iWatching

Interesting  article in today’ s AFR – margins being squeezed on Apple’s smartphones as the device becomes a commodity.

When I had my 1st generation Sony Ericsson P800 almost 10 years back, I could never have thought his $2500 gadget would one day become a commodity item… but then it happens to “us” all over time with Moore’s Law et al. Image

Surely Apple has to accelerate development of its’ iWatch now to break a new product category? (they’ve increased their R&D budget big time this year).

Or perhaps they’ll sit back as with the Smartphone market, let others lead (e.g. Sony – Dick Tracey-like which I posted here previously), and then roll out the category-defining product, and watch Google’s mish-mash solution grab market share.

Regardless – please hurry up! There’s only so much more life I can squeeze out of my iPhone4, reinvented with an awesome Book Book case. Except I look like a Mormon. Which I quipped to a guy last weekend, who awkwardly turned out to be a Mormon.

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iOSDroid – just work dammit!

Just work dammit!

Well then. I’ve been making a hooh-hah about the merits of the Koreans, robots and children’s candy (in a sign of the unstoppable behemoth of globalis(z)ation, I finally succumb to the American word for the Scottish “sweetie”). Read Samsung, Android and Jelly Bean.

It’s time for a new phone, the anticipated 2 year replacement.  In Sydney, Samsung has adopted the Applestore Strategy, and has opened up a huge airy, light store directly opposite the large Applestore (though I do have to say that I was in Shanghai recently and YAY impressed with the view of the Applestore from the top of the Oriental Pearl tower some 250m below, with the iconic fruit clearly visible in a submerged cylinder of glass).

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Applestore Shanghai over left shoulder on the glass floor at the top of the Oriental Pearl tower. Scared is not the word.

On my first visit to the Samsung store, I was blown away by Android, and by the form factor of the Galaxy Note 2. I loved the old school stylus, the bright screen, the clear browsing, the seemingly infinite customization of Android.

With the Note 2 coming out in the next month, I was resolved to drop Steve (peace be upon him) and set out on a new relationship with the Korean. I watched Samsung videos, looked up reviews, various websites, and even constructed a comparison spreadsheet of features and requirements, as all IT people should do with all affairs of the heart.

I wasn’t impressed with the specs of the iPhone 5 – despite speculation, I had hopd for something radically different. And less impressed with the tales of woe of iOS6 on existing phones (though as we speak I am currently installing on my iPhone 4 – fingers X!).

I dropped back into the Samsung store yesterday and checked out the Samsung offerings. I decided that the Note 2 was actually too large to be a real phone, and that in fact the stylus was decidedly inaccurate and gimmicky – a bit like those bloody annoying devices that couriers ask you to sign your name with in an even more illegible scrawl than your years-of-typing-not-used-to-writing handwriting.

And so to the Samsung phone. I played with Jelly Bean on the Galaxy S4 and couldn’t see a massive difference over the previous version – the “smoothness of scrolling” of Project Butter did not really impress me, as a new user. However, not a bad looking device – nice and bright, with a major selling point being an actual changeable battery, like every device other than an iPhone!

iPhone 5 and Galaxy Note

I thought I’d better give the iPhone a lookin, and popped into the glass Mecca opposite. A hive of activity – though noticeably not as much as you’d expect on the weekend of the release of the device. I got my hands on an iPhone and wasn’t massively impressed with the extra row of icons of real estate. It was blisteringly fast (on Apple’s in-store Wi-Fi of course) and the screen was, for want of a better word, retina-clear. No idea what the headphone jack is doing on the bottom, and I shudder to think where following the ex-Google maps app might take me, from all accounts.

But what struck me was the design of the thing and the lightness of it. Okay, the user interface now looks pretty dated (the static row of icons versus the bright animated backgrounds of Android) but hey the thing “just works” I thought.

Major language warning for the below video courtesy of The Onion – Sony releases a new and challenging product….

And I remembered that’s what brought me to Apple in the first place and the core (boom boom) value proposition of the company. An OS based on Unix, hardware and software made and jealously guarded by the company means control, but also means less glitches. I remember years of pissing around with PC hardware at work, with various compatability problems, drivers etc. and just wanting to come home to a computer that actually did stuff without more interrupt conflicts! A bit like a chef coming home and putting a microwave meal in the oven. And even then (2000 or so) without the full compatability with Windows, I’d pay a premium for that assurance.

And so it is with iPhone. I’ve bought into the Apple iCloud ecosystem – I know the lock-in of the game, but honestly, the iCloud and iPhone are an extension of my Mac. They just work. Some might call that lazy pig headedness, an ostrich mentality, but I’ve done my time with bleeding edge and patchwork solutions.

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Locked in to the core

A friend of mine, a long-time Apple fanboy, finally switched to an Android (in part I’m sure to an awesome promo with a pair of Beats headphones!). His first impressions – the key ones – are that the whole OS just isn’t as slick, intuitive or integrated an experience as iOS. Furthermore, he noticed several glitches, and more importantly mentioned a key issue that he said “no Android fanboy tends to talk about”.

Just as a combination of hardware, OS and apps brings you a Windows experience, a combination of hardware, carrier, OS and apps brings you your Android experience. On the Google Play app store he found a frustrating amount of apps which upon selecting “install” gave the message “sorry – this application is not compatable with your device”. Furthermore, he needs to wait for his handset provider and carrier to get their act together to fine tune Android Jelly Bean for his device before he can download it.

Similar compatability issues were apparent in the Samsung store. Asking about the Galaxy 4G the assistant apologetically mentioned that only one network supported 4G right now, the others requiring “configurations” to work with Galaxy handsets.

 That is not a good experience.

I am very much of the JFW (“just flippin’ work”) school when it comes to technology. Ironically, I find iOS to be very “corporate” against the fun and youthful Android phones, especially Samsung – a point they make in their cheeky anti-iPhone campaigns with the hip kids keeping place in line for their parents at the iPhone launch (55secs in):

But it got me questioning what I really want with a phone, the one device that you take EVERYWHERE with you …. a point not lost on Apple industrial designer Jonathan Ives, as he hammers home in the well-scripted website ad (read: argument!) for iPhone 5. I thought:

  • Compact and lightweight – iPhone 5 cuts this big time – I don’t know what I was thinking about with the Galaxy Note. I was walking along typing with one hand on my iPhone 4 this morning, and did notice this – no chance on a larger device (another subliminal plant from the iPhone 5 video!).
  • Durability – I want something solid that I’m confident I can knock around a bit! The Samsung is cheap and plastic feeling compared to the solid iPhone
  • One stop shop – handles ALL your comms, entertainment needs on the move – some people have a phone and an iPod Touch – why?!
  • Just bloody work – proven with iOS for me. I don’t need a gazillion different configuration options, and there’s only so much you can do with the form factor of a small mobile device. Some things are best done on the desktop, and that’s OK!
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The new faceless corporate – Google carrying the hammer?

A second comparison of the iPhone 5 with the Samsung Galaxy S3 and I guess Android for that matter, leads me to a different conclusion – Android looks like a childish sibling. OK the thing is attractive to look at, but iPhone hits all the points on the app grunt work, and is pretty much guaranteed to work seamlessly. This is ironic since Apple always marketed itself on the “youth” aspect, and the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ad poked fun at the boring, sensible world of the PC. Apple seizes this mantle over it’s more fun cousins now.

But it just bloody works. From 90% Samsung, I’ve swung back to 90% iPhone.

Now there’s the question of why I actually need a $1000 phone over iPhone 4 and iOS6…. and it’s just installed, seems OK …. let’s consider some opportunity cost….

iCrap

At Bloomberg this morning for a briefing with Apple execs for their global roadshow launching the new Bloomberg Anywhere iPad application.

This has the usual groovy native-developed graphics, stock watches etc. etc. taking advantage of the design feature in the touchpad device.

BUT THERE’S MORE – a biocard-protected Bloomberg Anywhere Citrix session on the iPad giving you the actual terminal right there on your iPad.

Right.

I find it amazing that in this day and age, we still have extremely expensive Bloomberg Terminals (note the decades old “terminal”) sitting on desktops in financial institutions everywhere linked by dedicated lines with strong redundancy, top level security…. and a green-screen GUI that must be 35 years old!!!!!  (alright, there’s some colour now in the fixed-width fonts, but come on!)

The irony was not lost on the Apple dudes. Once everyone had shuffled out the door I stayed back and had a wee chat, and they were somewhat more open on their opinions on having such a cool device as the iPad looking through a Citrix window to a shitty GUI, and wished Bloomberg had developed more natively rather than the “quick and dirty” solution.

I had a wee chat about the evolution of Apple Enterprise. In 2001, whilst working in San Francisco, I popped down to Infinite Loop and met with the Head of Apple Enterprise at the time to have a wee chat about what Apple could offer financial institutions.

Net result at that time was, short of a few reliable RAID servers, really bugger all. Expensive hardware, compatability issues with Windows, lack of natively written Financial applications, platform independent Java still in it’s infancy were all non-infrastructure management related no-no’s to knocking out some cool silver shit to the skyscrapers.

A decade later all changed (I REFUSE to say “the game has changed” – yeuch!).  Consumerisation fuels demand for the corporate to enable the cool device (as I did with Activesync, a wee step last year). Further progress with Execs buying cool shiny stuff and saying “ok IT guy, make this work better with my X application, how much?” is further driving Apple Enterprise across all businesses.

Enterprise fleet management is greatly improving ITIL stuff looking after mobile hardware, now treated as any other device accessing the Enterprise. Larger companies are getting in-house Apple Dev teams and business is booming…

Long may it continue! Perhaps Bloomberg might like to release a new version incorporating such innovative stuff as Raster Graphics? 😉