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Archive for the ‘Conversation’ Category

Playing Hard Means Risking the Occasional Foul

August 23rd, 2009

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch published a post Friday, titled The Truth: What’s Really Going On With Apple, Google, AT&T And The FCC. It is—in my opinion—a fairly insightful piece, particularly regarding his analysis of Apple’s seemingly misleading wording behind their reasons for “not approving” the Google Voice app for inclusion in the App Store.

I do believe that Apple perceives a risk behind allowing this particular piece of software “hijack,” as it were, the iPhone user experience, particularly as the Google Voice service will likely become wildly popular amongst the demographic of folks who are attracted to products like iPhones. I must also note that Apple themselves pulled quite a similar customer “hijacking” trick on AT&T with the iPhone.

So if anyone knows the smell of this type of usurpation, it’s Apple. They’re also right to fear it.

I ultimately get exactly why Apple attempted to block it: to paraphrase the late father of a past girlfriend of mine, if you’re not pulling at least one foul per game, you’re just not playing hard enough.

It’s all a game of strategy, folks, and the stakes in the competition for slices of the burgeoning mobile Internet device market are pretty damned high.

Arrington does make one claim, however, that I just can’t get behind. He writes:

[Apple is] jealously guarding control of their users and trying to block Google and other third party developers at every turn from getting their superior applications in front those users.

The first half is spot-on, but the second half is very wrong—they are not fearful of developers offering better software than their apps. Apple doesn’t care, for example, about superior stock tracking, weather, or memo programs.

They do care about Safari, Phone, Contacts, Calendar, Mail, Messages, and iPod, App Store, and iTunes applications: they are the signature apps of the core iPhone user experience.

If Google Voice takes over the dialer, a significant problem is introduced: people may likely start demanding that the phone experience is designed around the Google Voice service. In such a case, Apple will have lost control of the UX of this core component of the product, as they would then have to choose between two paths:

  1. chase after the Google Voice UX requirements, OR
  2. consciously choosing to ignore it, causing customers that want it evaluate switching to an Android phone.

Apple are specifically looking to control the core user experience of the device, but that’s what Apple does, and what’s more: that’s what we (largely) want them to do! Their passion for that sort of thing is directly attributable for the design excellence of their products.

In any case, the ref is on the field, and we’ll get a call on the game play. The only certainty here is that—whatever call the FCC ultimately makes—the outcome will be interesting.

My call: offensive holding.

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Apple Launches A Revolution… and Then Gets Overtaken?

May 4th, 2009

At least, that’s what Richard Wray and Bobbie Johnson of the Guardian conclude:

… while Apple caused a revolution [with the iPhone], it is unlikely to become dominant in the market. It has sold just over 20m iPhones since the first device appeared in 2007; in that time more than 1.5bn phones have been shipped by everyone else. A similar thing happened with the personal computer market. The concept was championed by Apple when it launched Apple II, the worlds first personal computer, in 1977, and the first Macintosh in 1984, but other players now lead the market.

This argument — whose conclusion, for some reason, hinges strictly on unit sales of the iPhone units sold vs. the rest of the phones in the market as a metric for performance — overlooks several critical points:

  1. Looking at sales numbers for all phones worldwide is meaningless; rather an examination of the so-called “smart phone” sales numbers would make for more meaningful insights.
  2. The iPhone isn’t available in every market — in order to make a meaningful point about its sales performance, they ought to (at least also) isolate its relative performance in the markets the product is actually available in.
  3. The rest of their competitors have been selling devices for a decade or more.

I guess it makes for a headline that gets the click-throughs, but since their conclusion is antithetical to the understanding everyone else looking at the iPhone’s market performance has, I would suggest merely that I’d like to see them support their assertion with something slightly more compelling and meaningful than comparing iPhone sales versus the rest of mobile phones on the planet.

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Palm Pre-Fucking Themselves?

April 30th, 2009

TechCrunch is reporting that Palm is already creating a second WebOS device, code named Pixie, that will be a “low end” version of its upcoming (and as-yet unreleased) Pre.

From the post:

The Pixie will use the same WebOS operating system and software as the Palm Pre, but in a smaller candy-bar form factor and a target $99 price point, say our sources. It will be released only a few months after the Pre in June, so this isn’t an upgrade device. It’s targeted at the lower end of the market.

I’m sorry, but this is all sorts of stupid.

For one, prove the concept first. Get the software out there, see what the initial responses are, and refine a bit. See if it sells. See what is and isn’t not working just right; it’s entirely possible a fundamental design decision of the hardware somehow needs to be reconsidered based in this information. Then — with some market reaction data in hand — think about a different flavor of hardware that could at least have the benefit of being informed by response to the initial model.

Secondly, they’re launching a new platform which will have to court developers into its fold with two different screen sizes. Developers interested in targeting both will therefore have a two-device testing matrix out of the gates. Some will go for the full-size features of the Pre, and others will target the Pixie.

Finally, but most importantly, they’re going to fracture consumer interest. Bringing two similar products to market like this will force prospective consumers to ask themselves which one they want, and whether they “really need” whatever’s in the “big” one. In these times, more consumers are likely to steer in an economical direction, given what may well be a relatively equal set of choices, and since Palm would presumably use lower-powered hardware for the Pixie, the general consumer experience will likely feel more constrained.

I’m scared to death that Palm is killing the most promising new smartphone announced in a little over two years, before the poor thing has even come into the market.

There seems to be some question as to whether the project is completely green-lit, as Arrington mentions:

One source says it’s full steam ahead. Another says Palm is waiting to see how the Pre does before announcing the Pixie.

But, frankly, letting the information leak out like this (and at least having someone think this effort is “full steam ahead”) is enough to every bit as much harm as the actual release of the product; the anticipators will begin to demand its release, and start to play a wait-and-see, betting that Palm eventually will drop the Pixie.

And the pundits will buzz about it, and Palm will see weak sales on its Pre, and cave into the expectation of the Pixie’s release.

As I’d previously said: as die-hard an iPhone fan as I indeed am, I have been keenly looking forward to the Pre, both as a product of wonder and accomplishment, and as some great and much-needed competition for the iPhone, which will only make my favorite phone better, in the long-run.

Palm: good luck.

30 Apr @ 14:34: Let me add that this, of course, is merely rumor at this time; Palm has not officially announced anything. That said, TechCrunch has another post claiming to have dug up even more details. I would note that the claimed “shaky” photo of the Pixie in my original link above differs significantly in proportion from what is shown on the photo in this latest post.

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Windows 7′s Exciting New Feature: It Runs Windows XP

April 26th, 2009

Troubled times are here for Microsoft; truly troubled times.

I’m not referring to their first reported decline in quarterly earnings, and I’m not even talking about the repeated extension of the cut-off date for selling XP.

Paul Thurott of the SuperSite for Windows blog says:

we were briefed about a secret Microsoft technology that [...] would ship in final form simultaneously with the final version of Windows 7 [...] dubbed Windows XP Mode (XPM, formerly Virtual Windows XP or Virtual XP, VXP)….

So Windows 7′s killer new feature is that it runs an older version of Windows.

I get Paul’s point that this truly provides an opportunity for Microsoft to finally start making the sort of aggressive, much needed, and — frankly — long-overdue changes to Window’s central architecture, while delivering (most of) the compatibility requirements its enterprise customers have. I even agree that this is, in fact, a wise choice.

But there’s a reason Microsoft has kept this under embargo until now; it really says something about the state of their flagship product… something it seems they didn’t want to have to say.

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The Macheist Controversy

March 27th, 2009

There has recently been quite a bit of controversy over Macheist, arguing that it’s unfair to the participating developers, largely due to the “steep discount” at which these (largely great) apps are being sold. Some other arguments are simply in the sensationalist vein.

Agreed Benefits

Even the critics of Macheist will concede to a number of upsides to participation, including:

  1. Macheist is clearly a great marketing opportunity for each developer’s product,
  2. any opportunity at growing their product’s user base builds upon its chances of retaining customers (and thereby capitalizing on upgrade fees for major versions later), and
  3. participation with one product stands to produce sales gains on other products made by that developer

Naturally, these potential upsides are by no means guaranteed; if a product doesn’t compete well on its own merits, then its developer(s) will likely not capitalize on upgrade sales. But then Macheist can’t offer to make anyone’s products automagically good; this remains the responsibility of the developers, themselves.

Argued Problems

The basic arguments the critics have boil down to:

  1. Macheist sells their apps at a [very] steep discount to their normal sale price,
  2. this stands to undermine their perceived market value, and
  3. general participation in Macheist may work to undermine the generally perceived value of shareware apps

As such, the critics argue that the developers may well be sacrificing more than they stand to gain in return for their participation.

These arguments, however, are missing a critically important point. Read more…

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