Category Technology

Additional thoughts on the iPad

It’s been a week since the iPad announcement, and like many in this business, I’ve followed the opinions and punditry. My personal view is that the iPad is going to be a great product for Apple. It will also — and this isn’t quite the same as being a great product — be a commercial success.

There’s a lot of criticism about what the device doesn’t have built-in, or doesn’t support. And there’s been a lot of “why, it’s nothing but a big iPod Touch.” And the usual lists of “must have but missing” features from engineers and developers who are already gnashing their teeth about how useless the iPad will be.

Here’s why we should ignore premature predictions of doom for the iPad.

Sure, there’s nothing shockingly new here. In a sense, it’s a big iPod Touch. Or it’s a slimmed down Tablet PC with integral Kindle. Actually, it’s all of those things.

What we’re forgetting is that Apple’s main strength isn’t necessarily inventing a new category (marketing spin aside), it is in bringing hard-core user research and industrial design to bear on creating devices which end up “crossing the chasm” to the mainstream for a given technology. THAT is what Apple, and Steve Jobs, are good at.

iWork for the iPad: Game changer for the software business

Amidst all of the positive and negative opinion pieces and postings which followed Apple’s iPad announcement this week, the impact to software businesses are only starting to become apparent. I think Apple’s announcement that iWork pricing will be $9.99 per app is significant.

It’s game changing not for third-party ISVs already developing for the iPhone, since they’re used to charging 99 cents to a few bucks for an app. For Mac software developers like OmniGroup, it’ll be challenging. There is already a large Mac software ecosystem with apps priced in the $20 – $60 range. These ISV’s have continued to charge such prices even while iPhone app prices dropped a zero, because the difference in functionality and screen size between a Mac laptop and the iPhone is significant. The difference in what users can do is significant.

iWork on the iPad is a laptop/desktop experience, suitable for the vast majority of home and many business users. And yet Apple dropped a zero on the pricing, basically. With a presentation program, word processor, and spreadsheet available for $10 each, or $30 for the entire productivity suite, how will third party ISV’s charge $50 or $60 for an iPad version of their Mac software apps? Perhaps they can’t.

Is it 10am yet?

I’ll admit it.  I’m an Apple fan.  I didn’t actually need to say that out loud to most people I know.  I joke that I should just tithe a percentage of my income to Cupertino, and have them send me one of everything in return – a “hardware subscription.”

This morning, fingers crossed, we’ll learn more about the new “tablet” device.  The leaks have been accelerating for days, business partners ringing my iPhone constantly to tell me breaking news, and of course I’ve read all the non-news news purporting to describe authoritative leaks.

But none of it matters, because ultimately what we want to see is Steve, dressed in his usual black and white, stand onstage and give The Demo.  If you’re in the biz, The Demo is King.  The Demo is where you set expectations, destroy preconceived notions.  The Demo is where you win or lose, fundamentally.  Because before The Demo, the chessboard is empty.  The Demo is where you put your pieces down — not in the starting configuration, but hopefully in position to reach mate in the fewest moves possible.

If you’re Doug Englebart, giving the mother of all demos, you literally change the world by showing us the ragged bits that the rest of us will spend the next forty years making smooth and usable and real.  Everything that followed:  Dan Bricklin’s Visicalc, Alan Kay’s pioneering work, Steve and Steve with the Apple II, Bill Gates, Tim Berners-Lee and the Web, Netscape, Linus Torvalds…all of it the work of giants in our field…all of it playing out the possibilities inherent in that mother of all demos.

Steve Jobs consciously aims at game-changing demos:  the original iPhone demo was, as was OS X and the Intel transition.  I don’t know that today’s announcement will rise to that level, but I hope so.

I think our industry is getting tired of playing out the possibilities inherent in a forty-year-old demo.  It would be nice to have some new territory to explore.

Amazon and the Kindle: A customer service tale…

Early in my experience with the Kindle DX, which I love and use constantly, I put the default Amazon case or cover on it. The cover attaches to the Kindle through two metal tabs that engage in the side of the Kindle’s plastic case. It’s not a bad cover, but it turns out that if you open the cover upside down accidentally (easy to do since the nondescript black leatherette looks about the same apart from the Amazon logo), the metal tabs flex the Kindle’s case and it can become cracked. Mine was within 2 weeks of getting the device, but without any real damage. I kept using the Kindle since I didn’t want to hassle with returns, migrating content, or being without my Kindle.

Last Friday night, I open an email from Amazon, and it contains a friendly reminder about my Kindle warranty and what it provides me. And in the middle, a little paragraph precisely describing what can happen if you open the default cover/case backwards — describing the cracking I’ve got. And the email encourages you to get in touch with Support.

A Re-Updated Personal History of Personal Computing

Back in 2003 on my "previous" blog, and in early 2005 on this blog, I updated a long-standing essay I’d
called "A Personal History of Personal Computing." My first and second blogs are long
gone in the transition away from Radio Userland to Typepad, but I think
it’s time to reprint and update that essay (a second time). Moore’s law is one way to
look at the history of personal computing. Another is the history of
companies that have come and gone, making personal computers and
software. Still another is a personal view. This story is about my own
personal computing history — the machines, what I did with them, what
software I thought was important. I omit computers that I didn’t really
have control over, such as University mainframes and Unix servers, and
I also omit the vast array of servers and computers I administered at
RealNetworks, Internap, Network Clarity, and computers I used at Microsoft and now GridNetworks.

By my count, I’ve purchased 21 computers in my life, and of course used and worked with hundreds, if not thousands more (managing a Systems Engineering group will do that for you). 

The story starts in the late 1970’s, shortly after personal computers came about and before IBM changed things forever…. 

My new Macbook Air arrived!

OK. I’m going to gush a bit. Whatever its faults, and however often Apple displays a contempt for customers (and believe me, anytime I want something outside the narrow box they sell, I’ve experienced it), sometimes they connect with the pitch and hit it straight out of the park.

It’s a simple thing these days to do just-in-time manufacturing and shipping from China, and I wasn’t expecting my Macbook Air until Feb. 12. But Apple pulled the shipping date in by a week, and was going to deliver it on Feb. 6th. I was thrilled.

It arrived this morning. Sure, it’s not that complex, but boy, do they know how to make a tech geek happy. The packaging is gorgeous — a coworker said it reminded him of a Tiffany’s box. Even the Apple skeptics in the office — the dyed-in-the-wool, live-in-Redmond-even-though-they-don’t-work-at-Microsoft types, were drooling just a little bit. When they thought I wasn’t looking. They know who they are, and today I can see that their snide comments about Apple and the Cult of Steve are just envy wrapped in sarcasm.

Then you unpack it, and the Air feels both lighter and more substantial than you expect. The screen is terrific, the keyboard very nice, and the overall experience is exactly what I hoped a subnotebook from Apple would be. Even the “Remote CD/DVD” thing works perfectly for installing software — although I bought an external Superdrive, mostly because the remote thing doesn’t work well for playing DVD’s due to the copy protection schemes.

I’m sure after a couple of days or a week of using the machine daily I’ll have the usual list of gripes, wishes, etc. But not today. Today I’m sitting on the sofa, having loaded LaTeX, Office 2008, and a few other essentials, and just enjoying that “first day” experience.

Wow. Bravo Apple.