Category: Apple (Page 1 of 8)

Beat(s) It: What’s Up, Apple?

Hello again.

I am writing to you whilst listening to Metronomy on Spotify streaming from my iPad Mini using a Bose headset. Musical zen, so to speak. Earlier, I had the whole thing running via my Denon RCD-N7 with the Airplay patch (but using Mordaunt-Short speakers). Life is good.

Earlier today, I got my new iPhone 6. Spotify works on it. My Bose headphones fit into the headphone jack (but, why, of course).

What is my gripe about then, you ask? Well, you see, I hold about 5 Apple shares (that’s about it, honest). And said company has recently (well, not so recently anymore) spent some $3 billion on acquiring Beats, “that” company fronted by the much (and rightly) revered Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine, which sells mediocre (sorry, I meant to say, totally friggin’ awesome, headphones to sports superstars (and their fans). Oh, and they also have some sort of streaming service, apparently.

Mind you, my shiny new iPhone 6 nor my equally shiny new iOS 8 show any sign of a music streaming service. Or Beats. Or both. Or either. And today, the formidable (erm) TechCrunch ponders whether Apple may shut down the Beats streaming service (because of said absence of it on the new iPhone and iOS). And the mind boggles.

Let’s have a look at the lay of the land then:

There are a number of streaming services in the world. Spotify tops the charts, undoubtedly (unless your worldmap starts and ends in the US, then it’s probably Pandora). Their valuation is pegged somewhere at North of $10 billion. I do not know a single person that uses Beats streaming service (but then, I know, I am a middle-aged white European). However, my American friends, have you heard of Deezer? No, thought not. Alas, it has 20x the subscribers of Beats though (5m vs 250,000). Could you have bought them for $60 billion? I would guess so. But they don’t have the hardware or brand value, you say. And right you are. But, come on, a difference of nearly $57 billion for this? Really?

I would posit that the Beats acquisition was – a British technical term – complete bollocks. Let’s look further:

Here’s what Apple said (BTW, that Endgadget piece is enlightening on so many levels):

It was a no-brainer for us,” said Cue, outlining the three reasons in more detail. First, Cue says the Beats team is sensational, and will be a perfect fit for Apple; additionally, Dr. Dre is an incredible artist with an incredible ear.

$3.2b for a sensational team with an incredible ear. Yeah, right… Eddy Cue, you rule (or not).

Beats hardware is middle of the road at best (I know Dre would disagree, but he’d have to, no? He’s HipHop’s first billionaire because of it, doh…). For how much could you have had, say, Sennheiser (surely a good fit on hardware), a conservative, German, family-owned company? Would a bid of $3.1b have sealed it? Of off-shore money (which would’ve, what, halved that cost? Mmmh, I wonder (that’s a yes). See, the main (and a super-impressive feat at that) of Beats was its marketing and branding prowess. But Apple really doesn’t have anything it needs in that department, does it? It is the world’s most powerful brand (more than 2x its nearest competitor).

So what is our conclusion, half-way? Apple bought a brand (it didn’t need) that produces mediocre hardware (the one part where Apple always excelled and led everyone else) with the add-on of a also-ran streaming service. $3.2b worth? Erm,  no! And now we are hearing that they’re going to shut down that streaming service (which desperate Apple lovers had quickly termed the main rationale of the genius Apple pulling off another one), You see, Apple has never been great in M&A. T (I’m available). <sigh/>

Next-Gen Mobile Computing

So now I am no longer affiliated with a mobile platform provider, I can again afford to have a wider look at the world out there (publicly, that is), and how timely, huh? With Microsoft buying some of the remains of the once mighty Nokia and the iPhone 5S announcement, we have a bit to play with, I suppose.

Apple then? Are you underwhelmed? Hey, you can have it in blingy gold now, you know? Do you love the new design of iOS 7 (and, yes, we all know they “sought inspiration” from Windows, etc.)? Or do you turn away in disgust that the guys from Cupertino managed again to sprinkle pixie dust in their fanboys’ and girls’ eyes?

64 Bit and ARMv8

I tell you what, the (r)evolution sits elsewhere: I would posit that the switch to a 64 bit architecture plus iBeacon (see below) will have the biggest impact. Here’s why: the chip architecture (not only the 64 bit bit but also the ARMv8 stuff) offer some performance boosts today but, more importantly, set the stage for tomorrow: you can do a lot more with this (from RAM going over 4GB, to using Trustzone, ARM’s response to BlackBerry Balance – offering two virtual processors and hence “spaces” on one phone, so you can play Angry Birds on one side without your IT folks getting grey hair over compromising precious enterprise data on the other). But it also sets the stage for using your phone as the center point of your computing life: it is powerful enough to do all this (heck, it has more power than my wife’s MacBook from 5 years ago – other than RAM, for now, that is). In effect, you will be carrying the power of a proper desktop computer. More on why this matters later.

BLE and iBeacon (and NFC?)

Add iBeacon then. Another fancy Apple marketing term, right? Well, yes, because it is basically part of package that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (or “BLE”; it’s official branding is “Bluetooth Smart” now; see here for an overview), which was deployed first by – gasp – Nokia in 2006 (!) and is also present in the BlackBerry Z10, Q10 or the stunning Z30 – all of which also sport NFC on top). The HTC One has it, too, and a few more. So what’s the big deal? Well, BLE was always a big deal: the low-energy bit means you can run peripherals that can interact with your phone that will run for years on a single small battery. The range is better, too. And all of a sudden, you are looking at something which I have been hallucinating about for the past ten years: your phone as the center of your computing needs: you walk out of the door (yes, you can lock that door with your phone, too) and you have everything with you: files, photos, music, the whole thing. You walk into your office, your phone will pick up the BLE signal from peripherals such as keyboards, monitors, a mouse (or touchpad), connects with them and you have your office computer running. You come home (yes, again unlocking your fancy door), and it will connect with the same set up (or your TV if you don’t want an additional screen scarring your interior design approach) and you have all your stuff on there, too. Your central processing unit was in your pocket all the time…

It will be interesting to see if this will kill NFC. Google has supported NFC and only recently announced BLE support for Android 4.3. Some manufacturers (BlackBerry, Samsung, HTC) support both. But BLE’s advantage is two-fold: low energy and proximity. You see, NFC only works in close range (hence the name, I guess: “near-field” communication). This can make it a bit awkward: you have to be close (any London travelers will know that: you have to get that bloody Oyster Card out of the depth of your bag/pocket/wallet to make it work; imagine you could just walk through continuing to hold your Latte and free Metro paper, taking it all in your stride). In other words: BLE is a lot more Appelesque than NFC. It doesn’t only provide the functionality (connecting device A with peripheral B) but it also does it in the most unobtrusive and somewhat stylish way.

1 + 1 = 3+

So let’s put the two together then: you have a desktop computer in your pocket and have an invisible cable connecting you to the things you need to actually also use it as a desktop computer (or laptop). What more would you need, right? Yes, exactly, nothing.

Now, mind you, Apple wasn’t first with this (whatever their marketing folks pre- or post-Steve may want you to believe). There has been the Motorola Atrix, which was the dernier crie at CES a couple of years ago: a phone with a laptop dock and off you were with a full computer. Well, you had a keyboard, laptop screen and access to a browser. Alas, it didn’t have the power of a normal PC, so wouldn’t do the full trick (read the reviews on Amazon’s product page to get an idea). For an up-to-date version, have a look at the Motorola Atrix 4G.

The thing is this: as most reviewers will tell you, Motorola did not give you the comfort of a computer, only a more comfortable and more feature-rich way to run stuff.

Apple wouldn’t do that (not even in the post-Jobs era, I would think). And this is why the 64 bit architecture matters: because that *could* deliver just that (even if it might not do so yet, which is though not down to the hardware but the lack of application software). Fast forward not very much and that might be done. And then you would have what the Atrix wanted to be (and, believe me, I was very impressed when I saw it in Las Vegas on that cold January day in 2011).

There’s More…

Let us now have a very brief glimpse at the one feature Apple gave a lot more attention to during its 5S keynote, namely that fingerprint reader. In itself, it is more of a geeky delight: don’t we all love it (well, unless you hate Apple)? But do we have anything functional to do for it other than all of us now duly locking our phones (though iOS7 now forces you to do that anyway) as we should? Well, not that much.

Alas, bring back the memories of that computer in your pocket connecting to those peripherals and then add authentication by finger-tip. Now that’s looking better, doesn’t it? All of a sudden, that makes sense, huh? You can log into your company’s enterprise e-mail – by fingerprint, you can make those PayPal payments – by fingerprint, you can log into your Facebook account – by fingerprint (no more posting nasty or just not so very funny status updates in other people’s Facebook accounts), etc. It closes the circle of mobile-centric computing.

Fear Not: Not Only Apple

Of course this is not Apple country. As I pointed out above, many manufacturers had these things before. Apple however – and that deserves a hat tip even from the trenches of the haters – has (yet again) shown its capability of packaging things in a way that make them comprehensible to people who do not fancy setting up for hours on end, who want stuff to just work. Unlike the Atrix it is not only “almost” working, it does work. Unlike Oyster, you don’t have to touch, you just need to be there. If only my old folks at BlackBerry had that marketing department…

But we will see similar solutions from many folks. They’re not daft, you see (phew!). From Apple’s perspective, it might have managed to escape the Innovator’s Dilemma once more. This, alas, is no guarantee for the future… For now though, I reckon we might be seeing glimpes of the next generation of mobile computing and, boy, am I excited! 🙂

Apple, Bubble Designs? Dude, We Can Do That!

Today is a day where I have to sing our own praise a little. Today, as some of you will know, Apple released iOS 7 into the wild. I will spare you a wider critique (I reckon there will be plenty of them out there). But one thing caught my eye. Given my historical interest in social gaming platforms (after all, Scoreloop did a lot of the things – and better – that Apple tried to mimic with Game Center), I went to have a look how they re-designed it (Jony Ive’s hues and all). Now, not only is the dreaded felt gone (phew!) but also did they adopt a playful bubble design. Fits the image and all, right?

Now, it did look somewhat familiar though. And then it struck me: it is very similar to the design approach our very own Blue Beck took when we (well, our teams as I didn’t do much) designed the app for Three, the UK network operator. Compare for yourself (left our Three app, right Apple Game Center):

I actually think, we did the colour scheme a lot nicer! I am still not a fan of Jony’s hues, I’m afraid (though I like the more “contemporary” feel of the new iOS generally…). You can, incidentally, download it here:

And so, tonight I would like to sing the praise of our wonderful team at Blue Beck and our esteemed client Three (on whose style guide we based the design) and will sit with a smug face and think that Apple “borrowed” (which they probably didn’t, but hey) from our own design prowess. Carleton, Dose, Rick, Pete, you rock (and, of course we always knew that), and tonight is the night to call it out! (and, to the rest of the Blue Beck team: so do you – just don’t get the hang of them hues, OK?).

Hail the kings of Blue Beck castle! 😉 (and if you haven’t realised: full disclaimer: I am a shareholder and director of Blue Beck).

Mobile Gaming today: about whales, self-publishing and the like…

Didn’t the world change and quickly? Only a few years ago, mobile games worked like a supermarket: if you have shelf-space, you rule. The early kings of mobile gaming 1.0 (which many users today won’t even know about) were the ones that “owned” the relationships with mobile operators (or carriers if you prefer that word), OEM and the like. Those relationships guaranteed that you would be in front of consumers. Those of your competitors who didn’t? Well, tough luck. Today, the picture is very different. There were a few waves since those early days: the Wild West days of iOS and Android (which didn’t happen simultaneously but with similar patterns), the rise and fall of the Zynga empire (and folks who thought that that approach would cure all [business] evils of gaming and, in its latest pattern, the rise of Supercell, Kabam and King and the scratching of heads (and lay-offs of people) in a lot of other gaming outfits.

So what’s this all about then? Now, I won’t be able to offer you the full Monty in just one small blog post (it’s bloody late already) but there are a few pointers that show both the opportunities but also the pitfalls of the whole thing.

Fun Matters

Ilkka Paananen is the CEO of Supercell who are, arguably, the undisputed money-spinners these days. $2.4m/day is their benchmark, and that was a while back. In Q1/2013, they made $179m in revenues and $109m in operating profits (or so says the FT). Their two (!) games ride comfortably in the top-5 of the top-grossing charts of Apple all around the world, sometimes #1 and #2, sometimes #2 and #4 but never far off… When asked, Ilkka (who is as nice a person as you’ll ever meet) will always tell you that fun is what matters first and foremost (and I reckon this is what young master Pinkus wishes he had known earlier…). Ilkka managed to combine a dream of the free-wheeling nature of the likes of Valve, Inc. with the experience he gained in running as tight a ship as Digital Chocolate who, from the olden days of mobile gaming, were amongst the ones who had perfected the tightly-strung mastery of processes and engines. The result were – now famously – a number of canned projects plus two of the most profitable games (on an ROI basis) produced ever.

Alas, Ilkka will tell you that fun matters. If your game is rubbish and no fun, no one will like it, at least not longer term. Some earlier appstore succresses might have wanted to take note… It is an important bit to remember though: games are part of the entertainment side of things. And entertainment is about fun. No fun = no (long-term) success. There is only so much conning you can do…

Marketing is Part of Design

In the olden days, you had developers and suits. The former had grand ideas and the latter were a pain in the rearside. The success of a game always was due to the former and the success was always claimed by the latter. Now though, even the geekiest of developers has realized that you need to market efficiently if you want to be successful (which also means that your company has a chance of survival). Here’s a post you should read in this respect (it is a bit patronizing but there is a lot of good – if harsh – insight there nonetheless).

Building Brands is Cool (and Hard)

So, let’s go and build a brand, right? Because then we can replicate things, right? I mean, Rovio did this with Angry Birds, right? Yes, they did. How many others do you know who did? Not very many, right? Because, you know, it is not easy. Many tried (and are trying). Many see some traction. None I know of have had counterfeited bobble hats sold in San Francisco so far (yes, there are hand-knitted Angry Birds beanies on sale every weekend at the farmers market at the Ferry Terminal in SF! No, I haven’t seen beanies of the Cut-the-Rope frog yet…).

If you can get it right (and there is some magic (and hard work required), building an entertainment brand is insanely rewarding (just ask Walt Disney, George Lucas, Stan Lee, etc.). However, it is also very hard to do. And it is not for the faint of heart. So think twice… Oh, and hire the right people (two of Rovio’s rockstars just started his own thing in this realm. Go, Andrew!).

Those Bloody Whales

There was a time when only one-legged near-pirates hunted whales. Nowadays every game developer and their dogs (or cats or rats or pet hedgehogs do). According to Forbes, here’s (well, below) is why. Those are the folks who bring in the money. By my reckoning, the numbers Forbes calls out are not actually the industry benchmark but – perhaps – an averaged out number. This means that, if you’re good at what you do, you should be pulling in a lot more than what their article has you believe you should. And that is something that can be a little daunting. So, kids, there goes your easy career in game development…

Before I link to this Forbes thing then: it is not easy, mind the fun, get some kudos to them suits and be in for the ride… 😉

Here’s the Forbes article (from which I copied the infographic below and where you can get the fully scalable version).

The Power of Platforms (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at the power of platforms. In that post, I tried to trace the line from the shift of platform power and suggested that (in mobile) after carriers and operating systems, we would now be looking to services and applications. I specifically pointed out the shift that Apple’s initial break-up of the first powerhouse, the network operators (or carriers if you prefer that term) was under threat from Android, which itself struggled with a number of things.

Android has the challenge of platform fragmentation (and Tim Cook had some scathing remarks and stats as to that tonight). So our current poster-boy rushes to make use of the time lent to it whilst the others are busy with fragmentation (Android) and new platform roll-outs (Microsoft and, yes, BlackBerry).

Apple Reacts

Now, today, Apple showed us that it understands this thing (unless it was incidental but I doubt that): the products it presented at its annual WWDC weren’t so mindblowing if you’re not an out-and-out fangirl (OK, maybe with the exception of the new Mac Pro; that was pretty cool). But aside from that, they showed overdue UI adaptations and slick weather apps plus they borrowed a little bit from Microsoft (gasp!) on the “flat design” (which shouldn’t have been that big a surprise as I’m sure this was the first time that Sir Jony Ive looked longingly to Redmond) as well as from BlackBerry (even bigger gasp!) on the innovative (and insanely useful) gesture controls, which make life a lot easier on a small screen (and I would argue that the BlackBerry Hub is a whole lot more useful than the bits and pieces Apple showed us tonight).

Tight Service Tie-ins

However, the big one was not in these rather cosmetic changes (unless you believe the “biggest, best, boldest” ever rhetoric of the Apple execs. It was deeper and more profound but also such that one doesn’t necessarily want to harp about it all that much (and you’ve got to hand it to them: boy, do they run product presentations well). If you watch the video of the presentation again, you will realise this was mostly about tying in services and applications: Air Drop, iWork on iCloud (might work if they only would get Pages and Numbers up to scratch; hyped about Keynote though, so I can finally force my 80 MB decks down people’s throats on Windows machines…), iTunes (with radio or not), improvements on mail, calendar, etc., sharing options that include Facebook and Twitter out of the box, etc, etc all do one thing: they tie into the platform better. They deliver additional hooks that make it harder to switch to someone else. And that is smart.

This will work as long as there is no application or service platform evolving that may choose someone else – perhaps (gasp!) even to the exclusion of iOS. Because, you see, Apple for the time being only (!?) leverages its current OS platform power. It “only” makes use of the might it has from the previous regime in order to carry it into the next one. It does so better than most (all?) at the moment but it is still a crutch, and a crutch won’t win you a race. And hence I will sit waiting and watching. Because OS is not the last frontier of platform domination!

#justsayin’

The Power of Platforms

Mary Meeker has just released her almost iconic annual “Internet Trend” report. In it (on slide 7), she points out that 88% of the smartphone OS share is now “made in USA”. Now, this might be good for the patriotic US soul but it signifies a much more important thing and that is the shift from carrier control to platform control. If you are an EU politician, you may lament that the current winners are from North America, but the fundamental shift does not actually depend on it (there will be Canada on the map next year again, and we may well see some Asia-led one, too).

The forced break-up by Apple

The introduction of iOS by Apple moved the access to the ultimate customer, the end user, from carrier to platform owner. With hindsight, carrier execs are probably pulling their hair out that they allowed this but they were falling all over each other when Apple came out with its shiny iPhone back, when?, in 2007.

This introduced a monstrous disruption in the telecoms industry as it marked a move from where carriers could dictate what they would or would not allow over their networks to being virtually at the mercy of the platform owners. It was, however, less about the shiny devices (though it helped their market cap to untold heights) but more about the platform approach. And therefore, Apple was, of course, quickly joined and then swiftly overtaken by Android. Today, they now rule the roost (though Apple is fast falling behind).

The Power of (Somewhat) Open Systems

Seen from today, a lot of criticism of the early leader, Apple, is centered around closed systems. People complain that iOS is too restrictive and does not allow them to do what they want to do (take any number of services, be it iCloud, iMessage, Game Center or anything else – they only function on Apple devices). Alas, back in 2007, that didn’t sound so bad. Because, you see, back then there was a) hardly any interaction and b) the one there was was restricted in “my” (haha) carriier network. But then, who cares, right? My friends are on any number of networks, and they change frequently, too. The carriers, however, thought that they could tie people in. Hell, some even thought they could become cool (anyone remember Vodafone Live!?). But that should not happen. And therefore the world changed.

Then came Android and, with it, the ability to dip into an even larger ecosystem, namely Google’s. I mean, who doesn’t use them, right? And with their “don’t be evil” motto, they took it up another notch. The Apple users were thenceforth fanboys and irrational, high-spending hipsters. Proper geeks would go with Android. Now though Google also starts showing signs of wanting to rule the world. The don’t be evil thing hasn’t been heard for some time

The Next Step?

And if you go through Ms Meeker’s deck a little further, you’ll find a lot of slides where Sina Weibo, Tencent, Amazon, eBay, etc feature. And you know what? Neither those companies nor their users give a toss whether the service is being delivered on iOS, Android, BlackBerry 10 or otherwise. They just want their service. And this is the challenge the current platform owners have (and it might sound vaguely familiar to the one carriers had): how to keep your users tied into your platform? It started of on the “it’s easier, better, simpler” lure. However, on most both iOS and Android people now start to realise that that might not be so: why does Google force me into a Gmail account (or is it Google+ now?) in order to get the most out of my shiny new phone? Why does Apple not allow me to share XYZ with my friends independent of what handset system they choose to use? This, incidentally, is why it makes insane sense for BlackBerry to release its BBM solution across other operating systems, too… (but this will be the only corporate plug today).

In short, when you look at the overall ecosystem, people want Facebook, Twitter, Sina Weibo, Line, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Skype, WhatsApp, you name it. They don’t really care where. Does this sound familiar? The first iPhone users went to AT&T because they were it was the only carrier that had it. Today, they’d scoff at a carrier that doesn’t have it (just ask Sprint, they allegedly struck a [too?] rich deal to get it).

What this means is that, in the (near) future, it will be less about operating systems (come on, who cares about them?) but more about actual applications. So what’s the winning one? Facebook? Twitter, Skype? I’d argue there’s more to come. We’ve heard of Line, Kakao. So what about Alibaba (check slide 69 on Ms Meeker’s deck), or Tencent’s We Chat (slide 65)? It is services and products users crave. These are platforms all right! The only reason they went for the platform owners was that they had better access routes than the (previous) incumbents. Now though they might have called in old Goethe’s Faust:

Do you not see the ghosts I’ve called?
Came in the night when I was asleep.
Here in the dark far too big.
The ghosts I’ve called won’t let me go. 

So then, dear friends, what next?

Top 5 Handset OEMs 2001-2010 / Infographic

Nice infographic from the good folks over at Visionmobile on the largest handset OEM of the last 10 years (by volume of handsets – not market cap, margins or anything else, OK?).

And if the numbers are right, RIM and Apple became “mainstream” in 2010 for the first time, Nokia hangs on to its #1 spot with some 150m  (!) units ahead of #2 (but on what handsets and for how much longer?), Samsung keeps charging, and, oh, does anyone remember Siemens? No, thought so…

Top 5 handset OEM

 

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