Commentaries and opinions on Apple and technology news by your friendly neighborhood Solowalker.

 

Another theory why Apple didn't buy Nest

My vote would be for the more simple “They don’t have a need and don’t want to mess with them.”

Apple doesn’t need to buy every company. Would you want them to? They only buy companies they have a need for, whether it’s IP or talent. And even then, they only resort to that if they don’t feel they can build what they want with what they have in a reasonable amount of time. Apple is now and always has been one to prefer homegrown solutions, where possible.

They’re also notorious (and often criticized) for their extreme product focus. Most other companies use the spaghetti method—throw everything at the wall and see what sticks—for releasing products. Apple has a relatively sparse product lineup when compared to nearly every other competitor, what’s essentially just consumer and pro variants in each category. All of their products have been computing devices so far, with the minor exception of some iPod models and a handful of accessories. The iPhone and iPad while technically new categories very much fall into the general “computing devices” classification.

The Nest and like products are a totally separate classification. They’re great products and a great idea, solving problems that need solving. But they’re not a great fit for Apple’s current vision and product lineup. (For the record, neither is a standalone TV set.) Apple sees this and they appreciate Nest for their great hardware and software, so they gave them the best endorsement they could in giving them valuable space in all their retail stores. Just because Apple likes them doesn’t mean they have to buy the company and make the things themselves, the same way they don’t have to make printers, external hard drives, Thunderbolt docks, Bluetooth earpieces, Automatic, Pebble, Nike’s FuelBand, [insert your favorite accessory here], etc.

Nest was making a great thing on their own but not something Apple needed or wanted to make themselves, so they let them be. That doesn’t mean Nest wanted to be let alone do their own thing, just means Apple wasn’t interested. So unfortunately and much to my personal chagrin, they found somebody else who supposedly would give them what they felt they wanted/needed but didn’t have in order to pursue their vision.

Hopefully Google doesn’t mess it all up…

Debunking Apple's "need" for cheaper and bigger iPhones

The bit about Apple’s marketshare shrinking is misleading. While technically true, the way they pitch it makes it sound like iPhone sales are declining when they are not. “Second lowest year-over-year growth” is still growth. The “problem” is that the overall smartphone market is growing rapidly as feature phones are being replaced with smartphones, as in it’s getting harder and harder to find feature phones on sale in some markets. Their share is only shrinking because the market is growing faster than iPhone sales are growing, which again does NOT mean iPhone sales are not growing.

Apple does not “need” either a low-cost iPhone or an “iPhablet” just for the sake of having them and/or for the sake of market share. Reality is closer to the idea that there may be opportunities to reach different sub-markets and demographics by introducing new products, but these opportunities need to be considered very carefully and approached in a way that will allow the products to be both high quality and profitable. It takes time to carefully calculate and define what these will be. And Apple has experience in this department, having done something similar to this at very least 3 or 4 times before. 

For music players, Apple created entirely new products that fit the needs of people who wanted cheaper/smaller players in the Mini, Shuffle, and Nano. They weren’t just smaller or just made with crappier materials, but rather were still seen as quality and retained features each target group needed. They also allowed Apple to retain their profit margins, as just slashing the price on tweaked versions of the flagship model would not have done.

The same can be said for the iPad. “Apple needs a netbook,” was the cry. Oh how wrong and shortsighted was that cry. The need wasn’t for a netbook but for a more portable, approachable, and affordable computing offering. With 20/20 hindsight, we can clearly see Apple made the right choice in coming up with a completely different approach the problem by scaling up the iPhone experience instead of scaling down the Mac experience.

But in a way, they did scale down the Mac experience, too. Several times Skipping the original iBook/MacBook and Mac mini to a more recent period, many people wanted a less expensive Mac laptop. In this instance, the solution was a paring down of their super-premium/experimental product in the MacBook Air and mixing it with technologies from the 13” MacBook Pro—itself a bit of a child of the Air. Some features/ports were dropped and some cheaper parts used (i.e. the display), but the result is still a quality, popular, and profitable product.

There are other examples I could also give, the point is each situation is unique and has a unique solution. But these new entrants are never created out of “needs” fabricated by moneymen. Apple’s money and success comes by looking at things differently and attempting to solve people’s problems in an elegant way. People pay for quality and simplicity. Apple isn’t interested in shipping more units just to ship more units. If Apple does its job in making quality, desirable products that solve people’s problems then the money and market share will come. Just because other people are selling cheaper and bigger phones doesn’t mean Apple will, needs, or should, too. They don’t need to be targeting every aspect of every market and they most definitely should NOT enter a market/segment at the behest of analysts with their proposed solution.

 

That being said, a lower cost iPhone at this stage of the game may work out. I’ll try to post my thoughts on this later.

On the Name ‘iTunes Radio’

As I wrote before, Apple’s ‘iRadio’ should have been called Genius Radio. It would have leveraged established features and would have been a seamless transition from one to another. But what did they end up calling it?

iTunes Radio

While I still think Genius Radio would have been a better name, I can understand the choice given the way they are positioning it. It’s not a seamless experience and isn’t meant to be triggered from a song in your library (though I wish it were); it’s primary purpose is to coax you into buying more music from iTunes. Hence, the name iTunes Radio. 

It works well enough and what few stations I’ve tried have worked well and have played music that was pleasingly similar, probably better than what I experienced with my limited attempts at using Pandora. The one down side is the seemingly limited catalog of songs to start a station with compared to Pandora. Feels like it’s strictly major label acts here. I hope indie and other labels can get it on this soon. Not having ads because I pay for iTunes Match is a nice plus, though. Very high quality streams, too. 

So I was surprised and disappointed as to the name and un-integratedness of it. But it is what it is and will likely do quite well.

iRadio? How ‘bout Genius Radio.

The perfect marketing and feature progression for Apple’s new iRadio feature would be to call it Genius Radio.

Want a quick playlist of similar music to one song? Genius Playlist. How about an endless mix created for you of your stuff that fits together? Genius Mix. A radio station centered around a song, artist, or playlist you already have that includes songs pulled from the iTunes Store so you can discover new material? Genius Radio.

Honestly, I’ll be surprised if its called anything else. But Apple didn’t ask me so what do I know?

"All the Leaks Are Wrong"

Nearly two months have come and gone since Apple announced WWDC and the keynote for the conference is tomorrow morning, a mere 13 hours away and counting. We think we know some things but even if all of those things were true, it’s still relatively little. 2 or 3 new OS X features, maybe new laptops, and a handful of iOS tidbits. Not anywhere near a full keynote’s worth of information. But the big problem?

All these rumors could be entirely wrong. We could be completely in the dark.

The well-connected (and usually spot-on because of it) John Gruber shared this weekend in his podcast The Talk Show that he’s been told “all the leaks are wrong,” though he himself doesn’t even know what that means. He expounded a little today, essentially saying that while the details may not be correct at very least the idea that iOS 7 and OS X 10.9 may be large updates with dramatic changes may be true. ”The training wheels can now come off,” he opines, echoing the oft repeated sentiment as of late that iOS was purposefully designed in 2007 to be as simple, inviting, and novice-friendly as possible to facilitate Apple introducing new computing paradigms in an entirely new form factor.

The question is, does Apple have another way of doing touchscreen interfaces that is as simple and intuitive as the current implementation? Gruber quotes Steve Jobs about the difference between design and veneer, implying that any change to the OS interface would be functional as well as visual. Can anyone think of any other way to do touch UIs? Can any change be that dramatic of a departure from current paradigms? The only people I can think of who have done anything remotely different than Apple that I’ve seen is Microsoft with Windows Phone and Windows 8. But even with that, it still is mostly the same methods and gestures used for interacting with the interface that it’s just about close enough.

What could Apple possibly have up their sleeves that would be so “polarizing,” as Gruber also said he heard? And what about this aspect of iOS could also translate well enough to desktops to use in OS X? This whole train of thought has me very intrigued. iOS’s take on the world is so ingrained in all of us that I don’t know if we could shake it. Google and others sure really haven’t been able to. But perhaps this is what is meant.

I’d love to be blown away but I’m trying really hard to temper my expectations. By this time tomorrow, I’ll probably have both OSes installed on my devices and may have formed my opinion of them already. Which side of the polarizing line will I be on? I can’t wait to find out.

Tim Cook Drops Hints of the Future at D11

Tim Cook, in his second AllThingsD D11 conference appearance, deftly answered (or didn’t answer) a broad range of questions about the state of Apple today, its views of the future, competitors, technology in general, and taxes. He was rightly given a hard time on a couple things, too. Worth watching the whole thing.

My favorites are the little glimpses of WWDC and what Apple will do with iOS and OS X moving forward. Hopefully all of these will come sooner rather than later. Things like a design overhaul, opening up of APIs, improvements to Maps, improvements and additions to Apple’s current services, and more. Makes me quite excited to dream about what’s coming in just 11 days!

Jony Ive's new look for iOS 7: black, white, and flat all over

9to5mac is back with their usual dose of insider information on the next version of iOS. And it’s sounding like a doozy.

It’s exciting to think that Jony Ive has had the iOS and OS X teams working overtime to get his grubby impeccable hands all over this thing, both the interface and the functionality. Most of us had resigned to getting just a minor treatment in iOS 7 and having to wait a whole ‘nother year for the complete Ive experience, but this is sounding like Sir Jony isn’t wasting any time spring cleaning and getting the "DeForstallization" out of the way.

Some of these changes sound very inviting, like the Lock Screen and Home Screen tweaks. Others make me very wary, like the changing of the QWERTY and PIN keyboards. Game Center’s green felt and faux wood can go, but I may miss Newsstand’s wood shelves and Notes’ yellow pad. Notification Center sounds interesting, but I was hoping for something more creating than the now standard quick toggle widget (I’ll take it nonetheless). I don’t think we need a dedicated FaceTime app, though. Kinda negates the simplicity of it. iPads and iPods have that app because they don’t have the Phone app to have that functionality merged into.

As for focusing on the iPhone and not the iPad, I wouldn’t worry about that as iOS 7.1 could bring the rest of the changes over to the bigger screens.

But all of this must be done in good taste and for good reason, not simply because people are asking for a change. Change for change’s sake is rarely a good thing; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As much as I, too, am itching for a paint job it has to not be too drastic and has to keep iOS’s personality that has evolved over the years.

While some people may not have liked some of Apple’s textures and attempts at melding physical concepts into their digital apps, it’s been argued and explained countless times recently by so many people far more qualified in this area than I am in podcasts and blog posts (so many times actually that I’m not even going to link to any because you’d be here all day reading them) that these were necessary to guide everyone into this new paradigm in computing. The friendliness, familiarity, and—to some extent—playfulness of iOS is what drew flocks of people to it and how it amassed such an obsessed and dedicated following, drawing many converts over to the whole world of Apple who had shunned the company since their inception. Moms and Grandmas and babies can use it because it’s intuitive in both its function and its looks. We may not need it as much anymore as we’re 6 years into this revolution but these attributes are part of iOS’s DNA now and it could be disastrous to try to yank all of it out in one go. And that’s not just from a usability standpoint; if people like it and you take it away without replacing it with something that’s immediately and universally seen as a stark improvement they will revolt and you’ll have a mass exodus on your hands.

I’m sorely hoping Jony is exercising much restraint in his deft sweeping and forceful gutting as he is surely applying his artful brush strokes and keen aesthetics. The next two weeks will be a killer wait.

Why Is Siri Still In ‘Beta’?

Actually, these days “beta” usually means “Doesn’t do everything we want it to do yet.” Yes, some will define that as “has some bugs we want to fix first” while others will do what Apple is doing and say “we want to add more functionality first.” Anyone remember iWork.com?

Unfortunately, the company I work has a similar situation with a product. We have a software product that’s been in development for about 3 years (depending on how you count it) that has been available for use for at least 2 years but it still has yet to reach 1.0. It’s being advertised and sort of being sold—not in a very measurable way. But they still call it beta, for better or worse, because it doesn’t do everything they want it to do.

While I tend to agree with and prefer the more traditional definition of beta, I can totally see how the lines have been blurred. I believe it comes from the age of the internet and the ease of digital software deployment. Betas, alphas, and nightlies abound from countless vendors, both open and closed source but more common from open source. It’s fast and easy to throw something out there and then push an update whenever and however often you want, and most of your user base could be updated within hours especially if you have a required update mechanism. With the old method of software distribution this was literally impossible.

Beta is now the new “1.0”. Before, only the adventurous and geeks used 1.0 software as it was accepted that there would be many issues. Most would wait for a couple of updates or so to be released before even considering using a program. It would also take years longer for programs to be released in an effort to ship with as few bugs as possible. Now, there’s a common notion of “ship early and ship frequently” just to get something into people’s hands. In most cases it actually works out well but it can mean very early versions (beta/1.0) can still be unstable or incomplete, but gradually over time a robust and solid product can emerge, one that the public can use during that process. What label the initial version has is just semantics these days. Also, Google is a big culprit of causing the proliferation of “beta.”

Anyway, Apple is in the process of transitioning nearly all of their software products to more iterative releases including OSX and maybe some hardware, too (looking you, iPad). Smaller, cheaper, more frequent versions. But even with that, it can take quite a long time to get to something most would view as “substantial.” Final Cut Pro X is another good example of this effect and it was met with similar derision when it was first announced. If anything, maybe we’re lucky Apple didn’t call that a “beta.”

Should Apple be calling Siri “beta” at this point? Probably not. With iOS 6 came more robust features and more language support. I was expecting them to completely drop the Beta designation of Siri with it. While it’s still technically in “beta,” it looks like Apple may be trying to transition away from that. For example, look at the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 pages and their coverage of Siri. No beta there. It’s only still termed a beta feature on the dedicated Siri pages, and much less prominently at that. Maybe iOS 7 will take it out of beta entirely?

Lockscreen concept has... circle to unlock? What the...?

I haven’t posted anything for a while. Hasn’t been much worth posting about, but here’s something anyway.


iDownloadBlog has posted a number of “concepts” for iOS 7 recently. Some are okay, but not quite how Apple would do it yet might make an interesting jailbreak tweak to play with and try. And then there’s ones like this…

Circle Lockscreen Concept

PUKE! Wow, just totally awful. Cluttered, confusing, gaudy. So much information thrown in your face that it’s just unusable and therefore becomes less informative. Not intuitive at all. And while I understand it’s just a concept, there are TONS of usability questions unanswered here, like:

  • How do you know how to unlock the phone? The current slider tells you. This circle does not.
  • Are you limited to 3 notifications in the circle? What happens if I have 10?
  • Are you limited to only one widget at the bottom? If not, how do I get to others and how do I know that? How would I customize the the widgets?
  • There’s a lot here that looks like it’d be very easy to invoke accidentally. How do you prevent that if all of these are here all the time? Particularly the camera and Do Not Disturb. Accidentally turning on DND could be quite awful and cause me to miss very important timely information. And having the camera as just a button again is a step back from the current implementation.
  • What’s with the duplicate information with Messages? Inside the circle AND a widget below? No, thank you.
  • If this is showing all the time, what’s the point of having a background image on the lockscreen?
  • What does the circle look like if there aren’t any notifications?

And those are just some examples. I’m glad people are trying to rethink this type of thing, but this particular concept is the complete opposite direction of what Apple and iOS stand for–simple, clean, easy to use, and beautiful. Does Apple need to tweak the lockscreen? Maybe. I guess. If they must. Will it be like this? Dang, I hope not. Talk about driving people away…

Scott Forstall to leave Apple

Well this was unexpected and came out of the blue. But is it really that bad?

Apple announced today that Scott Forstall would be leaving the company “next year.” He’s considered the Father of iOS and the iPhone. He’s been around at Apple since NeXT and was close to Steve Jobs because of it. He’s done a lot of indisputably great work. It’ll be sad to see him leave but maybe it’s for the better.

Software development has an interesting nature. It’s difficult and never ever ever ever perfect—nothing made by infallible humans is. One person can make an incredibly awesome piece of software but quite often the original creator of it can only take it so far and it can’t reach its greatest potential without a significant amount of outside effort and maybe even a different person in charge to own it entirely. Any sane person who knows a thing about software would almost certainly agree.

So maybe it’s time for iOS to get some breathing room from its papa. And maybe with Forstall moving on to something else, the new stewards (in this case the genius Sir Jonathan Ive, proven Eddie Cue, and new-to-leadership but experienced Craig Federighi) can take the terrific foundation that is presently iOS 6 and mold it into something better. iOS 6 is still pretty much fresh out of the gate so there could be plenty of time for the combined awesome powers of the majority of everyone at Apple to put their heads together and really impress with iOS 7 next year.

Altogether exciting possibilities lay ahead for Apple. And hopefully Forstall can find something worthwhile to contribute to in the future. Maybe hook up with whatever Bertrand Serlet is working on?