t miniaturization one of technology’s magic bullets?

Apple did exceed my expectations though. Check out what they’ve done with their acquisition of Siri for voice control. I am dubious about talking to my phone as I see people do on their Android phones. It goes like this: press a few buttons and load the application. Stare at the screen for a moment to ensure that it’s ready. Speak your phrase into the phone, slowly and carefully: “F i n d p e e t z a h” Wait. “F i n d p e e t z a h” Wait. “F e y e n d p e e e t z z a a a h”, go to the maps application and type pizza into the search field and continue on with your business. It barely works, not terribly convenient when it does, and it’s a bit odd and certainly unacceptable in a wide variety of situations to ask your phone for that sort of thing. I have “voice control” on my phone. I’ve used it, let me see, never.

With Siri, though, I started to have the same thought I had when Apple introduced the iPhone. Four years ago I saw the commercials of the way it scrolled and opened applications and above all how effective and useful the web was on it and thought “if it actually works that well, that’s really something I’d get.” At the time I had a Windows Mobile 5 phone that I’d learned was really just a large, blocky phone that got my e-mails. You could surf the web, but you really wouldn’t want to do that to yourself, just as you can use google voice, but it’s not really worth doing.

If, on the other hand, I find myself in an Apple store in front of an iPhone 4S and try out Siri and it really does work like that, well, maybe I’ll stop being such a luddite about this voice stuff. My contract’s got about another year. By then the iPhone 5 (or something really competitive) might be out. I can always talk to my phone in the car. There no one can hear my conversation about not having any friends because I smugly think I am right all the time.