The Apple Nexus

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I’ve reading a great deal in the past few months about all of the new Nexus phones that have been coming out recently, reviews by people who have used iPhones and tried to switch but failed, reviews by people who are avid Android users who love them, and most people who are somewhere in between. I’ve heard arguments as to why certain operating systems have more future, certain phones are objectively better, and really just stand somewhere in the middle, looking at all of this with a little bit of a quizzical look on my face. I’m not trying to take sides here, but I believe that Apple’s position in this market is much better because of one main reason: NFC.

While it’s true that Google’s Nexus phones have had NFC built-in for some time, it has been clear that the feature has been little more than a bullet point in a presentation in order to build some buzz and give Android pundits something to hold over Apple’s head. I thought the inclusion of NFC in the first round of Nexus phones to be half-baked, mostly because I looked around at the places I visited every single day and saw literally nothing that used NFC in a way that was available for public interaction. The only usage for NFC that I’ve seen implemented anywhere was in the TouchPad. We all know how that went.

The key here is this.

If users wave a NFC-equipped iPhone at a NFC Mac (they need to be in close proximity to interact), the Mac will load all their applications, settings and data. It will be as though they are sitting at their own machine at home or work. When the user leaves, and the NFC-equipped iPhone is out of range, the host machine returns to its previous state.

This is huge, and with Bluetooth coming back in a big (or perhaps little, as in low-power) way, this may be even more effective.

“The usual idea is that you would use NFC to set up the link between the two devices and then do an automatic hand over to a different protocol for doing the actual transfer of data – eg Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, TransferJet etc – and that’s what I imagine would be happening here,” she said.

The above coming from Analyst Sarah Clark of SJB Research.

This idea still has so much potential. As Steve Jobs said when he unveiled iCloud, Apple is demoting the computer to just another device, one that accesses your data in its servers in North Carolina somewhere. With the computer being just a gateway to your computing state anywhere, any device can also theoretically access this saved state and allow the user to resume their previous session wherever they are.

Let’s also look at another piece to the puzzle: Apple TV. We don’t know what Apple is planning for this theoretical Apple TV later this year, but let’s take a look at the Apple TV in its current incarnation, the tiny little black box that, quite frankly, is a little Wünderdevice.

For starters, you can now do this. I think that’s a pretty big deal. So the Apple TV, in its current state, can run iOS apps. It can access iCloud. It can play music and movies, and also allows a compatible device to mirror its display through a Wi-Fi connection. Let’s talk about that for a moment, as well.

If you haven’t already, check out Gameloft’s Modern Combat 3. It’s basically a Modern Warfare clone, but it has one killer feature: the ability to mirror the game on an Apple TV, which turns the iOS device you’re holding into a controller and puts the game on the big screen. I tried this on my iPad and was amazed with the results. This is truly something that game developers need to be looking at, but it’s also something that regular developers need to be looking at, as well. Think about it–if a device that is mirroring its display output to an Apple TV can display different content on the device than on the TV, a word processing app could essentially turn the tablet into a wireless keyboard, while the main workspace is displayed on the TV. The iPad or iPhone (or both!) could display a suite of controls or “function” keys, or function as pointing devices, or really anything that you can think of. The idea of a “technology appliance” holds even more water here, since these devices can be used synergistically to create an effect that one device on its own is technically capable of, but is better when spread out among several devices. Look at Keynote, for instance. With an iPad and iPhone, a person can run an entire professional presentation with no bulky equipment and a minimum of technical prowess.

In the context of the aforementioned connection to an Apple TV, this capability becomes even more important, since it allows the TV to function like a traditional “desktop”, but without the bulk of wiring, an extra device to draw power, and connections to set up. NFC handles everything, and the bulk of the transfer can then take place over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or some other protocol that is standard in Apple devices.

And this, my friends, is why Apple is positioned so much more powerfully in this market than any Android device manufacturer. While other manufacturers will essentially be playing catch up with all of this anyway, they will also have to contend with consumers who will be presented with each manufacturer’s take on this idea. Where Samsung may offer one type of connectivity, Asus may not, since it doesn’t have a TV of its own, but LG might. The consumer will stand in front of his TV and scratch his head wondering why his Motorola Xoom isn’t connecting to his Samsung TV, while his neighbor with an iPad and Apple TV is able to transition from room to room in his house without missing a beat.

The aftermath of this whole shebang would be the equivalent of a Destruction Derby, with all of these companies vying for the consumer dollar, blowing themselves to bits and waging a war of attrition while Apple’s devices still lead the way due to their simplicity and interoperability. The next thing that will happen is that these other manufacturers will start listing even more specs on their TVs, things like gigs of ram, processor speeds, and core counts. The consumer will look at all this and once again scratch his or her head in confusion. The Apple TV will say something like “Best-in-Class Picture Quality, Siri, and [catchy Apple-fied name for NFC connections]. Say Hello to Apple TV.”

It’ll sell like gangbusters, and we’re all going to want one. Of course we will, it’s going to represent the future of computing. Can we even call it that anymore? No, not really, it doesn’t feel right, and in this one (admittedly long-shot) future, “computing” isn’t a thing. You just pick what you want or need to do, and you use well-designed, simple hardware to do it.

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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.