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About me:

I have coveted technology since I was kid, spending far too much of my disposable income on consumer tech. I hardly slept the night before my mum took me to buy my first digital calculator in 1976 (Prinztronic Micro8) and have been mesmerised with computers since my first Sinclair Spectrum in 1982. I push my stuff to the limit creating some innovative ways of using these devices for fun, entertainment and making my life easier. Long time unashamed Apple fanboy.

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Coming up:

  • Living with the Nexus 7
  • Facebook - The 'Other' Internet
  • Obsolescence by design 
  • Email - The productivity killer
  • My stuff
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Lighting up some fibre & pixels today with:

Apple - Trouble at Mill?

I wrote just yesterday about what I thought was a mis-step in design concept for the iPad Mini. I wasn’t expecting to be either writing another entry quite so soon or one containing again more worrying signs.

Apple announced last night the departure of Senior Execs John Browett and Scott Forstall. 

Browett (former CEO at UK consumer electronics retailer Dixons) joined Apple as head of the Apple Retail division just 6 months ago. The concern here is not that he was fired so soon, more that he was ever hired in the first place. Precisely what synergies did the Apple Board see between the awful retail experience of Dixons and the high customer experience of the Apple Store? Perhaps they had never even visited a Dixons or Currys store before the hire? This was a poor recruitment for such an important role.

Fortsall’s departure is much more of a shocker. He headed up the development of the mobile device operating system IOS from the outset in 2006/7. This has (as any Mac owner will tell you) been where Apple have put their main software focus for the past 5 years. Whilst we can’t always be sure of the rumours, Forstall is known to be ‘difficult’ and an ambitious personality. Traits that were certainly at the centre of the make up of former CEO Steve Jobs. 

Recently, Forstall took the blame for the failure of Apple maps at launch and also that Siri remains not ready for prime time use.

Whilst I can only speculate, I suspect Fosrstall has not gone for failures in either maps or Siri, but through personality clashes and CEO Tim Cook’s desire for a harmonious management team. I wrote back in August 2011 when Cook took the role of CEO that his biggest challenge was to manage this talented team http://lightingfibre.com/lighting-fibre-pixel/2011/8/25/apple-the-jobs-era-is-over-what-now.html . I think that todays news signals that he has not managed to do this without taking out ‘non-compliers’.

It could of course be seen as a show of strength by the CEO. However if placed in context with the recent retirement and then subsequent return of hardware boss Bob Mansfield, shows things really are not right at the top. Apple is lucky that Wall Street is shut today due to Hurricane Sandy as the ‘Street’ is not going to look at this favourably. Perhaps the timing of these announcements was even made knowing this?

Software development for both Mac OSX and IOS now falls under one person in Craig Federighi. I’d suggest this is not a job for one person. Federighi only made board level in the past 6 months.

Signals of worrying times for Apple ahead.......

iPad Mini a step back to the past?

Last weeks Apple keynote was significant in a number of ways. Just a month since the last keynote (iPhone 5), a new sub-product category was announced (iPad Mini) and I believe we saw a cultural change to product design.

It is the latter that is the most significant. It may signal what we see in the future from Apple product releases and is a diversion entirely from the design ethos of Steve Jobs. The iPad Mini we are told is the first Apple product released that Steve Jobs had no hand in prior to his untimely death last year.

Whilst the keynotes highlight was the release of the iPad Mini, significant upgrades were made in the Mac range, which has been mainly ignored in favour of IOS devices most recently. These Mac upgrades are all good and some new technologies such as the Fusion Drive were released - although now with falling price of SSD’s it is uncertain to me how long this technology is relevant for. I have already swapped out all spinning drives from my main Mac and replaced with SSD. It was relatively expensive but not entirely prohibitive and is always going to be faster than any Fusion Drive that Apple delivers with a spinning component. So nice design for now, but not really heralding a new long term sustainable storage design architecture. A design to manage costs for now - better not best. 

So what is the real concern about this keynote? Well, that Apple deliberately designed and released a product in the iPad Mini that was designed not with the Steve Jobs ethos of the product being the very best it could be, but with deliberate compromise on design points. The outcome of this is, yes a product that will sell in the millions, but not one that will ever in this release incarnation give the user the best experience it could have been and I would go so far as to say, not the best the user might have got from competitive products already in the 7" tablet space. 

Steve Jobs said that all 7” tablets were ‘Dead on Arrival’. Whether he really believed this or not is not the issue. We do know that if Steve decided to enter a market it would 'by design' be a product so much better that it could justifiably be called 'revolutionary'. Of course Apple’s current high standing with consumers means they could really release any old crap product and it would sell like crazy. However, this is only because consumers know Apple doesn't ever make crap products, on the contrary they are perceived to make the best. Of course the Apple iPad Mini is not a crap product, but it is a 'compromised by design' product designed specifically to a price point. Since when did Apple design based primarily on price? In any case, I suggest that they even failed in this with the iPad Mini. I know some would say that the original iPhone was deliberately compromised in not having 3G networking on release when it was freely available at the time, but come on, the iPhone was revolutionary there was nothing like it, not so for the current iPad Mini. 

In another break from tradition, Phil Schiller in introducing the iPad Mini at the keynote chose to make direct comparisons with a competitors product in the Google Nexus 7. He told us of advantages for the iPad Mini, some very valid, like cellular networking others less so (see update below). Here is what he failed to tell us in making the comparison (for full disclosure I do own a Nexus 7):

Screen resolution - You can't argue that the most important feature of any tablet computer is the screen quality. Pixel density of the iPad Mini is 163ppi versus 216ppi for the Nexus7. As a content consumption device, reading etc this is hugely inferior. You will certainly be able to make out pixels when reading books and newspapers on the iPad Mini. In introducing the 'Retina' screen for the 3rd Gen full iPad back in March, Apple told us what a better reading experience it would be over the iPad2 with the lower resolution screen. I have a 3rd Gen iPad and the screen is truly gorgeous. In comparison for user experience, the Nexus compares very well to the retina iPad and is real pleasure to read from it's screen. So Apple have saddled the iPad Mini with a screen the same resolution as the iPad2 or iPhone 3GS. It won't be nearly as clear and crisp as the Nexus and iPad Mini buyers will certainly agree they have a poorer reading experience over the full iPad and more concerning for them the Nexus 7. If they also own an iPhone 4 or 5 they are going to think the screen is pretty crappy.

Form factor - Phil made a big point of the bigger 7.9" screen of the iPad Mini versus the 7" of the Nexus. A 16:9 screen ratio is the ideal for content consumption, wide screen movies come in this format (no letter boxing or black bars) and a paperback book is pretty much of this ratio. Apple made the screen bigger not using 16:9 but the same 4:3 of the larger iPad, the Nexus 7 is a near 16:9 ratio. So the movie watching experience is going to be much worse on the iPad Mini with a letter box and further compounded by the lower pixel ratio, as previously mentioned. Also if reading a Kindle book, the iPad Mini will just provide more white border not more content to read. Finally, for a device that is supposed to be held in one hand, do I really want it to be wider?

Look and feel - Glass and Aluminium the Apple ‘Standard’. It will look great and be the usual must have fashion accessory. Schiller took a swipe at the plastic back of the Nexus versus the aluminium of the iPad. Well the plastic of the Nexus has a rubberised ‘grippy’ feel to it and for a device you balance in one hand I’m really not sure aluminium is the right material for grip.

This down spec machine was designed to hit a price point to compete with the other competitors tablets. Apple failed here spectacularly. Nexus 7 $199, Amazon Fire HD $199, iPad Mini $329. Will they sell at $329? - yes, but how many buyers will be delighted with their purchase when they compare it to the screen of the Nexus or Kindle Fire and realise they paid 60% more for a worse experience. It is in this, that the most worrying sign for Apple appears. Steve’s Apple sold the very best product at a premium price. This Apple release is not the best yet still the premium price. A philosophy to product design as this, will always see first a decline in reputation then subsequently a decline in sales.

Inferior design to meet price points was the Apple of Sculley and Amelio not Jobs and we know that nearly killed Apple. Is this a sign of the design mantra of Cook?

  

iPhone & iPod Keynote Event

 

This is what got announced.

iPhone 

  • Called the iPhone 5 unlike the iPad that lost its revision number at the last release
  • Physically looks the same as all of the leaked pictures with aluminium back and 5 rows of app icons on larger screen 4"
  • 18% Thinner and 20% lighter
  • Retina display 16:9 aspect ratio. 44% more colour saturation
  • iWork and iLife apps updated to take advantage of the larger display
  • 4G LTE connectivity added - Yes!! Compatible with forthcoming UK 4G (unlike the iPad)
  • A6 Processor - 2x faster CPU and Graphics
  • Better battery life than iPhone 4S - 8 hours on 4G LTE
  • Camera still 8MP similar to 4S specs. Low light feature included
  • Built in panorama with up to 28MP shot. Time to dump the 3rd party panorama apps
  • IO6 has shared photo streams
  • Facetime front camera is now HD but 720p not 1080p. This is a good improvement anyway
  • Voice recognition and noise cancelling
  • 3 microphones
  • 9 pin connector as widely predicted. Consign your expensive accessories to the rubbish tip or use the crappy adapter
  • New connector is called 'Lightning' (cheesy) and is reversible at last
  • IO6 pretty much as previously announced at WWDC in June
  • Same price as 4S. 3GS now no longer available with the iPhone 4 now free available with contract.
  • Pre-orders start 14th September and ships 21st September
  • IO6 available for download September 19th

iPods & iTunes

  • New iTunes store in IOS 6
  • New iTunes for Mac available in October
  • New iPod Nano with larger screen 2.5" $149
  • Added bluetooth to the Nano and FM radio
  • New iPod Touch - Large screen size ala iPhone 5. Thinner and lighter than previous Touch. $299
  • iPod Touch has A5 processor ala iPhone 4
  • Siri support for Touch
  • Better cameras

Other

  • New earphones called 'EarPods'

 

WWDC '12

It's late and I just got to sit through the earlier Apple keynote all 2 hours of it.

Extra commentary and views when I get some more time. Here is a quick digest if you missed the announcements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Updates to Macs:

Macbook Air 

  • Ivybridge CPU
  • supports 8GB memory
  • Improved integrated graphics
  • upto 512 Gb flash storage
  • USB3 in the same port
  • 720p FaceTime camera
  • $100 cheaper
  • shipping today 

Macbook Pro 

13"

  • Ivybridge CPU
  • Integrated and Discrete graphics
  • USB3 
  • 720p FaceTime camera
  • Same price as before
  • shipping today

15"

As above pretty much with more RAM, CPU and storage options

Next Generation Macbook Pro (shipping today)

  • 15.4" screen (one size only and no 13" just yet)
  • Retina display 2880 x 1800 (5M pixels)
    • Apple apps updated to take advantage of screen e.g Aperture, Final Cut
  • 0.71 thick (25% thinner)
  • 4.46lbs
  • Core i7 (with up to Quad core CPU)
  • Integrated and Discrete graphics
  • Upto 16gb RAM
  • Flash storage only up to 768GB
  • 7 hours battery life
  • HDMI
  • USB3 + 2 thunderbolt ports
  • 720p FaceTime camera
  • Redesigned magsafe
  • $2199 
  • Shipping today

OSX Mountain Lion (200 new features)

  • iCloud 
    • Messages
      • Integrated between Macs and IOS devices
    • Reminders
      • location based
    • Notes
      • Synced with the IOS devices
    • Documents in the Cloud
      • Library across all Mac and IOS devices
    • Notification Centre
      • Banners (auto dismiss)
      • Alerts (manual dismiss)
      • Twitter integration
    • Dictation
      • Similar to IOS
    • Sharing
      • Similar to IOS
      • Twitter integration
      • Share within full screen
    • Safari
      • Unified task bar
      • iCloud tabs (searches all your tabs Mac and IOS)
      • Live Tab View through gesturs
    • Power Nap
      • updates apps e.g. email etc while in sleep mode
      • download updates & back up automatically
      • Not backward compatible with older Macs
    • Airplay Mirroring
      • Mirrors Mac to AppleTV at 1080p
    • Game Centre
      • Integrates with IOS Game Centre
      • Cross platform gaming
    • Shipping in July
    • $19.99 

IOS 6 (200 New features including)

  • SIRI updates (and boy does it need them!)
    • Sports scores / facts including Premier League
    • Third party in to sites such as YELP, Rotten Tomatoes
    • App launcher "Play……."
    • Integrate in to cars so 'Eyes free' use
    • More countries supported
      • Local search added - Yay!!
    • iPad support (3rd Gen only)
    • Facebook integration
      • Deeper integration similar to that offered already for Twitter
      • Integrated in to Siri
    • Phone
      • Slider provides text reply or reminder (geo located)
      • Do Not Disturb
      • Selective screening user defined
    • FaceTime
      • Enabled over mobile network (previously wifi only)
      • Unified phone / apple id - respond on any device
    • Safari
      • Caching Read later stories for off line reading
      • Post photos directly from Safari
      • Smart app banners linking web pages to iTunes store
    • Photostreams
      • Shared photo stream - create custom stream and share with others
    • Mail
      • VIP - List prioritising most important contacts
      • Passbook
        • Keep all passes in one place such as boarding passes, vouchers and gift cards etc
        • Geo located in to the lock screen - pops up when you arrive at destination
      • Guided access
        • Accessibility features designed to ease use by those with physical challenges
        • Single app mode - locks device in app
      • Maps
        • Google maps gone - Apple designed maps now
        • 3D Maps
        • Traffic service - using anonymous crowd geo location
        • Turn by Turn Navigation - Maps from Tom-Tom - No mention if this was International enabled
        • Siri integration
        • Flyover - 3D view of major locations that can be manipulated

 

Big Data - 'What's the big deal?'

Big data, the latest fad or something real? Well like most new things, if you believe the hype it is a wonder we have ever been able to live without it.

I was discussing this earlier in the week with someone. He gave me the usual, data is exploding and some randomly impossible big number that I couldn’t pronounce to prove the point. Ten to the power of lots! Well I kind of know that as my customers have been buying enterprise storage systems from me like they are going out of fashion.

When I questioned him on ‘what is all of this data then?’ I got the usual, structured and unstructured response. Structured data sits in data bases and unstructured is the rest, emails, docs, photos, facebook, Twitter etc etc. I don’t have any stats to quote here, but I’d suggest data growth is almost all in unstructured data and in fact probably at a ratio of many 10’s if not 100’s to one over structured. So basically all of this new data is emails, photos and tweets etc. Who’s producing most of this unstructured data? Well kids and others randomly social networking. Just follow a trending topic on twitter to see the mass of largely useless and repetitive data being produced by the second. Since joining twitter at the beginning of 2009, I have written around 1,400 tweets covering some of my social life. I would doubt there is an ounce of value in them collectively. From a trending topic recently I read a tweet that went something like ‘got drunk last nite and puked over my new white canvass trainers - they are now ruined’. There is no new insight in this tweet. We already know that getting drunk can make you sick, and that vomit does not aid shoe care. Lets’ be real, most of the mountain of data currently being produced has absolutely no value whatsoever. I suppose if the government wanted to check health risks of individuals, then if that one person could be traced they could be placed on some at risk alcohol list. But that is a whole different issue in privacy.  

The term ‘big data’ as it is used in the business sense today is not really referring to the vast data sets. It is actually referring to analysing the data and extracting ‘value’ from it. Gaining insights and using them to positively affect outcomes.

So the trick here is being able to mine the ‘nuggets’ of real value and insight and discard the mountain of ‘noise’. Of course, the noise can be handed to the marketing department and they doubtless will find a trend that proves or disproves a current campaign. ‘Could we make more money if we made our canvass trainers puke proof?’.

By identifying noise, the opportunity also arises for getting rid of it if it is being stored. Why would we be saving stuff that has absolutely no value or regulatory need to be stored? We could save expensive disk and the costs to house and power it.

What is the information we can identify to gain insight from then? Well I would suggest this is straightforward. Every company has a strategy and departments have tactics to deliver on that strategy. Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) are set to determine the performance of the organisation against the strategy. It is therefore insights related to these KPI’s that are of most value. If these can be delivered accurately and in timely manner then that organisation can steer its way to delivering on that strategy. Organisations should start by using analytics on these KPI’s and expand these conservatively on other measures only where these are seen to add value on delivering the strategy. Less is very much more in this context, as being presented with many insights is just going to be confusing if not contradictory and a distraction.

So were I looking at what big data meant for me in running my organisation now, I would:

  • Know my business and the market
  • Be clear on what KPI’s would help me deliver on the strategy 
  • Use analytics to gain insight on my KPI’s that would enable me to deliver on the strategy. Don’t fly blind.
  • Recognise that not all data is equal in value - it is mostly junk.
  • That holding low value data is expensive and should be eliminated.

Big Data is a very big deal. Having accurate and timely information to guide your organisation to success. It’s not really some abstract and fanciful science as some might have you believe.

iPad 3rd Generation Keynote

Hi blog - it's been a long time sorry.

Earlier today saw the latest iPad launch at the Yerba Buena Centre in San Francisco (hey I was there last year). 

Below are the details of what got announced. I'll add some additional commentary later, but I do like to get the raw details out within 10 minutes of the end of the keynote.

My coverage was courtesy of 'TwitLive.tv' and 'gdgt.com'.

Here we go.

Tim Cook kicks it off. Apparently an exciting morning ahead he tells.

  • IOS 5.1 available today
  • 1080p high def movies and TV shows in the App Store
  • New Apple TV supporting 1080p - Same price as old one, available March 16th - Love my previous generation of Apple TV
  • Apple TV supports iTunes Match
  • New UI for Apple TV (thank goodness, previous was very clunky)

 

iPad (3rd Generation)

Not named iPad 3 or iPad HD as rumoured - seemingly preferring to just leave it as 'iPad'

Just sold iPad 1 16GB for £120 on Mazuma during the keynote. This puppy is for me!

  • Still has a home button despite rumours
  • Retina Display (2048 x 1536)
  • A5X Quad core graphics (4 times the graphics performance of iPad 2)
  • Dual core processor
  • iSight camera from the iPhone 4s on the back (the optics not the sensor which is 5 megapixels)
  • Face time camera on the front (looks like it is the same crappy one that is on the iPad 2)
  • Cut down version of Siri for voice dictation
  • 4G LTE mobile network support (UK regulators get your act together will you!) - North America only
  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Very slightly thicker and heavier (accounts for a larger battery required for the retina display)
  • Same price as iPad 2
  • Available March 16th, pre-orders today in the UK (64GB of joy for me) 

Other things

  • iWork getting updated (at last!)
  • iMovie getting updated (free upgrade)
  • New iPhoto for iPad!
    • Gesture based photo editing
    • Photo beaming
    • Effects
  • iPad 2 remains for sale with a $100 price drop

That's all for the moment - will tidy up the commentary later. Excuse typos.

 

 

 

 

iGenius

RIP - Steven Paul Jobs.

We lost today the greatest visionary of the technology sector. Without this man the world would not be as connected and smart as it is. He thought differently and we loved what came from that.

Irreplaceable.

iPhone Event

The 5th iPhone announcement keynote from Apple’s Campus finished 15 minutes ago. This was the first of the ‘post Steve Jobs’ era for Apple. Tim Cook the new Apple CEO took to the stage with the usual supporting cast of Apple VP’s and whilst highly proficient he was of course no Steve Jobs in terms of his delivery - but then again how could he have been.

 The internet has been alight with rumours over the past several months on what is or isn’t the iPhone 5 or 4S. All parts ‘leaks’ from manufacturing ahead of the announcement (save for the usual Chinese case designs) pointed us towards a 4S upgrade not a new form factor iPhone 5. In my earlier post here a month ago on the iPhone, my take was we would see an incremental upgrade similar to that of the iPhone 3G to the 3GS two years ago and indeed this turned out to be pretty much the case. 

This is how it happened:

IOS 5

Recapping from WWDC - We’ve seen all of this before

  • Notifications - Swipe down from the top of the screen. All the notifications are in there (texts, emails etc). No more ‘pop-ups’ - Yay!
  • iMessage - iPhones equivelant to Blackberry’s BBN
  • Deep Twitter integration
  • Newstand - background download of magazine subscriptions (best suited to iPad)
  • Camera app - use volume physical buttons for shutter, AE/AF capability, photo editing, shoot from the lock screen.
  • Safari - ‘Reader’ dumps the ‘ad’ clutter as on the desktop, Tab browsing for iPad.
  • Mail - Rich formatting
  • Wireless updates - the cable goes at long last!
  • Available for download October 12th

iCloud - another (mostly) recap of previous announcement

  • iTunes, Apps and photos in the Cloud. Replaces (and enhances) Mobile Me - Thank goodness.
  • Sync devices
  • Back up to the Cloud
  • Find my friends - this is new. Locate friends relatives who chose to share their location.
  • 5GB allowance for free
  • iTunes Match - Scans library and allows streaming streaming of your music library from any device. Streams at 256 kbps regardless of your library quality. Available in the US only end of October. I guess we wait til 2012 when the deals are done with the record companies for the UK. I’m not sure anyway Spotify has much of a threat of cancellation from me.
  • iCloud available October 12th

iPod

  • Sensors no longer required for Nike app
  • Nano - no change other than some software (watch faces)
  • White version of iPod Touch incoming
  • So thats it for iPod - basically nothing

iPhone 

  • Yup it is iPhone 4s not 5
  • All new guts but same form factor as iPhone 4. Entirely expected, if not a little disappointing.
  • A5 chip as in the iPad 2
  • 7x better graphics performance (Dual core)
  • 2x better CPU performance (Dual core)
  • 16, 32 and 64Gb memory options
  • Battery performance - 8 hours talk time, 6 hours browsing on 3G, 9 hours browsing on wireless, 10 hours of video playback, 40 hours of music
  • Redesigned antenna
  • Download speeds 2x
  • 8 megapixel Camera - 60% more than iPhone 4 and better sensor and software - really taking on the ‘point and shoots’. f2.4 lens!
  • 1080p HD video with image stabilisation and noise reduction
  • AirPlay mirroring as on the iPad 2
  • Siri, this is big one! - Use you voice not your finger. Apple acquired this speech recognition company over a year ago. Issue instructions and questions to the phone and it will perform the command and even talk back to you. Is going to need the 4S CPU power so not available for iPhone 4 users.
  • Dictation - option on the keyboard to dictate - but does require an internet connection.
  • Releases 14th October in the US, UK and some other countries with others following on the 28th. 

Very surprised that the iPod was entirely neglected from any meaningful changes. 

It is hard to get overly excited about the iPhone hardware specific announcement alone, if a new form factor was what you were looking for. It is indeed a solid upgrade, but apart from the very-very ‘faithful’ few iPhone 4 owners is going to make the upgrade (Siri might provide some push). But we shouldn’t look in isolation. Whilst it had already been pre-announced and most of us had seen IOS5 - it is this that will in the coming weeks add to the whole refresh experience. Anyone getting an iPhone upgrade from the 3GS (those on a two year contract) or an iPhone newbie, will genuinely feel that with the combination of upgraded hardware and IOS they have a new and ‘magical’ phone. iPhone 4 users will also have much new to play with when they make the IOS upgrade, as will iPad users.

 

4G Networks in the UK 

The 3G network spectrum covering mobile phones in the UK was auctioned off in 2000 netting the exchequer just over £22B from the mobile network operators. Nice - but perhaps in theory only.  Services were first released in 2003 with mass adoption within high end phones over the next 5 years. The 3G network is the life blood for the ubiquitous 'smartphone' in 2011. However, some 8 years from launch it could hardly be said that 3G networks in the UK are always available, reliable and national. In cities it is full to capacity and in a significant number of rural areas it is still non existent. Overall user satisfaction is generally low for 3G.

As a 'knowledge and service' based economy in the UK (well we don't make much anymore), solid, fast and reliable communications networks would be an enabler for the UK as it competes against other global economies. 

4G networks are being rolled out in the US now with performance compared to 3G showing up to 7 times faster. 

So where are we with 4G adoption in the UK? Well not to miss out on a 'windfall' again the Government (via Ofcom) will auction this spectrum as it did with 3G. There has been much squabbling over the rules for the auction between the mobile operators and Ofcom and this has delayed the auction until 2012. Assuming no further delays in the auction process some network availability might happen in 2013, but realistically most of us won't be using 4G until 2014. 

The technology is available now and but for an auction, a 4G network rollout could already be happening here.

With the current poor state of the economy the Government will argue raising billions in an auction from 'rich' mobile phone companies is politically very acceptable. However, doing this (same process as used with 3G) is likely to give the same results i.e. poor customer satisfaction. 

Let's unravel this is a little. 

Whatever the mobile phone operators pay at the auction will be added to their business plans and the consumers will pick up the bill for this. With the money going to the exchequer, this actually becomes another 'stealth' tax. This tax will be paid for by money that you have already paid PAYE on and for good measure had 20% VAT added to it as well. To be clear the consumers will pay for the auction and the billions raised. 

Why is 3G performance so sketchy? Simple - lack of investment in infrastructure by the operators. Why put expensive infrastructure in rural areas when there are relatively few consumers to pay for it? This business model won't change for 4G as mobile operators are not charities. 4G bandwidth increases will make things better for city dwellers to start with, but content will increase over time and that new bandwidth will get gobbled up. Why the lack of investment? Well if the operators are paying out billions for licenses in the auction, that is a big chunk of change that is not going to be spent on the infrastructure.  Of course not all of that money would go on infrastructure if there was no auction as mobile operators would look to shift a bunch of it to the 'bottom line'. They are business with shareholders so why shouldn't they?

So the Government's auction is delaying our access to 4G, ensuring we pay a stealth tax to cover the operators costs and limiting infrastructure investment which will impact our customer experience when the service does arrive. 

Would a better model for the competitiveness of the UK economy and the benefit of individual user have been, to regulate but not charge for the 4G licenses? If this had been the case then:

  • 4G would be here much sooner than 2013 /4
  • The consumer would not have to subsidise the auction cost through a stealth tax
  • UK businesses would benefit from better bandwidth and lower costs ahead of other nations. 

The 3G auction process has been proven to be a failure. There was every reason to learn from this and not repeat it, but the Government didn't. We will watch with much envy as other nations roll out 4G to their businesses and citizens long before we get to see it here in the UK

At least we will know why. 

Why are we waiting for the iPhone 5? 

This post will have the shelf life of a stale loaf of bread I guess, with an announcement imminent on the latest incarnation of the Apple smart phone.

Announced every June since its arrival in 2007, this time we are now entering September and still not an official squeak out of Cupertino. So why the wait? Why not have a little speculation while we wait then? 

Of course the rumours of the ‘form’ of the new iPhone 5 (or is it the 4S) are all over the industry blog sites, showing ‘leaked’ photos from component parts to chinese cases.

As we get closer to an inevitable announcement, most of the leaked photos seem to be of components fitting a similar ‘form’ to the existing iPhone 4. The part numbers allocated to these are confirmed as being those reserved for the iPhone 5. So it could be we have a similar upgrade coming as with the 3G to the 3GS and not some new magical form factor. This would certainly make sense from a cost perspective for Apple and would be good for profits, by sweating assets and tooling for another year. Does the form factor really need an upgrade anyway - it isn’t as if the iPhone 4 has been a sales flop! Rumours of a new form factor for the iPhone 5 seem to have died away from the bunch we got earlier in the summer showing a ‘teardrop’ style metal back and a larger even curved display.

So either we have an upgraded iPhone 4 with some useful upgrades (processor, camera etc), OR Apple have held secrecy on a new design, OR both. The latter two I think are less likely. Apple recently has offered the previous generation as the ‘cheap’ alternative. Why would they upgrade the iPhone 4 as the cheap alternative? Just offer it as it is. Also, Apples legendary secrecy is so much harder to pull off these days and surely we would have seen something of a new form factor by now if it existed. All pictures of a new design I have seen have been ‘Photoshop’ed’.

If we have an incremental upgrade on the horizon, then why the wait? A lot of folks get the new phone when it gets released. In my case, I get a 2 year contract and skip every other generation. My 2 year contract ended in July and I have taken out an extension for a ‘SIM only’ on a 30 day cancellation contract, so that I can get the new phone on day 1. Inconvenience - yes and ordinarily I would have thought that Apple was fully aware of those on annual or biannual contracts. That has potentially left a lot of folks open to ‘drift’ at the end of their contract. Once more reminding myself, not everyone follows release dates as closely as I do - perhaps most don’t even realise a new phone is on its way? Anyway, breaking this cycle would normally herald the arrival of something very new. As mentioned though, the leaks don’t suggest this. An incremental upgrade should have been easy to deliver in the normal cycle of June, so something else must be driving the delay.

Thoughts: 

  1. IOS 5 was not ready for release in June and Apple did not want to deliver the new phone with the old IOS. Makes sense - the original iPad getting IOS 4 seven months after release was not great for the product.
  2. The iPhone 5 (or 4S) has some new hardware or software feature, that required further testing or some commercial deal to be struck with carriers or content providers? Well we know what is in IOS from ‘Developer’ releases and only iMessage to me perhaps could fit in to the category of requiring a carrier deal (although I don’t think Apple will bother as essentially it is only ‘data’). The carriers are clearly not going to be happy with this feature. In terms of a hardware feature then I could only imagine this to be for 4G networks. Not an issue for us in the UK as the Government auction won’t get this to us until 2013 / 14, but these services do exist in the US, not ubiquitously though. I really don’t think this is likely as Apple will probably wait until 4G is more widely available before jumping in to this. We all remember the original iPhone didn’t even have 3G support!
  3. What about the change of CEO? Well Steve was around and led the WWDC keynote in June. He certainly could have announced the new phone then and if it was really just an incremental upgrade, then perhaps then would have been the time to do it. An iPhone release is going to require an event and not a press release. Maybe Steve’s health took a fast turn for worse and plans for the keynote have had to be hastily re-written. Again unlikely to be the reason, even if this were to be the case for Steve.
  4. Samsung legal case. Well there was a lot of ‘heat’ between the two in May / June as law suits swapped between them. Samsung even requested disclosure of the iPhone 5 and iPad 3 designs - which were duly refused. Perhaps a feature of the iPhone 5 sailed pretty close to features of the Galaxy S2 requiring a rapid redesign. Apple are leaders not followers in design.
  5. The iPod is a ‘cash cow’ business and its hard to generate huge interest in new iterations. Combining the usual September iPod event with the iPhone would make sense now. Both products pushing for the Christmas sales season.

So my take is, the new phone is an iteration on the iPhone 4 and not an entirely new design. It will be called the iPhone 5 and not 4GS. The delay was planned by Apple and not forced on them by external events and is aimed to coincide with the IOS 5 release and put life and content back in to the iPod September event. 

Apple’s announcement calendar for the future will be: 

iPad - Q1

WWDC (focus on software) - Q2

iPhone  / iPod - Q3

Mac’s I am afraid will be a selection of press releases (minor upgrades), ‘one more thing’ and special events.

As I said at the outset, all will be revealed very shortly, alas not in time for my visit to San Francisco next week! May be I have read the tea leaves wrong and a brand new form factor phone release would be certainly a very nice way to be proven very wrong.

Apple - The Jobs Era is Over - What now?

Steve Jobs is Apple and Apple is Steve Jobs. That sounds an outrageous statement in today’s business world, that the world’s largest company by market capitalisation is really so focussed on one man.

Today, Steve resigned as CEO of Apple and handed the reigns to Tim Cook the current Chief Operating Officer. The market reacted immediately with a 7% drop in Apple stock. The market certainly feels that the link between Steve and the fortunes of Apple is very close.

No need to go over the Apple / Jobs history here as this is well documented elsewhere by many others and the upcoming authorised biography will cover all of this. Suffice to mention, Steve is a visionary and ruthless operator in the pursuit of both perfection and success. Of course Apple have had failed products even under Steve, but the overwhelming output of the company under Steve Jobs has been outstandingly successful both in technical achievement and commercial success.

Steve has not achieved this alone, and while being the head and ultimate arbitrator of what gets developed and released, he has gathered the ‘brightest and the best’ team around driving product design and development as well as commercial execution. His inspiration (if not legend) has allowed him to be a kind of ‘pied piper’ for those who are the very best in the industry.

Tim Cook has done an amazing job in managing the operation of the company in his COO role and for extended periods of time due to Steve’s health leave, without Steve. As Chief Operating Officer, taking a company to the most valuable company in the world shows some pretty amazing levels of operational skills. He will of course continue to do so as CEO. 

It is one thing of course getting to the top of the tree, it is quite another staying there. This will be Tim’s task and in doing so maintaining the share holder value that those with shares  have seen in abundance over the past several years, even against the background of falling markets due to the Global economic slow down. 

Without the input and value Steve brings, this task is going to be so much harder. Of course the talented team that has also made this success happen and develop great products is still there. Tim will have to manage this team carefully. He is not the ‘pied piper’ that attracted them in the first place. All of these folks must have further career aspirations - might these aspirations be outside of Apple now? We know it is rumoured Jonny Ive, has a desire to move back to England for his children’s education. Also, this team essentially has had a ‘glass ceiling’ in place at Apple while Steve was in place. Do any harbor ambitions for the top job at Apple and will they show the same loyalty to Tim as they have to Steve? Unlikely - Tim has got show he is a smart political operator keeping the team ‘sweet’ and focussed on the mission.

So interesting times ahead without Steve at the helm. The ‘sum of the parts’ at Apple will do just fine. If those ‘parts’ begin to separate then things will be difficult

Behind all of this business story there is a very big ‘human’ story. Thoughts go out to the biggest and brightest star in this industry. Thanks Steve and very best of luck in your battle. 

Tablets - A bitter pill to swallow

It was with some degree of amusement and self satisfaction that I heard of the demise of the HP Touchpad. First announced at the end of 2010 and released summer 2011, at the time of it's announcement I tweeted that it would be 'dead on arrival' as pretty much every iPad rival has been. This was not great insight on my part, it was obvious really (but not to HP!), that if you make almost an exact copy of the leading tablet, with a operating system with no apps, a less cool brand and try to charge the same price as the Market leader you are going to fail. Who is going to buy an inferior copy of the original iPad for the same price as you can purchase an iPad 2? Nobody - and this is what I predicted and HP didn't until they spent a fortune on developing and marketing this doomed product. If I were an HP shareholder right now, I'd be rightly asking "what kind of product management team have I got here that allows this to happen?". I'd say a pretty poor one. There's more bad news for HP shareholders later. 

So lesson learnt here, if you have no unique content (e.g. apps or other), don't have a cool brand, can't produce some technological leap in hardware and undercut the price of Apple, then don't even bother thinking about making a tablet. So that pretty much cuts out every one of the failed iPad 'killers' released thus far. That can give HP some crumb of comfort that other consumer electronics firms have equally bad product development teams. Hello RIM (Blackberry Playbook), Motorola (Xoom), Dell (Streak) and Samsung (Tab) to mention just a few of the fellow travellers down at the scrap yard.

Let's recap all those criteria again. 

  1. Unique hardware or form factor
  2. Purpose built operating system
  3. Comprehensive app library or unique content
  4. Price point
  5. 'Cool' brand

If I were heading up the product team of any of the iPad competitors or potential competitors, I would want to be pretty sure before committing any spend on development that I could hit something good on 4 out of the the 5 points above. None of the tablets aimed at competing with the iPad thus far have achieved this and the dismal sales of each would qualify this statement. This is also a 'buyer beware' statement as well. Whilst these potential iPad competitors will think nothing of spending £m's on developing their iPad 'killer' without proper product research in advance, they will also think nothing of dropping it like a hot potato relatively soon after launch when sales unsurprisingly don't materialise, leaving the buyer stuck with a slab of glass that very soon gets no updates or new apps. So if you really are thinking of buying a tablet other than the iPad, then do make sure that you feel it meets at least 4 of the the points above. I can save you the job right now, because as of the time of writing this there are none that meet these criteria. 

But will that ever change? I believe yes and there are companies out there that are yet to seriously enter the market and do have product teams with a track record of delivering unique solutions. Most (not all) of the iPad competitors have based their tablets on the Android operating system from Google. I am not a huge fan of this, for lots of reasons but in it's native form (as Google intended) it is a pretty good smart phone o/s. By Google's own admission, pre the 'Honeycomb' release,  Android was not ready for tablets. Almost all of the Android based tablets so far have been released on earlier versions of Android, so essentially you have a mobile phone operating system running a tablet. Is it any wonder then that the user experience is poor? Those that have released tablets based on this are going to have some reputation issues going forward. Those that have held back tablet releases until Honeycomb is fully ready might just have a chance. There is no doubt that the 'Android Marketplace' has a full compliment of apps and content.  

So which companies do have a chance of bringing out a serious rival to the iPad? One for sure is Amazon and it is rumoured they are developing a tablet now based on Android. The Kindle has been a huge success, so they can prove product development skills. They also have a huge range of content including music, books and with the recent acquisition of Love Film the capability to offer movie rentals. I would also say, that Amazon is a cool brand. Will something from Amazon kill the iPad sales? Of course not, but it will be hugely successful and may open up sales to those who were not considering a tablet anyway. So these could be new revenues, not competitively gained ones. 

Who else, or perhaps what else could have a fighting chance of succeeding in this tablet Market?

With the release of the latest Mac operating system 'Lion' there is a distinct move towards convergence of mobile and desktop operating systems. It is debatable whether this is a wholly good thing but nevertheless it is happening. We can expect similar with Windows 8 when it arrives in 2012. There is also a shift in hardware for Laptops with very 'slight' form factors as seen in the MacBook Air and as Intel are trying to push with the 'Ultra books'. I find it important to remind myself that not everyone wants a deep and complex operating system. In fact most of the population want something very simple to surf, Facebook and email. I have seen some very interesting product designs from both Asus and Lenovo that combine the tablet and the laptop in to the same form factor. Essentially the screen of the laptop detaches to be the tablet. It uses a tablet o/s which as mentioned has apps and potentially could be perfectly acceptable to most general users. This form factor then has the possibility to be both the laptop and the tablet of the user. I can't help but think that this surely will have mass appeal both in convenience and cost saving to the user in not having to buy both or choose between one or the other. It's not for geeky types like me, but I am in the minority. 

I would be very happy to wager that both Amazon and whoever takes a leadership position in the combined tablet / laptop form factor will be serious players within 12 months.  

So in conclusion, yes companies other than Apple have the potential to succeed in this market, but it is not going to happen simply by sending out a poor imitation of the iPad. If this is your only competitive product strategy then stop now and save your shareholder  returns and your company's reputation.  

Talking of poor company reputation and screwing over your shareholders. I did mention I would comment again on HP. At the same time as dropping the Touchpad, HP effectively announced they were pulling out of the consumer PC business (if not the entire PC business) as well. Share values dropped over 20% on the day and are now roughly half the value they were 6 months ago. 'Way to go' HP strategy teams! Not that getting out of the PC business is a bad thing (no margins), it's just that there is little other than overpriced ink for them to say now  - "HP Invents".