Apps, Software and Video Games shortly will go the way of the DVD – they will live in a ‘cloud’.

Bandwidth is the key to the cloud. If you’ve got enough access to it, meaning if you’ve got a fast enough connection, then you don’t need any physical media or software to live in your PC, Mac or for that matter very soon your mobile phone and tablets.

We used to have giant ‘desktop’ computers that had to have HUGE hard drives in order for us to install many applications. For example, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, MS Office, CAD software, etc. all are very large installation packages. Couple this with your collection of MP3’s, photo’s, video’s and documents and most of us ran out of room on a PC that had 50-100 gigs of space for a hard drive.

The obvious to the consumer

Today, as a consumer we see convenient repositories for photo’s, music and videos and documents. Skydrive, GoogleDocs, Dropbox, Box, Amazon Cloud Drive. Now consumers are beginning to understand and use these places to store what they used to store on their home computers. Why? Several key reasons – first, once uploaded to a large mainstream cloud drive (and I mean to the likes of Google, MS or Amazon) your collection of ‘whatever’ is safe. How many of us have dropped or lost a laptop, had a hard drive fail, spilled coffee on our desks and then PC, etc. If you didn’t back it up to an external hard drive you lost it all. Worse yet, I’ve had friends who did and THAT and the hard drive failed shortly thereafter. Years of precious photos (and now videos more than ever thanks for our mobile phones) you can never get back or thousands of MP3’s gone (at $.99 each). Second, consumers now are getting familiar with storing their digital belongings off site and in a cloud. We hear about Amazon’s or Google’s cloud storage drive initiatives more and more everyday. They are fast becoming the new norm. And third – they are not expensive. Certainly not when compared to a 1.5 Terabyte hard drive that can fail without warning.

The not so obvious to us all

What’s not so obvious to consumers is what’s happening in the enterprise business realm. Years ago, you wanted to put up a business domain web site or had a business that required large databases, some required separate servers for clients that are uber security conscious, some needed to have their domain living on a separate server from others (especially the financial and health industries). Others needed production servers, staging servers and then after testing finally deployed an application or web service. Sometimes IT had to physically travel to the colo facility to apply a ‘patch’ to a newly deployed application and hoped that the patch worked as it was supposed to or else everything came to a screeching halt. Businesses lost money, time, and face sometimes. You’d pay Sun, Oracle, Cisco, EMC, etc. millions to deploy servers and DB’s for your environment. You’d spend money on hiring the right technical IT staff to deploy and sync and stitch all of this together. This WAS the norm.

Enterprise today is all moving into a cloud based environment – virtualization is the norm now.

Sun servers were all the rage in the 90’s. But they were VERY expensive. Robust, great customer service, but very costly. Today, you can run a linux box for a fraction of the cost. No more hard drives or servers (blades or otherwise). You can fire up an ‘instance’ and server through AWS in a few minutes. No going into a colo facility. Start-up’s can get to market almost instantaneously and for far less of a cost. You pay for what you use. No more buying a million dollar license for ATG, Vignette or Broadvision and installing 15 discs in a cage. You rent it now. Patches get uploaded by the cloud vendor in a virtual environment and tested before they are deployed to you.

With the rise of this ‘virtualization’, more and more apps or processes now get built into the browser. Java script was written just for this purpose and has allowed for far more sophisticated applications to run in a network environment and now on browsers. Other software will be embedded in browsers as time goes on that will mimic the functionality and hardware on your PC. You can bet on it.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Whereas IaaS (infrastructure as a service) providers offer bare compute cycles and SaaS (software as a service) providers offeraccess to such apps as CRM online, PaaS offerings provide turnkey services for developers to get their apps up and running quickly, no infrastructure concerns needed.

Offered as a service, PaaS runs the gamut from development tools to middleware to database software to any “application platform” functionality that developers might require to construct applications. None of these above services come without their problems. But so did everything else before them.

IaaS focuses on managing virtual machines, and the risks are little different than with other cloud types — here, the main risk is rogue or unwarranted commandeering of services. IaaS requires governance and usage monitoring. But with this comes a good degree of convenience and business ROI.

Some of the most popular cloud services running virtually are; Microsoft Windows Azure, Googles App Engine (which offer a nonSQL relational SQL database service), VMware cloud foundry, Force.com ( from salesforce.com), Heroku (also from SF), Amazon Elastic Beanstalk, Engine Ysrd Cloud (for Ruby on Rails enthusiasts), Engine Yard Orchestra (for PHP enthusiasts) and CumuLogic (for Java developers). Consumers never see or hear any of this but use web services that live on these services day in and day out.

What will be obvious to consumers in about 10 years or less

All of this bring me back around to bandwidth and apps. Once we have enough consumers that have access to real fast broadband (100mbps or more down and ideally 200mbps down), then the Apple and Android app store will disappear. Software discs will become obsolete. Video game installation discs – gone. Why, because once you have enough speed, apps can be loaded and accessed wirelessly via the web. The calls to databases, functionality and such can all be received instantly online. Its already happening, slowly. Examples of this in the entertainment space is Ultraviolet, bring your DVD’s to Wal-Mart and upload them to your digital locker – no more disc. Onlive, Livestream, Gaikai all stream video games without the need for a disc, Netflix (you know about them). Consumers are aware of these, but then you’ve also got GoogleDocs and Skydrive for documents and the creation of word and excel docs. We don’t need an install disc anymore.

Last week, it took me 4 days to upload 12,934 MP3’s to my cloud locker at Amazon Music drive. Less time than I ever thought. Available anytime for me to download if need be. That’s nearly $ 13,000 worth of music, stored for as little as $ 20.00 a year.

Mobile apps, software suites, video game discs, movies, music photos and more will still be here but will not physically be in your home forever. It’s inevitable.

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Apple’s Half Approach To The ‘Clouds’

This weeks Apple announcement is not quite as cloud centric as you may think. Unlike Googles approach with having a chromebook browser with Linux running underneath and no local storage, Apple is still tethered to the device we use. It’s a world of ‘apps’.

In Google’s view, you do everything using a browser with no local storage or apps. In Apple’s world, while it has taken an elegant approach to its delivery mechanism and user experience bar none, it is still largely delivering a localized environment.

In Google’s world, chromebooks and other devices like these will still need to grapple with the unreliable world of ‘wireless’ connections – or sometimes lack of them and the consumers long time habit and behavior of wanting the content close by them, local.

With Apple’s announcement, they are positioning themselves to take full advantage of the ‘post’ PC world – that is they know that by 2013 (a scant 2 plus years away).

Gartner and others predict mobile phones and THEIR screens will be the No. 1 way we access the Internet to view the web. Here are some more rather startling mobile facts:

*82 percent of consumers have used their mobile phones in a store, 55 percent in a doctor’s office or hospital, 17 percent during a movie at the theater, 14 percent while flying on a plane and 7 percent during church service. Around 17 percent of mobile users have shown a clerk in a store a picture of a product on their mobile phone, saying in effect, “I want this please,” which is a new shopping behavior that is surprisingly being driven by men. 45 percent of users check their mobile devices first thing in the morning, according to InsightExpress.

*Research has determined that mobile advertising is four-to-five times more effective than online advertising, on average…due to various factors, including lack of clutter in mobile, typically one ad per page, and the mobile pages themselves typically do not have a lot of stuff going on—they tend to be very clean. Also, the proportion of the ad on a mobile screen is greater, so it gets more share of eyeballs.

My takeaway from these numbers is that we are steadily becoming a mobile and tablet world, not a PC one.

This is a world the Apple knows better than anyone and using iCloud, it has taken a very good shot at delivering a cloud experience with what really is a local one.  Apple is extending what Apple does best, its core strengths into the cloud. And this is simply the basic integration of Apple’s hardware and software – their elegant OS.  The major difference being it does not yet rely on the browser as the central driving force in the picture (Google’s chrome) rather in Apple’s view what they are giving us an elegant CMS or content delivery system that we manage.  Google is betting on its browser, and they too know its coming to the small screen, therefore, that’s why we are seeing the Android store downloadable app strategy they are pushing out..

Apple which supports its web apps in the App store will have a rude awakening one day as eventually everyone but them will play on a browser using HTML5, but for now Apple’s user experience is by far the best.  A good example of this is when you go to read GoogleNews on your iPhone using Safari and at the bottom of the screen a small box pops up saying ‘ if you want to access Google News, click here to put this app on your device’. If you agree, a small app-like icon gets created on your iPhone using HTML5 just as if you downloaded it through iTunes.

So, Apple IS a cloud player indeed, distributing its OS X online, supporting over the air updates, allowing iTunes to be streamed to any iOS registered device. And iTunes did something that neither Google nor Amazon has done – signed deals with the major music players for their content (video/films excluded for now). This allows us to avoid the time consuming process of uploading our music collection to iCloud (I think I have about 60gigs of files). We can purchase a subscription to Music Match for $24.99 year, and MM will mirror my music collection with the iTunes store – ALL of my music, not just iTunes purchased music. These tracks can now be streamed back to me from the cloud on any MacOS registered device.

However, unlike other pure cloud players, this isn’t a web based operation for all of this. Apple still is enabling core SDK kits (software development kits) for developers to build in access and API’s (application program interfaces) that will let developers integrate their own apps within Apple’s cloud.

To perhaps make this analogy clearer of why it is not a pure based cloud play, look at iTunes. Your music library stays right where it is, with YOU – MM provides software that identifies songs and tracks you have and purchases you made at iTunes against the vast iTunes catalog of music to support MM. All of this not really ‘cloud’ based, but still local.

For us users, the benefit is an elegant, easy intuitive way to sync our content between all of our tablets and mobile devices (Macs included). And this sync does include most other services and docs Apple’s got to offer, calendars, contacts, documents, online storage and photos.  This is far different than Google that has a true cloud offering using GoogleDocs where you store the document and edit in the clouds.  With Apple, you make changes locally and then those changes are synced to the cloud.

This method allows us to be far less vulnerable to the woes of the wireless world or lack of it at times. And, ultimately, it will keep us all purchasing not just apps but what Apple REALLY wants us to buy – newer iPads, newer iPhones and brand new Macs.  Apple is really in the hardware business, unlike Google that wants to drive everyone to the web on inexpensive chromebooks running Linux to see more advertising or Amazon that wants to drive purchases online. It a half hearted approach but it’s a damn elegant one and one that I am particularly enjoying because everything just works!

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13 Movie Online Services is WAY too many. (PPV Part 2)

Netflix vs. Google TV 2.0 PPV (powered by Honeycomb 3.1) vs. YouTube rentals vs. iTunes vs cable PPV vs VUDU vs. Blockbuster OnDemand vs Facebook OnDemand vs BigStar Movies vs CinemaNow OnDemand vs. Alphaline ( Sears/Roxio) vs. Redbox (due 2011) vs. Flixster via Warner Bros. vs anyone else ?

What happens when the airlines have a fare war? You know, you can fly from NY to L.A. for $xx.xx and then the next thing you know, another airline tops that price by $ 20.00? Or gives you a free bag to carry on board? All of a sudden 5 or more airlines have the same special going on. Who do you fly with? Decisions, decisions… It all begins to seem and look the same to you. You get to the same destination, same approximate times, using the same type of transportation, in the air for just about the same money. Who suffers? Ultimately the carriers do.
Meet the carriers. Not the airlines, but the carriers of movies online. I count thirteen (13) of them – eleven (11) of them are live as we speak. All boasting the same movies for the most part for the same prices. All rentable at the same time for about the same amount of time. And I’m not even counting Redbox as an online rentable service…yet. What’s a consumer to do – who do you choose? And why. Do you ‘subscribe’ to a Netflix monthly or do you pick off a film on a one-off basis from another provider. More importantly, how do all of these guys begin to differentiate themselves from each other? How and where do they market themselves? Netflix is clearly the 900lb gorilla today. I guess iTunes is # 2. But beyond them, I can’t really tell who’s in third place. But more importantly, do I really care? Do I need3 or 5 or 7 similar services? On top of all this, I have Verizon’s FIOS cable service at home with thousands of movies to choose from to watch on any given day/hour.

I have licensed movies before from each of the studios and it was no easy task. Number one, its VERY expensive. Figure an upfront fee to be paid to play, maybe between $500k-$1m. That’s just for starters. Then there are the guarantees against each title licensed. Therefore as a provider of online fare, you’ve got to re-coup that fee with a certain number of minimum rentals or turns of the gate so to speak. With nearly 13 services out there plus cable choices, I’m going to take a guess here a few will not make it. Not only must you guarantee upfront cash, you also must explain how you are going to market the studios films, how you will digitally protect them from piracy ( good luck on that one) and how you will separate yourself from the rest of the online movie ‘noise’. All of this and then compete with the new ‘premium’ $30.00 a pop cable TV onDemand offering ( not that I think that’s going to be too successful – it’s the least of these companies problems).
However, the one issue I have with all these services is this: I am unable to save ANYTHING I purchase or rent for viewing later on a rainy day. If I had a ‘digital’ locker – someplace to hold what I spend my money on to see so I can view it later (more than 24hrs later), that might sway me to use that service ALL THE TIME.

Cell phone minutes will become Bandwidth minutes soon…

Have you tried to make a call from your iPad lately?  How about using your Droid cell with a fee Sip application (Sipdroid or pinger for the iPad or even GoogleVoice).   It works really well – crystal clear calls most of the time. All of these have something in common.  Eventually they will bypass your cell carrier using the internet and Voip.  What does this mean for the Verizon’s, AT & T’s, etc. of the world?  It means once an application like GoogleVoice (GV) becomes seamless and commonplace and as soon as 4G, Wimax etc.  becomes the norm,  people will begin to use free Voip and cut back on their cell usage in minutes.

bandwidth meter

cell phones get metered

The implications are big for these carriers. And I know they see it coming. They can’t prevent apps being developed and sold in the Android and Apple marketplace as they don’t do the gate keeping.    How will they hold on to their revenue base when erosion begins due to these apps + access to the web?  They will most likely follow in the footsteps of Time-Warner and the rest of the cable industry and monitor like a leaky faucet your bandwidth usage on your phone. They will trade minutes for bytes.  Charge us by the amount of bandwidth consumed.  So, enjoy the unlimited cell minutes some of you have on some cell plans today, because those days are numbered. Sure, there will be unlimited bandwidth usage, but my hunch is that at least initially like everything else that’s new, it will be costly.

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Is Pandora’s Box About to be Opened? TV of The Present and Near Future – 4 Possible Scenarios

1.  Slingbox + iPad or gPad (this is the quickest way to get your TV experience at home with ALL your channels – a ‘bridge’ solution at best as it omits the web

2.  gPad or PC Tablets running android (and Googles upcoming OS, Chrome) with a receiver chip built in for wireless broadcasts (including youtube for movies , via PPV) – this can be any number of announced tablets ( Dell, etc.)

3. AppleTV + iPads with special chips + iTunes for movies and TV shows (this assumes an updated iPad version).

4.  3rd party hardware/software boxes: Logitechs Revue box (coming soon), Roku (here now), Boxee Box (coming soon), and others require you to connect these to your TV (and whatever else is there, like a DVR, cable TV box, etc). The average person will have some reluctance to doing this. And that’s most of us. They don’t call TV BROADcast for nothing – its for the masses, not just the technophiles.

All of the above solutions or alternatives will give you ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox + movies on an on-demand basis. Some will let you access Netflix or Hulu if you have an account and subscribe (read: an additional cost).

WHAT’S MISSING: your very own DVR Cloud for shows you watch and want to keep which you have purchased.

Despite Steve Jobs stating that consumers “don’t want a computer on their TV,” consumers DO want TV on their computers or more specifically on their mobile and wireless connected devices (iPads,  tablets, etc.) and especially on the go.  Business customers, more than consumers, especially need any of their purchases to do double-duty to make fiscal sense.

Some GPad TV reasons to exist:

Google has released an informational guide for would-be developers to create more applications specifically for Google TV. While many apps will probably be useless or purely for entertainment, there will likely be some useful programs for business consumers in the near future.

Some things worth noting are Google’s forthcoming Chrome OS: Android will be picking up Street View services in Google Maps, as well as voice-powered search so users can speak search queries rather than typing them into a keyboard or using a mouse.

Google TV will be built right in to new TVs from Sony, available on separate set-top boxes from Logitech (Revue), and those are just launch partners, with many more to come. Google has announced plans to roll out Google TV in the United States this fall, with a worldwide launch following in 2011. Google TV aims to fuse traditional television programming with Internet browsing and interactive capabilities.

Google TV will run on Intel’s Atom processor – the same chip powering virtually every netbook on the market. This enables it the additional horsepower to pump up full 1080p video, rather than 720p as the Apple TV maxes out at, it should leave room for additional upgrades, and maybe even the possibility of hacking the software to run other desktop apps (umm, now we shall see ‘jailbreaking your Google TV or gPads, I can virtually guarantee that one).

Google, meanwhile, has said nothing of opening a store for content. Every source will either come for free through the Web, from a cable box, or third-party providers. This might make the selection of popular shows smaller out of the box, but providers like Amazon on Demand, Vudu and Hulu Plus will line up to jump aboard Google TV, and it means that Google TV will be providing more content than what Apple alone can deliver- although it doesn’t mean that those same providers won’t want into the iTunes storefront as well.

To Googles point and possible advantage, Movies and TV isn’t everything.  Sometimes, you want to see photos from Picasa. Sometimes, you want to give directions to a friend using Google Maps. Maybe you want to want to read your favorite site without squinting on a mobile device or watch a YouTube video.  Google TV will integrate a browser based on Chrome to do all the above.

Google claims that existing Android apps should eventually be able to run on Google TV, as long as they don’t use smartphone-only features. Meaning it will be damn difficult to tilt your TV to play skillball or bowling using an app.

Dell is releasing later this year a Dell ‘Looking Glass tablet’. With larger screen Android phones and tablets coming to market in the second half of the year it only makes sense that content services will be supplying the increasing demand to watch content on these new screens and devices.

The Looking Glass is actually the big brother of the Dell Streak 5 and it comes with a 7 inch WVGA display. The tablet will run Android 2.1 on a 1 GHz nVidia T20 processor. The nVidia Tegra 2 is impressive because it is based on an ARM Cortex-A9 multicore processor design. Other spec highlights include 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera, 512 MB ROM and 512 MB RAM, and 802.11n WiFi. Optional accessories for the Looking Glass include a 3G modem (mini card type) and a digital TV module. Expect the Looking Glass to launch in Q4 2010 on AT&T. Early renders for the device show U-Verse integration, which is AT&T’s fiber optic network.

Apple TV Reasons:

Apple recently redesigned the Apple TV to run on the same A4 processor powering the iPhone and iPad. Essentially, it’s a smartphone, without a screen, in a box.

Apple TV conveniently puts its storefront for iTunes in the middle of your living room, allowing you to buy Apple content from Apple. And hey, you can watch Netflix this year, too, YouTube and Flickr.  Apple has proven to make this closed shopping experience feel cozy and convenient as in the past it has done with all of its devices and media offerings. Being a proven solution is a BIG advantage here.  And Apple is so far the only ones that can say this.

Apple has got it down and has sold millions of iPhones, iTouch’s, iPads and other connected devices AND content for years now. This is not an easy trick – as it not only requires the hardware to be stupidly simple and easy to use for the masses, but its software must be self-healing and not require the ‘patches’ and the many problems we have all had with things like syncing your Outlook to a Palm or Crackberry and maintaining ALL of your information. How many of us have had problems doing this because we were running one of the many Microsoft operating system versions or incompatible updates for our MS Outlook or office.

Apple is also easing restrictions on the use of third-party development tools to create iOS app—a move that might clear the way for developers to create apps for the iPhone using Adobe Flash CS5. (Note this is not the same as letting Flash run on the iPhone.)

When Apple debuted iOS4 back in April (then called iPhone OS 4), it unveiled restrictive terms in its developer program license that prohibited developers from using third-party application development tools or middleware to create iOS applications. In an open letter later that month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Apple did not want the iOS platform to be “at the mercy” of third party development tools. Apple has not changed those provisions to permit the use of third-party development tools, so long as the applications do not download code to iOS devices. “This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need,” Apple wrote.

Slingbox Reasons:

For the uninitiated, Slingbox is a “places shifting device.” Connect it to a video source (cable or satellite box, DVR, TV antenna, and so forth), and the Slingbox digitizes the video output for access on a wide variety of PCs and smartphones and iPhones–essentially allowing access to your home TV anywhere you can access the Internet. People prefer the benefit of mobility and they will accept just about anything – even frequently dropped calls – for the ability to have a media session (voice call, video chat, whatever) while they are wherever they are.

If you can watch whatever is on your home DVR, TV or better yet live HDTV on your iPad, wherever you are, then the broadcasting companies have lost total control of advertising as it relates to geography. This is an interesting notion (Nielsen please take note).  This has huge implications. One example is sports blackouts. Often local TV stations will not carry a local team game to force local people to go to the game to see it, or a particular company owns the rights to the broadcasting and will not allow it to be shown in that area. The entire concept of locality is gone.

There are buckets of content that come through cable still unavailable from the Web. Google TV and third party hardware/software boxes connecting to cable boxes and other hardware can and does cause setup nightmares that negate all of its potential capabilities and benefits. After all – a home theater PC can already do pretty much everything Google TV will – but how many people do you know with computers under their TV sets?

All in all, its going to get very interesting in the very near future. For now, I’ll take my simple basic cable set-up, throw a slingbox in my house, download the iPhone app on my iPhone or iPad and I’m good to go anywhere. Keep it simple.



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Apple and the War for the Mobile Market..its all about the carriers who hold the distribution key.

The short history of the computer industry is dominated by two well-known stories of business triumph and defeat. The first is the story of how mainframe makers failed to take the personal computer seriously until it was too late. Most of them faded away, and those that didn’t still failed to dominate the PC industry.

The second is the story of how Apple Computer refused to license its innovative new operating system to other hardware makers in the early days of the PC revolution and ended up ceding the market to Microsoft, which licensed its operating system far and wide.

The temptation to fit every new computer industry business conflict into one of these two molds is strong, and frequently surrendered to. For a modern example, look no further than the current battle for the mobile market between Apple, Google, RIM, and others. The first story may end up applying in the case of RIM, which might have waited a bit too long to recognize the primacy of the touchscreen and the mobile application marketplace. Or perhaps it applies to Microsoft, which refused to let go of the idea of shoehorning Windows onto a phone until very recently (or not).

But I want to talk about the second story, the one about the company deciding not to license its operating system to third-party hardware makers. In the mobile-market version of this story, Google is Microsoft, Android is Windows, iOS is the Macintosh operating system, and Apple is, well, Apple. The pieces match up so well, it’s barely even an analogy. The lesson seems clear: unless Apple learns from its past mistakes and opens up its mobile platform, it’s going to end up with a Macintosh-like minority market share while Google licenses its mobile OS to all comers and the Android phone becomes the Windows PC of the new mobile computing era.

Maybe you’ve heard this sentiment expressed before, and maybe you’ve read the inevitable reactions to it from ardent Apple supporters explaining why the current situation is very different and how Apple will succeed this time around—or perhaps how it has already succeeded. I’m on board with the first part; I think the mobile market is very different from the PC market of old. On the second part, Apple’s prospects for success, I’m less sure.

But first things first.

To understand the differences between the war for the PC market and today’s mobile battlefront, consider the specifics of Apple’s historic failure against Microsoft. According to the story, Apple’s refusal to license its OS led to several insurmountable disadvantages.

First and foremost, Apple had to make and sell all the hardware that would run its OS. Microsoft, meanwhile, had an entire industry working to make hardware for its OS. PC makers fought for every last scrap of the market, building hardware to suit all sorts of customers: PCs for home use, education, gaming, point-of-sale, data centers, businesses, industrial use, you name it. In the heat of this competition, PC hardware prices were driven down and margins were cut to the bone; PC hardware was commoditized.

Even when its catalog of Mac products was at its most sprawling, Apple made a comparatively narrow range of products, with just a few half-hearted excursions into less-mainstream niches. It was clear that a single company couldn’t make and support enough different kinds of hardware to serve the entire PC market.

Since the margins on hardware are a lot lower than the margins on software, Apple was at a distinct profit disadvantage versus a software vendor like Microsoft. To compensate for this, Apple tried to stick to the sweet spot of profitability in the hardware market, avoiding the tiny margins of the very low end and the low volumes of the very high end. This further lowered the glass ceiling of Apple’s maximum potential PC market share.

To add insult to injury, Apple wasn’t even on equal footing when it came to hardware costs. While the IBM PC and its eventual clones used Intel CPUs, Apple chose Motorola—twice. The battle between x86-compatible CPU vendors pushed performance higher and prices lower, but Apple was left out of that virtuous cycle, making its Mac hardware more expensive and often slower than its PC competition.

The result was that Microsoft dominated the PC industry, achieving a bona fide monopoly and reaping huge profits, while Apple nearly went out of business.

Pattern recognition gone awry

Now let’s compare this to the contemporary mobile world, starting with the idea that a single company can’t profitably produce a wide enough range of hardware to serve an entire market. While that may have been true for the PC, I don’t think it’s true in the mobile space.

Consider the iPod. Apple started with just one, Mac-only iPod model, refined it for a while, expanded beyond the Mac market by making a Windows version, re-calibrated its aim for the mainstream and released the smaller iPod mini, then iterated confidently while also branching out into less profitable segments. The end result: Apple completely dominated the digital music player market.

Next up is pricing. By allowing hardware vendors to slit each other’s throats, Microsoft ensured that customers would have access to cheap PC hardware while not hurting Microsoft’s own (software-based) profits. At the height of the war for the desktop, PCs weren’t cheaper than Macs by a few dollars; they were cheaper by hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. That was a crushing blow to Apple’s sales prospects, and one that a company that made its profits from hardware sales had no way to retaliate against.

iPhone X-Wing

What does mobile phone pricing look like today? Well, the iPhone isn’t much more expensive than comparable phones. And since phones cost a lot less today than PCs did in the ’80s and ’90s, both adjusted for inflation and in absolute values, the differences are even smaller: tens of dollars, not hundreds or thousands. That kind of pricing differential is eminently surmountable with product features and design—an advantage Apple definitely enjoyed back in 2007 and arguably still has some of today.

A big reason for this price parity is that most of the cost of a phone isn’t in the phone itself, but in the contract with the carrier. An iPhone 4 may cost you $200 to buy, but the contract will cost you thousands of dollars.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no room for handset pricing to affect sales, but it does mean that those price wars will take place at a scale and in a realm where Apple has already proven itself able to win: portable consumer electronics that cost a few hundred dollars at most, dropping down to two-digit prices at the low end.

As for hardware costs and performance, Apple’s component suppliers are the market leaders. Even its “unique” ARM-based CPU uses the same instruction set as the CPUs in its competitor’s phones. For now, at least, Apple is on the right hardware train. And if the time ever comes to make a change, Apple is uniquely experienced in switching CPU architectures in a way that’s mostly transparent to customers.

All of this is to say that the situation in the mobile space today is not analogous in a straightforward way to last millennium’s battle for the PC desktop. Now, without using history as a crutch, let’s reconsider Apple’s mobile prospects. Is the iPhone destined to be a minority player in this market, or will it come to dominate? If, as I propose, a single vendor can provide enough hardware diversity to cover most of the market, and if every player has similar hardware costs and roadmaps, what does it take to win this war for our palms? Where’s the edge, and who’s got it?

An idealist might say that having the better product will make the difference. As much as I’d like that to be true, I don’t think any company has a product that is so much better than its competition in the eyes of so many people that quality alone will decide things.

Critical mass is another factor. Are customers buying iPhones because their friends and relatives have iPhones and they want to video chat with them, use some of the applications they’ve seen, or just be part of the in-crowd? In other words, has Apple’s 2007 launch of the iPhone given it insurmountable lead? Again, I have to say no. Apple had a head start, for sure, but Google has closed the gap quickly with Android in terms of both product quality and sales.

Speaking of which, what explains Android’s recent rapid sales growth? Android is a good OS, but then, so was webOS, and look what happened to Palm. Quality is not enough. Android is available on a wide variety of hardware, but a menagerie of form factors has not stopped RIM’s market share slide. Handset variety also poses challenges to application developers who must target a fragmented platform. Hardware is not going to make the difference. So what will?

Carriers, carriers, carriers

Let’s revisit the Mac/PC analogy, with a twist. In the desktop era, distribution wasn’t much of a factor. Everyone had access to the same retailers, and, eventually, the same Internet. Retail margins were all very similar, and exclusive distribution deals were rare and usually inconsequential. Product features and pricing were the most important differentiators, and both were controlled by the hardware manufacturers.

Today’s mobile market is the polar opposite. Distribution is almost completely controlled by the carriers—albeit sometimes indirectly. A lack of decent coverage in a particular geographic area can eliminate a phone from consideration, regardless of how great the hardware is or how much it costs.

Carriers are also running the show on pricing. Carrying the vast majority of the cost of the phone in their contracts means that the carriers have the most leeway to move the market by, for example, lowering monthly bills, lowering or eliminating bandwidth caps, increasing subsidies (thus making phones appear “cheaper” to consumers), and negotiating how much of this money will be shared with phone manufacturers.

And, of course, the carriers decide whether to allow a phone on their network at all.

Distribution isn’t important when all competitors have the same access, but it’s incredibly important when the market is fenced-off into independent kingdoms, the choice of which can make or break a sale before the merits of the actual product are even considered. The way customers have been buying cell phones for the past few decades further minimizes the importance of the phone itself. Most (non-geek) people take a trip down to “the cell phone store,” choose a contract that fits in the budget and maybe includes some discount plan for friends and family, and then pick the handset that looks the best (or the one that’s suggested by the store clerk). Maybe things like ease of use and application availability are considered in that final step, but at that point, they’re not going to make or break the (contract) sale; the customer is walking out of that store with one of the phones that it sells.

Android sales are surging because there’s a pretty good Android phone—probably several, in fact—for sale in nearly every place that sells mobile phones. And as hard as it may be for some of the people reading this to believe, the Apple store is not where most people go to buy a new cell phone. All those Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile kiosks in the mall exist for a reason. Apple has 229 retail stores and a big marketing budget, but both are dwarfed by the combined retail presence and advertising spending of the carriers. And yes, I’m including AT&T in all this; AT&T sells Android phones too! It’s Apple on one side and an entire industry on the other…starting to sound familiar?

Leveling the playing field

Apple doesn’t need to license iOS to other handset makers. Yes, Android is starting to look a lot like the Windows of the mobile era, but not because it’s licensed to third parties. The contexts and uses for handheld devices like music players and cell phones are far more limited than for PCs; hardware diversity is not driving Android sales. The magic formula is simple: quality + availability. Android is ascending in the market because it’s good, it’s available where people want to buy it, and it runs on the networks people want to use.

Droid TIEs

The current carrier situation may end up being a transient aberration in the long run, an inefficient market created by the huge fixed costs of building and running a wireless data network. But if the comparatively more mature (wired) telephone, cable television, and Internet service provider markets have taught us anything, it’s that the road to a more competitive marketplace for infrastructure services is a long and hard one. Carrier segmentation will be a fact of life for Apple for the foreseeable future.

There’s only one thing for it. Apple needs to get the iPhone on more carriers as soon as possible. Nowhere is this more important than in the US, where the iPhone is available on just a single carrier—one that’s decidedly not the market leader. The only way for Apple to eliminate the distribution and marketing advantage currently enjoyed by Android is to make sure that everywhere an Android phone is for sale, there’s an iPhone sitting right next to it that will work on the same network. Only then will Apple get a fair shot at selling based on the things it can actually control: the hardware and software of the phone itself. At that point, it can—and should—diversify its iPhone product line just like it did with the iPod in the last decade.

Epilogue: market share matters

On a recent podcast, John Gruber spent some time musing about the inherent worth and actual relevance of market share, noting that “you can’t cash checks with it” and suggesting that it might just be a convenient way for industry observers to “keep score.” It’s true that Apple only needs some reasonable share of the market to sustain its platform. The Mac has had a market share well below 10 percent for decades, and that’s been enough to ensure that developers will still write Mac applications and customers will pay enough for Mac hardware to fund the development of future models.

Furthermore, in the mobile market as in the PC market, Apple’s share of the profits is considerably ahead of its share of the revenues. Analogies to luxury car makers inevitably follow. “Hey, BMW has only 7 percent market share, right?” The idea is that Apple either can be or should be happy with just “the most profitable portion of the market.”

Well, rest assured, BMW is not content with its current share of the automotive market, and Steve Jobs’ Apple will not be satisfied with anything less than the biggest piece of the pie that it can possibly take, in terms of profits, revenues, and unit sales. With the iPod, Apple has proven that all of those numbers can be well above 50 percent—without compromising product quality.

In the mobile market, the goal is the same. Apple is playing to win

Guest Post by John Siracusa. Thanks John!

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What’s to come in 2010

Some thoughts and predictions for 2010:

Computers/OS:

Google’s OS and Google’s Browser Chrome will further erode Microsoft’s OS dominance.

Phones:

Google’s Nexus One is not an iPhone killer but what would be much more powerful and meaningful would be for Google to offer a ‘subsidized’ cell phone service through a carrier in exchange for watching ads – no more cell bills. That MIGHT make me give-up my iPhone habit.

TV/Cable:

TV Everywhere will dominate as cable subscribers will WANT to get what they see at home on their PC’s, phones, etc. They will want this because its only a matter of time before Hulu (and other online content aggregators) lose their premium content or require a subscription fee. (Smell Comcast here?). Boxee, Roku, Sezmi and Zillion TV will have tough sledding IF Apple TV hopefully syncs a (rumored) TV subscription service with their upcoming iTablet/iSlate.  Apple MIGHT offer consumers an a-la-carte menu of the best of cable and network TV on their televisions through the AppleTV box, iphones and the iTablet  (along with several newspaper/magazine subscriptions) for a single monthly fee. Their version of  a cable ‘triple-play’ subscription. Do you remember when cable TV was “sold” as a way to escape the ads on free, OTA broadcast TV? Those were the days…

Movies/Music/Web:

iTunes will announce an iTunes web service, thanks to the Lala acquisition. Disney will move forward with their Keychest initiative and so will the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, or DECE. However, only one system will survive this year to avoid consumer confusion.

‘Live’ streaming video and UGV will replace the jpg /gif as the dominant content format of visual sharing online.

Facebook, Hulu, YouTube , Twitter, and other ‘weapons of mass distraction’ these days will be increasingly ‘filtered’ out from the workplace due to too much time by employees during work hours spent on ‘social media’ causing a huge traffic shift in several social networks most notably, Facebook.

Facebook will go public and the IPO will be a huge financial success until Facebook becomes the Borg unless it allows data portability. Its number of users will continue to climb until the network is as large as Google and people will confuse Facebook with “the Internet” like days of old when the internet was ‘AOL’ to many people.

And then one day…

A new social network will rise to join the big ones. It may offer the privacy that Facebook is moving away from; it may be mobile and location-centric; it may focus on personal content recommendations, but it will come and the minnows will swim like fishes to the next ‘big’ new network to be seen and heard on.

We are all ‘Paparazzi’s’ and ‘Jimmy Olsen’s’ now…with the Advent of ‘live’ broadcasting apps on the iphone and android makes paparazzi’s and Jimmy Olsen’s (instant news ‘scoops’) out of us all further diluting the worth of major news org’s that can’t be expected to be everywhere at all times.

Cloud computing heats up. AWS, Google, Microsoft and others begin price wars to compete for customers.

MySpace will try to become as important to online viewers as MTV was to cable subscribers in the 80’s.

MOG and Spotify will invade the US and give iTunes(lala) and MySpace a run for their money.

And hopefully:

Data portability will become more real, standard, expected and viable. Why isnt’ there a way for me to make 1 Avatar, use 1 password and login to store all this info in a central location that my ‘social networks’ and other internet related service use and fetch each time I access these services?  Here is where I’d place all my photos and videos and then simply choose which services get access to which photos and videos. So, when I leave a social network, my ID and photos and videos LEAVE too.  Go ahead and just try moving or populating another social network again with all of your pictures, comments and videos that you’ve uploaded at one time or another. Hard to do and time consuming beyond belief. It would be nice to able to take MY STUFF (and data preferences) with ME with 1 click.

Comments welcome.

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Avatar cost $300m to make…

but is ‘Dancing With Smurfs’ going to be the most expensive flop ever?

The story of Avatar – the new film from Titanic director James Cameron, and reputedly the most expensive ever made – will ring true to anyone who has ever felt so much as a twinge of guilt about their own carbon footprint.

It is the 22nd century and Earth has run out of its natural resources. It is now little more than a desert, without vegetation, wildlife or minerals.

But a newly discovered planet, Pandora, is a lush, exotic world which possesses everything we need, so a ruthless mining corporation hatches a plan to strip it bare and save the Earth while making billions for themselves.

Feeling blue: Computer-generated aliens in Avatar

Feeling blue: Computer-generated aliens in Avatar

‘To sum it up, it’s about ecology and greed,’ says Sigourney Weaver, who dyed her hair red to play a botanist in the film. ‘It took me a while to grasp what I was getting into, but then I realised no one has ever made a fantasy film like this before.’

Cameron himself is convinced cinema-goers will want to see it at least four times – hopefully quadrupling its box office potential.

‘People will see the movie because they are curious,’ he says. ‘Then they’ll go back to make sure they saw the fantastic things they thought they saw.

‘By then, they’ll be ready to see it for the third time – just to enjoy it – then a fourth time to savour the full experience.’

Certainly, the Hollywood executives who bankrolled this sci-fi juggernaut laden with 3D effects are hoping that Cameron’s optimism is well placed.

Avatar

Sam Worthington morphed into Na’vi, one of the blue-deer-like creatures who populate the world of Pandora

For although the Fox studio indicates that Avatar cost around $180 million – some $30 million more than Cameron’s previous epic, Titanic – Tinseltown gossip says the true cost was a staggering $300 million, thanks to re-shoots and Cameron’s constantly changing ideas.

It’s no wonder that everyone connected with movies is waiting to see what the box office figures look like when Avatar comes out on December 18.

Some believe a movie about an alien culture of giant blue humanoids can never make a profit, while others think it will save the film industry from the threats of DVD piracy and static ticket sales.

Someone, rather unkindly, has dubbed this long, po-faced epic Dances With Smurfs, after Kevin Costner’s over-long po-faced epic Dances With Wolves.

Is Cameron’s ambitious project likely ever to recoup its investment? Titanic, which cost around $150 million to make, was forecast to be a massive flop. And the prediction, when the film came out 12 years ago, was that it was going to lose at least $60 million at the box office.

In the event, it was the most lucrative film ever released, making a staggering $1.1 billion and winning 11 Oscars to boot.

Critics may have carped about Titanic’s hackneyed storyline and saccharine sensibility, but it was a globally loved phenomenon. Avatar

Like all James Cameron films, Avatar is a huge gamble, with audiences at early previews ecstatic at the 3D technology – less enamoured of his environmentally conscious sci-fi world

It personally enriched Cameron – a five-times married movie obsessive with a reputation for throwing the shoutiest tantrums in Hollywood – by an estimated $60 million.

So why has Avatar, which has its London premiere next week, cost so much to make? It is Cameron’s first feature film since Titanic and the price tag mostly reflects the fact that he wanted to make a photo-realistic sci-fi epic film in 3-D.

Sigourney WeaverSigourney Weaver is the only well known actor

This ‘live action’ epic is about two-thirds computer generated and one-third real, and uses the most advanced motion capture technology.

There are only 37 cast members – all unknowns except for Sigourney Weaver – but there is a roll-call of thousands of digitally-created characters.

Much of the technology was created just to make the filming possible, and Cameron says his team had to invent dozens of new techno-phrases to describe the processes involved.

In fact, when he came up with the idea for Avatar 14 years ago, he was told it was an impossible dream, because the technology needed to make it come true didn’t exist.

Describing the making of Avatar as ‘computer graphics hell’, he added: ‘We were trying to create a world from scratch, working with computer generated characters that are photorealistic. That’s tough. We set the bar high.’

The project was conducted with Cameron’s customary mania for perfection, using close-up cameras so sensitive they could detect muscles moving under the skin of the actors’ faces.

Each shot was captured by up to eight cameras simultaneously and the images were then turned into aliens. The final effect is said to be so convincing that you could be looking at actors in make-up rather than digitally created beings.

And every scene had to be shot twice on 3D cameras to make the film work in three dimensions.

The film’s production designer, Rick Carter, says the created reality is vital to the success of the film.

‘The real challenge is whether you feel the emotion coming through from the characters.

When you look into those eyes, do you feel the connection is real?’

Titanic

Cameron’s movie Titanic took 2.5 years to produce, cost $200m to make and took $1.8 billion worldwide to become the biggest-grossing film of all time

It was Carter’s job to create the fantasy planet Pandora, according to Cameron’s specifications. One of the many spectacular features is that the planet lights up at night.

Cameron had seen a bioluminescent world when he was deep-sea diving during the making of Titanic, and so, for added realism, hired a professor of plant physiology, Jodie Holt, to help create the plant life on Pandora, which had to be toxic to humans but support vegetation.

Another academic, Professor Paul Frommer, of the University of Southern California, was paid to create a language for the tribe of 10ft tall blue aliens, called the Na’vi, who live on Pandora.

Frommer, a linguistics expert, spent four years working on the language, and said: ‘I could have let my imagination run wild and come up with all sorts of weird sounds, but I was limited by what a human actor could actually do.’

The Na’vi language as he created it has more than 1,000 words, with a grammar of its own. The actors even had a voice coach, the renowned Carla Meyer, to help with pronunciation.

Frommer hopes it will have ‘a life of its own’ in possible prequels and sequels and that fans of Avatar may even trouble to learn it, as some Star Trek fans have studied the Klingon language. A Na’vi dictionary is already available online.

Avatar

Some early scenes, such as the one where Jake wakes up as an Avatar, were shot in real sets – partially, James Cameron admits, to save money

Meanwhile, Sigourney Weaver is at pains to point out that the film will appeal to a much wider audience than sci-fi fans.

‘In its way, it is an old fashioned kind of movie but with a seamless modern technology. It is a big, swashbuckling epic romance – the sort of story that has brought audiences into the cinema for almost 100 years.’

Because humans cannot breathe on Pandora, the SecFor mining company which sets out to pillage the planet creates human-alien hybrids, called Avatars.

The hero, Jake Sully, played by Australian actor Sam Worthington, is a paraplegic former Marine who volunteers to take part, blissfully unaware of the corporation’s plans to steal Pandora’s resources.

However, Jake is accepted into the Na’vi world, and falls in love with Princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). He learns to respect the Na’vi culture, which puts him at odds with SecFor, as they gear up to assault and take over Pandora itself in a massive final battle scene.

Worthington, 30, was unknown outside Australia, where he had made a few art films. ‘I met James Cameron to discuss the film and discovered that his personal heroes weren’t actors – they were scientists. That got me hooked.’

Worthington’s take on Avatar is simplistic. ‘It’s a great film, and a story that isn’t so far-fetched because we all know that we’re bleeding our planet dry. Maybe it will make people realise that Earth needs saving from itself before it’s too late.

‘But we’re not preaching – It’s just a rattling good story.’

Some critics say it’s a ‘horrible film’ – overinflated, hard to watch and ridiculous. There are also complaints that the Na’vi just don’t work cinematically and that it’s all a shade absurd.

But Leo Barraclough, of the entertainment industry magazine Variety, says he doesn’t think such brickbats will affect its commercial appeal. ‘It is one of the most anticipated films of recent years and I don’t think it will much matter what the critics say.

‘It is 12 years since Titanic, and James Cameron is a big movie maker, so people are going to want to see it because of that.

‘Cameron is known for quality film making, with energy, intelligence and detail. Avatar has also been marketed very cleverly via the internet and tie-ins with MTV and Coca Cola and so on.’

Avatar

James Cameron’s epic new 3D sci-fi adventure is the story of a distant planet, Pandora, being exploited for its precious resources, and features both live action and pioneering digital animation

More than one million people have logged on to the online trailer, and ticket presales are apparently phenomenal.

Rather unusually, Fox has sought to whet public interest in Avatar with special showings at IMAX cinemas around the world of a 16-minute extended trailer.

The marketing assault includes product tie-ins with McDonalds and the Coca-Cola Company, who are Fox’s promotional partners: Coca Cola, for example, has produced 140 million cans of Coke Zero which, when held up to a webcam, will show a helicopter taking off.

Action figures and vehicles are being made for the global market by Mattel. They all contain i-Tags which show content and info when held up to a webcam. And a video game in 3D is already on the market.

It’s all very clever, but will Avatar make its money back? Whether it’s $180 million, as the studio says, or $300 million as the grapevine has it, the film still needs to sell a lot of tickets.

To put this into context, big effects-laden movies such as Spider Man 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean cost around $150 million to make.

Fox, however, is able to stay calm about its financial exposure – because the costs have been split with two other investors. Dune Capital Management and Ingenious Film Partners are paying for about two-thirds of the production costs.

And Fox will also get a 15 per cent tax rebate from New Zealand, where all the live-action sequences and most of the effects were done, which is expected to return around $15 million.

Cameron has agreed to delay his profit participation until Fox and its investors recoup their costs. Perhaps he is so confident because Avatar will benefit from the higher ticket prices charged by 3-D theatres.

There are high hopes that it will help to continue the 3-D revolution, which is bringing audiences back into cinemas, and that it will push the sales of Blu ray discs next year when it is released.

Fox’s co-chairman Tom Rothman describes Avatar as ‘a creatively ambitious movie that is fiscally prudent’. It’s clear that he is already thinking about a sequel. ‘When you can move the popular culture, particularly with something newly created, that’s a path to tremendous success,’ he says.

Guest Post  by Alison Boshoff – Thanks to the DailyMail.co.uk

Can you put yourself in a video game? You sure can right now! (see video below)

(Disclaimer: I am currently doing some work for BigStage Entertainment) logo_new

There is some very cool technology here today and hopefully soon will be available to the masses to play with. Big Stage Entertainment, located in Los Angeles owns the tech and software and has been striking deals with some very large and well known entertainment companies, including brands and content partners such as Intel, MTV, Lionsgate, Sony BMG, Epic Games, Splash News, GGL Global Gaming, Stephen J. Cannell Productions, Icarus Studios, The Venue Network (TVN), and Ogilvy. When I first met them and saw this, I was as fascinated with the technology as I was the people behind it. Not only is the tech pretty cool, but the ones slinging the code are even better. If you are a gamer, this is something you’ve probably had wet dreams about for years – being able to jump into a video game, armour and gear, guns and all, trying to kill the aliens or zombies. Unlike the many social networks or other duplacative software clients vying for the same consumer ( video encoder, IM messenger, browser, etc) Big Stage’s technology is one of a kind.

Check me out, I’ve placed myself in the ‘Warhammer’ Dawn of War video game. You can try this for yourself at http://www.bigstage.com.


The Big Stage @ctor™ that you can create today (www.bigstage.com) is generated using advanced stereo reconstruction technology initially funded by the CIA and other government grants as part of a 9+ year research project at the University of Southern California (USC) under the direction of Professor and Department Chair of Computer Science, Gerard Medioni, Ph.D. In 2007, Big Stage Entertainment secured exclusive rights to exploit this technology for all purposes outside of Security. Big Stage Entertainment has invested thousands of hours of additional engineering time to produce what is today the most advanced mass market 3-D avatar technology anywhere – with no laboratory setting or special equipment required.

data3

To realize this twofold goal of simplicity and realism, the Big Stage R&D team focused on extracting the quality and accuracy of complex 3-D scanning technology, previously only available to production houses and animation companies, to offer it to any consumer with a digital camera through a free, fun and easy-to-use browser platform. The team also built a system through which new technology advancements are automatically inherited by existing Big Stage @ctors™, meaning that the facial fidelity of your Big Stage @ctor™ will continue to improve over time.

What does this mean in the future? Douglas Fidaleo Ph.D. and Chief Scientist at Big Stage says it perfectly, ” The game changer occurs by making this capability accessible to all and fully portable across digital life. Very soon, everyone will have a digital version of themselves, and when that happens, cyberspace becomes a very very cool place to hang out. “

Android Prototype…coming in Feb?

I couldn’t resist – here’s a picture (supposedly) android of the new Android OS (Google phone) on a phone manufactured by HT. Google has taken 2 stands at the Mobile Conference Expo in Barcelona Spain (kicking off Feb. 11th, 2008). Rumor has it they MIGHT announce their new efforts at this conference. The phone looks clunky to me, a bit like my Moto Q and nothing like the cool iPhone, but we’ll have to wait and see. I am sure the OS will be installed in other phones as well.