Copyright and 3D Printing: A Fight the Makers Can Win

Photo: MakerBot Replicator
on January 26, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Will homemade 3D objects be the next intellectual property battleground. Perhaps, bit this time the fight will be very different because the makers, not the owners, have the legal high hand.

Photo: MakerBot Replicator
The MakerBot Replicator

3D is one of most exciting technologies to emerge in a long time. Machines using inkjet-like technology lay down precise layers of material. If you can create a file describing an object, and programs such as Autocad and Mathematica can do this automatically, you can print it.

High-end printers can create objects in aluminum, stainless steel, and ceramic. Simpler units, such as the $2,000 MakerBot Industries Replicator can print objects in two colors of ABS plastic.

The Pirate Bay blog waxed rhapsodic about the prospect:

We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three-dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare parts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.

But it turns out that replicating objects is far from piratical for the simple reason that no existing form of intellectual property protection covers most physical objects. The only 3D objects off any sort on the Copyright Office’s list of protected works are sculptures and architecture. You can trademark something like the Nike swoosh and the concept of trade dress provides some protection to designs, but the fashion industry learned decades ago that neither copyright nor trademark could stop design knockoffs, such as a mass market version of a couturier dress. Patents could provide limited protection but it is very hard to use a patent to protect a part.

In the past, this gap in IP coverage wasn’t much of an issue. Skilled machining and toolmaking were too expensive for knockoff parts to be economic. Only where there was a opted rial for large sales, such as automotive crash parts that mimicked original body panels, did copying parts make sense.

The coming of 3D printers and other equipment, such as inexpensive computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools has drastically changed the landscape. I think it is unlikely that printed objects will ever be cheaper than standard mass production, but scanning and printing replacement parts, profitable items for many manufacturers, will become common.

I’m sure there will be attempts to restrict scanning and copying of physical objects. (Efforts to win copyright protection for objects such as laser printer toner cartridges by embedding chips with ostensibly copyrightable code have failed miserably in the courts.)But one important lesson of the (so far) successful fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act is that it is a lot easier to stop a law than to pass one. This time the makers sand a good chance of winning.

Where Have All The Profits Gone? Gone to Apple, Every One

on January 25, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes

A few years ago, folks in tech used to worry that all the profits in the PC industry were being scarfed up by Microsoft and Intel and that the crumbs left to PC makers would be insufficient to fund any innovation. For companies not named Apple, those were the good old days.

Chart: Apple per share earningsApple’s  blowout December quarter was stunning enough viewed in isolation. But it is even more striking in comparison to the rest of the industry. Apple’s revenues of $46.2 billion blew past Hewlett-Packard’s $32.3 billion to make it the industry leader by sales. But the real story is profits. Apple’s net of $13.1 billion was just a hair less than the earnings of Microsoft, Intel, HP, and Dell combined.

For a little historical perspective, in 2006, Apple earned just under $2 billion on sales of $19 billion for the entire year. Microsoft and Intel combines for sales of $80 billion and profits of $18 billion.  (M.G. Siegler at TechCrunch has a host of other Apple-industry comparisons.)

Apple’s growth and stunning profitability is obviously wonderful news for the company and its shareholders. And there are no signs that its remarkable run is over. The growth rate of the December quarter is unsustainable, but that is a reflection of the strength of one three-month period, not an indication of any weakness.

But the concentration of the tech industry’s profitability in one company is a potential problem for the industry as a whole. Apple is a wonderfully innovative company that has, year after year, come out with the most interesting products in tech. And the iPhone and iPad have spawned a whole ecosystem of successful third-party products.

Innovation, especially in hardware, requires talent, imagination–and money. Apple’s cash hoard–by now over $100 billion–allows it to do things that competitors cannot even think about.

It’s not a healthy situation to have all the innovation coming from one company, no matter how brilliant. But the razor-thin margins of Apple’s competitors make risk taking difficult. Consider the sad case of HP and the TouchPad. Executives of HP’s Personal Systems Group saw webOS and the TouchPad as a way to both challenge Apple and to free the company from the domination of Microsoft.  PSG chief Todd Bradley saw this as a fight of  “years, not months.” But looking at startup costs in the billions and a lack of instant success, HP’s top management got cold feet and killed the project before it had a chance. A lot of this had to do with HP’s tumultuous internal politics,  but the fact that the company earns eight cents on every dollar of revenue  while Apple nets 29 cents  has to have been an important factor in its skittishness. The problem is the vicious cycle, in which a financial squeeze cripples innovation which damages the prospects for growth.

It’s hard to see how this situation changes anytime soon. Perhaps Google, which has margins even better than Apple’s though it is a much smaller company, can use some of its profits to turn stodgy Motorola Mobility into an innovation engine, assuming that it completes its planned purchase. Maybe the partnership of Nokia and Microsoft will produce something wonderful. But for the foreseeable future, expect Apple to expand its dominance.

Even With a Huge Quarter, Apple is just getting Started

on January 24, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes

– Apple’s $13 billion quarterly profit is second-biggest in U.S. history. Only topped by Exxon’s $14.8 billion in 2008

– 97.6 billion in cash that AAPL has is higher than the market value of 476 of the companies in the S&P 500

– Apple sold more iPads than HP sold PCs. – HP PC sales 15.123m, iPad 15.43m

– 315M iOS > 250M Android

Quotes from Tim Cook:

“I believe there will come a day when tablet market by unit is larger than the PC market”

“Apple TV is not just a product but a strategy for the next decade. ”

“There is cannibalization of the Mac by the iPad”, but Apple thinks the cannibalization is much worse on the Windows PC side.

I think it’s remarkable that we’ve sold 55m iPads and we’ve only been in the business since April 2010.

After Apple’s blow out quarter, setting records in nearly every category, there is going to be talk and speculation that Apple is peaking. But really, how can Apple beat this quarter they just had? Especially with such fierce competition right? Wrong, Apple is just getting started.

Think about this last year and quarter for Apple. Apple had a record blowout quarter on incremental product upgrades. What if Apple release all new Macs, iPhone, and iPads in 2012? Tim Cook answered the question of how Apple can keep this up. The answer–innovate.

There are still industries for Apple to disrupt. | Four Industries Apple Can Still Disrupt | There are still new products to be made for new types of customers. We are only half way through this 50+ year journey of bringing technology to the masses.

Not to mention new markets. Apple is just scratching the surface in Asia and the Apple brand is one of the most desirable in all of Asia. Consumers in Asia, and China in particular, have an insatiable appetite for Apple products. One could make quite a compelling argument that China consumer may even have more demand for Apple products than the US.

What is my biggest take away from this call? Lots of OEMs better get their tablet strategies in order.

The Dell XPS 13: An Ultrabook that Could Steal Customers From Apple

on January 24, 2012
Reading Time: 7 minutes

If you are in the high-tech industry and haven’t heard of the term “Ultrabook”, you’ve probably been on sabbatical or have been living under a rock. Intel introduced an industry-wide initiative to re-think the Windows notebook PC, which they have dubbed and trademarked the “Ultrabook”. Launched at Computex 2011, Ultrabooks are designed to be very thin and light, have good battery life, have instant-on from sleep, be more secure and have good performance. If you want to see the details on what constitutes an Ultrabook, let me direct you to an article I wrote in Forbes yesterday. Does this sound a bit like a MacBook Air? This is what I thought about the entire category until Dell lent me their Ultrabook, the Dell XPS 13, for a few days. I have to say, I am very impressed and believe they have a winner here that could take some business from Apple. I don’t make that statement lightly as my family is the owner of three MacBooks and I do like them a lot.

Dell plays hard to get
When Ultrabooks were first introduced in July, Dell was somewhat silent on their intentions. Typically Dell is locked arm in arm with Intel many steps of the way. When they didn’t introduce an Ultrabook by the back to school selling season, “industry people” started to ask questions. When Dell didn’t release one by the holiday selling season, people were asking, “what’s wrong with the Ultrabook category”, or “what is Dell cooking up”?

I thought they were waiting for Intel’s Ivy Bridge solution that was scheduled for earlier in the year. Whatever Dell was waiting for doesn’t matter, because they did nothing but impress at CES. During the Intel keynote with Intel’s Paul Otellini, Dell’s vice chairman Jeff Clarke, stormed on-stage with some serious Texas swagger. The video cameras at the CES event didn’t do the Dell XPS 13 justice as it’s hard to “get” the ethos of any device on camera, but with Jeff Clarke and Paul Otellii on stage, you knew it was important to both companies. In my 20+ years as PC OEM and technology provider to OEMs, I believe the only way to really “get” a product is to live with it as your primary device for a few days. And that’s just what I did.

Industrial Design
It’s apparent to me that Dell took their combined commercial and consumer experience and put it to good use. Rather than just follow Apple, HP or Lenovo, they put together what I would call the best of both worlds. The machined aluminum frame adds the brawn and high-brow feel, while the rubberized carbon-fiber composite base serves to keep the user’s lap cool and reduce weight. The rubberized palm rest provides a slip-proof environment that adds serious precision to keystrokes and trackpad gestures. It also provides a slip-proof mechanism for carrying the unit across the house, the office, or into a coffee shop. In a nutshell, Dell solved my complaints about my MacBook Air and made it look, feel and operate premium.

Instant-On
I give Dell and Intel credit for working together to make Windows 7 PCs almost “instant on”. The XPS 13 turned on and off very quickly thanks to Intel Rapid Start and Dell’s integration. I wasn’t able to use Smart Connect, but when I can use the XPS 13 for a few weeks I want to try this out. This is essentially a feature that intermittently pulls the XPS out of sleep state and pulls in emails and calendar updates. While this is as close a PC will get to “always on, always connected”, it is a decent proxy.

Ingredient Branding and Certifications
Historically, the typical Windows-based PC with all its stickers looks like a cross between a Nascar racing car and the back of a microwave oven. That doesn’t exactly motivate anyone to shell out more than $599 for a Windows notebook. There are no visible stickers on the XPS 13 and the only external proof of Intel and Microsoft is on a laser-etched silver plate on the bottom of the unit. Underneath the plate are all the things users usually ignore like certifications.

Keyboard and Trackpad
I never quite understood how little evaluation time users spend on what ends up being one of the most important aspects of a notebook; the keyboard and trackpad. I already talked about the rubberized palm rest that gives the XPS 13 a stable palm base for the keyboard and trackpad. My palms slip all over the place with my MacBook Air. The XPS 13’s keyboard is auto backlit and the keys have good travel and a firm touch. The trackpad feels like coated glass and supports all of the Windows 7 gestures. Clicking works by either physically clicking the trackpad down or gently tapping it. It’s the user’s choice.

Display
The display is 13.3″ at a very bright 300 nits at 1,366×768 resolution. It’s an edge to edge display (or nearly), which allowed Dell to design a 13.3″ display into around a 12″ chassis. I compared it to a MacBook Air and it is in fact narrower with the same dimension display. That is very impressive. I would have preferred a higher-resolution display but I don’t know if many users will make a huge deal out of this. The display is coated with Gorilla Glass which gives some extra added comfort knowing it will be up to the task of my kids accidentally scratching it up.

Ports
Compared to some of the other Ultrabooks, I applaud Dell for removing some of the ports that I am certain primary research said were “must-haves.” Must haves like a VGA port, 5 USB ports, and an ethernet port. (yawn) Users get a Displayport, one USB-3, one powered USB-2, and a headphone jack. The only port I would have preferred was a mini or micro HDMI port. Displayport guarantees that I will need to buy a cable or an adapter I don’t have. I can live without the SD card reader but it sure would have been nice if they could have fit it inside.

Battery Life
I am still very skeptical on most battery life figures of any battery-powered product. One exception is the Apple iPhone and iPad, where Apple goes out of their way to provide as much detail as possible for different use cases. With that caveat, I do believe the Dell XPS 13 will have very respectable battery life figures versus other Ultrabooks and the Apple MacBook Air. Dell says the XPS 13 will achieve nearly 9 hours of battery life, well above Intel’s target of between 5 and 8 hours.

One of the sexier features harkens back to the days of Dell batteries, which had buttons to gauge how much was power was left. Like the Dell batteries of yesteryear, press a small button on the side (not back) of the XPS 13 and it will light up circles to show how much battery you have left. That shows a dedication to useful innovation, not penny pinching bad decisions made in dark meeting rooms. This is the kind of small thing that demonstrates attention to detail that Apple quite frankly has dominated so far.

Consumer and Commercial Applicability
Whenever I hear that one product serves two different markets I usually cringe and jump to the conclusion that it will be mediocre at both. I also take a very realistic approach on the “consumerization of IT”, in that I believe we are a long way off until 50% of the world’s enterprises give their employees money to choose their own laptop. In the case of the Dell XPS 13, I believe that it will provide a good value proposition to both target sets. Consumers are driven by style, price, aesthetics and perceived performance at an certain price point while businesses are more interested in TCO, services, security, and custom configurability. The Dell XPS 13 provides all that. They may run into challenges with IT department and sealed batteries, lack of VGA and Ethernet ports, but then again a few IT departments would require serial ports if you let them spec out the machine completely.

Pricing and Specs
The Dell XPS 13 starts at $999 and includes an Intel Core i5 processor, Intel HD 3000 graphics, 128GB SSD hard drive, 4GB memory, USB 3.0, and Windows Home Premium. For a similarly configured Apple MacBook Air, buyers would pay $1,299. With the Mac, you get OS X Lion, a bit higher resolution display, Thunderbolt I/O, and an SD card slot. And yes, for the record, I know PCs don’t primarily sell on specs but they are still a factor in the decision. If it weren’t, Apple wouldn’t provide any specs anywhere, right?

Possibly Taking Bites from the Apple
From everything I experienced with the Dell XPS 13 evaluation unit, I can safely say that they have a potential winner. Why do I say “potential”? First, I’m using an evaluation unit, not a factory unit with a factory image. As a user or sales associate, if I start Windows and I start getting warning messages for virus protection, firewall and 3rd party software, the coolness factor will be for naught. The first consumer impression will be bad. I hope this doesn’t happen with the factory software load.

Many success factors go into successfully selling a system and creating a lasting consumer bond. Great products must align with great marketing, distribution and support. Controlling the message is key at retail. If, and I mean “if” Dell can effectively pull their messages through retail and somewhat control merchandising at retail, this will be a solid step in connecting the value prop with the consumer. This is very hard, especially in the U.S., where Best Buy rules brick and mortar. What will the Best Buy yellow shirt say when someone asks, “whats the difference between the MacBook Air and the Dell XPS?” If they say “$300” that is a fail. Retail will be important, more important than direct for Dell, because industrial design doesn’t translate well to the web. Seeing the XPS 13 image doesn’t impress as much as holding it does, so retail cannot be minimized.

I see the XPS 13 doing well in business and enterprise, again, given aligned messaging, channel, sales training and support. IT departments now have a design that is every bit as cool as the MacBook Air and arguably more productive plus the added benefits of TPM and Dell’s customization and support.

Net-net I see potential consumer and business buyers of thin and very light notebooks looking at Apple’s MacBook Air and many choosing the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook instead. This won’t just be based on price, but all other benefits I’ve outlined above. I also believe Apple’s MacBook Air sales will increase during 2012 but they would have sold more had it not been for Ultrabooks, especially the Dell XPS 13, the best Ultrabook I’ve used so far.

You can get more information on the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook here on Dell’s website.

An iOS Laptop is a Compelling Idea

on January 23, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Our friend Harry McCracken wrote in his CNET column yesterday about why he believes the world needs an iOS laptop. James Kendrick of ZNET shared his thoughts on Harry’s article pointing out that it is a good idea but that he doesn’t think it will happen anytime soon.

Both Harry and James have formed opinions on this matter largely because of the latest Zagg Folio case for iPad 2. As a part of our own research, we have been using this case as well for sometime and have been bringing this solution up in our conversations with industry executives.

Our opinion is that the limitations of touch computing in terms of text entry, formatting, etc are largely offset with the combination of a keyboard. That being said there are still significant challenges with this approach which need to be addressed.

Firstly, an iOS laptop, or any tablet/ laptop combo will be storage limited. Due to the nature of the tablet form factor and use cases there will simply not be hundreds of gigs of storage in these devices for some time. The case can and should be made that consumers who purchase a iOS laptop or tablet/hybrid may not be buying these devices to fully replace a notebook but for many it will suffice none-the-less. Therefore cloud services could be a requirement for devices like an iOS laptop or tablet/PC hybrid to be fully embraced.

The biggest failing I have found in using the iPad 2 with the Zagg Folio case is text formatting and document editing. Going back through and fixing words, deleting sentences or paragraph’s is still a cumbersome experience using touch only. It is not impossible, but this is one area where I prefer a mouse and pointer.

In reality an iOS laptop or tablet/PC hybrid could very well find its niche in what was formerly the Netbook category, a category that at one time was selling 30 million units a year.

Tim points out in his column today, that we could see a resurgence of the Netbook like category with new ultra-thin PC(which are not UltraBooks) that are specifically targeting the low end, basic PC user category.

We remain convinced that there is still a large opportunity in the sub $500 range for a class of computing product. It may very well be that we see a range of form factors target this market and the tablet/PC hybrid being one of the centerpieces. Tim wrote in depth about this new hybrid category in his PC Mag column titled “Make Way for Hybrids” a few weeks ago.

This could be one of the most exciting categories to watch as we see vendors experiment with the combination of touch and mouse and keyboard computing. I agree with James, in that if Apple did do something in this area it probably would not be soon, meaning this year.

Obviously, I would love to see what Apple could do in this area of a iOS/Laptop combo. However, they are also smart enough to be aware of some of the challenges that remain in order to make a device in this category that does not feel cheap, or present a sub-par user experience. For now, personally, I would accept being able to run iOS apps on my Macbook Air.

We do expect innovation in this category as well as fierce combination and hopefully creative innovation. What do you think?

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Are Netbooks Poised for a Comeback?

on January 23, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The answer to this is no, and yes. Let me explain.

In 2007, Netbooks took the market by storm. These small low-cost laptops hit the market at the beginning of the recession and were instant hits. Although first versions with Linux were panned once a low-end of Windows was made available they really took off. By 2010, we were selling about 30 million a year.

But in 2011, demand for Netbooks took a major hit. Many attributed this to the intro of Apple’s iPad and other tablets but in truth, the real reason for the decline is that once the vendors realized there was serious demand for low powered, low-cost laptops, they went full-bore in creating full-sized laptops in this price range. Last I checked you could get a 15.6 inch AMD Dual Core E-300 accelerated processor based laptop for around $329. Although Netbook customers liked their small sizes and low weight, they valued even more laptops that had extra power and full keyboards.

But if you try hard, you can actually trace Ultrabooks back to Netbooks. Indeed, at the WSJ D conference a few years back, when Netbooks were all the rage, the late Steve Jobs told Walt Mossberg that nobody really wants a Netbook. While he did not downplay demand for a smallish type laptop, he felt that people wanted a small laptop with a full keyboard and the same power as their mainstream laptops. Three months later, he and Apple introduced their first MacBook Air and of course, this successful product is the reason all the vendors are creating Ultrabooks now.

But Ultrabooks have one big problem. On average, they will be mostly in the $699-$999 price range and well outside of the realm of what we call value PC pricing. That range is from $299-$599. But to say there is still demand for an ultra-thin and low-cost laptop in this value price range would be an understatement.

What you can expect to happen is, in a way, the rebirth of the Netbook in the form of value priced ultra-thin PCs. These will not meet any of Intel’s Ultrabooks specs, but instead, will have low-end mobile processors, perhaps the home version of Windows 7 and a low-density hard drive. But they could be relatively thin and really cool, just with lower end chips and low-cost screens. In many ways, these will speak to the same audience who wanted a Netbook, namely those who desired a really low-cost laptop for basic computer usage.

This low-end category could get an interesting boost later in the year in the way of Windows on ARM. Arm chips are already low-cost, but with long battery life and some pretty good processing power. You can believe they will shoot for use in ultras-lims as well.

So while Netbooks as we know them are mostly dead, expect to see them return in the form of ultra-slims, ultra-thins, or some type of name the vendors will give them that targets this low-end value segment of the market. While I don’t believe it will have a heavy impact on the more full featured laptops in the value end today since these will sport much better processors, higher quality screens, etc. these low end thin laptops will hit the nerve of a part of this value market and could actually become big hits on their own.

The RIM Story: In Praise of Mike and Jim

Micke Lazaridis photo
on January 23, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Micke Lazaridis photo
Michael Lazaridis

The departure of Research In Motion co-CEOs Michael Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie was, as amply noted by just about everyone, long overdue. Given the shipwreck that RIM has become, it’s understandable, but more than a little sad, that the coverage has paid so little attention to what Mike, Jim, and RIM accomplished during their glory years.

More than any other company, RIM mobilized business, first by offering the first truly practical two-way messaging device, then by providing enterprises a reliable and secure way  to get messaging onto mobile devices.

In my years of reviewing gadgets, the original BlackBerry 850–a two-way pager–was one of the few that I fell in love with at first sight. The concept of a two-way pager was not new; there were products on the market from Motorola and others. But the original 1999 BlackBerry had a keyboard you could actually use to type a message, a keyboard unsurprisingly similar to the ones found on current BlackBerry models. And RIM offered a straightforward way to get mail from a Microsoft Exchange server to the BlackBerry.

That  service evolved into the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, a powerful  tool for companies to move mail, secure Web browsing, custom apps, and instant messaging onto mobile devices. Security was built in from the beginning, so BlackBerry’s developed a massive following in government and in the heavily regulated finance and health care industries and  made RIM a massive success in the last decade.

The recent sins of RIM’s management are large. They failed to respond adequately to the iPhone, the app revolution, and the consumerization of mobile. Microsoft’s steady improvements to Exchange ActiveSync gradually ate into BlackBerry Enterprise Server’s advantages, and Apple’s quiet work with Microsoft to enable secure Exchange mail on the iPhone allowed iPhones to displace BlackBerrys.

But while it is easy to blame Jim and Mike for their failings, we should not forget their accomplishments. They played a huge part in making the mobile industry what it is today.

The Potential Losers if Ultrabooks Win

Photo of Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook
on January 22, 2012
Reading Time: 5 minutes

(Originally published on Forbes)

Ultrabooks were one of the most discussed form factors at this year’s CES 2012.  This was due not only to Intel’s CES marketing push, but by all of Intel’s ecosystem demonstrating their prowess by showing their latest and greatest designs.  OEMs like Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, Toshiba and Lenovo showed their new designs with different industrial design, color, keyboards, displays, Intel processors, storage, and proprietary software and cloud services.  One question I have received often since CES is, “who loses if Ultrabooks are successful”?  We must first start by defining an Ultrabook then move on to a complex discussion with many scenarios.

What is an Ultrabook?

Ultrabooks were introduced by Intel at last year’s Computex 2011. Intel owns the Ultrabook trademark, which means only those who license it and abide by its restrictions can use it. This becomes important as it relates to receiving Intelmarketing and design funds.  If OEMs, ODMs and retailers don’t abide by the Ultrabook definition, they will not be eligible for those funds.

An Ultrabook is a notebook computer that has the following characteristics:

  • Thin: 21mm or less.  As a comparison, the 13.3″ MacBook Air is 17mm at its thickest point.
  • Battery Life: 5 to 8 hours.  The 13.3 MacBook Air, per Apple, gets 7 hours of “wireless web” browsing.
  • Start up: Intel describes that “the system wakes up almost instantly and gives users quick access to their data and applications.”  There are storage, boot, sleep, and BIOS implications to this.
  • Secure: Intel states that “bios/firmware is enabled to expose hardware features for Intel Anti-Theft Technology (AT) and Intel Identity Protection Technology (IPT).”  This means the hooks must exist in BIOS that can talk toIntel AT and Intel IPT
  • Processor: Intel Core Processor Family for Ultrabook.

Storage Implications

Most of today’s notebooks use spinning storage, specifically a 2.5″ hard drive.  On the spot market, you can buy a 1 TB 2.5″ hard drive for $145-110. This is very inexpensive and enough storage to hold just about everything a user may need unless they’re a videophile.  The downside is that physical hard drives are slower and consume more power than SSDs.  To achieve the battery life and more importantly start up requirements, Ultrabooks require some form of SSD.  SSDs can come in the form of an SSD drive or a hybrid drive which has a combined SSD and physical hard drive. A 128GB SSD drive on the spot market is around $175-200.  A 500GB hybrid drive with 4GB flash costs $150 at retail.

The potential losers here are traditional spinning 2.5″ hard drives.  Hybrid drive-based Ultrabooks are just hitting the market and it’s too early to say whether they will dominate over the more expensive, responsive and power saving SSD drives.  Seagate is already in the market with their Momentus XT brand hybrid drives but Western Digital has yet to show up with a consumer solution.

Discrete Graphics Implications

Two different kinds of PC graphics exist, discrete and integrated.  Discrete are a separate graphics chip that is either soldered on the mainboard or most likely a separate card inside the notebook.  Integrated graphics are inside the SOC (System on a Chip) with the CPU and memory controller or it exists in what’s called the “tunnel” or the companion chip to a CPU.  Intel provides integrated graphics only and is the PC graphics market share leader pulled by their CPU franchise.  AMD provides discrete cards and chips, formerly branded ATI,  and also provides integrated solutions with their Fusion-based SOCs.  Nvidia serves the PC graphics market solely with discrete graphics cards and chips.

The potential losers here are discrete graphics.  It’s not they are “banned”, but the Ultrabook specifications make it very challenging to integrate discrete graphics into designs.  The two challenges are height and power draw.  Adding a discrete card and keeping inside the 21mm restriction is difficult but not impossible. Two major players, Lenovo and Samsung have already announced Ultrabooks with discrete graphics.  The announced Samsung Series 5 contains the AMD HD 7550M and the Lenovo ThinkPad T430u will ship with Nvidia Geforce 610M.

Discrete graphics from AMD and Nvidia will again get challenged when Intel unveils Ivy Bridge that has Intel HD 4000 graphics that support Direct X (DX) 11.  AMD and Nvidia have managed to weather the risk through Intel’s DX 9 and DX 10 and I expect a similar kind of battle here.  The ending could be different if AMD and Nvidia cannot effectively market the value of more gaming graphics or GPU-compute horsepower.

Processor Implications

By definition, Ultrabooks must contain Intel Core processors for Ultrabooks.

This means AMD, or for that matter, ARM-based processors from Nvidia, Qualcomm, or Texas Instruments cannot be inside an Ultrabook.  This requires a bit more of an examination as it is regulated by the Ultrabook definition.  AMD atCES 2012 was discussing their “ultrathin” plans and will reportedly enter the market with their Trinity platform.  Press reports describe that AMD will leverage their graphics capability and also enable much lower price points than the $1,000 Intel price point many Ultrabooks sell at.  I expect to hear more from AMD at their Financial Analyst Day next month.

ARM-based SOC suppliers Nvidia, Qualcomm and TI argue they already provide Ultrabook-like benefits with products like the Transformer Prime.  The Asus Transformer Prime is a 10.1″ convertible powered by Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3, gets 18 hours of battery life, is super-thin at 16.3-18.7mm thick, and is instant-on with Android 3.2 moving to 4.0 OS.

Security Implications

Intel Anti-Theft Technology and Intel Identity Protection Technology come with the Ultrabook package.  OEMs arent required to support every feature, but many of the features are tied to specific solutions.  For instance, Intel Anti-Theft works with Winmagic, Computrace, and Symantec.  Don’t see your provider?  Well you are out of luck and more than likely the company unless they build to Intel’s spec and APIs.    Because many of the Ultrabook security features are hard wired into the CPU and chipsets, by definition, it has potential implications for AMD.  The potential impact is yet to be seen because AMD has not played their “ultrathin” hand yet.

Marketing Implications

Intel owns all rights to the Ultrabook name.  With that, they have the right to enforce how people use it. This, tied with the 100s of millions of dollars that will be invested in Ultrabooks, will be very impactful to the ecosystem.  AMD cannot use the name Ultrabook without Intel’s expressed permission, something I doubt either party would explore.  If Intelcan make Ultrabooks a household name and consumers then buy online, Ultrabooks have a built-in advantage. BestBuy.com and even HP.com have a separate digital aisle specifically for Ultrabooks that won’t include anything from AMD.    Amazon currently, on the other hand, does not.  AMD is at the least risk at retail where the “ultrathin” specifications could be evident.  Consumers will see OEM brand, design, thinness, weight and battery life.  Time will tell how powerful the Ultrabook brand will be at physical retail.

Like AMD, no one in the ARM ecosystem like Nvidia, Qualcomm or TI can use the Ultrabook brand either for their Windows 8 clamshell designs.  So that fancy Asus Transformer Prime? Not an Ultrabook in the ads, product reviews nor will Asus receive any engineering or marketing funds.  Would Best Buy rather stock a margin-neutral, 13″ (hypothetical) $599 Asus Transformer Prime or a $699 Asus Ultrabook that gets $50 dollars marketing money per unit?  You know the answer.

So Who Potentially Loses if Ultrabooks Win?

As you can hopefully see by the analysis above, there are many scenarios that must play out before all the winners and losers can be tallied. There are not any clear-cut answers.  This is a highly competitive market and historically, AMD and Nvidia know how to play the game well and have much more experience at it then Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. Qualcomm and Texas Instruments have little or no experience fighting Intel at their own game.

Spinning hard drives without flash are extinct on the Ultrabook but adding flash to a hard drive to make a hybrid isn’t rocket science.  So even Western Digital cannot be counted out yet.

Net-net, there are no simple Ultrabook winner-loser answers but what is for certain is that Intel has shaken up a sleepy Windows PC ecosystem, and that’s a good thing for consumers and the PC industry.

Apple’s iBooks Author EULA Restriction is Dumb, Not Evil

iBooks Author icon
on January 21, 2012
Reading Time: 1 minute

Apple created a fair stir around the internet with a provision in the end-user license for its new iBooks Author software that requires that content created using the tool can only be sold through iTunes. ZDNet’s Ed Bott called the move “greedy and evil” while even the normally Apple-friendly John Gruber denounced it as “Apple at its worst.”

iBooks Author iconIn fact, that EULA language is merely stupid not evil. Apple is not asserting any sort of control over the contents of your book, just the formatted output of iBooks Author. That output can only be used to create an iBook and iBooks can only be sold through iTunes, so the language doesn’t actually create any restriction that isn’t already inherent in the software. Besides, no one has to use iBooks Author; there are other tools for creating iBooks.

But while the language of the Apple license may be ineffectual, it is not meaningless. In asserting this sort of control, Apple violated a longstanding principle of software: A program may not impose restrictions on the content it is used to create. Even the Free Software Foundation’s General Public License, in many ways one of the most restrictive licenses around,  doesn’t try to prevent conventional copyright terms on say, a book written using the GPL-licensed emacs editor. And certainly neither Microsoft nor Adobe has ever attempted any control on the output of Word or Photoshop. Tools should be just that; the uses of their output should be solely up to the creator (subject, as in the case of iBooks Author, to purely technical restrictions.)

Perhaps the best face you can put on this mess is Gruber’s interpretation: “Let’s hope this is just the work of an overzealous lawyer, and not [Apple’s] actual intention.”

Looking Forward to the Next Round of Innovation

on January 20, 2012
Reading Time: 3 minutes

I was surprised by a number of conversations I had while at this years CES. More than once the conversation turned to the staleness of innovation shown at the show. It is true there wasn’t too much to get excited about this year, but the remarks I heard seemed to indicate that there is a belief that we may be headed for a period where innovation is stagnant. I have to say that I disagree.

On Monday I wrote in my column about why I believe the PC landscape is about to change. I pointed out that the barrier to entry to create consumer electronics has dropped to an all time low. Making it feasible for any company with enough cash and a market strategy to start creating electronics of all shapes and sizes. My overall point was that consumer electronics is ripe for new entrants. More specifically new entrants with fresh ideas.

That being said we have to look at innovation as pillars. There is hardware innovation, software innovation, and services innovation. One could also throw in experience innovation as a pillar as well but it is intertwined with hardware, software, and services. Each of these pillars feed off each other and spur parallel innovations.

There are countless examples of how this chain of events works. We could look at examples from the first land line phones, to the PC, to the smart phone and more. However I am going to use the iPad as an example.

The iPad was a hardware innovation (not a conceptual innovation) that integrated all the right pieces of hardware into a touch computing package. The iPad then set in motion the opportunity for software innovation and eventually we will see more innovation in services as well. This leads us to what we can expect in this next round of innovation. Namely that it will come more from the software and services pillars.

This is not to say there will be zero hardware innovation. I simply believe we will see more innovation come from software and services which will take advantage of the hardware platforms that gain mass market attraction. Namely around devices like the PC, tablet, smart phone, and TV. All of those devices represent the platforms of the future. So although we will see some hardware advancements in those devices I don’t believe they will be monumental but more incremental. Screens will get better, semiconductors will get faster, devices will be go through design evolution, etc.

All those hardware platform innovations will continue to lead to new software, services, and experience innovation. Take yesterday’s news from Apple about iBooks 2.0 and the new interactive e-book experience. Tim stated that Apple just re-invented the book and he is right. The point that needs to be made, however, is that without the iPad and the platform innovation of tablets, it would never have been possible to even think about re-inventing the book. The hardware innovation created this possibility. Tim also rightly pointed out that if publishers are not careful they could be disrupted quite easily. The hardware platform innovation leads to not just the re-birth of something like a book but the re-birth of the publishing industry. This can also be said of the music industry, motion pictures, network TV, magazine, and perhaps even government or politics? All of these industries have the opportunity to re-invent themselves in light of new and innovative hardware.

The opportunities will be endless, and again, I am not saying that hardware innovation is dead, perhaps only that it is cyclical. The next cycle of innovation will be more focused on software and services rather than ground breaking new hardware. We could discuss new computing hardware like the smart watch, automobile and more, but perhaps those are more extensions of existing platforms rather than platforms themselves. I will leave that topic for another column.

Apple Just Re-Invented Books

on January 19, 2012
Reading Time: 3 minutes

This morning’s announcement from Apple about creating tools for interactive textbooks is actually a landmark announcement for four major reasons.

The first is how these tools can impact education. Ben wrote a good piece on this so I won’t elaborate on this too much here, other than to say that these tools will completely re-define how textbooks can be created and distributed. It is ideal for higher Ed textbooks but Apple and their major publishing partners are even doing high school level interactive books that should push iPads into education circles even faster.

Related Columns: Why the iPad is an Investment in your Child’s Future

The second thing iBook Author does is lay the groundwork for non-education publishers to create interactive eBooks as well. But, as Phil Schiller pointed out at the iBook 2 announcement event in NYC today, this tool can be used to create any book of any kind, not just interactive books. This free authoring tool is a major step towards making Apple not only a publisher in their own right but a distributor as well as delivering the hardware platform optimized for enhanced eBooks in general.

While the first push with these tools will be to educational authors, it won’t be long until mainstream authors start using these tools and use the iBookstore as their preferred distribution medium. And since these tools are so easy to use, authors who only write text-based content will begin playing with the integration of color drawings, illustrations and other media to enhance their story lines, which will only work properly on an iPad.

The third thing these tools do is give Apple a serious competitive advantage over other tablet vendors. The iPad is already the leading tablet, but by developing these rich authoring tools for creating interactive and enhanced eBooks for the iPad, it makes the iPad even more interesting to consumers and eBook readers from all angles. To date, Apple has sold about 70+ million iPads and we expect them to sell at least that many in 2012. This means that they are rapidly increasing their user base, which in turn becomes more attractive as an eBook publishing and distribution platform for all types of authors. This move really distances them from any other tablets on the market

But the 4th thing these tools could do is quite interesting. It has the potential of doing to the publishing industry what Apple did to the music industry. Although Apple did not invent the MP3 player, they re-invented it and then created the iTunes store, which with the iPod, became the # 1 vehicle for digital music distribution. Today, Apple owns 75-80% of the MP3 player market even though many others have tried to duplicate their success. But they created the iPod, the tools and the distribution medium for digital music that helped Apple own that market. Yes, music is now available on smartphones, but it took Apple’s competitors almost a decade to replicate their success and even then, it had to come on a completely different digital device.

Now Apple has a chance to re-invent eBooks by delivering a complete eco system of hardware, software development tools for creating next generation interactive eBooks, a publishing and distribution medium and a powerful hardware device for delivering this optimized content. On the surface this looks like a major move to get Apple more entrenched into the education market. But I see it as Apple’s first move to disrupt the entire publishing industry. If Apple’s does this properly, they could become the largest publisher and distributor of eBooks and in many ways, change the economics and overall distribution of eBooks in the future.

One more thing. If Apple was concerned about Amazon’s Kindle Fire and even Amazon’s role as a publisher and distributor of eBooks, they aren’t anymore. In fact, this is Apple’s response to the Kindle Fire and Amazon’s overall position as an eBook distributor. The key reason is that with these tools, Apple will completely raise the expectations of what should be in an eBook in the future by pushing the idea that all eBooks should have some type of rich interactive format that delivers an enhanced reading experience.

Of course, the Android or even Windows 8 tablet crowd could respond in kind, but at the very least, Apple has a two-year head start on them and given the competitors track record in trying to catch Apple that lead in this area could even be longer.

I also think that this probably signals that a lower cost iPad is on the way. For Apple to really get iPads into education and leverage this new interactive eBook development platform, they will need to have some models with lower prices. Given the tight budgets of schools and families who could really use something like this to help their kids education, iPads will need to be much more affordable if Apple is going to “own” this segment of the tablet market.

How the Apple iTV is Accelerated by Samsung

on January 19, 2012
Reading Time: 4 minutes

(originally published at Forbes)

Back in September, I wrote an analysis on why Apple should build an HDTV.   The premise was that there are huge experiential issues Apple could solve and they could strike a deal with the MSO’s and satellite companies.   That was a big premise, but ironically with what Samsung showed at CES, it’s apparent Samsung will accelerate the likelihood ofApple launching an “iTV”.

Samsung 2012 Smart TVs at CES

At this year’s CES, Samsung made a very impressive showing in consumer electronics.  They showed off an array of devices from intelligent refrigerators to thin and energy sipping OLED displays to phones to Smart TVs.  Two major themes came out of the HDTV launches; smart interfaces, apps and cable and satellite content.

Smart Interaction, Kind Of

Samsung showed in controlled demonstrations their next generation of TV interfaces.  Samsung calls it Smart Interaction, or the ability to control the TV through voice commands and far-field air gestures.  Voice commands andthe air gestures work in a similar fashion to Microsoft’s Kinect.  Get the TV’s attention with your voice and tell it to change channels, turn the volume up or down, go to apps, etc.  Air gestures allow the consumer to use their hand as a virtual mouse clicking on an icon, or using the hand as a consumer would use their finger on a tablet by swiping or grabbing.

All of this is great in theory, but one of the challenges that I saw at CES was that it just didn’t work well.  The demoer was having a very hard time with the system getting it to work.  I talked to others at the show to see if in fact this was an anomaly, but it wasn’t.  Smart Interaction didn’t work well for those I talked to either.  This was a public demo in a controlled environment so I expected to see a better response, especially because you know everyone will compare it toMicrosoft Kinect and Apple’s Siri.

To be clear, what Samsung showed was a glimpse into their 2012 product line and not on shipping platforms, but was still concerning because perfecting these interfaces takes years, not months.  Apple is proof of this in that Siri, the voice-control mechanism on the iPhone 4s is still beta three months after public launch.

Samsung Cable and Satellite Content Deals

Samsung also launched an impressive amount of U.S. content deals with Comcast, DIRECTV, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable.  The vision is classic IP-TV, or removing the set top box and just plugging the Ethernet cable into the TV.  In theory, this provides the consumer with a much more integrated TV-content experience.

Comcast will provide its Xfinity services directly to a new Samsung TV without the need of an STB. DIRECTV will give the new Samsung TVs to access to live and stored content from the satellite content provider. Verizon said it will provide Samsung the Verizon FiOS TV app which gives users access to 26 live TV channels and access to VOD titles through Verizon Flex View.    Time Warner Cable and Samsung did show a demo of a user accessing stored content from a set top box in the home and said apps would be available “later this year.”  While these announcements are complex and not as simple as saying, “all STB content now available on the new 2012 Samsung TV”, it was a step forward from last year where cable companies weren’t all that excited about this IPTV premise in a world where they are an icon next to Netflix and Hulu.

Samsung’s Smart Interaction Accelerate Apple iTV

Samsung demonstrated two things at CES 2012 related to Smart TVs in general. First, they showed how not to demo the next generation of TV user interface.  Messing with the TV interface is dangerous in that it is the primary pathway to get to content.  Users blame themselves when they lose the remote, but when users get an error with voice control or air gestures, they will blame Samsung and stop using it.  Then they will tell 10 friends about it.  Yes, it will improve over time, but from what I saw, there is a lot of improvement to do.  This enables Apple, with an iTV, to perfect the user interface.  Apple would undoubtedly leverage Siri for voice control and leverage local iOS devices to do this.  Leveraging the huge base of iPhones, iPads, and iPods allows voice control to be better, in that the microphone is 10 inches away from you, not 10 feet.  This helps block out more noise and generally could provide a much better experience.  I believe it will work much better than Siri given the “dictionary” is smaller.  The smaller the “dictionary”, which in this case will be content, the higher the likelihood it does what you want it to do.

Envision how this looks at a Best Buy. You will have a Samsung TV on one side of the store and an Apple iTV in theApple store within a store.  The Samsung voice control may not demo well based upon what was shown at CES, and theApple voice control will “just work.”  Net-net, by Samsung launching Smart Interaction before it’s ready provides a clear and demonstrable pivot-point for Apple to differentiate from.  This is in a similar way to how Apple’s capacitive touch screen interface “just worked” and other phones didn’t just work well back when the iPhone first launched.

Samsung’s Content Deals Accelerate Apple iTV

The second thing Samsung demonstrated, and demonstrated well, was that they could cut deals with the cable and satellite guys.  This breakthrough is important because it shows that there is a deal to be done.  When a TV can blend cable, satellite, and OTT content, this is the “holy grail”.  Even better is when the user can have one program guide or one database to find the content they want with a precise, by-user recommendation engine like Netflix and Amazon.

By Samsung breaking some newer ground with Comcast, DIRECTV, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable, this at least givesApple the most concrete idea of what it would take to for them to do a deal.  Yes, Apple has been trying to cut deals with them forever, but Apple certainly doesn’t want Samsung to get too entrenched as it could dull some differentiation with an Apple iTV.  Just as the iPod and iTunes got credit for aligning the music industry, Apple wants to get credit for aligning the cable and satellite providers and in turn, deliver a great experience to the users.

While Apple was not at CES 2012, their impact and industry reaction from Samsung will help accelerate development and launch of an Apple iTV.  Samsung has provided Apple with an experience to pivot and differentiate off of, and has helped provide a basis point for Apple’s own deal with the cable and satellite companies. Samsung has helped accelerate Apple’s iTV.  Ironic, yes?

 

Why the iPad is an Investment in Your Child’s Future

on January 19, 2012
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Whether or not Apple uses this positioning, it is perhaps one of the best angles for the iPad. When friends, family, colleagues, or anyone who asks me, asks for my recommendation about iPad, I always add the benefit to kids – if they have them.

From the first iPad, and ever since, I have marveled at how my kids have taken to the iPad and more importantly how I have been able to use very helpful apps to assist in building critical skills. My kids both used the digital version of the popular “Bob Books” to help them prepare to read for kindergarten. I have been able to find apps at nearly every level of their education to let them engage more with relevant age-based subject matter.

I can say with conviction that the iPad has helped my kids learn to identify objects, colors, learn to read, build critical observational and critical thinking skills and more. This is not to say they could not have built these skills without the iPad, of course they could, only that the iPad has made the process more engaging, fun, and natural.

Touch Computing is the Future
When I was young, everyone was pushing to teach kids how to type as well as overall computer literacy. If you think about it, touch computing as well as things like the iPad in general, make computer literacy instant. My kids didn’t need to go sit through computer literacy classes to start using an iPad and begin computing. They picked it up and from day one used it to its full potential – for them. I would argue this is the case with any age group.

I have written extensively on the subject of touch computing, constantly highlighting its importance to our computing future. I believe touch represents the most natural computing paradigm, along with speech computing (which has not fully come to fruition). Touch breaks down traditional barriers to computing that a mouse and keyboard had traditionally created. Mouse and keyboard computing paradigms are still relevant, but have been designated to task specific usage.

Although touch computing is natural, exposing children to it at a young age will set their expectations for computing higher and potentially help create the next generation of leaders. Growing up with touch computing as the driving computer paradigm will lay an important base for our children’s future.

Related Columns Mentioned:
Why Tablets Represent the Future of Computing – at TIME.com
From Click to Touch – iPad and the Era of Touch Computing – At SlashGear.com

Re-Inventing The Book
Today Apple took that truth one step further with their announcement of iBooks 2 and the Author toolset. Today’s announcement on the surface is re-inventing the textbook and providing next generation publishing tool kits. It is however, quite a bit more. This announcement lays the foundation for the complete and total re-invention of books in general.

Up to this point, I have been disappointed with the publishing industries strategy to simply re-purpose books in e-reading form. Last year I wrote about the need to re-invent the book and to date it still hasn’t happened.

Hopefully with the toolkits Apple has developed and will continue to develop, publishers will get savvy and start being more creative with how they create package content. Which is essentially all a book is—the packaging of content. This packaging of content was limited to static words on a page, but with iPad the packaging of content is taken to a new level.

Publishers will get disrupted if they do not embrace this wholly and quickly. What is to stop smart people with a great idea to create the next era of interactive books? If the publishing industry is not careful, they could face the same fate as the music industry but perhaps to an even bigger extent.

Interactive books are the future and the iPad is the perfect platform for them to thrive. We will soon hopefully have not only next generation text books, but next generation children’s books, novels, graphic novels, biographies, and more.

For now, I intend to purchase these new interactive books for my kids and get them engaging with educational content. Since I truly do believe that having them use the iPad and integrating it into their educational routine is an investment in their future.

Related Columns Mentioned:
Re-Inventing the Book in the Digital Age – at SlashGear

Reflections in a Yellow Box: The Inevitable Fall of Kodak

on January 19, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Kodak’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy has inspired a swarm of commentators to blame the company’s management for failing to catch the digital wave, leading to a long decline and possible demise. Kodak’s management was indeed uninspired. But even with perfect hindsight, it’s hard to see what even brilliant managers could have done to reverse the course of history.

Kodak did not fail to see the digital revolution. It was an early pioneer in the development of the electronic light sensors at the heart of digital cameras. It was a pioneer in displays, inventing the organic LED. It knew many years ago that digital would replace film. But it is entirely possible to see the future and still not be able to do much about it.

Kodak’s fundamental problem was that its business was not photography, but the manufacture and processing of  film and photographic paper. After the Brownie years, it was not very big force in cameras and was never a serious player in professional equipment.

Furthermore, the economics of digital photography are radically different from film. A 32 gigabyte memory card costs less  than buying, developing, and printing two rolls of color negative film; it holds thousands of pictures and can be reused many, many times. Kodak’s business was built around the recurring revenue of film purchases, and there is nothing like that in the digital world.

It’s easy for critics to say that when the digital revolution began, Kodak should have moved swiftly to get out of film and into the new technology. But film wasn’t easily gotten out of. The film and paper businesses were immensely profitable. Even more significant, Kodak had a vast capital investment in manufacturing. In fact, for years a popular, if grim, form of entertainment in Kodak’s home of Rochester, N.Y., was watching the company blow up former Kodak Park film manufacturing buildings that it no longer had a use for. The inability to shed its vast investment in film manufacturing and processing probably made an eventual bankruptcy inevitable, and perhaps the most serious criticism of Kodak management is not facing the music sooner.

The biggest players in digital photography never were burdened with this sort of legacy. Nikon, Canon, and Olympus are optics specialists, and optics are optics, whether for digital cameras or film. Panasonic and Sony, of course, are huge diversified consumer electronics companies. Only the much smaller Fujifilm has its roots in the film business.

I hope Kodak can emerge from bankruptcy as a  viable business, stripped of its costly legacies. There’s still a business for film as a specialty product and people are still printing pictures, albeit in nowhere near the number they once did. But it will be a much smaller company.

 

Maybe Apple Can Fix Television; Someone Has To

Photo of LG booth
on January 18, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Not long before his death Steve Job famously told biographer Walter Isaacson that he had “finally cracked” the problem of television. No one knows quite what he meant, and Apple has shed no light on the subject, but for the sake of the future of TV, let’s hope Steve left something important behind.

Photo of LG booth
The LG booth at CES 2012

At the International Consumer Electronics Show, the overwhelming feeling I got about television is stasis. My colleague Patrick Moorhead has a solid piece on TV makers’ experiments with new user interfaces. But those remain experiments, with no commitment to when, or if, we will see them on TVs you can actually buy. And the user interface, while desperately in need of improvement, is only one piece of a much bigger puzzle.

 
Related Column: How Sony can beat Samsung and LG on Smart TV Interfaces
 
The sad truth if you had told me that the TV displays in the Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony booths were actually left over the the 2011 show, I wouldn’t have argued with you. The main difference was much less emphasis on 3D, which the makers now realize is just a feature, not a revolutionary product. Only LG’s booth showed real commitment to 3D, and not necessarily in a good way. Its booth was a jarring riot of gimmicky 3D images coming at you from all sides, an effect allowed by LG’s move to passive, battery-free glasses that don’t need to sync to a particular set. Both LG and Samsung showed 55″ OLED displays, each claiming the world’s largest,  but to my eyes OLED remains oversaturated, garish, and a dubious improvement on LED-backlit LCD or plasma.

Even the internet connected TVs, which the makers promoted as this year’s big thing, seemed tired. Basically, they build the capability of a Roku box or other internet-connected device directly into the set. It’s an improvement in convenience, mainly though getting rid of one remote, but hardly enough to send anyone out to buy a new TV.

The fix TV desperately needs is an integrated solution. I want to get all of my TV–the stuff I get over cable as well as the content streamed over the internet in a single box that seamlessly combines all the sources. I don’t much care whether this is built into the set or done in a separate box–the box would have the advantage of allowing ample local storage, while a TV solution would probably have to rely on the cloud to save recorded programs. The difference in convenience is not very significant.

Such a solution would require a new user interface, something much better than Google managed for Google TV. But much more important, and much harder, it requires an entire new business model for content distribution. As I have written many times, the biggest impediment to a this breakthrough is not technology, since the technology needed to make it happen is available today, but breaking the iron triangle of content owners, networks, and cable and satellite  distributors who are prospering under the status quo. Can Apple succeed where everyone else has failed? I rather doubt it. But I’m cheering for them anyway.

 

 

 

How Sony can beat Samsung and LG on Smart TV Interfaces

on January 17, 2012
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As I wrote last week, Samsung and LG are following Microsoft’s lead in future interfaces for the living room. Both Samsung and LG showed off future voice control and in Samsung’s case, far-field air gestures. Given what Samsung and LG showed at CES, I believe that Sony could actually beat both of them for ease of interaction and satisfaction.

HCI Matters
I have been researching in one way or another, HCI for over 20 years as an OEM, technologist, and now analyst. I’ve conducted in context, in home testing and have sat behind the glass watching consumers struggle, and in many cases breeze though intuitive tasks. Human Computer Interface (HCI) is just the fancy trade name for how humans interact with other electronic devices. Don’t be confused by the word “computer” as it also used for TVs, set top boxes and even remote controls.

Microsoft recently started using the term “natural user interface” and many in the industry have been using this term a lot lately. Whether it’s HCI or NUI doesn’t matter. What does matter is its fundamental game-changing impact on markets, brands and products. Look no farther than the iPhone with direct touch model and Microsoft Kinect with far-field air gestures and voice control. I have been very critical of Siri’s quality but am confident Apple will wring out those issues over time.

At CES 2012 last week, Samsung, Sony, and LG showed three different approaches to advanced TV user interfaces, or HCI.

Samsung20120117-133700.jpg
Samsung took the riskiest approach, integrating a camera and microphone array into each Smart TV. Samsung Smart Interaction can do far field air gestures and voice control. The CES demo I saw did not go well at all; speech had to be repeated multiple times and it performed incorrect functions. The air gestures performed even more poorly in that it was slow and misfired often. The demoer keep repeating that this feature was optional and consumers could fall back to a standard remote. While I expect Smart Interaction to improve before shipment, there’s only so much that can be done.

LG
LG used their Magic Motion Remote to use voice commands and search and to be a virtual mouse pointer. The mouse

20120117-133949.jpg

pointer for icons went well, but the mouse for keyboard functions didn’t do well at all. Imaging clicking, button by button, “r-e-v-e-n-g-e”. Yes, that hard. Voice command search worked better than Samsung, but not as good as Siri, which has issues. It was smart to place the mic on the remote now as it is closer to the user and the the system knows who to listen to.

Sony
Sony, ironically, took the safe route, pairing smart TVs with a remote that reminded me of the Boxee Box remote which has a full keypad one side. Sony implemented a QWERTY keyboard on one side and trackpad on the other side which could be used with a thumb, similar to a smartphone. This approach was reliable in a demo and consumers will use this well after they stop using the Samsung and LG approaches. The Sony remote has microphone, too which I believe will be enabled for smart TV once it improves in reliability. Today the microphone works with a Blu-ray player with a limited command dictionary, a positive for speech control. This is similar to Microsoft Kinect where you “say what you see”.

       

I believe that Sony will win the 2012 smart TV interface battle due to simplicity. Consumers will be much happier with this more straight forward and reliable approach. I expect Sony to add voice control and far field gestures once the technology works the way it would. Sony hopes that consumers will thank them too as they have thanked Apple for shipping fully completed products. Samsung and LG’s latest interaction models as demonstrated at CES are not ready to be unleashed to the consumers as they are clearly alpha or beta stage. I want to stress that winning the interface battle doesn’t mean winning the war. Apple, your move.

The PC Landscape is About to Change – Here’s Why

on January 17, 2012
Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of my favorite quotes about change is:
“Life is a journey, and on a journey the scenery changes.”

The technology industry is also on a journey and on that journey the scenery will change. Whether many industry insiders recognize it or not the scenery is changing and it’s happening quickly.

The line is blurring between what is a PC and what isn’t. Devices like smart phones and tablets are proving to many that computing can take place on a number of different form factors. It is important for those who watch the personal computing industry closely to realize that the landscape as we know it is about to change drastically.

Tablets Take the Computing Challenge
It all began with the iPad. In as many times, in as many years, Apple again released a product that challenged the industry and forced many companies to turn introspective and re-think their product strategy.

The iPad has done quite a bit more than just challenge the industry, it has also challenged consumers to re-consider what exactly a personal computer is and what their needs are with one. What I mean by that is that our research is indicating that many consumers bought an iPad as a partial PC replacement. Meaning they were in the market for a new PC but instead bought an iPad, relegating their old PC as a backup for when they need a mouse and keyboard experience for certain tasks. What is interesting to the last point is that once integrating an iPad consumers realize they need the PC less and less for many tasks, especially when the iPad is paired with a keyboard. There are however, a few tasks like writing long emails or using certain software that these consumer still want a traditional mouse and keyboard experience for, only their observation is that those use cases do not occupy the majority of computing time for them on a regular basis. For that they remark the iPad suffices for their needs the majority of time.

As those in the industry who make PCs are already figuring out, tablets are a viable computing platform and having a tablet strategy is essential for anyone currently competing for PC market share.

We expect quite a bit of innovation in hardware, software, and services in the category over the next few years. Tablet / PC hybrids, which is a tablet with a detachable keyboard, could be one of the most interesting form factors we will see over the next few years. This product, if done right, will give consumers a two-in-one experience where they can have a tablet when they want it and a traditional mouse and keyboard experience when they want it, all in the same product. The big key – if done right.

Anyone Can Make PCs
Tim made the observation last week in his column that a fundamental issue within the technology industry is that the bulk of consumer product companies are simply chasing Apple rather than emerging as leaders themselves.

As companies look to duplicate the iPad and the MacBook Air this point becomes increasingly clear. What this creates is the opportunity for new entrants to create new and disruptive computing products by bringing fresh thinking to the computing landscape.

Perhaps a glimpse at this reality is Vizio’s announcement that they are getting into the personal computer game. With much of the hardware design for electronics moving into the hands of the ODMs, it makes it possible for anyone with a brand, channel, and cash to start making any number of personal electronics.

This is perhaps the biggest evidence about the change we are about to see in the PC landscape. The reality that the traditional companies, who were historically the leaders in this category may get displaced by new and emerging entrants.

Simply put, those who we expected to lead the PC industry may not be those who lead in the future. The truth is innovation does not stand still and if the traditional companies don’t want to do it someone else will.

The Simple Reason for Apple’s Success

on January 16, 2012
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Back in 1984, one of the major PC companies, who was spectacularly successful with their business PCs, decided that they could be just as successful if they created PCs for consumers. But they wanted them to be different from their business PCs since they knew a consumer model would have to be priced much less than their business models.

So they created a consumer PC that, for all intent and purposes was a “wounded” version of their business models, with a lousy keyboard, very weak processor and the cheapest monitor they could dig up. To say that it was a failure would be an understatement. To make things worse, the only OS they had at the time was MS/DOS so that meant they were giving consumers an OS that was hard to use and difficult to learn from scratch. But they reasoned that since so many business users had their PC with DOS at work, they would gladly buy a similar model for their home and since they knew DOS from the office, it only made sense that they could use it on their home PC.

Interestingly, when it failed, they were dumbfounded. They were certain that they had a winner on their hands and some of the top management kept pushing to re-design it and take a new model back to the consumers the following year. But to their credit, some of the people in the group questioned its potential and turned to outside experts to give a 3rd party opinion on the potential of a PC for consumers at that time.

I was lucky to be one of the few outside persons asked to weigh in on this subject so I went back to their HQ on the east coast two times to give my thoughts on the subject. In my presentation and documentation I gave them, I pointed out the major difference between business and consumer users were that business users had serious motivation to go through the hassle of learning a text-based OS, while the mainstream consumer did not. At the time, PCs pretty much only had software for business use. I argued that for PCs to take off, there would have to be a major reason for consumers to buy them, and emphasized areas like using PCs for educational purposes as well as possibly entertainment as well. I also told them they needed to be cheap.

I drew them a picture of the traditional marketing pyramid and showed that at the top we would find the truly early adopters, which at this time were quite IT driven. I then told them the second layer would possibly come from the worker bees whose IT leaders would push them to learn DOS and harness the PC to make their work more productive. But I told them the third layer would come from what today we call prosumers and, even at that time, I felt it would take at least 3-5 years to get these folks excited about PCs and get the PCs to a price point that they could afford.

And at the bottom layer of the pyramid, which is always the largest audience, I said they would find the mainstream consumer, but pointed out that I felt it would take at least 10 years before this crowd would finally buy into the PC vision.

I never found out how much my outside work on this project impacted their decisions but I do know that a week after I made this presentation, their consumer PC was killed off for good.

But there was another key point that I emphasized in this document. I said that the OS had to be easy to use and the PCs had to be simple enough so that consumers did not need a degree in engineering to run them. And if you know the history of the PC business, you know that consumer interest in PCs for the home did not kick in until Windows 95 hit the market, exactly 10 years after this company killed their consumer PC.

Ironically, even though our PCs have gotten spiffy new user interfaces and are clearly easier to use, to the point that PCs have penetrated pretty much every home in the US in some way or another, the fact remains that they are actually more complicated to use. Consumers not only have to deal with the plethora of desktops and laptops to choose from, they now also have to deal with Internet connections to the home, wireless connectivity, security, identity theft, multiple passwords, personal data in numerous non-connected files, and most recently, this new thing called the cloud.

But in the end, consumers want things simple and some handholding when things go awry. I am convinced that this is really at the heart of Apple’s success. They have one phone–the iPhone. They have one tablet–the iPad. They have two laptops but except for sizes and optical drives in the Pro models, they are actually all the same. And they have one major desktop–the iMac. Even in the iPod line, they have streamlined it to the iPod Touch and the Nano. If a person needs help, they have their Genius Bars and 24-hour hotlines in which the people on the other end actually now how fix your problem.

By comparison, there are now over 80 Android phones to choose from as well as at least 5 versions of an Android OS to deal with. And in the PC space, if something goes wrong, people don’t know who to go to for help. While some of the mainstream PC vendors do have 24 hour hotlines, my experience with them has been only marginally successful. And I have even stumped Best Buys geek squad a few times over the last year with problems with Windows laptops.

While we can point to Apple’s powerful OS, industrial designs and ecosystems of products and services as key to their success, I actually think, that at its heart, the real reason for their amazing success is Jobs’ own mantra to his team, which is to keep things as simple and intuitive as possible. And he was smart enough to know that even with that, given the nature of technology and the fact that things get more powerful and complex over time, provide a place for people to get help that is easy to access and stock it with people who can help when a problem arises.

As I walked the floor of CES recently, I saw over a dozen phones at one vendor, nine new PCs from another vendor and five tablets from another vendor, all with different versions of Android on them. While choice is great, I really think that keeping things simple and easy to understand–and buy–is even more important than choice. While Apple has powerful products in many categories, the real reason for Apple’s success that they just keep things simple.

Lessons for Tech from the SOPA Fight

Pareick Leahy photo
on January 13, 2012
Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s too early for opponents of new laws giving the government sweeping new powers to fight internet piracy by cutting off access to web sites to declare victory. A my colleague Peter Lewis points out, these forces are in fact preparing to take the fights to new levels.

Pareick Leahy photo
Senator Patrick Leahy

But the fact is that the once seemingly inevitable march to passage Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate now seems very much in doubt. The laterst blow came when Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, the author of PIPA, said he would need to reconsider the provisions that would allow the government to block access to offending sites.

How did the tech industry turn what looked like certain defeat into a likely victory? And what can it learn from the effort.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that a concerted and noisy effort can sway public opinion—and congressional votes. Some of the claims of SOPA opponents were overstated to the point of hysteria. It was a very bad piece of legislation, but only under a government both malevolent and stupid would it have caused “the end of the internet as we know it” or led to the destruction of sites such as Facebook or YouTube. But hyperbolic claims are, alas, the stuff of political debates and the supports of the bills were guilty of equally gross exaggerations.

The tech industry was way too passive during the early stages of the fight. Legislators of both parties are anxious to please the entertainment industry, which was the driving force behind the bills, and PIPA was able to collect a bipartisan roster of 40 Senate sponsors before the tech world mounted an effective response. Some major tech companies let their historic fear of software piracy blind them to the much greater threat posed by the proposed legislation. Both PIPA and SOPA seemed well on their way to passage before the Business Software Alliance, dominated by companies such as Microsoft and Adobe, was shamed into withdrawing its support.

But the industry mounted an effective, if loosely coordinated counterattack that took full advantage of opponents’ tactical errors. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) made an embarrassing mistake when he scheduled just one day of hearings of PIPA and allowed only one opposition witness, Google. He then compounded the error by trying to drive the bill through committee in the rush to the Christmas recess. Smith and his allies defeated efforts to strip or modify some of SOPA’s more extreme provisions, but even as they seemed to be railroading the bill, support was eroding. The first drafting session adjourned without a final vote in committee, and efforts to revive the markup before yearend failed.

The industry, for once putting up a united front, also found its voice as numerous tech luminaries spoke out against the legislation. Vint Cerf, Google’s chief internet evangelist and an unquestioned expert on how the internet works, having invented a good bit of it, was particularly effective. Opponents of the bills also learned to work with key legislators whom they do not always regard as their closest friends. Rep. Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) played a critical role in halting SOPA’s march to passage. And a massive grassroots campaign added to the pressure on lawmakers.

SOPA and PIPA are by no means dead and Hollywood and its allies will make a concerted effort to to revive the bills when Congress returns later in January. But the passage that once looked certain now seems like a 50-50 chance at best—and a much more industry-friendly alternative backed by Issa and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) appears to be gaining momentum.

The tech industry should play close attention to what happened in this fight. It will not only help finish the victory, but could be very important in the inevitable policy fights to cpme.

The Most Interesting Things I Saw at CES 2012

on January 13, 2012
Reading Time: 4 minutes

CES is certainly the technology lovers candy store. It is nearly impossible for any one person to see everything of interest at CES. So my approach is to look for the hidden gems or something that exposes me to a concept or an idea that could have lasting industry impact.

So in this, my Friday column, I figured I would highlight a few of the most interesting things I saw at this years CES.

Recon Instruments GPS Goggles
The first was a fascinating product made by a company called Recon Instruments and in partnership with a number of Ski/Snowboard goggle companies. What makes this unique and interesting is that the pair of goggles has Recon Instruments modular technology that feature a built-in LCD screen into goggles.

The Recon Instruments module is packed with features useful while on the slopes. Things like speed, location of friends, temperature, altitude, current GPS location, vertical stats on jumps and much more.

Think of this as your heads up display while skiing or snowboarding. The module can also connect wirelessly to your Android phone allowing you to see caller ID and audio / music controls.

Go Pro Hero 2 + WiFi Backpack
In the same sort of extreme sports technology category, I was interested in the newest Go Pro the Hero2 and Wi-fi backpack accessory. I wrote about the Go Pro HD back in December and mentioned it as one of my favorite pieces of technology at the moment. The Hero2 and wi-fi backpack makes it possible to use the Go Pro in conduction with a smart phone and companion app to see what you are recording or have recorded using your smart phone display. This is useful in so many ways but what makes it interesting is I believe it represents a trend where hardware companies develop companion software or apps that create a compelling extension of the hardware experience. I am excited to see more companies take this approach and use software and apps to extend the hardware they create.

In this case the companion app acts as an accessory to the Go Pro Hero2 hardware and provides a useful and compelling experience. Another compelling feature is that you can use your smart phone and the live link to the Go Pro Hero2 to stream live video of what you are recording to the web in real-time. This would make it possible for friends, family, and loved ones to see memories being created in real-time.

Dell XPS 13 UltraBook
Dell came out strong in the UltraBook category and created possibly the best notebook they have created in some time. The XPS 13 UltraBook’s coolest features are the near edge to edge Gorilla Glass display, which needs to be seen to be appreciated, and the unique carbon fiber bottom which keeps the underside cool.

The 13.3 inch display looks amazing with the Gorilla Glass and packed into an ultra slim bezel like that of an 11-inch display. It surprises me to say that if I was to use a notebook other than my Air, this would be the one.

Samsung 55-inch OLED TV
A sight to behold was the Samsung 55-inch OLED TV. I had a similar experience when I saw this TV as I did when I first saw a HDTV running HD content. The vivid picture quality and rich deep color are hard to put into words. Samsung is leading the charge in developing as near to edge-to-edge glass on TVs and this one is even closer. The bezel and edge virtually disappear into the background leaving just the amazing picture to enjoy.

We have been waiting for OLED displays to make it to market, for the sheer reality that in five years they may be affordable. OLED represents one of the most exciting display technologies in a while and it is important the industry embrace this technology so we can get OLED on all devices with a display as fast as possible.

Samsung didn’t mention any pricing yet but said it would be available toward the end of the year. It will most likely cost an arm and a leg.

Intel’s X86 Smart Phone Reference Design
Intel made a huge leap forward this CES by finally showing the world their latest 32nm “Medfield” SOC running on a smart phone reference design. I spent a few minutes with the design, which was running Android version 2.3, and I was impressed with how snappy it was including web page pinch and view, as well as graphics capabilities.

Battery life is still a concern of mine but Intel’s expertise in hyper-threading and core management could help this. The most amazing thing about the smart phone reference design is that it didn’t’ need a fan.

Motorola announced that they would bring Intel based smart phones to market in 2012. This is one of the things I am very excited about as It could mark a new era for Intel and the level of competition we will see in the upcoming ARM vx X86 is going to fun to watch and great for the industry and consumers.

Motorola Droid Razr Maxx
Last but not least the Motorola Razr Maxx has my vote for most interesting smart phone. It was a toss-up between the Razr Maxx and the Nokia Lumia 900. I simply choose the Razr Maxx due to the feature that I think made it most interesting. Which was the 3300 mAh (12.54 Whr) battery that Moto packed into the form factor of the Razr – it’s just slightly thicker than the Droid Razr. Motorola is claiming that the Razr Maxx can get up to 21 hours of talk time. I talked to several Motorola executives who had been using the phone while at the show and they remarked how with normal usage during the show they were able to go several days without charging. To contrast, every day while at CES my iPhone was dead by 3pm.

Image Credit - AnandTech

Making our mobile batteries last is of the utmost importance going forward. I applaud Motorola for their engineering work and creating a product that is sleek, powerful, and has superior battery life.

Going Nuclear to stop SOPA

on January 12, 2012
Reading Time: 4 minutes
I'm sure this violates someone's copyright

The online news site reddit said it will invoke the “nuclear option” on Jan. 18 – next Wednesday — against two pieces of federal legislation, the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate cousin, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

For 12 hours on Wednesday, reddit’s normally busy “front page of the Internet” will blacked out and replaced by a live video feed of hearings by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is debating proposed legislation to give the government the ability to shut down foreign websites that infringe copyrighted material, and to penalize domestic companies  that “facilitate” alleged infringement.

It remains unclear if Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Craigslist, eBay, PayPal, Yahoo and other Internet titans will join in a simultaneous blackout to protest the legislation, although the trade association that represents them all says it is a possibility. “There have been some serious discussions about that,” Markham C. Erickson, Executive Director and General Counsel of The NetCoalition, told CNET’s Declan McCullagh. The Net Coalition is not involved with reddit’s action next week, a spokeswoman said.

A coordinated systemwide blackout, proponents say, would demonstrate to millions of Americans what could happen to any website that carries user-generated content, if SOPA or PIPA were enacted.

In current forms, the bills would require online service providers, Internet search engines, payment providers and Internet advertising services to police their customers and banish offenders. Companies that did not comply with the government’s order to prevent their customers from connecting with foreign rogue sites would be punished.

Let’s say a company like YouTube, which publishes an average of 48 hours of video every minute, fails to stop one of its 490 million monthly users from uploading a chunk of video that is copyrighted by a Hollywood studio. Let’s say further that one of Twitter’s 400 tweets per minute that link to YouTube videos contains a link to that copyrighted material. And maybe one of Facebook’s 800 million users reposts the link. YouTube says Facebook users watch 150 years worth of YouTube videos every day. And let’s say you hear about the video and enter a search for it on Google.

Under the proposed legislation, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Google are responsible for keeping their users within the law. SOPA grants those companies immunity from punishment if they shut down or block suspected wrongdoers. But if they don’t shut down or block the miscreants, they could be punished themselves.

Both the House and Senate bills are strongly backed by Old Media companies, and equally opposed by New Media companies, along with an astonishing confederation of civil libertarians, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, journalists and academics.

Both sides cast the legislation as a battle of life and death for the future of the Internet.

Opponents contend that SOPA would shut down the free flow of information and prevent Americans from fully exercising their First Amendment rights. Venture capitalists say it will kill innovation in Silicon Valley by setting up impossible burdens for the social media companies that now drive the area’s economic engine. Some critics say SOPA will hand Big Business a “kill switch” on the Internet similar to the shutoff valves used by China, Egypt and other repressive countries to stifle dissent.

Supporters of the legislation, meanwhile, say new laws are needed to fight online trafficking on copyrighted materials and counterfeit goods. No one can deny that the Internet is awash in fake Viagra and bootlegged MP3 files. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who sponsored SOPA, says it will stop foreign online criminals from stealing and selling America’s intellectual property and keeping the profits for themselves. Unless copyright holders are given the new protections under SOPA, Mr. Smith argues, American innovation will stop, American jobs will be lost, and the American economy will continue to lose $100 billion a year to online pirates. And people will die, Mr. Smith says, if we fail to stop foreign villains from selling dangerous counterfeit drugs, fake automobile parts and tainted baby food.

“The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality,” Mr. Smith told Roll Call recently. “Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts.”

“It’s a vocal minority, Mr. Smith told Roll Call. “Because they’re strident doesn’t mean they’re either legitimate or large in number. One, they need to read the language. Show me the language. There’s nothing they can point to that does what they say it does do.”

Who are these clueless critics who don’t know anything about the Internet?

Vint Cerf, Steven Bellovin, Esther Dyson, Dan Kaminsky and dozens of other Internet innovators and engineers wrote an open letter that said: “If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure.”

AOL, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Zynga and other Internet companies joined in an open letter to write, “We are very concerned that the bills as written would seriously undermine the effective mechanism Congress enacted in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) to provide a safe harbor for Internet companies that act in good faith to remove infringing content from their sites.”

Marc Andreessen, Craig Newmark, Jerry Yang, Reid Hoffman, Caterina Fake, Pierre Omidyar, Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey, Jimmy Wales and other Internet entrepreneurs contend that the bills would:

  •             “Require web services to monitor what users link to, or upload. This would have a chilling effect on innovation.
  •             “Deny website owners the right to due process or law.
  •             “Give the U.S. government the power to censor the web using techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran; and
  •             “Undermine security online by changing the basic structure of the Internet.”

A couple of guys named Sergey Brin and Larry Page have been particularly vocal in opposing the legislation.

Well of course, Mr. Smith argues. “Companies like Google have made billions by working with and promoting foreign rogue websites, so they have a vested interest in preventing Congress from stopping rogue sites,” he said at a news conference last month. “Their opposition to this legislation is self-serving since they profit from doing business with rogue sites that steal and sell America’s intellectual property.”

I think everyone agrees that something must be done to combat rampant online piracy and the sale of bogus goods and services by foreign rogue websites. But Old Media is once asking for heavy-handed remedies that resist rather than adapt to technological change. It tried to outlaw videocassette recorders, and it tried to throw students and grandmothers into prison for downloading MP3 files, and now it wants kill-switches on the Internet. Perhaps reddit’s nuclear option will be the kind of heavy-handed rebuttal we need to prompt discussions about a smarter, mutually agreeable solution.

 

 

Do Nokia and Windows Phone Have Any Hope for 2012?

on January 12, 2012
Reading Time: 3 minutes

There were a number of priorities for me at this years CES.  One of my top priorities was to better understand Nokia’s strategy for Windows Phone and the US Market.  Secondarily to Nokia’s US strategy was Microsoft in general and whether Windows Phone can grow in market share in the US in 2012.   

As I have written before, Nokia has again entered the conversation at large, but more importantly, they have become relevant in the US smart phone market.  I have expressed my belief that they contain some fundamental strengths, like brand, quality design, and marketing smarts, to at least compete in the US.

For Nokia, this years CES bore two important and timely US events.  The first was that their US presence was solidified when the US sales of their Lumia 710 officially became available at T-Mobile this week.  The second was the announcement at this years CES of the Lumia 900 which will come to market on AT&T.   

Both products are well designed and the Windows Phone experience is impressive.  That being said, Nokia’s and Microsoft’s challenge is primarily convincing consumers that Windows Phone is an OS worth investing in.

I use that terminology because that is exactly what an OS platform is asking consumers to do.  Not only invest but allow this most personal device to become a part of their life.

Currently, only a small fraction of consumers are convinced that they should buy into Windows Phone 7 and it will take quite a bit more convincing for most.  Nokia and Windows Phone face stiff competition with the army of Android devices and the industry leader in Apple. If anything, Nokia and Windows Phone have a small window of opportunity to rise above what is the Android sea of sameness – but it is only a small window. This is because many more of Android’s core and loyal (on the surface) partners will continue to invest resources in Windows Phone over the next few years. If Microsoft and Nokia are successful the result should be that the market will contain not only a sea of Android devices but of Windows Phone devices as well.

This is why the battle will again turn to differentiation across the board on both the Android and Windows Phone platform. I have previously dared the industry to differentiate and this will need to be the focus going forward.

As I look at where we are right now, it appears that Nokia is faced with an unfortunate dilemma.  Nokia now bears the difficult task of not only spending money to develop their brand in the US but to also help Microsoft convince consumers Windows Phone is the right platform for them.

Microsoft is unfortunately not building or investing in the Windows Phone consumer marketing as aggressively as they should on their own.  So rather then be able to simply focus on their brand, Nokia must also invest in marketing Windows Phone. This will inevitably help Nokia but also their competitors in the long term.

All of this, however, presents Microsoft with what is the chance of a lifetime and it all relates to Windows 8.  The importance of Windows 8 to Microsoft seems to be wildly shrugged off by many.  But I believe that if Microsoft does not succeed in creating consumer demand with Windows 8, they will begin to loose OS market share even faster than they are right now.  

Windows Phone’s success in 2012 can pave the way for Windows 8.  If Microsoft can, at the very least, create some level of interest and ultimately generate demand for Windows Phone, it will almost certainly do the same for Windows 8.  This is because once you have gotten used to the user experience of Windows Phone, it creates a seamless transition to the Windows 8 experience.   

If Microsoft can generate some level of success for Windows Phone in 2012, it will build a needed level of momentum for Windows 8. Primarily because the Windows Phone and Windows 8 Metro UI are very similar.  All of these steps are necessary for Microsoft to not only create demand for their OS platforms but to also create demand for their ecosystem.  I have emphasized the importance of the ecosystem in past columns and Microsoft must leverage their assets to create loyal consumers.

So what is my conclusion for 2012?  Simply put, and to use a sports analogy, it is a rebuilding year for Microsoft and Nokia.  Both companies need to view 2012 as a “laying-a-foundation-for-the-future” year.  I do expect Windows Phone and Nokia to grow in market share in the US but I am not sure if we can count on double digit growth. If both companies play their cards right in 2012, then 2013 will present them with the growth opportunities they both desire.

Past Columns Mentioned:
Why Nokia is Interesting
Dear Industry – Dare to Differentiate
Why It’s All About the Ecosystem

OnLive Brings Superfast Windows to the iPad

on January 11, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes

I just lost my last excuse for traveling with a laptop.

I usually find myself traveling with my MacBook Air because some tasks, such as writing this post at the Consumer Electronics Show, is just a bit more than I can manage on the iPad. But OnLive Desktop is about to change that–and could bring big changes to mobile computing for business.

OnLive Desktop screenshotOnLive is the company that did the seemingly impossible by creating a platform where high-performance games are run on its servers with just screen images transmitted to networked clients including computers, tablets, phones, and connected TVs. By running instances of Windows on a server instead of a game, OnLive has duplicated the trick for productivity software. It works a bit like Citrix’s server-based Windows, but with performance so good you think the software is running locally, and on a really fast machine at that. The key to the performance, says OnLive CEO Steve Perlman, is that it was “built against the discipline of instant-action gaming.”

The OnLive Desktop app will be available from the iTunes Store later today. A basic version, which includes Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel and 2 gigabytes of online storage, is free.

A $10 a month premium version, which will be of more interest to serious users when it becomes available, includes the full Office suite and 50 GB of storage. It also provides for persistent user preferences in Office, superfast server-based web browsing, and the ability of users to upload applications.

Adding your own applications would add dramatically to the usefulness of the services. However, Perlman was a bit vague on exactly how it would work, especially with applications such as Adobe Creative Suite, which have complicated licensing arrangements. Autodesk applications are likely to be available pre-installed on OnLive’s servers, since Autodesk is an investor in the company.

OnLive also plans to offer an enterprise version. This would allow companies to set up virtual Windows machines on OnLive servers using their own custom images, a service aimed at the heart of Citrix’s business.

When I first saw a demo of OnLive’s gaming service, I was deeply skeptical that it could work. Trying it when it first became available quickly made me a believer, and even though I have only seen the Desktop service in a demo, I have every reason to believe it will work as promised over any decent internet connection.

Actually using Office on an iPad is a bit clumsy for reasons that have more to do with Office than with either OnLine or the iPad. Office is notoriously unfriendly to touch, even when installed on a touchscreen PC or Windows slate.  When a keyboard is needed, the user has a choice between the Microsoft on-screen keyboard (the iPad keyboards lack keys that Windows needs for full functionality) or the standard office Text Input Panel, which can be used with any iPad-compatible pen. I think most users will be much happier with an external physical keyboard.

On the other hand, OnLive Desktop will let you display even the most complex PowerPoint slide show, including Flash video, without a hitch. (This works because the Flash is being executed on the server, with only the frames sent down to the notoriously Flash-less iPad.)

OnLive Desktop could really come into its own with Windows 8 and the expected, though as yet unannounced, touch friendly version of Office.

 

 

Samsung & LG Validate Microsoft’s Living Room Interaction Model

on January 10, 2012
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Microsoft launched Kinect back in November 2010 in a  move to change the man-to-machine interface between the consumer to their living room content.  While incredibly risky, the gamble paid off in the fastest selling consumer device, ever.  I saw the potential after analyzing the usage models and technology for a few months after Kinect launch and predicted that at least all DMA’s would have the capability.

The Kinect launch sent shock waves into the industry because the titans of the living room like Sony, Samsung, and Toshiba hadn’t even gotten close to duplicating or leading with voice and air-gesture techniques.  With Samsung and LG announcing future TVs with this capability at CES, Microsoft’s living room interaction strategy has officially been affirmed at CES and most importantly, the CE industry.

Samsung “Smart Interaction”sammy

Samsung launched what it called “Smart Interaction”, which  allows users to control and interact with their HDTVs.  Smart Interaction allows the user to control the TV with their voice, air-gestures, and passively with their face.  The voice and air gestures operate in a manner similar to Microsoft in that pre-defined gestures exist for different interactions. For instance, users can select an item by grabbing it, which signifies clicking an icon on a remote.  Facial recognition essentially “logs you in” to your profile like a PC would giving you your personal settings for TV and also gives you the virtual remote.

A Step Further Than Microsoft ?

Samsung has one-upped Microsoft on one indicator, at least publicly, with their application development model.  Samsung has broadly opened their APIs via an SDK which could pull in tens of thousands of developers.  If this gains traction, we could see a future challenge arise where platforms are fighting for the number of apps in the same way Apple initially trumped everyone in smartphones.  The initial iPhone lure was its design but also  the apps, the hundreds of thousands of apps that were developed.  It made Google Android look very weak initially until it caught up, still makes Blackberry and Windows Phone appear weaker, and can be argued it was the death blow to HP’s webOS. I believe that Microsoft is gearing up for a major “opening” of the Kinect ecosystem in the Windows 8 timeframe where Windows 8 Metro apps can be run inside the Kinect environment.

Challenges for Samsung and LG

Advanced HCI like voice and air-gesture control is a monumental undertaking and risk.  Changing anything that stands between a CE user and the content is risky in that if it’s not perfect, and I mean perfect, users will stop using it.  Look at version 1 of Apple’s Siri.  Everyone who bought the phone tried it and most stopped using it because it wasn’t reliable or consistent.  Microsoft Kinect has many, many contingencies to work well including standing in a specific “zone” to get the best air gestures to work correctly.  Voice control only works in certain modes, not all interactions.

The fallback Apple has is that users don’t have to use Siri, it’s an option and it can be very personal in that most use Siri when others aren’t looking or listening.  The Kinect fallback is a painful one, in that you wasted that cool looking $149 peripheral.  Similarly, Samsung  “Smart Interaction” users can fallback to the remote, and most will initially, until it’s perfected.

There are meaningful differences in consumer audiences of Siri, Kinect, and Samsung “Smart Interaction”.  I argue that Siri and Kinect users are “pathfinders” and “explorers” in that they enjoy the challenge of trying new things.  The traditional HDTV buyer doesn’t want any pathfinding or exploring; they want to watch content and if they’re feeling adventurous, they’ll go out on a limb and check sports scores.   This means that Samsung’s customers won’t appreciate anything that just doesn’t work and don’t admire the “good try” or a Siri beta product.

One often-overlooked challenge in this space is content, or the amount of content you can actually control with voice and air gestures.  Over the top services like Netflix and Hulu are fine if the app is resident in the TV, but what if you have a cable or satellite box which most of the living population have? What if you want to PVR something or want to play specific content that was saved on it?  This is solvable if the TV has a perfect channel guide for the STB and service provider with IR-blasting capabilities to talk to it.  That didn’t work out too well for Google TV V1, its end users or its partners.

This is the Future, Embrace It

The CE industry won’t get this right initially with a broad base of consumers but that won’t kill the interaction model. Hardware and software developers will keep improving until it finally does, and it truly becomes natural, consistent, and reliable. At some point in the very near future, most consumers will be able to control their HDTVs with their voice and air gestures.  Many won’t want to do this, particularly those who are tech-phobic or late adopters.

In terms of industry investment, the positive part is that other devices like phones, tablets, PCs and even washing machines leverage the same interactions and technologies so there is a lot of investment and shared risk.  The biggest question is, will one company other than Microsoft lead the future of living room?  Your move, Apple.

The Day A Smart Phone Changed an Industry

on January 9, 2012
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Five years ago today Apple introduced the iPhone. On this day five years ago, Apple opened our eyes to the reality that the devices we considered “smart” were not really smart at all. They re-invented the smart phone and made the industry re-evaluate what we knew a smart phone to be, changing the landscape entirely.

I remember the day vividly because our team had split up and one person from Creative Strategies (not me) got to attend history in the making at the iPhone launch event, while I was stuck at CES doing my analyst duties.

I have never seen the buzz around CES be so focused on something not present at the show. That year the iPhone completely overshadowed CES in a way I have never seen and may never see again.

The industry leading up the launch of the iPhone was a mess. Handset innovation was at an all time low and purely focused on business users. Carriers controlled nearly every aspect of the device. Developers knew mobile apps were the big opportunity but had to fight for “on deck” promotion through carriers’ walled gardens if they hoped to make any money. To sum it up, there was no unity, no vision, and almost zero innovation as it related to smart phones. Apple changed all that with the iPhone.

So now here we are five years later and how is the iPhone doing? If ChangeWave’s recent data is any indication, the iPhone is not only continuing to thrive five years later, but it is dominating at an unprecedented level.

Today ChangeWave released findings of a survey that intends to gauge smartphone buying intent by consumers. The results of this survey of 4,000 US-based consumers showed that among respondents planning to buy a new smart phone in the next 90 days, better than one-in-two, or 54%, say they’ll get an iPhone. Perhaps a quote in the ChangeWave press release says it best.

“Apple has never dominated smart phone planned buying to this extent more than two months after a major new release.”

I have made this observation time and time again, but the volumes that Apple ships in a single model device is unprecedented in this industry. There is no arguing that Android vendors as a whole are moving volumes. But the point has to be made that it takes an army of Android devices, to compete with one single model of the iPhone. One could argue, quite strongly that, five years later, the competition is just now catching up — or not depending on your perspective.

I’m not sure any of us could have predicted that the iPhone would not only be thriving, but dominating, and expected to continue to dominate, the smart phone landscape. I truly hope the next five years bring even more excitement and innovation to this industry, and it’s probably a safe bet that Apple will continue to lead this charge.

I’ll close with an anecdote that highlights for me my memory of the day the iPhone launched. As I mentioned, I didn’t attend the iPhone launch because I decided to stay back and cover CES for our firm. After the launch a Sr. Executive at Apple along with my father called my cell from a working iPhone. That iPhone then proceeded to be shown on TV and have images taken with my cell phone number clearly displayed on the dial pad. For about the next month I received on average 2,000+ calls a day from strangers asking if I was Steve Jobs or if they could talk to Steve Jobs.

People are strange and no I didn’t change my number. My cell phone number is, however, forever engraved into some of the first media images used the day the device launched.

I guess that counts for something.