Tag Archives: apple

The Dangers of Being a Platform

Andrew P. sent me this article Apple vs. the Web: The Case for Staying Out of Steve Jobs’s Walled Garden that makes a strong case for your media company to not develop (or at least not bet the bank on) an iPhone App as the way out of trouble.

Few companies actually know how to manage being a platform for an ecosystem and Apple is definitely not one of them. Remember this is company that’s never played well with others and has a deeply disturbing control freakishness to it. Much like Canadians are willing to tolerate the annoying traits of the federal NDP, consumers and developers were willing to tolerate these annoying traits as long as Apple was merely influencing the marketplace but not shaping it. As Apple’s influence grows, so to do the rumblings about its behaviour. People say nice things about Apple’s products. I don’t hear people say nice things about Apple. This is stage one of any decline.

Here, history could be instructive. Look back at another, much more maligned company that has a reputation of not playing well with others: Microsoft. Last year, I wrote this piece about how their inability to partner helped contribute to their relative decline. In short, after kicked around and bullying those who succeeded on its platform, people caught the message and stopped. Today Apple thrives because people elect to innovate on their platform. Because it has been interesting, fun, and to a much, much lesser degree, profitable. Take away the “interesting” and “fun” and/or offer up even a relatively interesting competing platform… and that equation changes.

Heck, even from a end user’s perspective the deal Apple made with me is breaking. Their brand is around great design and fun (think of all those cute fun ads). They still have great design, but increasingly when I think of Apple and the letter F comes to mind the word “fun” isn’t what pops into my head… its “fascism.” Personally I’m fairly confident my next phone will not be an iPhone. I like the phone, but I find the idea of Steve Jobs controlling what I do and how I do it simply too freaky. And I don’t even own a multi-million dollar media empire.

So being a platform is hard. It isn’t license to just print money or run roughshod over whoever you want. It is about managing a social contract with all the developers and content creators as well as all the end users and consumers. That is an enormous responsibility. Indeed, it is one so great we rarely entrust it to a single organization that isn’t the government. Those seeking to create platforms, and Apple, and Facebook especially (and Google and Microsoft to a lesser extent) would all do well to remember that fact.

Oh, and if you’re part of a media companies, don’t expect to saved by some hot new gizmo. Check out this fantastic piece by John Yemma, the Editor of The Christian Science Monitor:

So here’s my position: There is no future in a paywall. No salvation in digital razzle dazzle.

There is, however, a bold future in relevant content.

That’s right. Apple won’t save you. Facebook doesn’t even want to save you. Indeed, there is only one place online where the social contract is clear. And that’s the one you can create with your readers by producing great content. On the web.

My new mac – some thoughts for other PC users

As some of you know, I recently shifted from a PC to a Mac. It’s a big transition for me… I’ve used a PC all my life, so it is easy to say that I’m having a little (but not a ton) of culture shock.

I’ll be honest about the single best selling feature of the mac: Spotlight.

I do very few things on my computer. Mostly I write, I surf, and I email. A LOT of email. So first and foremost, having a computer where I can find my emails and documents easily is critical. When you’ve got over 70,000 emails you want to be able to search, well, neither Microsoft Outlook, any Windows desktop search engine I’ve ever seen, or even Google desktop (which essentially requires you to load a browser each time) is going to cut it.

I NEED to be able to find stuff quickly. Google has bred me with an expectation of instant results (not a slow churning solution). Maybe Windows 7 will get there, but I’ve given up waiting. My 5 year old thinkpad wasn’t going to last long enough for me to see.

Am I happy? Absolutely. One thing our Apple friends do well is design. I love the keyboard, the screen and pretty much everything physical about the machine. Moreover, the convergence of Mac & Windows software has made the transition relatively easy – I’d be frightened to think of how much time on my computer I spend on the browser, but it is a lot… so moving from Firefox to Firefox is pretty sweet.

That said, the transition hasn’t been perfect. There are several features on the Mac that have been frustrating, and even disappointing. For those thinking of making the leap I thought I let you know the rough parts; it shouldn’t dissuade you, just set some expectations that not everything in Macworld is peaches and cream. Of course, if some veteran users have solutions to these issues, I’ll be eternally grateful.

So here’s my list of 4 things I’d change on the Mac – some of these are so petty I’m almost embarrassed…

1. No “send to” email client option. One thing Windows has that I’ve not found on the Mac is the “Send To” folder. Drop any application in the Send To folder and when you right-click on a document you have the option of opening the document with that application. What I loved was being was being able to right-click on a document, send it to my email client and bingo! A new email was created with the document attached. Very productive and easy. Alas, no such luck in the Mac.

2. No “open container” option in spotlight. Yes, I love Spotlight AND… when the drop down menu is showing me a list of found items, why can’t I right-click on it and open the containing folder? Sometimes, I don’t know what document I’m looking for, but I do know it is co-located with a document I do know the title of… Just saying.

3. In Mail, you can’t drag an email to iCal to create an event. Best feature Outlook (and I presume Entourage) has that Mail and iCal don’t is the ability to turn an email into an event. I know that Mail has the funky – click on the date and it will create an event – but it rarely brings in the relevant information. In Outlook I simply dragged an email to the calendar and presto! I had an event in which the email contents were in the notes. That way I could easily copy all the relevant details and, had a ton of context I could quickly reference within my calendar.

4. Okay, so this one seems REALLY petty… but it strikes at something deeper, something important for PC users to know. I’m feeling a little annoyed that, in Mail, when I delete an email in my inbox the cursor always moves to the newer email regardless how the mail is sorted. In Outlook it always moved “down” (Which I had arranged to mean that it went to an older email). Small, I know, but it is driving me crazy when I’m dealing with my email. Of course, this is all part of what I understand to be a larger philosophical problem with Macs (and why I’ve never been an owner before) which is that the company is centered on the idea that it knows how you should use your computer better than you do… so customizing is limited. This is the biggest culture shift for PC users. Owning a Mac is like being in a gated community… its pretty and manicured, but you have to adhere to the community bylaws, or else…! Yes the Windows world has got serious medical issues (viruses), a generic corporate feel (Windows Themes) and a approach to planning that seems modeled after Houston (I say this with some affection) but you also had a lot more freedom to create trouble or solve things your way. At the moment, I’m welcoming my new overlord because it’s like my computer has been taken over by the Swiss! It’s efficient, but if I try to complain… well you get the point.

Pretty much everything else that I’m wrestling with. The way Alt-Tab works on the Mac or the fact that I can’t open press “command+F” to open the “File” menu are things that I know, in time, I’ll adjust to.

Making the shuffle better

My geek squad (or is it nerd herd?) suggestion.

I have an a iPod shuffle (which BTW) I love. And, as many of you know, I’ve committed myself to walking at least one direction to any meeting I have in Vancouver, no matter how far. As a result, I end up in some long walks, which I use as an opportunity to listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Shuffle

The problem is that some of the books, and even some podcasts, come as a single large file. If while listening, you accidentally push the forward button, you lose your place and have to spend the next 5 minutes fast forwarding through the mp3 to find your place.

I know, I know, I know… I could “lock” the buttons by pressing down the play/pause button for 3 seconds, but then I can’t adjust the volume – something that is essential when walking in the city and shift from busy main streets, to pleasant quiet side streets.

All this goes to say that it would be nice if the shuffle let you lock all the buttons except the volume buttons. Then you could increase and decrease the volume without fear of losing your place.

But then, I thought of something cooler. What if Apple let you reprogram their shuffle buttons however you saw fit? Say, for example, you only want your shuffle to skip to the next song if you click the fast forward button twice in quick succession… no problem, you just program it that way. Now that would be cool.

My assumption is that this type of reprogramming would not be that hard. Apple already allows you to limit the maximum volume of your shuffle. How hard can it be to hand over control of the other keys?

Anyone know anyone at Apple I could pitch the idea to?

Does Jobs really want to set my iPod free?

Will your music be set free? Will you be able to share your songs from iTunes, move them from machine to machine with impunity? Steve Jobs claims “he’d like nothing more.”

Yes, some of you may have read this note from Steve Jobs about the current and possible futures of digital rights management (DRM) in the music industry. For those, like me, who don’t dabble in acronyms like DRM on a regular basis, this basically refers to how online resellers like iTunes encode their music so that a) you are limited to copying it 5 times; and b) you can only play it on their proprietary system (like an iPod – ever tried playing a song from iTunes on something else… it won’t work).

Taken on its own Jobs’ note makes it look like he’s taking on the music industry unprompted, fighting for the little guy – the consumer (that’s me and you!). The truth is a little more complicated. Even this Herald Tribune piece, which has all the pieces to the puzzle, reverses cause and effect and buries the important parts at the back of the piece. The important fact is that Norway’s consumer ombudsman, Bjoern Erik Thon, told Reuters that Apple “must make iTunes music compatible with other players than the iPod by the end of September, or we will take them to court.”

Apparently, several European countries are proposing similar rulings. What makes this interesting (and my understanding of EU law could be flawed here – so please send me clarifications) are the EU’s rules around mutual recognition. Consequently, a ruling that found Apple violating consumers rights in one EU country could be quickly adopted across all the member states. If that happened, the theoretical future scenarios Jobs mentions in his memo would very quickly become the here and now options he would have to implement in a manner of weeks.

I have little doubt that Jobs would prefer to maintain the status quo. He’s got the dominant online music vendor that forces people to use his proprietary hardware. Do you really think he wants to give up this virtual monopoly? No way. Let’s be clear, this memo is the opening salvo in an effort to renegotiate iTunes agreement with the record labels in case the European regulatory environment changes (which is beginning to look very possible). Like any savvy negotiator he’d prefer to negotiate today, when he’s got options, as opposed to 7 months from now, when he’s got a gun to his head and the music labels are threatening to pull the plug unless he shares Apple’s proprietary licensing system – FairPlay – with everyone. Such an agreement would allow anyone to sell music that can play on an iPod effectively destroying his monopoly distribution arrangement.

Jobs isn’t a champion of the little guy – he just likes to look like he is. The change of heart outlined in this memo was not prompted by his concern for consumers but out of concern for the future of iTunes.

Thank you Nicolas T. for the HT link and the prompting email.

[tags]itunes, steve jobs, copyright, copyright law, music, negotiation, apple, ipod, DRM[/tags]

The iPhone – Apple Crumble?

A lot of hoopla being made here up north about Apple’s new iPhone. I admit I’m a bit of a contrarian, but I’m not sure what all the fuss is about or if Apple’s stock deserves the big bump it’s received from this announcement.

Like the iPod this item is targeted at consumers and not business people. This however, presents some interesting problems. US$500 is a lot of money to pay for what is essential a cell phone that will likely only last 2-3 years tops. Moreover, if you are at all interested in having email functionality on your phone (e.g. attention all blackberry users) it’s worth noting that the iphone lacks a key board. It is unclear how easy it will be to type out emails using a screen as a keyboard (Like Homer Simpson, I’m pretty sure my fingers will be too big to type on a key board displayed on the screen).

In addition, the iPod works because of its simplicity… it only requires one program (itunes) that is available and compatible across both the PC and Mac platforms. To make full use of the its functional a suer will have to sync their iphone with not only iTunes (no problem here) but also their email server or software and their calendaring software and their contact manager. That’s a lot of syncing and a great opportunity for things to go wrong – especially when, for most users, this will be across the windows-mac platforms. With luck Mac will make this all seamless and easy for the casual users – one hopes so because at the moment it is probably beyond the skills of the ordinary computer user. Don’t forget there is a whole industry of “sync providers” out there, non of whom have really squared the problem.

On top of all this is the problem that the iphone will only work on a GSM network. Consequently, if you buy the on your own it will only work on Rogers’ network in Canada and Cingular’s Network in the US, effectively locking you into one service provider. Alternatively, if you choose to buy the iphone as part of a subscription package from Cingular or Rogers you know they are going lock you into a 3 year contract.

Maybe Apple’s got all these issues figured out – if so great! It will put pressure on everybody else (like RIM) to get these features done right. If not… well I guess it won’t matter. I’m sure Apple’s stock will be fine and that no one will remember this terrible 7-day stretch of uncritical and dubious story choices that graced the cover of the Globe and Mail.

[tags]iphone, technology, apple[/tags]