Why Apple Products Change the World

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I recently gave a talk at Syracuse University’s Greenberg House in DC about the future of social media.  Part of the discussion touched on how devices like the iPhone and iPad changed forever the way we engage with each other.

The iPhone was a tipping point in the smart phone market.  While Blackberry was first, it was Apple that changed how we use our phones for browsing, music, video, and of course interaction with each other.  It has opened up amazing business opportunities thanks to the application marketplace and in extreme situations a $19B acquisition.

Today, Apple is going to try to change the world again with the iWatch.  Whether this device has transdermal health technology or is just a fancier version of a Nike Fuel Band, doesn’t matter, it will definitely be a hit.  Why will the iWatch succeed while the Samsung Galaxy Gear and LG’s G Watch struggle?

1) Apple has perfected the introduction of products.  While the leaks have grown since the early days of the iPhone, I have to believe some of them are purposeful to generate excitement.

2) Apple makes it easy for all buyers.  Early adopters pre-order on the website, but it is the store that gets people the mainstream buyers.  Mainstream buyers need to feel the product and test it.  Early adopters, aka, Fanboys, are going to buy no matter what Apple releases.

3) Apple has a knack for holding back features from their products creating a fervor for the next version of their products.  Near Field Communications is something that was rumored to exist in the iPhone since 2010, but only today do we get it.

The iWatch is going to be a game changer and thanks to this build up of news and leaks combined with the store and “new” features that have been perfected over time, the iWatch and iPhone 6 are going to be a huge hit.

My memories of Steve Jobs

I just finished putting my daughter to bed tonight and I come down to my office and I see the news.  “Steve Jobs has passed away at 56.”  I have never felt so sad about someone passing away that I only met a couple of times.  His impact on my life goes well beyond the 30 minutes or so we spent in a conference room.

Everyday I put an iPhone in my pocket, and use my Mac to organize family photos, and my MacBookPro for work.  The first Apple hardware I ever used was in 1st Grade, in 1985.  I don’t remember much about it, but I know I enjoyed my time on the computer.  It probably even captured my attention enough to want to write software 14 years at AOL.

From an early visit on the Apple Campus with the iChat Team

From an early visit on the Apple Campus with the iChat Team

It was at AOL, that I would get a change to work closely with Apple and get the chance to initially see him, and then eventually meet him.  I was always impressed that you could find Steve walking around campus, in the Mac Cafe eating lunch with the troops, etc.  My first encounter with Steve was during a visit in 2006.  I was riding in a car with a colleague who will remain unnamed, and as we were pulling out of the visitor lot in front of 1 Infinite Loop, we nearly ran over Steve Jobs.  We were all so stunned we just looked at each other.

Later in my career at AOL, I got to meet Steve and I after I got over my nervous excitement, he was one of the most genuinely passionate persons about Apple products and technology.

Steve’s legacy goes beyond the physical technologies we all use.  His commencement speech at Stanford University, the movies from Pixar, and the huge influence he has had over leaders in the tech community today.  The world today is a lesser place with his departure, my condolences go out to Steve’s family, friends and my friends at Apple.  Thanks for everything Steve.

The next iPhone is going to look like iPhone4 and that is a good thing

Tomorrow, Apple is going to release the next version of the iPhone, it will be called iPhone4S, and it will have the same form factor as the current iPhone.  I am not sure why this is a surprise to anyone?

If you believe Chinese iPhone case manufacturers, they think the next iPhone will have a teardrop design, but there is tons of evidence pointing to this being incorrect.  I even wonder if the images of these cases are actually for iPodTouch.  John Gruber has a great take on the teardrop skepticism.

The guts of the phone have definitely improved, faster processor, better camera, an option for 64GBs, and support for 4th Generation (4G/LTE) networks that AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have been building out so quickly this summer.

One of the nicer features we are getting with the next version of iOS is the ability to take a picture with the volume button on the side of the phone.  I am pretty sure the teardrop design will render this feature useless.

So why is everyone going to freak out when Apple calls this an iPhone 4S, instead of 5?  The phone is going to be a significant step forward but people are caught up by the look and feel and the silly version number.  People think it’s not cool to have a new device if the outside is undistinguishable from the previous version.  It makes it harder to show it off as a status symbol.  Sometimes consumers drive me batty!  :-)

I think we are all missing the real point, we are getting a new phone that will run iOS5 which is a superior operating system to iOS4, and depending on your view an OS with tight integration with both Twitter and Facebook.  And who can forget about iCloud, Music Match and the magazine store front.  Tomorrow’s announcement is going to be huge, I just hope Tim Cook and others can fend off the criticism if the phone looks the same.

Haters Gonna Hate — But Google Wallet is Significant

Google announced their Google Wallet program today where your phone is now your wallet.  This is made possible thanks to Near Field Communication, NFC, which I wrote back at the beginning of the year was key to so much of what Google was up to.  The test will begin this summer and run in 4 cities, and expansion to other cities will follow.

One particular “early review” from Jay Yarow at AlleyInsider says that adoption will be slow because using a credit card is too easy.  I think that is really near-sighted and here is why:

  • Security of your credit card in public places continues to be a problem.  In the UK for example, when you pay for a meal at a restaurant, they bring the credit card reader to your table so you can watch them scan the card.
  • Not everyone has the ability to have a credit card, as rules tighten around credit, and I assume they will continue to do so, Google Wallet gives parents the ability to distribute money to their kids to use.
  • Local deal and advertising via Google Wallet is going to be huge thanks to Google Offers.  While it is not a Groupon killer, Google has a head start on getting deals out to Android/Wallet users.
  • 5 years from now will we think about carrying a wallet, or will a single device do it all?  I am guessing/hoping it will be a single device.
  • Google just sent a huge shot across Apple’s bow with this feature.  I believe Apple will make some kind of NFC announcement at WWDC in 10 days, how can they not?

So haters can hate, but Google moved the ball down the field today with this announcement and for the first time since getting an iPhone 3+ years ago, it makes me question whether it’s time to switch.

[iPhone vs. Android] Sometimes Better Does Not Beat Popular

We have two distinct camps in the Clearspring offices.  Our CEO, Hooman Radfar, and a few others believes that Android will dominate and clean up the mobile phone market, while a large contingent believes that iPhone might not lead in market share but they will continue to be the phone that leads innovation and is the bright shiny object in the sky for many.

Last Monday a study came out that showed one third of teens wanted to buy an iPhone “soon.” That number is on top of the 17% of teens that already have iPhones.

The technorati has been quick to point out how Apple may be making the exact same mistakes as it did back in the 1980s as it pertains to their iOS platform strategy.  Experts will tell you by creating a walled garden for application developers and having a singular hardware and software platform, Apple is opening the door for Android to be the operating system for every other carrier and phone.  The one problem with that theory is demand.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s the purchase of personal computer purchases was price driven.  Back then Macs routinely cost over $2000, so when  competitors started building inferior machines for half the cost, Macs lost market share and the rest is history.

The mobile space is different.  First, the phone itself is cheaper as hardware in 2011 is a commodity.  Second, consumers have more purchasing power than they did back in the 1990s, and that despite a major recession in 2008-09, consumers seem to still be buying electronics and cutting back in other areas.  Third, consumers, and especially teens and young adults, want the cool and hip product, device or technology.  Even if Android is a better platform built on a better device, people think the iPhone is a status symbol.  Much like the BWM 3 series, there are better built cars for the price in the market place, but that does not stop people from buying the car because it is a status symbol.

So where does that leave us.  Sometimes a better technology is not preordained to be the most popular or the coolest.  If the teens of America have any say, Apple is going to have a hard time replicating the failures of the late 1980s, simply because the brand is considered hip by youth.

Behind the Scenes at an Apple Store

Popular Mechanics had a great article today from an Apple Store employee, who I am sure is now an ex-store employee given Apple’s stringent rules.

Despite my inside access at Apple’s Cupertino Campus for years, I never was able to get details on what happened at Apple Stores.  Though I did get a great story about “testing” the Apple Store before any opened in May 2001, from friends.  Apparently, Apple put its own employees on buses and took them to non descript warehouses in the Valley.  When they walked in the warehouses were set up as Apple Stores.  The employees were given time to “shop” and executives observed how the overall flow of the store worked.  After a certain amount of time, they would clear out the store, reconfigure it, and start the process all over again.  Eventually they found a perfect combination of displays, open space, number of clerks, etc.

As for some of the behind the scenes hilarity:

  • Dealing with drug dealers who come in and try to buy iPhones with fake IDs ranks high on the list.
  • Pushing MobileMe and AppleCare is a common theme, and happens to me every time I buy something at the Apple Store, and I never get it.
  • Foreign resellers haggling on prices is an issue, but if you go to Sawgrass Mills Mall in Florida you will see that is a common problem even at the Lee Jeans Store.

I am definitely going to look at my shopping experience more closely the next time I am in the Apple Store.

via Wikipedia

The iPhone and Verizon, Can you exercise self control?

Courtesy: (Chris Hondros / Getty Images)

The long awaited announcement today of the iPhone being available on Verizon brought great relief to sufferers of AT&Ts sputtering network.  But there is a catch, isn’t there always a catch?

At least initially the iPhone will only be available for Verizon’s CDMA spectrum and not the next generation LTE spectrum (Verizon 4G).  As soon as I heard this, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who works at Apple on the iPhone back in the fall.  That person mentioned what a pain it was to work with Verizon’s CDMA network as the user experience was different than the current iPhone.

Why is that you may ask?  Well with Verizon’s CDMA network, iPhone will only be able to do either a phone call or data but not both at the same time.  Also, if you are an international traveler, your iPhone is a paper weight overseas.

It is not all bad news.  The most important part of the announcement today is that we have a choice in networks.  Choice hopefully will result in better quality networks and potentially pricing.  Even though I will not be switching, enough people will that hopefully my experience on AT&T will improve.

The key for people wanting to buy the iPhone on Verizon is patience.  As Verizon fully rolls out LTE, the safe assumption is that Apple will build an iPhone with an LTE chip in it.  Apple and Verizon’s immediate goal is to get the earliest adopters to buy in, and then 3 or 4 months from now when the next generation of iPhone is released, those users pay a premium to upgrade.  At least that is my prediction.

AIM is leading the pack of downloads on the AppStore

As I mentioned earlier today, we launched AIM for the iPhone in the Apple AppStore.  This evening TechCrunch posted the top 10 download apps list and AIM comes in at number 2 with over 12K downloads.  The number 1 app is Remote, which was written by Apple to control your iTunes and Apple TV.  I firmly believe real-time messaging applications will be huge on this phone because of the fees that AT&T intends to charge for SMS.  As people migrate to these messaging apps, I think people will see the short comings of SMS.  Here is the top downloads list.

AIM on the iPhone is out and free

The lines are forming fast and furious at Apple and AT&T stores all across the world and anticipation has reached a furor pitch for the 3G iPhone tomorrow.  But, not wanting to trump tomorrow’s excitement, Apple released iTunes 7.7 that has AppStore support (AIM MusicLink works with iTunes 7.7) and with the iPhone SDK 2.0 posted this morning, apps can now be downloaded and installed!

We have posted the AIM client that we first debuted on stage at the iPhone SDK launch back in March.  The client has been improved with some really cool features new to the AIM client, including gestures to start new messages and switch between conversations, as well as the ability to use the iPhone camera to take a picture and make the picture your buddy icon.  A bunch of people asked how we wrote the client, and the answer is that we used our Open AIM Web APIs to write this client.  The client is free and available on the AppStore now.

Will SMS go the way of the Dodo Bird?

A post on Silicon Alley two days ago regarding AT&T’s different iPhone plans caught my attention.  Dan Frommer, writes that AT&T is “screwing its customers by not offering a text message plan in between their 200/$5 and 1500/$15.”  But this is not a problem since there will be “a handful of instant messaging apps” released on the 11th.

The iPhone which, without doubt, has moved the ball down the field as far as smartphones are concerned, I believe is about to change the way all of us do real time synchronous communication via our mobile device.  Since most if not all people will have unlimited data with the iPhone, it makes more sense to use a messaging client rather than pay per SMS.  Messaging clients bring with it, presence, rich-text messages, user customization, such as status, avatars, etc, a familiar experience, and most importantly the ability to do advanced features like photo sharing and file transfer, both of which cannot be done via MMS since it is not supported on the iPhone right now.

SMS is not going away over night, but the iPhone will make it more attractive to NOT use SMS because the IM clients for the phone will be very good.  I am looking forward to seeing what RIM and Android can churn out to keep up.  As I wrote yesterday, here at AOL, we have a very nice AIM client for the Windows Mobile Platform.