February 28th, 2013 § §
Harace Dediu recently wondered why Apple’s competitors are not moving quickly to mimic the vertical integration that has served them so well over the past decade. For the first two decades of the PC revolution Microsoft was largely successful because they let OEM’s fight over who could build the cheapest hardware while they collected Windows licensing fees from all of them. Economists call this commoditization and while it steadily drove the price of computers down it doesn’t always produce the best devices. By controlling both the hardware and software Apple has been able to produce products that are more stable and have a higher degree of polish. Clearly it has worked out well for them.
While it would certainly be a big undertaking for Microsoft or Google to take full control of their hardware it’s not a task that requires the company to pivot away from its core focus. In the 80′s IBM had to pivot away from building computers and start focusing on software to save itself from obsolescence. Instead Google and Microsoft can continue to make software while a new division starts to make hardware. The Nexus and Surface product lines show that these companies are capable of making hardware just not very committed to it.
Charlie Kindel posits that this has more to do with Apple’s focus on the consumer than anything else.
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In my experience, the behaviors and culture of an organization (large or small) that focuses on the Consumer as a customer is diametrically incompatible with the behaviors and culture of an organization that focuses on Business as a customer.
I feel strongly that this is a key reason Microsoft’s products are often good, but not excellent; the consumer ones and the business ones. This is why Google will never be able to beat Apple at Apple’s game: Google’s customer focus is split between the advertiser and consumer.
February 13th, 2013 § §
The always thorough and insightful Horace Dediu argues that iTunes, which includes the App Store, is no longer a “break-even” business and is becoming one of the primary pillars upon which Apple rests; Dediu calls these stool legs.
There are several observations we can make:
- iTunes now becomes a steadily and rapidly growing business. Growth over the previous two years averages well over 30% and is consistent across seasons.
- The absolute revenue number is substantial: $13.5 billion for 2012 (up from $10.2 billion in 2011).
- Assuming a gross margin of 15% to 17% yields contribution of $2 billion in margin in 2012 and $1.6 the year before.
- iTunes is now Apple’s fourth largest business, having overtaken the iPod in revenues two years ago
- iTunes growth relative to the Mac means that it could become the third largest business during this year.
To put this in competitive perspective:
Indeed, if seen in isolation, iTunes+Accessories combined is a bigger business in terms of revenues than any of the other phone vendors except Samsung
At a recent Goldman Sachs tech conference Tim Cook added more evidence to the pile:
And we’ve built a great ecosystem that is also fueling a developer industry..we’ve now paid out over $8 billion to them.
As Gruber points out if you add in the Apple’s 30% cut the app store take in $11.5 billion in revenue with $3.5 billion in profit for Apple. That’s one health ecosystem.
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October 31st, 2012 § §
John Gruber on Forstall’s ouster from Apple.
Forstall is not walking away; he was pushed. Potential factors that worked against Forstall: his design taste, engineering management, abrasive style, and the whole iOS 6 Maps thing. I also wonder how much Forstall was effectively protected by his close relationship with Steve Jobs — protection which, obviously, no longer exists.
As for the Ive promotion Gruber’s enthusiasm is obvious.
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But the big news today is about Jony Ive. I don’t think it can be overstated just how big a deal it is that he now oversees all product design, hardware and software. For the last year, outside observers have been left to wonder just where the buck stopped for UI design at post-Jobs Apple. That question has now been answered: Jony Ive.
September 11th, 2012 § §
On the eve of Apple’s announcement of the next iPhone I find myself less curious about the new hardware than ever before. Partly this is due to an, at least by Apple standards, unprecedented number of hardware leaks that has all but spelled out exactly what the phone will look like. This does not mean, however, that I’m am not look forward to the event as I am eagerly anticipating their software announcements. Even though they announced the majority of the iOS feature set back at WWDC I except them to have kept a few things in their back pocket. This happened last year with the announcement of Siri and while I don’t expect anything as big this year I’m still look forward to some new toys.
Better performance and access to third party apps are obvious items for anyone’s Siri wish list but I’m going to focus on things I want improved within the existing limits. Performance, after all, is a constant battle and opening up access to third party apps is a more complicated than we’d like to believe. Here are some things I would like to say to tell Siri.
- Remind me to buy diapers 20 minutes after I get to work.
- Tell me when my wife leaves her current location.
- Add Alfred to Find My Friends.
- Remind me to fill out the TPS report when I get to work on friday.
- Turn on Bluetooth/WiFi.
Notification Center is, in my mind, a great place to have fiddly little things that nerds like me love. Every time I have to cycle my WiFi or Bluetooth I am reminded that for certain tasks life is much better in the Android world. It seems to me that the Notification Center is the perfect place to add some quick settings. Anything that can be found in the Settings app can be pinned to the Notification Center for quick access. I’m envisioning little toggles, right on top. I’m sure people that use lots of accessibility settings would be over joyed at the prospect.
I would also like to see the widgets opened up to third party apps. It would be a great place to check sports scores or local traffic conditions.
Find My Friends
Why oh why is it so hard to add a friend on Find My Friends? Unless they are already adept at using the app I almost always have to physically take the phone from them and set it up. Why do I have to know the person’s AppleID? Most people I’ve added to the app gave me a blank stare when I asked them. Why can’t I just send them an iMessage or email that has a custom FMF URL?
I’d also like a way to setup location change alerts. I often find myself checking the app neurotically to see if someone has left their current location yet. I know my wife does this regularly to find out if I have left work yet so she can start dinner. It would be great if she could simply setup an alert that told her every time I left work. Ideally it would be fiddly enough to only send a reminder after 5pm but that’s probably asking for too much.
This is by far my biggest pie in the sky hope that will probably never come to pass. I want to be able to change my default apps. I’ve come to the conclusion that while Apple makes fantastic eco systems I don’t much care for some of their apps. While they are typically elegant and easy to use I sometimes find them to be more like “proof of concept”. They begrudgingly add features like threaded emails and sometimes do so in an inelegant or even insulting manner. I picture a cranky old man sitting at a desk saying “fine, you want this dumb feature *scribble* *scribble* *scribble*, there is your damn feature!” The App store has proven that Apple is far from the only source of innovation out there and I’d like them to get out of the way.
To do this they need to allow users to replace the system apps with third party apps much like we can do on desktop operating systems. This would mean that when I say “Siri, remind me to bake a cake” it could set that up in Due. It would mean that the next Sparrow could have push notifications and that Agenda would be able to sync without having to be launched regularly. The most dramatic change would be the browser since “Open in Safari” can be found in so many apps. To me Chrome is useless because it can’t actually replace Safari.
If implemented right it could even result in a more secure ecosystem for users. I’m envisioning a system where you would still setup your email in the Settings app and the mail client you installed wouldn’t even have access to them. It would simply hit the API and ask it to download the emails. Obviously we would be able to replace all Apps but here is my list in order of preference.
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August 31st, 2012 § §
It’s pretty clear that Apple is going to release a smaller form factor iPad next month. You can ignore all the leaked hardware and rumors and focus on the most reliable sources for Apple sanctioned leaks; Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. As Gruber pointed out in his musings about the new iPad it’s hard to not see Apple’s hand in this.
If you think these stories appearing within a day of each other in the two most-respected business publications in the U.S. — at the same time the Nexus 7 reviews began appearing and the device started shipping to customers — is merely coincidental and not a strategic competitive leak from Apple PR, then I would like to invite you to play in my poker game.
If you haven’t read it then I highly recommend the rest of Gruber’s post as I think he makes some persuasive arguments regarding screen size, resolution and form factor. What of the internals though? For that we can turn to Marco that has used his extensive server logs and the fact that Apple shrink the die for the iPad 2 CPU to make an educated guess.
As far as I know, this was the first time Apple invested in a die shrink mid-cycle for any of the iOS devices. They haven’t even done it for the still-sold iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4. The decision to revise the iPad 2 internals, therefore, seemed a bit odd at the time, but makes a lot more sense now.
If so, this suggests that the iPad Mini is, effectively, an iPad 2: an A5 with 512 MB of RAM and enough GPU power to drive the Gruber Display, but not a Retina Display.
So far pretty solid but this analysis sealed the deal for me.
It’s a textbook Tim Cook supply-chain move: selling the last generation’s hardware at a lower price point to expand marketshare.
I’ll be very surprised if we have anything but a smaller iPad 2 come September.
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August 27th, 2012 § §
Matt Drance is spot on in his analysis of the Apple v. Samsung case. This is what he wrote shortly before the verdict and I couldn’t agree more.
Most importantly, this case brings the ever-brewing controversy of software patents further into the spotlight. Apple’s case is far from patent trolling, but I do worry about the precedent it could set. If a verdict is reached, lawyers and judges across the country will surely look back to this case repeatedly during their own.
I must admit I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the world’s largest corporation, whatever its name, could be given such a big stick as early as this week. However the verdict falls, I feel like there are no winners here in the long term — certainly not us. Maybe that’s why Judge Koh has been begging for a settlement.
I can’t begrudge Apple for taking Samsung to court but their win is yet another example of how broken our patent system is. Compare any Samsung phone to the iPhone and you will see that despite their best attempts to copy Apple their product is inferior. The implementation of an idea is, in the end, far more important than the inspiration.
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July 30th, 2012 § §
Reuters is reporting that Apple acquired AuthenTec which specializes in mobile security. This is a rare acquisition for Apple because AuthenTec is a publicly traded company. The obvious angle is mobile payments.
Its fingerprint technology, used in mobile phones in Japan for authentication of mobile payments, could help Apple bring those services to markets such as the United States, where mobile-wallet services have been slow to catch on.
I hope to see this used in other areas as well however. I’ve long been waiting for the day when I would no longer have to use 1Password to store and retrieve all my passwords. It’s a great product but far to cumbersome. Imagine being able to use your iPhone to essentially unlock your entire digital world. You set your phone down next to a computer, it uses NFC to detect your phone and then uses shared keys to give you uninhibited access to your email, your social networks, even your bank. The only problem with this model is that to maintain security there has to be some way for the phone to know that it’s you who is requesting this access and not an identity thief. Requiring a password isn’t enough and, in my opinion, defeats the point.
To really tackle this problem it’s my belief that we need some sort of bio-metric security and for the time being I think a fingerprint is sufficient. Enter AuthenTec which makes, among other things, fingerprint sensor technology.
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July 13th, 2012 § §
Last month, Sahar Sabet, a 19-year-old Iranian-American woman, was improperly prevented from buying an iPad at an Apple store in Alpharetta, Ga. After she had gone over the various options with two Apple sales clerks, a third clerk, who had overheard Ms. Sabet speaking Persian to her uncle, intervened. He asked what language they were speaking and, when he found out it was the language of Iran, he said she could not buy anything because “our countries do not have good relations” — never mind that she intended to give it to her sister in North Carolina.
Ironic considering the attitudes that many American Iranians hold towards the current government in Iran. For some perspective 1/4 of the Iranians that immigrated here from 1980-2004 did so with refugee or asylee status. Further most American Iranians see promoting human rights and democracy as the most important aspect of US-Iran relations. Treating this group as some sort of secret wing of the Ministry of Intelligence is absurd.
Whether this is corporate policy or not it’s pretty disturbing. I’m guessing that some vague policy came down from Cupertino which has caused some over zealous retail employees to make some poor choices but that is pure conjecture. Either way Apple needs to make it clear to its employees that discrimination like this is not only wrong but illegal.
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But it is also illegal in the United States for a private company to discriminate against individuals based on race, color, religion or national origin under the Civil Rights Act. This protection extends of course to retail stores.
May 31st, 2012 § §
Will Apple update the UIKit widgets in iOS 6 to this sleek new gray? I certainly hope so.
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May 24th, 2012 § §
Great article over at Fortune about Tim Cook’s handling of Apple since he took over last year. While obviously lacking the brilliant vision of his predecessor it seems that Steve’s final contribution to Apple was to leave it in Tim’s very capable hands. I doubt he will ever unveil a product as formative as the iPad but I do expect him to bring the same level of disruption to existing markets that the iPhone brought to the mobile phone industry.
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