Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Replacing Apple Downloads with the Mac App Store

Apple is correct to recognize that the Mac App Store offers a way to create more value. But their letter to developers asserts:

"Because we believe the Mac App Store will be the best destination for users to discover, purchase, and download your apps, we will no longer offer apps on the Mac OS X Downloads site."

This statement is subjective and depends on who "your apps" is referring to and what the user is looking for. The Mac App Store is open to self contained productivity and entertainment apps that may access the Internet. Based on Apple's published guidelines, the Mac App Store IS NOT open to system utilities, disk utilities, network utilities, software that attempts to enhance the user interface of existing system facilities, or most plug-ins including browser, Email, and Address Book plug-ins.

Why? Placing code or resources in any shared area or requesting privilege escalation is prohibited.

In order for Apple's assertion above to be broadly true, Apple would need to offer a "Mac Utility Store" or other venue for applications that cannot meet the Mac App Store restrictions. This would include many award winning tools like Disk Warrior, Super Duper!, Default Folder X, 1Password, and other system maintenance utilities and plug-ins. Ironically, many Macworld Editor's Choice Award winning products are not eligible to appear in the Mac App Store. To say the Mac App Store is the "best destination for users to discover, purchase, and download your apps" is understandable marketing speak, but it's not the whole story.

I understand the hype machine can only focus on one thing at a time, but I hope Apple will consider expanding the scope of their Mac App Store(s) to truly become the "best destination" to discover great software.

Respectfully Submitted,

- Peter Sichel
Sustainable Softworks

Network Neutrality Made Simple

Much of the debate around Network Neutrality has tended to obfuscate what is essential to regulate with what is controversial, so I'd like to spell it out simply.

(1) Wireless airwaves and landline right of ways belong to the public.

(2) Government has granted a small number of business organizations a license or charter to provide voice and data communication services to the public based on these public resources.

(3) Building and operating the nations communication networks gives these organizations certain powers which the public has an interest in regulating. The charter granted to these business organizations to provide voice and data communication services to the public prohibits any attempt to give themselves or anyone else an unfair competitive advantage over any other lawful communication service that runs on top of these network facilities. The public's interest in an open Internet that supports efficient innovation requires this.

Point 3 is the crux of Network Neutrality. Certain carriers have tried to obfuscate the issue by saying they need the ability to offer premium services and manage the network which Network Neutrality would somehow prohibit. I respectfully disagree. The issue is whether Internet data carriers can grant themselves an unfair competitive advantage by virtue of controlling the pipes. The answer that best serves the public interest is "no".

For example, Network Neutrality says that Comcast may not restrict access to Netflix or charge a premium for such access so as to make their own video on demand services more competitive. They can manage the bandwidth available for streaming, but they must not discriminate based on the content itself or who provides it. The user decides what services they choose to access.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Does Android Compete with iPhone?

The race is on, Android sales are catching up with iPhone, and we all know a race implies a winner. The question that's not as widely considered is how much these products actually compete?  First, Android is an operating system used by multiple vendors, so we need to consider Apple's iOS eco-system and what these respective products bring to the market.

If you are a cell phone maker looking for a low cost licensable OS, Android is a clear winner.  If you're a cell phone carrier looking to offer a family of attractive "smart phones" you can customize to add "carrier value", again Android is a winner.  But what do these respective products offer to the people who actually buy and use them?


- A cell phone available on multiple carriers.

- A flexible Internet communication device that offers mobile Web, Email, Maps, navigation, social networking, and the ability to run 3rd party apps.

- Lower cost in some cases but not others.

Android is a remarkable product, and if it weren't for the iPhone, it would be far ahead of anything else in its field, but the iPhone and iOS mobile platform arrived first.


- A cell phone currently available through some carriers.

- A flexible Internet communication device that offers mobile Web, Email, Maps, navigation, social networking, and the ability to run 3rd party apps.

- A best in class App store available in 60 countries.

- A best in class portable music platform (iPod).

- A best in class mobile gaming platform (iPod Touch).

- A best in class mobile tablet (iPad) that serves as a book reader, electronic publishing channel, and is well suited to other business applications.

- Best in class battery life.

- Best in class retail product support.

- A consistent user experience that is always responsive and not bogged down by crapware.

- A restrained design that does not overwhelm new users with all the things it can do before they experience finding and downloading software from the App Store.

- A vast eco-system of product accessories.

- A consistent upgrade path.

- A broadly supported mobile computing platform that offers a consistent target for mobile application developers.

The next question one might reasonably ask is which of these differences are sustainable?  The surprising answer is most of them.  Some are based on long term investments which cannot be easily replicated (iTunes + iTMS, over 300 Apple retail stores, Mac desktop, Xcode developer tool chain). Another big factor is profitability to sustain ongoing development and innovation.  Apple's vertically integrated business model has proven to be highly profitable at almost every level.  In contrast, Android development is largely funded by Google's Search business. Whether this business model can expand to support an iOS like eco-system is an interesting question.

Today, both Android and iPhone/iOS are clearly successful.  It is not my intention to predict a winner, but to point out how these products address very different market needs with relatively modest overlap. Both products have enormous growth potential. Android offers a powerful Internet enabled smartphone that is not locked down by a single vendor. iPhone/iOS offers a powerful, easy to use mobile computing platform that was not previously available.

As a smartphone OS, Android is a huge success. As a mobile platform OS, iOS has more developers and more software which is attracting ever increasing investment. When it comes to mobile touch screen tablets, there is only one well stocked App store with software designed specifically for the tablet format. If Android fails to attract significant tablet software over the next year, while Apple remains on track to sell over 40 million iPads, the difference will become more apparent.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Do Companies Release Products Before They Are Ready?

In his Personal Tech column for 16-Sep-2010, New York Times columnist David Pogue asks:

"Why do companies bring products to market that they know and even admit aren't ready?"

Having worked at one such company, I became all too familiar with the pattern. At most companies, managers are judged on their ability to deliver on schedule, yet it's not until you actually start using the product that you discover many of the things that don't work right or need to be improved.  The pressure is to follow the schedule and make the best of it.  Nobody wants to be a complainer.

At Apple, senior management uses the product on a daily basis until they are confident customers will say wow! The rule at Apple is it doesn't ship it until users say wow!  Apple still makes mistakes and discovers problems after a product has shipped, but for the most part their stuff works from the users point of view. If Apple does discover a problem, they have resources in place to upgrade or replace defective units in the field.

The key difference in thinking is actually revealed in the question itself. The management at most technology companies believe they are selling a "product" that meets a set of previously agreed upon specifications.  It must do A, B, and C, and the sooner we can ship it the better.  Apple believes they are selling a "User Experience". The hardware is a vehicle for delivering a great user experience, not an end in itself.

Apple still cares about schedules, but they recognize that the most important learning occurs after they begin using the product internally, and that providing a great user experience is a much bigger competitive advantage than being first to market or having the lowest price.

For years analysts questioned why Apple's didn't have a Netbook strategy. With the introduction of the iPad, we see that while other manufacturers were producing stripped down lower cost notebooks, Apple was doing the real work of thinking about what makes for a great mobile computing experience and what can be left out.

Apple's focus on the user experience also clarifies why Apple insists on greater control over the software that runs on their mobile iOS products. Apple is not merely selling a mobile device that runs software and allows you to make phone calls, Apple is selling a user experience that ties in to a global brand image and "digital lifestyle".

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Network Neutrality: What Google and Verizon Should Have Said

Google and Verizon recently offered a "compromise" proposal that accepted Network Neutrality for wired networks with limited enforcement, but then carved out exceptions for wireless and premium services. Here are the main points I think Google and Verizon should have acknowledged:

(1) We understand that wireless airwaves and landline right of ways belong to the public.

(2) We understand that we have been granted a license or charter to provide voice and data communication services based on these public resources.

(3) Building and operating the nations communications network gives us a great deal of power. We understand that we have not been granted a charter to give ourselves or anyone else an unfair competitive advantage over any other lawful communication service that runs on top of our network facilities. The public's interest in an open Internet that supports efficient innovation requires this.

Point 3 is the crux of Network Neutrality. Verizon keeps trying to obfuscate the issue by saying they need the ability to offer premium services and manage the network which Network Neutrality would somehow prohibit. I respectfully disagree.  The issue is whether Internet data carriers can grant themselves an unfair competitive advantage by virtue of controlling the pipes.  The answer that best serves the public interest is "no".

Monday, August 2, 2010

Don't Get the iPad? Just wait a little, it will get bigger.

I've noticed a number of online comments and reports from people who say they just don't get the iPad and seem disappointed Apple has sold so many.  Imagine you are back in 1976 and Apple has just released the Apple II, the first off-the-shelf personal computer you don't have assemble from a kit.  Executives at IBM and Digital Equipment Corporation were puzzled what the big deal was.  Why would anyone want a computer at home?  Especially one that does so little?  Yet within less than 15 years, PC software was driving much of the computer industry. Why? People did want affordable personal computers at home, while others recognized the opportunity and wrote gorgeous applications that 10's of millions of users could enjoy.

Back to 2010: Why would anyone want an instant on, easy to use, location aware, Internet capable, easy to carry, mobile computer that does so little?

(1) Because it offers a great user experience that wasn't previously available.  The iPad is an ideal size for reading, allows you to keep the Internet within easy reach, and offers thousands of Apps to support whatever interests you have.

(2) The focus of innovation has shifted.  Some of the best and most creative new software is being written for the iPad.

When I worked at Digital in the 1980's, we had endless debates about the difference between a Personal Computer and a Workstation.  Many at Digital would single out some hardware difference: the larger display, better graphics, built-in networking, or even the price.  They were all wrong.  The real difference that mattered was the software it ran.

When Steve Balmer says "The operating system is called Windows", I think he's making the same mistake.

Don't get the iPad?  Just wait a little, it will get bigger.

Some Common Observations

It doesn't do Adobe Flash

Few mobile computers do because 3 years after the first iPhone, Adobe has yet to deliver a version of Flash that works well on mobile devices.  Some technologies that don't translate well to a mobile environment will be left behind.

It doesn't include a phone

Yes, and it doesn't include a $70/month phone bill and 2 year contract. Voice is not the primary App for the iPad, but you can use Skype or other VoIP services if you wish.

It's just a big iPhone

A swimming pool is just a big bathtub, but we use it for different things. The iPad is a comfortable size for reading.  The responsive touch interface, clever use of panning+zooming, and focus on one task at a time makes the device almost disappear as you become absorbed in the flow of what you are doing.

The landscape keyboard is good enough for lightweight typing, while adding a Bluetooth keyboard accommodates heavy lifting.

It doesn't include a camera

Yes, it's a v1.0 product that starts at $499.

It doesn't do multitasking

I expect we'll see this when iOS4 comes to the iPad later this year.

It doesn't do handwriting recognition

Yes, but there are plenty of note taking apps that will record and even recognize your scribbles if you want that. Part of what makes the iPad such a joy to use is that Apple did the hard work of thinking about what is essential to a great mobile experience, and what can be left out. Fumbling for a stylus to do pixel perfect input is not fun when you are mobile. I believe this is one of the key insights behind the iPad's successful user interface (time will tell). A lot of people choose not to carry a pen in their pocket everywhere they go.

It doesn't synch wirelessly to the cloud for stand alone operation

Providing a great user experience for system backup and restore, software update, synchronizing multiple devices, and managing large media collections is hard. Apple still sees the Mac (or PC) as the hub of your digital life style.  Many professionals (like me) are not ready to trust all their personal data to the cloud. Apple's approach feels safe and inspires confidence. If you've ever upgraded from one iPod to another, you know how easy this is.  Over time, I expect we'll see more options that migrate services to the cloud.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Better Response to Growing Markets

I've written before about AT&T's capped data plans and what I feel is a lame $20/month additional charge for tethering.  Since you are already paying for the amount of data you use, why should you have to pay extra for tethering? I suspect there is some marketeer at AT&T who recognizes there's a strong demand for tethering so they can charge extra, why leave money on the table?

What the wireless carriers are missing is that demand for wireless services is a huge growth market.  By increasing capacity and driving down prices, they could dramatically increase the size of their business.

The PC revolution is going mobile.  We need 10 or 100 times the bandwidth currently available.  If you build it and price it right, you'll attract way more business than by trying to monopolize on the current shortage of supply.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

iOS4 vs iPod Touch Battery Life

With the release of iOS4, my iPod Touch (2G) gained the ability to remain connected to Wi-Fi even when locked or in sleep mode to receive push notifications (or VoIP calls in the background).  The implications for battery life however are not immediately apparent.

Having lived with iOS4 on my iPod Touch since WWDC, I was initially caught off guard by the significantly reduced battery life.  Previously my iPod Touch could go about a week without recharging, as I used it mostly for listening to audio an hour or so a day, and occasionally for looking up other information.  After installing iOS4, battery life dropped to a couple days, or even less depending on the application I was in.

It turns out the WWDC application needed to be updated for iOS4 to conserve battery life, but more importantly, it had enabled "Notifications", the 3rd item under Settings.  With notifications enabled, an iPod Touch will stay connected to a Wi-Fi network even while in sleep mode, thus burning through the battery much faster than I had previously experienced.

If you use an iPod Touch mostly as a music player and don't normally need notifications, be sure to leave this turned off in the Settings application, or select Airplane mode when you don't want the radios to remain active.


- Peter


Update 6/28/2010

Several users report their battery is still being drained while their iPod Touch 2G is sleeping.  I believe this means other applications are activating the radio.  Since the iPod Touch 2G doesn't officially get "multi-tasking" even with iOS4, this means one or more of Apple's built-in applications which are authorized to run in the background are implicated.  I see two solutions so far:

(1) Use Airplane mode to explicitly prevent the radios from powering on.

(2) Review your iPod Touch Settings and disable any background network access.

Settings -> Notifications = Off

Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars -> Fetch New Data -> Push = Off

Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars -> Calendars -> New Invitation Alerts = Off

Settings -> WiFi -> Ask to Join Networks = Off

I hope Apple adjusts the default settings or provides an option to restrict network access while the iPod Touch is locked so unsuspecting iPod Touch users are not left to resolve battery life issues on their own.

Friday, June 4, 2010

AT&T's Capped Data Plans

AT&T recently introduced a capped data plan for iPhone, iPad, and other smart phones

I see some progress, but also some old thinking. Unlimited data is a thing of the past. Bravo. Everybody knows this was an unrealistic model that is in conflict with the increasing demand for data services. There is a practical limit on how many minutes a person can talk in a month. There's no obvious limit on how much data a person can use. To charge per minute for talk, and offer unlimited data makes no sense.


Tethering is $20/mo extra. That's disappointing. Now that you are charging for the amount of data actually used each month, there's no inherent justification to charge extra for tethering. It looks like a money grab.


If I want to use tethering to handle my Email a few times a year because I prefer the larger screen and keyboard of my laptop, AT&T says no dice, that will be $20/month extra. That doesn't leave me feeling warm and fuzzy about our relationship. It feels like you are charging extra for something that doesn't cost you any more to provide.


If you eat the bread with your left hand, it costs $25 per month.

If you eat the same bread with your right hand, it costs $45/month.




Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Corporations and Profit

"People forget that Apple is a corporation, and that the purpose of a corporation is to make money."

While this cliche is widely accepted, it's incomplete and often misleading. The purpose of a corporation is to create value by serving customers. Often that value is used to reward shareholders, but that's not the sole purpose. The distinction may be subtle, but it is not unimportant as I explain below.

Consider a company that sells a product in the market.  The company creates "use value" in the eye of their satisfied customers who buy the product.  They then use the corresponding cash value to pay their employees, suppliers, and reward their shareholders. Saying the purpose is to reward shareholders is putting the cart before the horse. Rewarding shareholders or "capitalism" is a tool for raising and concentrating capital.  An important tool to be sure, but not the purpose of business itself.  You don't go into business to raise capital, you raise capital to expand and grow your business.

The confusion arrises because CEO's often serve at the pleasure of a Board of Directors who are elected by the shareholders, so Wall Street investors like to claim the CEO's job is to serve the shareholders because it gives them more leverage. But before a company becomes a giant publicly held corporation, the original CEO was a self appointed company founder who had an idea to start a business by serving customers.

If you are an engineer or product developer working at Apple or any other technology corporation, what keeps you awake at night? Are you obsessed with how to make money for your shareholders, or do you spend more of your time thinking about how to create something of value for your customers?

Here's a simple thought experiment:  What is the purpose of our economy?

 A.  To organize production in such a way as to provide the goods and services people want.

 B.  To provide a profit to shareholders.

Business organizations exist within the context of an economy whose purpose is to serve customers. Of course both points of view are valid. They are just different interpretations of our economic process. But B leads to awkward economic distortions like high executive compensation and accounting shenanigans as companies are tempted to finagle their books to make a stock appear more attractive. In many ways, this mis-understanding of business is at the core of our recent financial and banking woes. Even our education system is suffering from confusion over measuring standardized test results ("the bottom line"), versus serving students where they are.

Imagine a CEO of a company with a large market cap who sees their stock price increase by 10% on his watch.  To his shareholders, this could be worth billions, so paying the CEO tens of millions is a small fraction of the value created for shareholders.  Yet the company hasn't really created more value if it isn't creating more satisfied customers.  You could say the shareholders are bribing the CEO to pay themselves (or threatening to fire him if he doesn't deliver).

If you are the CEO of Enron, you might be tempted to sell lucrative contracts to companies that you agree to buy back later and count these sales as revenue. If you are an investment bank, you might be tempted to securitize sub-prime mortgages... Looks great on paper, but nothing of use value has actually been created, only a contract or paper that appears to be something it isn't. All the while your executives and shareholders enjoy a nice windfall and will be very pleased with you until the bubble bursts. The last years I worked at DEC, I saw the company repeatedly mortgage its future to serve its shareholders.

Thankfully many business leaders know better. But the pressure to serve shareholders can be a huge distraction.


A good lens to evaluate Apple's competitive moves is whether maintaining tight control of the platform and user experience helps Apple continue to innovate and serve their customers more than it hinders 3rd party developers who would like to help the platform serve those same customers.

A key component of previous business computing platforms has been access to 3rd party solutions that need to work in more than one context to be cost effective and manage risk (other companies don't like being totally dependent on a single vendor either). From Apple's perspective, allowing these cross platform solutions reduces Apple's unique differentiation and ability to advance the platform on their own terms. Apple claims that cross platform tools produce substandard apps, but Apple uses many such tools in its own software and has made code re-use and cross platform UNIX tools and technology the basis of its Mac OS X strategy. If Apple wasn't worried that such solutions could be compelling, there'd be no reason to restrict them. The issue is not whether cross platform tools can be effective, but how they are applied and shape the platform experience.

Apple's usual strategy is to focus on the consumer first while doing just enough to remove barriers to corporate acceptance. Outlawing the use of any(!) platform independent language tools threatens to upset this balance. [Update, Apple has backed off on this issue as expected.]


Why No Apple In The Food Industry?
"Focus on delighting customers, not on making money"

Another perspective on Adobe's situation

Steve Jobs Solved the Innovator's Dilemma

The Dumbest Idea In The World: Maximizing Shareholder Value

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thoughts on Batteries and Laptops

Battery life has two dimensions: (1) how much charge the battery can hold, and (2) how this capacity changes over time.

In my own experience, I wore out a 13" PowerBook G4 battery in 13 months, bought a replacement, and saw it wear out again in about 14 months just by keeping the machine plugged in and sitting on my desk most of the time. After the 2nd replacement battery wore out (held less than an hours charge), I got more interested in what was going on and made some changes. The most visible change was keeping my laptop on a cooling stand.

When fully charged, Li-ion batteries have a limited shelf life and lose around 20% of their capacity per year. High charge levels and elevated temperatures hasten permanent capacity loss.


I was stunned to learn this, but it matches my own experience. The combination of normal laptop running temperatures (warm), and a fully charged Li-Ion battery was less than ideal. Contrary to popular wisdom, keeping Li-ion batteries fully charged as much as possible shortens their life.

Where did this popular wisdom come from? First, it is vital not to allow Lithium Ion batteries to completely discharge as this can create a safety hazard and will shut down the battery permanently. For this reason, the power system is designed around the battery used and shuts down when the charge becomes dangerously low. Second, deep discharge cycles are also known to hasten capacity loss. Since there is no "memory effect" with Li-Ion, waiting until your battery is nearly discharged is undesirable. For a typical portable device, this means it's best to charge the battery early and often.

But not all portable devices are used as portables anymore. A glaring omission from typical laptop systems is a feature to maintain the battery at less than fully charged to extend its useful life. My laptop easily spends 90% of its waking hours plugged in. I simply don't need the battery to be fully charged most of the time. As laptops have come to replace desktops for many users, the design of the battery system has failed to keep up with how it is often used. The ideal charge level for storing a Li-ion battery is around 40%.

One of the challenges Toyota faced in designing the Prius was battery longevity. Part of the solution they adopted was to maintain the battery between 40-60% charge as much as possible. The Prius uses nickel metal hydride batteries, but the principle is similar. Batteries last longer if you treat them gently.

You might be tempted to remove your laptop battery completely, but this is not a good idea. Modern laptops use the battery to smooth out spikes in the power consumption. If you remove the battery, the machine will respond by dropping the CPU speed to bring the entire system within the upper limit of the power supply.

Apple's latest designs use integrated Li-polymer batteries, so removal is impractical anyway. I don't know how Li-polymer batteries compare exactly, but the principle should still be valid. It would be helpful to make a distinction between charging for maintaining battery capacity (useful lifetime), and charging for the longest run time.



iPhone 3GS Lithium-Ion Battery Life