Will a fingerprint sensor be Apple’s next hit?

August 20th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Geppy Parziale, who pioneered an innovated touchless fingerprint recognition technology, has a great post explaining the various types of fingerprint sensors and lays out why we haven’t seen them implemented in widespread use. It’s detailed yet engaging and I recommend checking it out. For the tldr; crowd here is the conclusion.

Unfortunately there is no existing solution to this. Manufacturers can only try to make the fingerprint sensor last longer, but sooner or later that device will stop working properly. This is also why Apple cannot provide a fingerprint sensor for payments. And if they do, they are making a huge mistake, because the surface destruction process explained above introduces the most dangerous problem in fingerprint recognition: false acceptance, when after a while somebody else can be granted access to your device.

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Customer vs. Commodity and your grandmother’s underwear

June 27th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Most of the major internet companies have been releasing statements playing down their involvement in the NSA Prism scandal that broke couple weeks ago. For their part I think these companies would like nothing more than to not be involved with the NSA but since warrants are involved they don’t really have much choice. This has lead to some non-denial denials saying that they have not given the NSA unfettered access to their servers. If the scale of access ranges from zero to complete we are left hoping it was closer to zero but we will probably never know.

The problem, in my opinion, is not how much access these companies gave to the NSA. The problem is the fact that they store the data in the first place. Companies that make their money from advertisers (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, basically any company that provides “free” web services) have no choice because the more personal data they have about their users the more they can charge advertisers. Their users are the commodity and advertisers are the customer. Contrast this with a company who’s users are also their customers and you have a very refreshing statement about the NSA’s spying program.

An excerpt Apple’s commitment to customer privacy:

For example, conversations which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them. Apple cannot decrypt that data. Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.

Apple is not doing this because they are morally superior to the Googles of the world. They are not doing it because of some mealymouthed corporate tagline about not doing “evil”. They are doing it because it’s in the best interest of their customers just as Google is storing massive amounts of personal data in the interest of their customers.

Marco Arment had a great analogy for how he treats a customer’s personal data. He was talking about accessing a user’s contact book from Instapaper and he compared it to his grandmother’s underwear drawer. To paraphrase Marco

Imagine your grandmother is in the hospital and she needs you to get an important document from her house. The only problem is that it’s stored in her underwear drawer. You are, of course, going to do what your grandmother asks but you are going to do it as quickly as possible. Open the drawer remove the document and, if possible, leave the rest of the contents untouched.

He made this comment in the wake of the Path address book controversy but I think it should be an attitude shared by all developers. Apple doesn’t store your iMessages because they don’t want the liability. Google reads your jabber messages so they can get a better sense of who you are and what ads you are more likely to click on. To abuse the analogy they would be happy to catalog your grandmother’s underwear drawer for you. BTW, she might like this special offer from JC Penney’s.

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Apple’s security strategy: make it invisible

June 18th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

As a security guy Rich Mogull was perplexed by his invite to attend the recent WWDC keynote. With the announcement of Keychain and Activation Lock he understood why he was invited and is impressed by Apple’s approach to tackling real world security problems.

The consistent thread through all these advances is Apple attempting, wherever possible, to use security to improve the user experience and make common security problems simply go away. By focusing so much on design, Apple increases the odds users will adopt these technologies and, so, stay safer.

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All the Apple News (In Brief)

June 11th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

A great overview of what happened yesterday at the WWDC keynote. Even though I caught most of the keynote I still found it informative. The author also doesn’t digress into opinion beyond a few NBD (no big deal) comments.

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Why Nobody Can Copy Apple

February 28th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

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 decade1. 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 hardware2. 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.

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.

  1. Meaning that they not only build the software but they also design and build the hardware that uses their software. []
  2. One could even argue that doing so will make software developers lives a little easier as they will be able to spend less time worrying about the myriad of hardware configurations that plague the Windows & Android ecosystems. []
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Counting stool legs

February 13th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

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:

  1. iTunes now becomes a steadily and rapidly growing business. Growth over the previous two years averages well over 30% and is consistent across seasons.
  2. The absolute revenue number is substantial: $13.5 billion for 2012 (up from $10.2 billion in 2011).
  3. Assuming a gross margin of 15% to 17% yields contribution of $2 billion in margin in 2012 and $1.6 the year before.
  4. iTunes is now Apple’s fourth largest business, having overtaken the iPod in revenues two years ago
  5. 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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Forstall Out; Ive Up

October 31st, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

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.

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.

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An iOS Wish List

September 11th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

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 like1. 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.

Siri

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.2
  • Tell me when my wife leaves her current location.3
  • Add Alfred to Find My Friends.4
  • Remind me to fill out the TPS report when I get to work on friday.5
  • Turn on Bluetooth/WiFi.6

Notification Center

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 yet7. 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.

Default Apps

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 use8 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.

  1. It appears that Apple’s success has been it’s own downfall in their attempt to “double down on secrecy”. I’m assuming that they are producing iPhone 5′s at an unprecedented rate and each new layer in the supply chain is a potential information sieve. []
  2. There are other apps that let you do this but since they don’t have Siri integration they aren’t as easy to add new items []
  3. I’m thinking this would require an upgrade to Find My Friends and there are privacy issues with that so it would require a password to finalize. []
  4. The current method for adding friends to the app is even more miserable than trying to manually setup a location based reminder in Reminders. []
  5. Currently you can not have a location based reminder that also has a date requirement. []
  6. It’s sad that this would be easier than the current 62 taps it takes []
  7. Not in a creepy way, I swear. For reals. []
  8. Notable exceptions being Find My Friends & Reminders []
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Predicting the “iPad Mini” internals

August 31st, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

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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Apple v. Samsung : We all lose

August 27th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

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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