April 1st, 2010 — business, design, economics, mobile, programming, software, trends
I’m enjoying watching folks around the world prognosticate about the iPad, what it is and is not, how it might sell and what it means for computing. Sorry, but I can’t help but weigh in with some predictions.
My son (age 12) and I have a bet at the moment about the outcome of the NCAA basketball tournament, which I know nothing at all about: I wagered that Duke would emerge victorious (I ignored the rest of the brackets). If I am correct, he owes me $487 trillion dollars; otherwise I owe him $12. (Hey, I’m trying to teach him about Popperian philosophy.)
So, it is with the understanding that if I’m right, you, dear reader will owe me $487 trillion dollars, that I offer this humble marketplace analysis.
- iPad will be released on Saturday, April 3. That means that a ton of people are going to get to play with it over the Easter weekend. And I’m talking about peoples’ moms and aunts here. It’s been widely reported that the experience of using the device is quite seductive, and I’ve argued it’s because it activates different parts of the brain. Somewhere around 200,000 units will be sold over this coming weekend, and each one will be shown to an average of 10.6 other people, creating a latent (nagging) demand for another 21 million units.
- A bunch of old-media outlets will rejigger their offerings for the iPad and try to monetize the audience. Many already have. But this is Waterloo. Or Little Big Horn. They will sucker some folks into using the device for the “traditional” content, but sales will be disappointing. Ultimately they are going to have to radically reconsolidate their offerings and innovate in some serious ways. See below re: piracy.
- The device is going to continue to rip through the population, busting past all sales records for a general computing device. This will have nothing to do with features or even the apps (yet). This will be based on the user experience alone. Everyone who uses the thing comes away sounding like a religious convert. In the same way that the original iPod just “felt right,” Jony Ive has managed to bring meaning to a general purpose computing device like nothing ever before. The central thing Ive has done is to bring the experience of computing directly to the user, with no barriers and no “analog” devices like the mouse. People will have a visceral relationship with these devices.
- Roughly 20% of the initial batch of Wi-Fi only devices will be “handed down” to a secondary wave of users when the 3G models are introduced a month later. This will amplify the initial sales numbers, as many folks end up buying two units in the first month.
- PDF-format books and news will become the Lingua Franca. What happened to music and movies is about to happen to books. A wave of piracy will couple with a race to the bottom in content prices. Some killer app, possibly Kindle for iPad, will capture a big chunk of the market share. It doesn’t much matter how it plays out, but paper books are going to be items of “significance” and the kind of thing hipsters trade, like vinyl records.
- All desktop software will seem obsolete overnight. The obsessive attention Apple has paid to aesthetics in the built-in reader, calendar, and email apps will set the bar not only for other app developers on the iPad, but also for the iPhone and particularly the Desktop. Expect your Mac to feel particularly creaky. And Windows? It’s gonna seem steampunk compared to the twee aesthetics and colors emerging in the iPad design universe.
- WiFi is going to become even more ubiquitous and free. Businesses are going to trip over themselves to get iPad users into their establishments, as the iPad rides its way to prominence. WiFi-only iPads are going to be somewhat cooler than the 3G versions.
- Hipsters are gonna start using iPads as cell phones, using Skype and similar apps to bypass carrier relationships altogether. I’d expect the 3G-iPads to be used for voice too, marking the first significant use of the cellular network in a “data-only” mode, which will ultimately lead to the scrapping of the whole “voice/voicemail/minutes” paradigm. The first carrier to do this will have a temporary competitive advantage.
- A whole new market in mouseless/keyboardless computing will emerge. Yeah, I don’t know what it’s going to look like either. But the raw numbers (100 million by 2015) of the iPad platform will create a new kind of pop/tech culture. Expect a New York Times Sunday magazine piece; potentially in that publications’ last print issue.
- The next generation Macintosh, if there is such a thing, will be based on the iPad OS. Hard to say what this might mean, but I would not be surprised if Mac OS was phased out over a few years, or possibly converted into a server-only OS for the MacPro / X-Serve platform only.
Remember that demand is not static waiting to be filled by the possible universe of devices: if that were the case, the iPod and the Mac and the iPhone should never really have gotten any traffic. What Apple understands is that good design can change the market, and invent new markets.
And this is what the iPad will do: invent a new market. And the presence of that new market will profoundly change the dynamics of the existing (previous) market. New demand will emerge, and all kinds of new supply will emerge. The great thing about Apple, particularly Jobs and Ive, is that they know how to drive change.
And that, ultimately, is what entrepreneurship and innovation are all about. If it were just about building devices to match the demands of the existing market, the Chinese seem to do a pretty good job of that.
And I will supply my banking information, so you can wire me the money, when this all comes to pass. If I’m wrong, I’ll buy you a beer.
March 30th, 2010 — art, business, design, economics, mobile, philosophy, software, trends
The iPad promises to be a very big deal: not just because it’s the next big over-hyped thing from Apple, but because it fundamentally shifts the way that humans will interact with computing.
Let’s call this the “fourth turning” of the computing paradigm.
Early “computers” were electro-mechanical, then electric, and then later all electronic. But the metaphor was constant: you pushed buttons to enter either values or operators, and you had to adhere to a fixed notation to obtain the desired results. This model was a “technology” in the truest sense of the word, replacing “how” a pre-existing task got done. It didn’t fundamentally change the user, it just made a hard task easier.
8-Bit Computers: Keyboards
The early days of computing were characterized by business machines (CP/M, DOS, and character-based paradigms) and by low-end “graphics and sound” computers like the Atari 800, Apple II, and Commodore 64.
The promise here was “productivity” and “fun,” offering someone a more orderly typewriting experience or the opportunity to touch the edges of the future with some games and online services. But the QWERTY keyboard (and its derivatives) date back to at least 1905. And the first typewriters were made by Remington, the arms manufacturer.
The keyboard input model enforces a verbal, semantic view of the world. The command line interface scared the hell out of so many people because they didn’t know what they might “say” to a computer, and they were often convinced they’d “mess it up.” During this era, computing was definitely still not a mainstream activity.
More of the population was older (relative to computing) and had no experience with the concepts.
The Mouse, GUI, and the Web
Since the introduction of the Macintosh, and later Windows, the metaphors of the mouse, GUI, and the web have become so pervasive we don’t even think about them anymore.
But the reality is that the mouse is a 1970′s implementation of a 1950′s idea, stolen by Apple for the Lisa from Xerox PARC. Windows is a copy of the Macintosh.
The graphical computing metaphor, combined with the web, has opened the power of the Internet to untold millions, but it’s not hard to argue that we’re all running around with Rube Goldberg-like contraptions, cobbled together from parts from 1905, 1950, and 1984 respectively. Even so, the mouse alone has probably done more to open up computing than anything else so far.
The mouse enforces certain modes of use. The mouse is an analog proxy for the movement of our hands. Most people are right handed, and the right hand is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain, which science has long argued is responsible for logic and reason. While a good percentage of the population is left handed, the fact remains that our interactions with mice are dominated by one half of the brain. Imagine how different your driving is when you only use one hand.
While we obviously use two hands to interact with a keyboard, some cannot do that well, and it continues a semantic, verbal mode of interaction.
The iPad will offer the first significant paradigm shift since the introduction of the mouse. And let me be clear: it doesn’t matter whether hardcore geeks like it now, or think it lacks features, or agree with Apple’s App Store policies.
The iPad will open up new parts of the human brain.
By allowing a tactile experience, by allowing people to interact with the world using two hands, by promoting and enabling ubiquitous network connections, the iPad will extend the range and the reach of computing to places we haven’t yet conceived.
Seriously. The world around us is reflected by our interactions with it. We create based on what we can perceive, and we perceive what we can sense. The fact that you can use two hands with this thing and that it appears to be quick and responsive is a really big deal. It will light up whole new parts of the brain, especially the right hemisphere — potentially making our computing more artistic and visual.
Just as the mouse ushered in 25 years of a new computing paradigm, pushing computing technology out over a much larger portion of the market, the iPad marks the beginning of the next 25 years of computing.
And before you get worried about how people will type their papers and design houses and edit video without traditional “computers,” let me answer: no one knows. We’ll use whatever’s available until something better comes along.
But computing platforms are created and shaped by raw numbers and the iPad has every opportunity to reach people in numbers as-yet unimagined. That will have the effect of making traditional software seem obsolete nearly overnight.
When the Macintosh was released, it was widely derided as a “toy” by the “business computing” crowd. We see how well that turned out.
This time, expect a bright line shift: BIP and AIP (before iPad and after iPad). It’s the first time that an entirely new design has been brought to market, answering the question, “Knowing everything you know now, what would you design as the ultimate computer for people to use with the global network?”
It’s 2010, and we don’t need to be tied down to paradigms from 1950 or 1905. Everything is different now, and it’s time our tools evolved to match the potential of our brains and bodies.
January 16th, 2008 — iPhone, mobile
My previous post got me wondering what Apple’s EULA says about location data collected by and on the iPhone. Like most people I breezed past the 1.1.3 EULA agreement without studying it, and then found I had to dig around online to find the iPhone License Agreement, which I finally did on Apple’s site.
Section 4(b) is the relevant piece:
4. Consent to Use of Non-Personal Data.
(a) You agree that Apple and its subsidiaries may collect and use technical and related information, including but not limited to technical information about your iPhone, computer, system and application software, and peripherals, that is gathered periodically to facilitate the provision of software updates, product support and other services to you (if any)
related to the iPhone Software, and to verify compliance with the terms of this License. Apple may use this information, as long as it is in a form that does not personally identify you, to improve our products or to provide services or technologies to you.
(b) Apple may provide certain services through your iPhone that rely upon location information. To provide these services, Apple and its partners may collect, maintain, process and use your location data, including the real-time geographic location of your iPhone. By using or activating any location-based services on your iPhone, you agree and consent to Apple’s and its partners’ collection, maintenance, processing and use of your location data to provide you with such services. The location data is collected in a form that does not personally identify you. You may withdraw this consent at any time by turning oﬀ the location-based feature on your iPhone or by not using the location-based features. Turning oﬀ or not using these features will not impact the functionality of your iPhone.
A couple of basic points here. First, Apple asserts that they may collect and share with its partners location data from the phone. They secondly assert that the location data is collected in a way so as not to “personally identify you.” I am not sure I agree with that statement based on my previous post, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for now.
Second, they go on to say that the user can “withdraw their consent at any time” by “turning off the location-based feature.” How? Where is that button in the preferences?
Third, they make the statement that “turning oﬀ or not using these features will not impact the functionality of your iPhone.” Uh, yeah it will (assuming it were possible). I won’t have location-based services or maps, which is a real reduction in the functionality of the phone.
Let’s take a look at the newly published iPod Touch January ’08 Software Upgrade License Agreement, which we would expect should address the newly-added location features specifically.
Once again, the same section 4(b) contains the same text as the iPhone Software License Agreement. So, they consider the location services in the iPhone and iPod Touch to be legally equivalent, which is interesting to note.
Seems to me Apple’s in an interesting place with this location data business. The location data that is collected is packaged in HTTPS, so we can’t inspect it. It is theoretically possible that it contains nothing that can identify a given user “personally,” but what does that mean?
Does it contain an iPhone serial number, or an IMEI number, or a phone number? How is this data stored? While that data, by itself, may not personally identify you, could it be correlated with data that does? Is that possibility covered by the SLA as written?
I will assume that Apple and its lawyers have thought this through. However, there are some interesting issues raised here. Now that the iPhone/iPod Touch has location support, we should expect Apple, and possibly third party developers, to leverage that location data in interesting ways.
The most interesting ways involve tying identity to location, so if anything is going to happen down this path, then the SLA, as written, is not going to suffice.
In the meantime, you can bet that somebody is going to consider whipping up a class action suit because there is no clearly marked way to turn off the location-based services, and because “turning off LBS” does affect functionality — your phone doesn’t know where you’re at!
And keep an eye on that SLA for future versions — you can bet that the wording on the location data is going to evolve.
January 16th, 2008 — iPhone, mobile
When Apple announced yesterday that the iPhone would now be “location-aware” with the release of their 1.1.3 software, I was curious how they had done it.
I’ve been working with location information quite closely (see Twittervision, for example) for the last year or so and have had some conversations with different companies about how Apple might geo-enable the iPhone.
There are three options available:
- Cell Tower ID
- Wifi Access Points
GPS is not an option at present. E911 laws in the US have required carriers to provide location information for some time, but that could be via GPS or from cell tower triangulation data. TruePosition makes this their entire business, and is the primary location information provider for AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. A pretty cozy gig, eh? They do this by way of tracking cell tower information within the network, from what I understand.
GPS may be an option later if Apple adds an AGPS (assisted GPS) chipset to the iPhone or supports external Bluetooth GPS units, but external bluetooth will never be a true mass market phenomenon, and AGPS is at least going to have to wait for the next iPhone refresh, probably not til next year.
Cell Tower ID is another option. Carriers know where their cell towers are (we hope), and by comparing the signal strength and the intersection of multiple cell tower antenna distribution patterns, you can make a pretty fair guess about where the user is. It’s not always spot-on accurate, but it’s pretty close.
Wifi AP’s are the third option. There are millions of Wifi AP radios running around the world at this point, and for the most part, they tend not to move around that much. They do, however, come and go from time to time. However, there are a lot of them, and with a modest investment in driving around populated areas, one could build up a pretty accurate database of what APs are where. Then they could sell that database to people who want to know where their Wifi client radios are.
This is exactly what my friends up at Skyhook Wireless have done. You can try out their Loki service for your laptop (Firefox/IE plugin). Suddenly, if you have Wifi, you also have a pseudo-GPS capability.
Judging by the fact that Skyhook invited me to stop in and see them today at MacWorld (which I would have loved to do, but am sadly unable due to my being at home in Maryland this week), it seems Skyhook got the contract to provide some location data to Apple. Apparently, the iPhone uses both Cell Tower ID and Wifi (Skyhook) data for location, while the iPod Touch uses Skyhook exclusively. Good Job, guys!
This explains why when I went to see Skyhook in June and said that a company like Apple might be very interested in their technology, there was a definitive “no comment.” This happens a lot; companies like to protect what might be a very early-stage negotiation, or even an intention, a lot of the time. But in this case it looks like Skyhook bagged what might be their killer deal.
Yesterday, I succumbed to the hype and “Revirginized” my iPhone (we had been engaged in some unsavory hacking) so I could safely install the new 1.1.3 software update that Steve said would be available. The revirginizing and upgrade went as clean as could be, and now my phone is running 1.1.3.
I thought I might “inspect” what the phone is doing when you do a location lookup. I have a bunch of resources on my home network, including a multipurpose Linux server, so I thought if I could pass the iPhone’s traffic through the Linux box, some tools like ngrep and tcpdump might reveal what exactly happens when the iPhone tries to position itself.
Well, turns out I was mostly right. In typical Apple fashion, though, they’re keepin’ it real with HTTPS, revealing nothing very interesting about how the location information works.
The iPhone is 192.168.1.199 and my proxy is 192.168.1.10.
Here’s what I saw:
T 192.168.1.199:49311 -> 192.168.1.10:2525 [AP]CONNECT iphone-maps.apple.com:443 HTTP/1.0.Host: iphone-maps.apple.com.User-Agent: Apple iPhone v1.1.3 Maps v126.96.36.199A93.
T 192.168.1.10:2525 -> 192.168.1.199:49311 [AP][..HTTPS DATA...]
T 192.168.1.199:49311 -> 192.168.1.10:2525 [AP][..HTTPS DATA...]
So, alas, nothing to see here, really… move along. However, we do now know that Apple is grabbing data from the phone via HTTPS, processing it network-side, and rendering a response to the phone about its position. We do not, for example, see a variety of calls to Skyhook, Google, or elsewhere, which is not inconceivable without verifying it.
After the HTTPS call, we see this unencrypted call:
T 192.168.1.199:49313 -> 192.168.1.10:2525 [AP]POST http://iphone-wu.apple.com/glm/mmap HTTP/1.1.Accept: */*.Accept-Language: en.Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate.Cookie: s_vi=[CS]v1|46B904DB00003607-A290B210000599B[CE]; s_nr=1199572400032.User-Agent: Apple iPhone v1.1.3 Maps v188.8.131.52A93.Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded.Content-Length: 145.Connection: keep-alive.Proxy-Connection: keep-alive.Host: iphone-wu.apple.com.
T 192.168.1.199:49313 -> 192.168.1.10:2525 [AP]..*..m..DN..en_US..com.apple.iphone.184.108.40.206A93......@.......?...&_...>....&`...>.......&]...>....&^...>....&\...>....&_...>....&[...>....&`...>.
T 192.168.1.10:2525 -> 192.168.1.199:49313 [AP]HTTP/1.1 200 OK.Date: Wed, 16 Jan 2008 12:38:31 GMT.Server: GFE/1.3.Content-Type: application/binary.Content-Length: 113.Cache-control: private.Connection: close.
Not sure what this all is, but it looks like it has my iPhone serial number in there. It’s so nice that Apple wants to know so much about my phone, its serial number, its position. Why, if DHS ever has any doubts about me, perhaps they could simply just ask Apple? Maybe they know where I am.
What is Apple’s position (pun intended) on customer privacy, now that they seem to be in the location data business?
Other firms like Boost Mobile’s Loopt service have gone to great (ridiculous) lengths to inform their customers about location data privacy and to protect collected data. So as to avoid potential problems, Loopt does not even save a location track for its users, but instead stores only the current location of the user. (This was the case when I spoke with them in May 2007.) They figure this makes them less of a honeypot for DHS types, and keeps their customers happy.
I have never believed that consumers are as paranoid about location data as the press (and the most paranoid among us) would have us believe. Most people are willing to generate, share, and publish some limited amount of location data if it provides some value to them in return and they can control the data sufficiently.
What seems like a simple software update for the iPhone is actually the consent of millions (4M+ according to Steve) of users to potentially publishing their location information. And not just for the iPhone, but for the iPod Touch as well.
Now the question is what a theoretical 1.2.0 software release might hold: location of your iChat buddies? Location-enabled Twitter clients (using the Twittervision API)? Your friends conveniently plotted on the Google Maps client? All of this is now theoretically possible with the iPhone and iPod Touch now, and Apple holds the keys.
It will be very interesting to see how the iPhone SDK (Software Development Kit) works next month. If Apple opens up this location service to third party developers, we can expect to see some very interesting applications emerge this year.
The fact that the location service is not down to meter-accuracy is irrelevant (it put me, alternately, within a few feet of my house and across the river at the Annapolis Mall — I suspect because it was alternating between an accurate Wifi position and a more general cell tower position). To make social location services work, all we really need to know is generally where someone is (nearby) and that they are really there (device has reported location).
There are plenty of apps where approximate location is sufficient (stores nearby, friends nearby, homes for sale nearby, etc). Only for driving-direction or aviation applications do you need meter-accuracy. A later update to the iPhone hardware with an AGPS chipset will solve that problem, but even without that, this opens up an amazing array of possibilities.
Mostly, great credit should go to Apple for pushing out a technology so seamlessly, so effortlessly, that so many others have found so problematic and full of legal and perceived landmines. This is a big deal. Skyhook, Loopt, uLocate, Nokia, Navizon, and dozens of others have been grasping for this holy grail for some time, and they’ve been told variously that it’s “impossible to get the data,” or that “consumers won’t go for it”, or that “no one would fund it.”
Apple did it via iTunes with a software update. Agree? Kudos, Steve.