Things Left Unsaid

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While my posts haven’t been coming fast and furious lately, I’ve been watching the tech landscape recently and have seen some interesting shifts in where I believe a lot of things are heading.

Whither the iPod Nano?

This has been a perennial issue for me. When the iPhone 4S (aka the iPhone 5), was released, people did two things:

    1. Thought that it was an inferior phone because the character “5” was not in the title
    2. Forgot about everything else for a little while.

I, however, did not forget about the iPod nano. Conversely, I began to think more about it, mostly from the perspective of “How can Apple make use of this new Bluetooth 4.0 thing?” While Bluetooth may not be very important to many people in the world, or may be synonymous with “headset”, Bluetooth information exchange technology makes possible a great many things that people basically don’t take advantage of. Case and point, a friend of mine just saw me typing this blog post on a wireless Bluetooth keyboard and said “Wow, a wireless keyboard? I didn’t even know they made those.” Naturally, he’s a little behind the times (friar, vow of poverty), but that doesn’t stop the concept from being foreign to many people. An iPad-toting client of mine didn’t know that Bluetooth could be used to connect an iPad to a wireless keyboard, either (see “headset” equivocation above).

At any rate, that’s where we’re at. Bluetooth having effectively been relegated to another name for “headset”

The iPod Nano has the opportunity to become something so far beyond what it is right now. It can be a gateway to the information stored on an iPhone, a supplement to an iPad (remote control, keyfob, microphone, etc.), and, possibly even more importantly, a front-end for Siri. Naturally, the iPod Nano’s screen isn’t designed for displaying large amounts of information, but that doesn’t preclude it from being an information portal.

Smaller is…Smaller

When talk of an “iPad Mini” started swirling about, I immediately started thinking about the whole Steve Jobs “people don’t like these ‘tweener’ sizes for tablets” statement. Whenever he says that, you know that a product isn’t too very far away. The issue for Apple wasn’t creating a product in that size, but rather timing their entry into that size category. One of the things that I’ve noticed about a great deal of the other 7″ (ish) tablets on the market is that they lack anything truly compelling for me. I wouldn’t want a Kindle/Kindle Fire because its primary purpose is to read books purchased through Amazon.

The Nexus 7 was almost enough to get me on board until I used one. “Why would I spend any money on this?” I found myself asking over and over. The only truly compelling thing that I saw in the Nexus 7 was the NFC capability, but even that was a stretch. I need a product like that to be an iPad, but smaller, capable of all the things my iPad is capable of. I’m sure there are many people in the same boat.

I’ve been using the iPad to take notes, draw, read, and write since its introduction to the market. People tried to tell me that it wouldn’t be capable of much, and I would just quietly continue working, nodding as I continued to accomplish goals I set out for myself from the comfort of a tablet that I could use comfortably all day.

I knew there was one problem, though: it was too big (and not by much) for me to carry in my hoodie pocket. There were times that I only wanted to carry my tablet with me and nothing else, lack of charging equipment and extra tubes for my bike being reasonable things to forego in favor of a tablet that could slip easily into my back pocket. My iPad was literally a half inch too big, and I resigned myself to carrying the things I needed in addition to my wundertablet.

It was a hard life, I know, but I made it through. Thanks for your concern

Now, however, I feel like Apple is going to make a lot of people happy by creating a device that is perfectly capable of an absolutely ludicrous number of things (vis a vis other tablets), yet still has an extremely portable form factor (as though the iPad wasn’t portable enough).

Here’s the thing, though: Apple needed to time this whole thing. Releasing a 7″ (ish) tablet shortly after the iPad would have been great, and people would have really liked it, sure, but it wouldn’t have had the same impact that I believe it will have now. By releasing an “iPad Mini” now, Apple has allowed all the trash to sift itself out. Plenty of other companies have brought “me too” devices to market, and each has captured some small part of the iPad experience that people love, but left even more behind. Other companies thought that, if they could only have gotten that 7″ tablet to market first, that they would have ruled that space. The issue with that type of thinking is that it leads to sloppiness. Should this “iPad Mini” be released soon, it will be released with the entire weight of Apple behind it. It will have access to the iTunes store, it will have access to the App Store. All the apps that people have already purchased will be available on their device from day one. Their contacts and calendars will be synced through iCloud, and, while the same can be said for any Android tablet in that form factor, a person toting both Android and Apple devices would have to manage two devices with two different stores to shop from, two places to store their media, and no convenient way to slosh purchases around between devices.

With a device having a smaller screen size and profile, Apple will be making their signature store/device integration available in an even more portable form factor. The market will respond, and it will respond favorably.

Keep Your Friends Close

The last thing that I haven’t been hearing much about recently is NFC. Samsung released the Galaxy S III to a mediocre amount of fanfare, touting all of this NFC magic…but I have yet to see anything really interesting come out of it. I love the idea of NFC, but, like the Nexus 7, I see no one using it. I don’t see any stores with NFC tags on their doors, no restaurants with NFC tags on the tables to allow patrons to silence their phones and join their wifi with a single tap. None of this is real because I have a sneaking suspicion that Samsung has no idea what it’s doing. They put products on the market that have checkboxes in all the right places, but no real-world application of any of the things that those boxes relate to. Great job, Sammie, your phone has NFC! Does that honestly play a role in most people’s buying decisions? No, no it doesn’t. A friend of mine recently purchased a new GSIII and, when asked about the NFC feature, had no idea what I was talking about.

Truth be told, I’m not sure NFC will ever be a truly compelling technology, but I believe that, if it is, that Apple will do it right. They’ll do it right because they’re really the only company that can make something as obscure as NFC relevant enough to matter to the world. When the world’s most valuable company throws its weight behind something, you’re pretty safe betting that people are going to pay attention.

Now What?

All of this assumes a few things

    1. Apple is releasing a new iPod Nano.
    2. Apple is releasing an “iPad Mini”.
    3. The aforementioned products, in addition to the new iPhone, will contain NFC technology.

Those are a great deal of assumptions, but they all seem to make sense. I’m not one to start making assumptions and thinking that I’ve got it all right, but, based on what I’ve been seeing and, perhaps even more importantly, what I haven’t been seeing, I believe that all of these things are very close to reality.

I haven’t even touched on the possible integration with a refresh of the Apple TV, but I think that all those things are around the corner, as well.

It’s gonna be a helluva September

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The Times, They Are A-Changin

WallThe news that the New York Times is finally enforcing their paywall was anticipated, but is being met with frowns and “thumbs down” reactions from folks all around. The whole thing seems really ridiculous, and far too complicated, as Gruber points out. NYT really botched this whole thing, and it just shows how far away their head is from reality.

This reminds me of an interesting article I saw the other day on electronista. As discussed ad nauseum all over the web, the publishing industry is staring a radical paradigm shift in the face in much the same way the software industry did when iOS rolled around and shook things up. The old paradigm of high-dollar subscriptions and stacks of paper is out the door. People can find all they want with just a few searches on the internet, and they can get most, if not all, of this information for free. Why would someone want to fork over just a tad under the cost of a new iPad in order to read a feature-poor version of their print edition?

We see Apple, once again, looking a ways out and realizing that the New Publishers are going to start jumping all over this in the same way the new developers jumped all over developing for iOS. Their new subscriptions are a gift to New Publishing, telling all those folks out there with good ideas to get crackin,’ and then there’s this, which is basically a gift to every indie developer and writer out there:

The template is also expected to simplify in-app issue and subscription purchases, and, theoretically, foster magazine development. ” Imagine a guy drawing and writing a comic book,” a source says. “He can’t sell it to Marvel or DC so he hooks up with a programmer and within days, he’s getting his comic book published and sold on iTunes.”

This is New Publishing, folks. How much will this guy charge for his work? Twenty dollars? Too much. Ten Dollars? Maybe. Five dollars? Probably. A fiver and you’re reading some fun stuff. When he decides to serialize it, he’s putting subscriptions out there for $10/year, maybe even less depending on how he feels. Maybe it’s only eight for the year, and for an extra two bucks as an in-app purchase you get a special background delivered to your app every week. This guy doesn’t have to break his back to deliver a stellar background to you every week, in fact he loves to do it.

Same goes for the writer who’s got the good ideas and is pushing the boundaries of where industries might be headed, or the gal who can shot photos like it’s nobody’s business. All these people want to put their good stuff out there, they know how they want it to look, and they’re going to do it.

The first lap is just a warm up; it’s the second lap that counts. We were all there when New Publishing came through the gates, and we joined that parade.

Sadly, it looks like NYT is pricing themselves right back into 2001. It was a good run, guys, but I’m looking to go the distance.


An Apple a Day

Things are heating up, folks. When I originally posted about Apple’s move towards a unified payment system united under the iTunes umbrella, I was thinking pretty big picture, but there’s even more possibility here that I hadn’t considered. Run with me.

Recently, I was turned on to a company called Green Dot (GDOT) that has made a name for itself supplying pre-paid reloadable debit cards, mostly on the west coast. I was intrigued by the company’s quick growth during a time of economic recession, and I realized that, of course, people are moving away from credit cards and more towards debit transactions. Green Dot allows people from a myriad of income levels to have access to all the conveniences that a credit card allows in the modern marketplace with the added benefits of security and anonymity. Awesome.

So when I predicted a near-field payment system, I wasn’t considering a marriage of the two ideas, but the notion seems even more powerful now that I’ve read this piece by Tim O’Reilly and this post by Peter-Paul Koch. See what’s happening here, in my opinion, is a sea change in the way people are going to be managing their money, and it’s going to be Apple-based.

This may sound crazy, but we’re running with it, remember? Apple will introduce a mobile payment system, with the hardware to support it being present in all new models of iOS devices going forward (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad). As these devices proliferate (even moreso than they are now), we’re going to start seeing adoption of devices with these NFC capabilities start to rise significantly as the older models are phased out (think 2-3 generations of devices, which is 2-3 years in Apple land) and the NFC-equipped models become prevalent and cheap. As people start turning to these devices as their mobile wallets, they will also start using iTunes as their primary hub of payment, again with possible banking/credit services being offered by some new branch of Apple (not likely, but possible). As NFC becomes a de facto standard, people will start to see the iPhone as part of their lifestyle to a greater degree than they do now. At present, people still view the iPhone as a luxury item, something that is generally incompatible with their budget/spending patterns, or something that doesn’t fit their image. This will change as the iPhone begins to shift from a high-SES indicator to a mainstream societal mainstay. Apple will undoubtedly continue to produce products that will hold a significant amount of mindshare and indicate a high SES, but the fact is that the iPhone, or, more specifically, owning an NFC-equipped iPhone, will no longer be out of reach for the majority of people in just a few short years. This will bring about a massive paradigm shift in our handling of transactions across the country, and possibly the world. It will be a beautiful thing to see people of all income levels and socioeconomic strata using the same device, deriving the same enjoyment out of it. This may even signal a societal shift towards a resource-based economy, but I believe I’m being a tad optimistic there.

As Apple continues to grow, I am still amazed that their innovation does not show any signs of slowing down. Get ready, folks, this will be an interesting two years.


Standing On the Brink of iWorld

It has come to my attention that Apple may be interested in integrating some sort of contactless payments into its new iPhone. This doesn’t strike me as too far-fetched, but also hints at something much, much larger that may be going on under the surface.

For quite some time now, the iTunes store has been something of a misnomer. Sure, the store has music available for purchase, but there are a few other things the store sells now that muddy the waters. Through a single “iTunes” portal, a person can purchase music, movies, applications, and literature. Basically, media of all kinds. Using Apple’s delivery system, a person has access to these things 24/7. Apple has created a media outlet that is always open, offers competitive pricing, and boasts a huge library of all kinds of media that people can sink their teeth into.

When Apple introduced the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad, they put those devices as media hubs, able to access and purchase from their online stores at any time, just like on the computer; only this time, the capability was brought into real time and placed right into the hands of the consumer. People love the ability to purchase full albums whenever they desire, they go crazy when new, useful, or really well-designed apps are released that enrich the way they interact with the world, their media, or their data. Businesses use these devices to help their employees be more productive, people use them to have fun. They’re incredible.

An integral part of every single Apple event that has developers as a focus always brings up the idea that the iTunes store has millions upon millions of members with active credit cards, waiting to buy things. The market is huge already, but those numbers are ultimately stagnant unless they are coupled with some sort of long-term goal of expansion. Reports indicate that there are 50 million iOS devices on the market, which means that there are 50 million people already taking advantage of the media that Apple is offering through its iTunes store.

But it also means something else: that there are 50 million people invested in the Apple ecosystem. If a person has ever purchased a movie or app through iTunes, they cannot (without considerable effort and know-how) watch that movie on anything but a Mac or iDevice. Period. For customers, it means that Apple has committed to providing them with products that will allow them to continue to enjoy their purchases. For content providers, it means that they can feel better knowing that their media isn’t getting seeded everywhere.

For Apple, it means that they are now the hub of countless transactions every single day. Transactions that used to take place in physical goods are now occurring in a digital space that Apple has become synonymous with. Now watch this.

Just recently, Apple did a neat trick. They released an app that brought the shopping experience of the Apple Store right into your palm. They broke through the digital wall and used a person’s existing iTunes account and billing information to allow them to purchase an actual, physical product.

Not quite just music anymore, is it?

Apple has something huge up its sleeve, and it will use the massive established customer base to drive the creation and expansion of a vast network tied to the existing customer base in their iTunes store (which will most likely be re-branded as something else more in-line with media consumption, or even Apple goods in general). Think about it: Apple payments. Apple credit cards. An entire network of Apple finance that is made possible by hip, tech-savvy, relatively high-income consumers who demand the very best in design and quality. A retailer that puts the iTunes (or whatever) sign on their store is telling the world, “Yeah, we know you, we have stuff that is designed for you, and we want to provide it in a way that makes you feel good.”

This isn’t something that anyone should take lightly. This is power. This is control. This is the warm glow of the Apple future.

We’re standing on the brink of iWorld.