I’ve been trying to digest the Apple news over the past few days in a way that would be meaningful, and it’s been difficult. Amidst all of the noise regarding unrevealed iOS 5 features, unrevealed Lion features, unicorns flying and granting wishes, and the future of all three, I was able to come up with a coherent thought that I think captures what I actually think about the future of mobile.
When Apple started getting serious about iOS, Google also started getting really serious about Android, and the divide that grew between the two has been significant. A lot of people get Android phones now because they’re “just like iPhones”, until they realize that their Android-powered device can’t do X (very rarely do I ever run into a situation that’s the other way around), or needs 20 steps to do Y. A few people get Android-powered phones because they want to do things that they “can’t” do with an iPhone. There will always be things that Android devices will be able to that iOS devices won’t be able to do and vice versa, but that’s not the key metric here. What we have to be concerned about is whether or not those things actually make sense and are “doable” by the majority of users. In my opinion, they’re not. Most people don’t have the ability to or desire to root their phones, don’t want to dig into firmware files, don’t want to jailbreak their devices, don’t want to do all the stuff that the advanced users (who tend to be the most vocal) use as ammunition against the competing platform. In the end, most users want to pick up the phone, send a few texts, make a few calls, hop on Facebook, and have fun doing that. Oh and play games. That tends to be about it. Does this make me upset? Yes, sure. I tend to use my stuff a little more, but hey, not my phone.
As mentioned in the past, Apple is doing some neat stuff with their product reveals as of late. Apple is telling people how they work. This is important because yeah, it’s about the user experience (UX), but the reason you’ve got such a killer experience is because of all this hardware underneath, because of this glass, because of this epic battery. Apple is communicating that there’s a lot that goes into the design and production of each device, and that should make you feel good. You should look at all this stuff and feel like they made it for you, to fit your lifestyle, your aesthetics, your pocketbook.
So, that brings us to now. Apple unveils all these new things that are a part of its new iOS, and some people1 looked at all that and had a very meh response, saying that this release was more of a parity release, that it wasn’t really breaking any new ground. I continued to look at this iOS release, however, and I think I figured out why I feel so excited about it. Whenever Apple has released a new product or new version of their OS, Android users have always held it over Apple users’ heads that they’ve been able to do this for months or years or millennia or whatever. Now, they can’t do that. Now, a person deciding between iOS and Android is going to have to choose between The Real Thing and a knockoff. This is where we’re at, folks.
People used to walk into a store and have the sales associate give them a weighted assessment of iOS vs. Android which probably included that ridiculous “open” buzzword in there somewhere. What does “open” mean for the end user?2 I’ll let that one percolate for a bit.
Ultimately, “open” is just a word, a marketing tactic that has no meaning for the customer, for the actual user of the product. “Open” is only meaningful to the developer (and marginally, at that). For the customer, it’s meaningless, but it sounds good, like you’re sticking it to the man or something. For the baby boomer generation, this is great because they used to stick it to the man, and maybe it makes them feel good. But let’s extrapolate that out a little bit. Let’s say a person hears “open” and buys the Android phone because they think it farts rainbows or something. Now they think that everything they do is better, the perceived benefits of using an “open” phone start to shine through. Until they see something running iOS. All of the things they thought were so great are also clearly on iOS, but look better, respond better, feel better. Where’s “open” now? Where’s Android now? It’s just another cheap imitator.
A new iPad owner will be able to pop the top on their new iPad and start using it right away as his or her primary computer. There will be little to no configuration, and all iOS devices will be kept in sync. Apps will use iCloud, people will love the experience, and the whole thing will grow its own. The Apple club is getting bigger, and the cost of entry is dropping like a rock. As highlighted by other writers, Apple is re-stating its devotion to being a hardware company, a mobile devices company, not a software company. Sure, Apple writes software, but only because its software sings on its devices.
For any other company, a software release that brings in features that others have had as “standard” for a little while would be “just” playing catch-up; for Apple, which designs software that is already powerful to the nth degree, “catching up” means creating almost unstoppable inertia.
1 I’m counting myself among those people.
2 I’ve been in carrier stores before, and listening to these floor guys try to explain it to the customer is hilarious. Listen in sometime and you’ll see what I mean.
When the MacBook Air came out last year with its super-sexy new design and blazing fast SSD, I knew I was in trouble. It’s hard for me to resist the siren call of a new Apple product, but it’s even harder when the thing looks and performs as well as that li’l guy. I was even looking to upgrade my Mac Mini, and saw that as the perfect opportunity to dive into something portable. Since that day, I’ve had to fight off the urge to buy one nearly every single day.
Then I realize that I have an amazing iPad 2, and I the conversation with myself ends. I don’t need a laptop, I already have an incredible machine. Sure, there are shortcomings, and there are certain incompatibilities here and there that make it difficult and/or frustrating, but by and large the experience is incredible, and very freeing. I have something with me at all times that I can use for *gasp* serious work (almost every blog post I’ve ever written has been with the help of an iPad, and all of my Grad school papers come from this tiny beast) as well as having fun and playing games. Truth be told, this is the best computer I’ve ever owned, and the reason is baked into the OS.
A while back, I went to the Apple store to ask some questions to the friendly folks there about the MacBook Air, to see if I should choose that over the Mac Mini. I came away with this realization: if you already have an iPad, skip the MacBook Air, and if you already have a MacBook Air, skip the iPad. They’re pretty close in form and function, anyway (despite one being a “laptop” and one being a tablet). The reason I say that is because of the use-case. People buy a MacBook Air because they need a computer that is:
- With a full keyboard
The MacBook Air is that machine, among other things. So is the iPad, however, and I’ve found that the pseudo-multitasking of the iPad is far more preferable to me when I’m working because I know that the apps won’t crash, won’t interfere with anything else, and won’t start to bog down. The’re lean, simple, and engage me physically, why I need when I’m writing. The MacBook Air is essentially redundant…except that it runs the full MacOS, instead of iOS. This seems great, until you start trying to manage multiple media libraries, apps, save files, etc. Then it gets to be more of a pain to work with MacOS than an iOS device. But wait…the new version of MacOS, Lion, looks and behaves a LOT like iOS, doesn’t it? I mean…Apple expressly talked about the similarities in their “Back to the Mac” event. So then there’s this:
Most people had dismissed that rumor due to the compatibility issues that would be introduced with such a transition. Another major issue is that while ARM processors are more power efficient, they presently offer significantly lower performance than their Intel counterparts.
Sure, an ARM-based A5 wouldn’t make sense running MacOS…but what about iOS? Let’s even blow it up a bit and look further down the road a year or two. Let’s focus on a time in the not-too-distant future when iOS and MacOS start to merge, when the distinctions between the various Apple OSs start to become blurry. Then, ARM chips would make sense. They sip power, and (currently) iOS sings on those chips. It’s built for exactly that type of chipset. The two work in perfect synergy, and you can bet that Apple is spending a lot of time making sure that, when it’s time to make that jump, that they’ve gotten the whole machine tuned and tweaked so the transition is beautiful. If you look at it that way, it makes a whole lot more sense to be using ARM-based chips for your supermodel MacBook Air, while the MacBook Pros would still run Intel chips due to their more “Pro” nature. I’m willing to be dollars to donuts that most people are going to start shifting away from MacOS “Classic” and will absolutely love the new look and feel of Lion. Who knows, maybe the Mac OS “Classic” look and feel will persist, while everything else will run some new version of iOS that is fully scalable across any hardware, much like HP is planning to do with their new version of WebOS.
There’s also this little nugget:
Although not mentioned in the most recent rumor, one of the largest features may be over-the-air updates that would finally make iOS independent of a computer for all but backup and local media syncing.
So…like a “real” computer? Can you see it? Can you see how the walls are disintegrating? The distinction between a “mobile” OS and a “desktop” OS is not as clear now, and I think the lines will continue to blur.
And this, too:
Talk of Apple using Nuance voice commands in iOS was already supported recently by code mentions in Lion. Most also presume that Apple’s cloud music service may play an integral role in the new mobile software.
So we can infer here that iOS and Lion are very closely related (doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, Apple said so), but that they share code is telling of Apple’s long-term strategy, and the strategies of several major players out there (Google, Microsoft, natch).
The jump from what we see in our hands and on our laps and desks and what we will be seeing over the next few years will be immense, and will change what every single person recognizes as a computer.
Mind the gap.
a couple thoughts that i’ve had recently. i was listening to the gdgt podcast on the ipad (jan. 30th). one of the ideas that was presented was the ipad as “4 white walls.” the gist being that the ipad was, essentially, an empty room that needed to be filled. the initial experience is so underwhelming that you want to fill it.
does this ring a bell for anyone? at the risk of exposing my EXTREME NERDINESS (oh wait…i’m writing a gadget blog…), it’s just like the holodeck in star trek. this is a room that can become anything you want it to be. you step into it and are presented with…nothing. a few commands later, and you’re standing in times square, or the rainforest, or making out with an old girlfriend. it’s a completely customizable experience based on what you want at that exact moment. this is an extension of the idea of the “information appliance” that i talked about earlier. it’s not going to do 10,000,000 things at once. it’s going to be a focused experience.
in the holodeck, you’re not flipping back and forth between times square and the rainforest (maybe makeouts in the rainforest is ok, though). in the holodeck, wherever you go, there you are. funny, that’s how real life works. we can’t skip back and forth between two places instantaneously, but we’ve gotten used to structuring our virtual lives that way. it’s too much! the experience of now is fundamental to our existence. we experience things only in the present moment, nowhere else. our attempts to transcend that through computing is difficult, at best, but we still try. the idea of “multitasking” hasn’t been getting a lot of positive praise as of late. just a simple google search tells us that multitasking is on its way out.
sure, TELEPORTATION could be the unspoken trump card. “yeah? well what if i COULD be in two places at once? what then, huh?” well…you’re still technically only in one place at any given moment. but hey, i’m no expert. unfortunately, not many people know what that’s like. it also comes with its own problems. like samuel l. jackson trying to kill you.
i just don’t need that in my life right now.
maybe you’re ok with that, though. i dunno.
but anyway, i digress. point is, you don’t really need “multitasking.” more and more i’m seeing computing shifting towards a single-application focus. just look at chrome os, it’s not trying to be anything but a browser. the ipad, by comparison, is too complex, but it will work, and people will love it. that’s all apple needs.
i was talking to a friend of mine last night, and she asked me, “are you going to get one?” “yeah,” i said. her eyes widened a little bit and she took a deep breath and said, “that’s exciting!”
then do i age faster? what happens if i change too much, or too slowly? where will i be in “20 years?” will my 20 years be your 40? or your 10?
they say that dogs and cats age faster than humans, or that one human year is like seven dog years. what if things just change faster for them? what if they just think more? does that mean that i move really slow to a dog?
so many questions. answers always seem in short supply.
sometimes you have to change things because the old way just wasn’t working out. ze frank said that you have to get ideas out there as soon as possible, regardless of whether they’re awesome or not.
ideas are powerful, and we can’t be afraid to let them out. we can’t be afraid to hold back. sometimes, the fear of greatness is greater than fear of inadequacy.
living among fearful people is a terrible condition. no one should live in fear of failure, and no one should be afraid to ask for help if they need it. haven’t we grown past that?