Looking at reports that Microsoft has killed off the Courier project and HP has killed their Slate PC. I’m sure that both are for different reasons. I’m waiting for some confirmation about things that I suspect are true in both cases before I comment.
My latest Engadget column takes a look at what happens when technology and fashion intersect. It’s a different world out there as mainstream consumers care a lot more about aesthetics than just “feeds and speeds”. Color, form factor, materials used are now part of the purchase funnel as users are making their buy or no buy decisions. Vendors that aren’t factoring in fashion as part of what they create are making a big mistake.
My wrist watch and automobile were chosen in no small part due to aesthetics — so why not my phone, desktop or laptop? In fact, if more vendors spent more time on the physical design and attributes of their devices, they’d probably sell more of them.
I got off the plane a short time ago and found my inbox and voice mail were full of questions about the open letter Steve Jobs posted about Flash support on the iPhone and iPad. It’s a well written letter and outlines in the clearest and most direct way yet why there’s no Flash support on the iPhone or iPad. I suggest you read it yourself but it comes down to two issues, technical and business. Jobs lays out his case well although I’m sure there will be endless debate about each word used as folks attempt to read between the lines.
So, what does it mean?
1. Don’t expect Flash anytime soon on the iPad or iPhone. If that’s a deal breaker for you, than these aren’t the devices for you. Apple is going to preserve the app experience as they see fit as that’s a core differentiator for the platform. It was Steve’s last point and it’s the one that likely matters most.
2. Like Steve, I have not seen Flash work well on a mobile device. That doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t. Adobe needs to not respond to Apple with words but rather actions and showcase shipping devices and how well they can run Flash. I’m especially interested to see how Flash works on Tegra 2 based devices.
3. The digerati can debate open and close and Apple’s motives (and they will) but none of that matters. This is the age of the connected consumer and the mass market adoption. If enough of Apple customers are frustrated to the point of not buying Apple devices, perhaps Apple will reconsider their position. Fact is, the lack of Flash does not appear to have slowed down Apple sales in the slightest. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Apple’s customers, being viewed as valuable, are causing major content stakeholders to re-tool their content to make it available on Apple’s mobile platforms.
In what’s already become a pivotal and transformative year, HP announced they were buying Palm for 1.2 billion dollars. At a time when the mobile platform market has become very crowded, this is an important event that now puts HP/Palm as a major player in the mobile market. HP is no stranger to mobility, the iPaq was a defining mobile product a decade ago but over the years HP has been unable to replicate their success in the PDA market with similar efforts as the dynamic shifted to smartphones. Here’s what the HP/Palm deal means.
First, Palm has found a good home. In addition to Todd Bradley, there are lots of Palm alumni in the PSG group at HP. This means that there should be a relatively smooth transition and overall good cultural fit. HP is now a force to be reckoned with in the mobile space.
Second, WebOS should now be viewed as a serious contender in the mobile platform wars. While critically acclaimed, Palm simply did not have the resources needed to effectively compete with players such as Apple, Google and Microsoft with deep pockets and the resources to sustain themselves in the market. The combination of Palm technology and brand combined with HP resources and channel partners will be a strong combination for HP to drive their mobile efforts forward.
Third, the nature of this deal underscores the velocity of mobile and how that speed is affecting long term winners and losers. Many had written off Palm’s relevance in the market and depending on where Palm ended up, that could have been correct. Expect the rate and pace of innovation, product launches, alliances and lawsuits to pick up even more speed as platform providers attempt to gain ground on their competitors and survive longer term consolidation and shake outs.
HP challenge short term is to survive the market velocity. There will be precious little time to integrate Palm into HP offerings, create an effective marketing message and focus on customer and developer evangelism. Creating close ties to other HP services for both business and consumer will be critical short term to create a story that can resonate across the board to HP customers and partners.
The big news of the day was Apple buying mobile search startup Siri. This is pretty big news as it effectively blunts one of the key advantages Android has had, namely very tightly integrated search at the OS level. Voice recognition doesn’t hurt either.
This year continues to be transformative as Apple is not only now in the mobile advertising business but also has the platform to enable and monetize mobile search at the OS level as a core service. Siri has already gotten rave reviews as a next-gen search service and now it’s a Cupertino exclusive. Look for expanded services to be included as part of the Siri offering as well as a huge value for those services selected to be chosen a part of the Siri eco-system. Deep and tight search services as part of the core mobile experience are now going to be table stakes as an offering. Expect more deals in the space in the weeks ahead.
There have been few products that I can recall that have been a polarizing as Microosft’s Kin. My latest column on Slashgear talks about why I think Kin is actually a pretty good idea. The real test, however, won’t be what the opinions of the digerati are, it’s how “gen upload” views these devices and in what numbers they adopt them.
Coupled with a proper marketing and pricing message, I think Kin can be a success for Microsoft and achieve their goal of creating an optimized experience aimed at a very targeted demographic. Kin shows we’re past the phase of one size fits all for mobile technology, and it needs to be looked at and evaluated through that lens, not how well it maps to horizontal audiences.
This week at their WES conference in Orlando, RIM showed off Blackberry 6 for the first time. (not Blackberry OS 6, Blackberry 6). Reactions have been interesting, such as my personal favorite “Blackberry 6: So 2008, So 2000 and late“. I’m not going to make the call just yet because it’s way too early to make a judgement call. It was pretty uncharacteristic for RIM to even show anything at all before launch. It does underscore two points.
First, it’s never to early to have an uninformed opinion. It shows how vendors have to be careful just what they say, how they say it and sometimes saying a little is worse than saying nothing at all.
Second, RIM clearly has a perception issue here. There’s a pretty big disconnect with what RIM does well and how they are perceived by the market. They’re clearly a different standard to how mobile platforms are judged.
Of course, there’s another way to look at this entirely. As my friend Ross Rubin says, “Three-foot, translucent floating screen responding to touch from behind by dancing demographic stereotypes pretty innovative.” Hard to argue that point even a little bit.
Microsoft’s announced today that HTC has licensed their catalog of mobile patents for their Android phones. Terms of the costs or the exact patents were not disclosed, which isn’t surprising in the context of how these deals are done. My first reaction on the briefing was… Wow! This is important news. So what does it mean?
First, this doesn’t help HTC with their dispute with Apple. It does mean that HTC doesn’t need to fear infringing on Microsoft’s patents with their Android devices.
Second, this will put more pressure on the notion that Android is “free”. There’s a body of mobile patents out there and it looks like the folks who own them are going to enforce them (lawyers have told me that it’s important to enforce patent catalogs or the right to enforce later can be lost) and at cost. We’ve already seen Apple go after HTC and now HTC has settled with Microsoft. It is interesting that Apple and Microsoft have cross licensed patents and the cost of patent licenses is included in the cost of Windows Phone. The net is a changed dynamic in the cost of what implementing and OS really is and handset vendors willingness to settle patent claims or go through the hassle of the courts.
Given the stakes are so how in terms of mobile platform success or failure, it’s not surprising that IP issues will be factored in. By creating uncertainty in the market regarding patent issues, both Apple and Microsoft have now created some degree of uncertainty for potential Android licensees. Expect this situation to grow even more complex throughout the year. The real question is what steps Google will take to protect members of the open handset alliance from patent litigation.
This morning, the Nexus One store was updated with information directing Verizon customers to take a look at the HTC Droid Incredible, which has similar specs to the Nexus One. In fact, it’s pretty much a CDMA Nexus One for all intents and purposes except that it also runs the excellent HTC Sense UI which resolves many of the things missing from the N1, such as proper Exchange support. Given that, It’s not a surprise that there would be no N1 for VZW. I’m not sure what the point would be and an “unlocked” handset has little meaning in the CDMA world where the device would still nee to be activated by VZW. Bottom line. I don’t see any particular issues in the lack of an N1that lacks Verizon branding, the Incredible fills that niche and does it nicely even if you can’t directly get it from Google. At the end of the day, the N1 is not about how many phones Google can sell directly, in fact that number hardly matters. There’s a much larger story about the N1 but I’ll save that for another day.
The better question for today is why the Droid is no longer appearing in the Google phone store with a purchase link. At the N1 launch, Google went so far as to have a Motorola presence onstage with HTC and the Droid was linked to from the N1 page. I don’t think there’s anything nefarious here but this is another indication at just how fast the Android platform is moving, relative to already fast paced mobile space. Droid owners have not been obsoleted. In fact, with the Droid’s recent update to Android 2.1, it will pretty much do just about anything the N1 will do. It’s just that it’s no longer the flagship of the Android army and it appears that Google has moved on. Google’s partnership relationship with Android handset providers is only going to get more interesting. Given the nature of that relationship, it’s not at all surprising.
Right now, it’s the N1 and devices like the Incredible that lead the Android market but given the velocity that Android and Google are on, one wonders just how long that will last.
Over the last few days I’ve been testing a new version of the Rhapsody app for the iPhone. First seen at SXSW, the app has a new killer feature. In addition to streaming the catalog of 9+ million tunes, the new version now enables playlists to be saved for offline playback (as much as I love to use Rhapsody in the car, I still hit too many dead spots that cause the stream to drop.) It’s a great feature and it works extremely well, it was nice putting together a good long playlist for the plane ride home last week. You simply designate what playlists you want offline and the app does the rest. (It’s playlist only for now, no ability yet to just tag albums or songs for offline use, not a big deal IMHO but worth noting.)
Combined with the new $10 per month plan Rhapsody has a very compelling story for subscription music services. (I’ve also tested it on the iPad as well, it works well but as expected is somewhat pixilated). Of course, the logical next step would be background playback but the folks at Rhapsody tell me that’s coming in an iPhone OS 4.0 version.
One challenge Rhapsody has had in the past is it simply wasn’t compatible with the devices consumers wanted to use for music consumption, namely the iPod. The reality is it’s devices that drive services and stores. With Rhapsody now on both the iPhone and Android platforms, that’s not nearly the issue that it once was. The challenge for Rhapsody now is to explain the value of subscription services and how the subscription model can co-exist with the music already owned by the consumers, we just might see the service go from music aficionado-oriented users to mainstream success.
In this week’s Engadget column I get a little nostalgic for the tenth birthday of Microsft’s Pocket PC platform. It’s not just nostalgia though. Pocket PC brought many innovations to the market and set the tone for a decade of mobile innovation. As Microsoft moves forward with both Windows Phone 7 and KIN, it’s important to see what lessons they’ve learned from the last ten years and how they take on today’s challengers.
Pocket PC may be no more, but there were some important lessons learned from what Microsoft attempted to do. The platform and hardware were a leap forward. With the inclusion of Windows Media Player and tight integration with the desktop, Pocket PC began to blur the lines of business and consumer functionality — these were the first devices that could serve as a mobile office with email and Office applications, yet also offer games, music, and movies. Pocket PC was also the first platform to have a fully integrated e-book architecture, called Microsoft Reader. Sadly, Microsoft’s total focus on Palm and the business market combined with later efforts to take on RIM and the BlackBerry meant that these features were ignored and totally shunned from most of the marketing. It wasn’t until 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone that attention refocused to the mass market consumer and not just the business market.
It’s been an interesting few days for the digerati. First Engadget posted some pictures over the weekend of what was purported to be the next iPhone. They came from a source who had apparently acquired the phone after it was left in a bar. Other sites first debunked them as a KIRF but later analysis looked like they were real. Yesterday, Gizmodo published a lengthy piece, including video of them with the device along with details of the Apple engineer who apparently left the device in a bar by accident. Finally, the incident appeared to have ended with a letter from Apple politely asking Gizmodo for their device back. Just to show how silly the whole story got, the NY Times reported on the whole process of the reporting. As we say on Twitter #sheesh
It seems for most of the day, this was a key story for the digerati. Was what Gizmodo did ethical? Was this a marketing ploy by Apple to take some of the attention of the launch of the HTC Incredible? were among the many topics debated.
Here’s my $.02 for what it’s worth.
I find it interesting that a non working prototype device gets more attention than most shipping products do. Anyone not taking Apple seriously in the mobile space is making a huge mistake.
The idea that Apple somehow orchestrated this is just silly IMHO. Some folks are just watching too many Oliver Stone movies. Seriously, do you think Apple could somehow magically time this so the story broke the same day that Verizon launched the HTC Incredible? Apple conspiracy theories are fun and this may be among the funniest.
I have mixed feelings about how Gizmodo handled the scoop. Brian Lam is someone I consider a friend but I’m not sure I agree with how the site handled the story. It is easy, however for me to criticize his actions. I’m not in his shoes and I don’t have to make the same calls he did under a tight deadline. Brian and his staff do have an obligation to their organization and their readers. I’ve talked in the past that I’m not fond of the whole “race to be first” that’s taken over much of the tech blogging world. I’m not sure that if I were in Brian’s shoes I would have handled things differently, although I like to think I would have.
At the end of the day, if there weren’t audience for this type of story, the story wouldn’t be written. Given the amount of traffic that’s at stake (and the dollars that traffic generates) I wonder how many would have passed on the scoop given the chance. One thing I’m pretty certain of, there was no reason for Gizmodo (at least as far as I can see) to put a public face on the Apple engineer who left the device in the bar. I expect that poor fellow has enough to deal with without the need to be embarrassed in public.
When all is said and done, we don’t really know all that much about the next device. Any device is about the sum of all the parts both hardware and software. Sure, we have a pretty good idea what might be coming but I suspect there’s still a lot more that we don’t know.
So what do you think? Did Gizmodo or Engadget step over a line here? What would you have done if you were the editor in chief of those sites? And perhaps a better question, did you follow the stories as the events broke? If you did, perhaps that’s one reason why the stories got written.
My take on the HTC Incredible, running on Verizon’s network is the topic of my column this week on SlashGear. It’s IMHO the best Android phone on the market, at least this week and if you’re a VZW customer looking for a smartphone, you owe it to yourself to take a look at this device.
Android is now a force to reckoned with in the mobile space and the Incredible is currently what the state of the art looks like. If you’ve been waiting for the Verizon version of the Nexus One, wait no more, the Incredible provides a better experience with all the hardware and Android 2.1 goodness but now with the powerful addition of Sense UI layered on for good measure. This is now the flagship device for Verizon users. Although Android still feels like an enthusiast platform the Incredible takes us one step closer to a true mass market and mainstream device.
This has been a pretty wild first quarter. Google’s in the phone business. Apple’s in the ad business. Microsoft’s launched not one, but two new mobile platforms (anyone out there still think Microsoft is getting out of the mobile space?).
Yesterday, MSFT launched KIN, a new brand and set of devices aimed at specific demographic that bucks the trend of many mobile strategies. My first take on the news is the subject of this week’s Engadget column. While there are those who view this effort skeptically, there’s a lot of data to suggest that there’s a very specific market here that’s looking for exactly this kind of targeted functionality.
“Mature platforms and markets fragment. This is true of just about all markets. There are features, designs and other factors that all target different users and demographics. It’s something that’s just starting to happen in the mobile space and Microsoft is wise to get ahead of this curve. If one-size-fit all, and the only focus was on utilitarian functions we’d all drive Honda Civics, wear Timex watches and use BIC pens. We don’t — and the reasons that we don’t are what make Kin look very attractive”
We’re past the point of one size fits all for mobility. Look for more targeted products that aim to specific demographic or psychographic and look for more products that are polarizing in their appeal.
This has been an interesting few days for Twitter, affecting everything from Twitter client vendors to a new advertising model. Altimeter Group takes a look at the new promoted Tweets model ad what it means for the Twitter ecosystem. Read all about it here.
So much of today’s technology is driven by end users and consumer technology rate and pace is becoming more important than business adoption. Net result? Consumers are both more informed, more empowered and want a seat at the technology table. That’s why I advice CEOs to think about CES in my latest Computerworld column.
“Today’s business users tend not to make a distinction between business and personal technology. In fact, they have become the early adopters of technology, and more and more it is common for their personal technology to be superior to what they use at work. At home, they have become accustomed to doing tasks that were once the exclusive province of IT workers.
In middle-class American homes today, you will likely find several networked PCs. The household’s tech savvy members take on roles pretty much equivalent to CIO and help desk manager. Little Susie and Johnny might still be expected to make their beds and take out the trash, but they might also get chores like updating all the computers with the latest security patches.”
I wasn’t planning to write about this morning’s MacBook Pro refresh. After all, for the most part, these are speed bump machines with some nice processor upgrades for the most part. Nice, but not earth shaking either. Then three features leaped out at me. Better battery life. An automatic way to switch between discrete and integrated graphics and momentum scrolling. Three features. None of them are a reason to buy a new computer. In fact, if Apple had ignored them didn’t include any of them in this release, I suspect they’d have not sold one less MacBook as a result.
Which gets me to my point. They did include them. Why? It’s simple, details matter. A lot. We often hear of the “Apple tax” and have seen vendors copy Apple’s form factor down to the metal case, keyboard layout and other design elements. What many other vendors miss is the attention to the small details that by themselves don’t matter all that much but add value and delight as the user discovers them. Are they small issue? Sure, but they fix real problems. The need to switch graphic modes by logging in and out is not a big deal but it’s inelegant. It costs wasted cycles. It makes things harder for the user. Some engineer was bothered enough by this to fix it. It’s now a feature. It’s now the standard on how this function should work. In short, for those that use this feature, it will bring a smile to their face. To those who never used it, it’s one more way the computing experience became that much more seamless.
When vendors focus on the big picture but also focus on the small details as well, they differentiate themselves from the market. By worrying about things no one else is worried about they find new ways to delight and provide value to their customers. Along the way, they change customers to fans and generate trust and loyalty. And that’s the important takeaway from what appears to be a minor product refresh but actually is something more.
My first take and analysis of iPhone OS 4.0 and iAd in particular are now live on SlashGear. It’s an important upgrade and adds a lot of functionality users have been asking for, while at the same time upping the challenge to Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Amazon just too name a few. The most important part of the story is how Apple is now firmly moving on to Google’s turf and is now, among other things, and advertising company.
We’ve barely put the first quarter of the year behind us and it’s already shaping up to be one that will be noted as an inflection point going forward. We’re going to remember 2010 as the year that changed everything. I’ve talked in the past about the velocity of mobile and the rate and pace of innovation; now we’ve seen the next step in that process with Apple’s news of iPhone OS 4.0.
Microsoft’s concept videos for a device/project called Courier have sparked imaginations including mine. It’s my topic for this week’s Engadget column. It’s already made it’s way to TechMeme and it’s generating some interesting comments (and proving rather popular with readers). Of course, at the moment, it’s still just a concept video. If Microsoft can take productize the concept and find a way to bring it to market in a timely manner we may have very different view of tablet computing vying for the hearts and minds of consumers.
The Courier UI shows a lot of interaction between the user and the device for content creation. While designers are the example shown, Courier appears optimized for researching, note taking, journaling and other tasks that might require a combination of different media types interacting. As appliance computing becomes more common, users will need both the ability to consume as well as create and interact. Courier shows some new thought and how we might evolve beyond mouse and keyboard while still able to create and design.
Sure it seems obvious, seeing is believing. Take a break for a moment and take a look at this page. Follow the moving circle with your eyes and it’s pink. Let your eyes rest for a moment and suddenly the rotating dot turns green. Now look directly at the cross in the middle. Wow, where did the all the dots go? Funny thing, there’s no green dot and the pink dots never really disappear. Perception is everything though. We see a green dot moving. We see the pink dots disappear. Or check this out. Your brain will insist it’s a spiral. It’s not.
So what’s all this mean. Well for starters, reality and perception are often very different things. Lots of stories about Microsoft not going to play in the consumer space and getting out of mobile entirely. All of them were wrong. Does it matter? How was Microsoft perceived after the Win Phone 7 announcement. Others says Microsoft needs to target influencers. OK. Makes sense. Now tell me who are the influencers? What makes someone influential? Interesting anecdote, several vendors have told me recently that they’re not overly concerned with what Walt Mossberg says about them anymore. They’re concerned about what Joshua Topolsky, Brian Lam and Vincent Nguyen are saying about them on Engadget, Gizmodo and SlashGear and what they’re telling their audiences online and offline.
Perception is also reality in other spaces. Are you reactive to others or proactive? Huge mistakes are being made. Lots of folks are reactive to Apple in mobile instead of taking the high ground. Or reacting to Google. Or are they? Or does it just seem that way to the marketplace.
Remember, all the dots are really pink and none of them disappear. Of course when you’re looking at the screen, does it matter?
I’m still playing a little catch up on mail so I was amused to get an email from HP pointing me to their latest Slate PC video while at the same time telling me that specs and pricing are not being revealed yet. My next email pointed was by a reader who pointed me to this Engadget post which details the specs and price.
If my friends at Engadget are correct the HP device is based on Windows 7 and runs $549, for 32gb with a 1.6GHz Atom Z530 and a 5 hour battery. It will also have SIM and SD slots along with two cameras. Pretty decent and certainly competitive. The real questions isn’t going to be hardware related but rather software. As good as Win 7 is, it just isn’t designed for touch, something I’ve talked about here. Windows demands pixel precision control and is optimized for mice, keyboards and large screens. MSFT’s TouchPack isn’t more than a software demo. What gives me hope is HP’s experience with building touch interfaces on top of Windows.
The first question is how deep HP was able to take their software on top of Windows and will users need to exit to the Windows desktop to get things done. The second is will HP be able to evangelize the developer community to build touch enabled apps, following a consistent UI metaphor for this single device? It’s far to early to say whether HP’s efforts will be a success or failure or how good an experience they’ll deliver in the end but it’s certainly not an effort to dismiss lightly.
Of course, the *wild card* in Microsoft’s tablet/slate strategy might have little to do with Windows 7.
My overall impressions of the iPad are the topic of this week’s column on SlashGear. Read it here.
“I regularly use a phone and a laptop; in fact, I keep one of each on my nightstand. Neither is suited for places where I’d like to be connected but where a laptop is too large and the screen of a phone too small. Like Goldilocks, I’ve found something for my computing needs that’s just right in places where laptops and phones wouldn’t work. While it’s a different model of computing than most of us are used to, I expect the device to resonate well with both sophisticated and novice users.”
One of the interesting issues around the iPad is how well it works as a productivity tool so that’s the topic if this week’s Engadget column. Read it here.
“While the iPad may look like a large iPod touch, in terms of computing, it’s much closer in functionality to a PC than a phone.”
My embargo is lifted and I can now discuss and show the device in public. I’ll ne doing a full hands on and discuss how the iPad fairs as a productivity tool in a bit for SlashGear and Engadget respectively. In the meantime, please feel free to follow me on Twitter for my day to day use and feel to post any questions you may have.
Bottom line? Might look like a large iPod touch but there’s much more to the device. What Apple has done here is set the stage for the next generation of computing. Like the original Macintosh, there’s a lot to like, a few things that could be added and like that original Mac, It’s going to be a very polarizing experience depending on what your vision for the evolution of the PC is.