Now that we are several months into assessing the full impact of COVID-19 on the global economy and the tech industry as a whole, one narrative has continued to stand out. Remote working may have its inflection point.
One of my takeaways from Zoomtopia, Zoom’s annual customer conference, was discussions with executives of companies who have adopted remote work and video meetings as a culture. Every CTO/CIO who shared their experience talked about how difficult it was to change the culture from predominantly in-person meetings and audio-only conference calls. Employees were hesitant to embrace video, and it was a slow-roll. However, once employees started trying it, they didn’t want to go back to audio-only conference calls/meetings, and the culture changed quickly. One CTO of a big health care firm said within three years they went from zero video calls/video meetings to over 90%. All the workforce needs to do is try it, and they won’t go back.
As companies are limiting travel to key countries, and China, in particular, teams are working together in those countries are not going to stop working together. Rather they will adopt new means to collaborate still and function as a team, and video meetings are what everyone is now rapidly adopting whether they were ready or not.
Yesterday, noted investor Fred Wilson wrote a brief post proclaiming this was videoconferencing’s moment. He made the point while commenting on Zoom’s stock price, something I have been watching for over two weeks now. Investors think Zoom is among the winners of this moment for video calls/meetings. In part, it may be because many of them are now trying Zoom for their own needs and realizing how easy and convenient video calls/meetings are in practice.
While it is true, Zoom is the front-runner due to how easy it is to set up and start having video meetings, this moment created by COVID-19 is likely to benefit Microsoft Teams, as well as G-Suite with Hangouts. Companies who are in Microsoft’s ecosystem or Google’s will likely use the tools they provide for video meetings, and overall, I expect this to be a boon for remote working.
That being said, the question is if this potential workplace transformation will stick or not once the COVID-19 concern is over. My colleague Carolina Milanesi and I were talking about this yesterday, and she made the great point that for many cultures, both entrenched company cultures, and regional cultures may still prefer to be in person, or continue to mandate employees come to work due to lack of trust or concerns about productivity. I think it is reasonable to assume remote work and collaboration will move faster in some companies and some countries, but may not take off as quickly in others.
That being said, if anything, the increased remote work happening now due to COVID-19 will expose both companies and employees to the benefits of video calls/meetings and at the very least starting getting the workplace thinking about how best to enable and support more efficient team collaboration from distributed workforces.
Arm Mac Rumors
Everyone’s, well maybe not everyone, favorite Mac rumor has resurfaced. Noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo put a report out saying Arm-based Macs could be coming in 2021.
We all know, Apple has one of the world-leading semiconductor development teams inside their walls, making incredible SoCs for iPhone and iPad as well as a host of companion processors all designed to give Apple products unique differentiators.
Apple has the best track record as any company making transitions from semiconductor technology, and the vast majority of Apple’s ecosystem already runs on Arm. But as Microsoft has demonstrated, and still battling, the PC ecosystem has remained stuck in x86 land for such a long-time most of the Windows ecosystem is slow to optimize for Arm, if they do so at all.
Perhaps one of the best Windows devices using Arm is the Surface Pro X, which has a co-designed SoC between Qualcomm and Microsoft, and to meet performance requirements, the CPU is boosted to 3ghz. This is due to Microsoft emulating x86 software on Arm, which takes a significant performance hit.
Apple likely knows this, and that any Arm-based Mac would require software to emulate native x86 software. To emulate the native x86 software on Mac, Apple would need to design a chip that over-indexes on performance and I’d have a high degree of confidence Apple could do this if they wanted to. Still, the question remains whether or not it is worth it or not.
Answering the question of if it is worth it for Apple now becomes a philosophical question. Does Apple want to unify macOS, iPadOS, and iOS. If so, then moving to an Arm-based Mac is absolutely the right strategic move for Apple. The world may be going to a unified OS, and that may be a good thing.
Unified Operating Systems
Personally, I’ve started living a hybrid operating system life. I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface 15′ laptop along with the Surface Pro X as its companion. A the same time, I use a 16″ MacBook Pro along with the 12.9′ iPad Pro as its companion.
I absolutely understand this is a luxury and not the kind of thing most people do, however, using one platform that is very close to a unified operating system and using one that has separated operating systems is a fascinating experiment.
Long-time readers of my analysis know I like to boil things we do on our machines to workflows. We establish the most efficient means we can to get things done on our devices. I have been using a Mac for nearly two decades, and I have some deeply entrenched workflows. I always found bouncing those workflows between Mac and iPad to be a challenge because with iPad, I had to develop totally different workflows to do similar things I do on my Mac.
Contrast that with my current Windows experiences and all the workflows I developed on Windows are easily picked up on the Surface Pro X because they are the same operating system running the same software. I was surprised how beneficial this unified operating-system is now that I have been immersing myself in it.
Apple has stayed away from this, and for many years I thought this was the right approach for Apple. However, I am now reconsidering that stance and wondering if the division between macOS and iPadOS has actually been more of a factor holding back the potential of these two platforms than the benefit I originally thought.
If Apple goes this route, does it mean a touch-screen Mac? I think it has to, whether or not the touch dimension is used in a notebook factor, doing so would be beneficial to the more mobile computing factors of iPad, which would also carry with it a benefit to a potential folding iPhone.
So the current thinking is then, unify the OS, get a boost of more large-screen touch productivity apps on Apple’s A-series processor designs and accompanying development tools. All of which will create an even more powerful iPad experience, which in turn would pave the way for an incredible solution in a folding iPhone.
Time will tell if my logic holds!