Category Archives: apple

On Moore’s Law’s and the Apple Watch

Today, Jean Louis-Gassée shared some thoughts on forecasting demand for the Apple Watch.  He is thoughtful about the impact Moore’s Law will have on the higher-end models, writing:

But the biggest question is, of course, Moore’s Law. Smartphone users have no problem upgrading every two years to new models that offer enticing improvements, but part of that ease is afforded by carrier subsidies (and the carriers play the subsidy game well, despite their disingenuous whining).

There’s no carrier subsidy for the AppleWatch. That could be a problem when Moore’s Law makes the $5K high-end model obsolete. (Expert Apple observer John Gruber has wondered if Apple could just update the watch processor or offer a trade-in — that would be novel.)

Gasse’s comments were picked up elsewhere, including The Loop. So far though, I haven’t seen anyone consider the impact of the WatchKit software architecture on this question. So I commented with my own thoughts, which I’m revising and publishing here.

The current version of WatchKit only gives developers access to the the watch as a smart terminal interfacing communicating with code running on an iOS device over Bluetooth Low Energy. In this model, the processing demands on the watch are pretty flat across different apps and over hardware generations, since they are bounded primarily by display resolution, which is itself bounded by the optical characteristics of our eyeballs, and UI update rates. As such, Moore’s law improvements would probably accrue to battery life and component cost. I doubt that will have a significant impact on the end-user experience — I suspect that the screen and wireless make up a large portion of the power budget, and neither are going to be tightly linked to Moore’s law improvements. As for expense, I doubt that annual SoC price reductions will have that much impact on anything but the lowest end models (if it impacts them at all).

We’ll see what happens “later next year” when Apple allows native apps to run on the watch. My guess is that their execution will be tightly managed, as they were for web apps in iOS 1.0, and native apps when they were enabled by iOS 2.0. As a result, Apple will have a lot of ability to manage the way the platform and apps takes advantage of Moore’s law.

I’d guess that there will still be major generational discontinuities, but they will come every 5-10 years, rather than every year, as they do with iOS devices. That still creates issues for a device that some may expect to last lifetimes, but perhaps that assumption must itself be revisited.

For all the talk about the timelessness of high-end timepieces among analog watch aficionados, it isn’t all that relevant in the larger sense. The fundamental issues, when deciding whether to spend thousands of dollars on a watch, is: do I have thousands of dollars to spend on a watch when a $50 watch would tell me the time just as well; if so, does spending thousands of dollars on a watch feel good to me (which is sometimes a question of whether it sends the “right” message to others).

I suspect that for all the people who, today, spend thousands of dollars on a luxury watch because of their quality and timelessness, a significant portion could find a different reason to spend thousands of dollars on a watch. Along side of them, a significant number of other people who could spend thousands on a luxury watch, but are unpersuaded by whatever appeal drives traditional high-end watch buyers. Some of these people could find other reasons to buy an Apple watch.

I am at this point unlikely to spend thousands, or even hundreds on any watch, particularly since I finally gave up on wrist watches all together when I started carrying a “pocket watch” (read: cell phone). I will not be surprised though if I am wearing a lower-end Apple Watch a year from now. As a kid in Utah, when I used to go skiing, my friend and I would be freezing our asses off riding the ski lift, and would find ourselves checking our watches for the temperature. Our watches didn’t tell the temperature, and, as I recall, there was not yet any (affordable) watch on the market that told temperature. Still, it was natural to us that a wrist device should provide useful information like that. So, I’m willing to give the (lower end) Apple Watch a try.

 

 

On Sacrifice, iPhones and Devotion

A friend on Facebook (who works for Motorola) is doing his level best to help people understand what people sacrifice when they choose an iPhone 6 over one of Motorola’s latest offerings.

I can only shake my head in pity, for clearly it is he who needs to understand, to understand people, and sacrifice, and devotion. For iPhone users are a devoted people, and there is no devotion without sacrifice. So, iPhone users sacrifice. They sacrifice by paying more, but on its own, such a sacrifice is a hollow indulgence.

True devotion requires daily sacrifice, and so iPhone users suffer fewer pixels on their displays and in their selfies. Perhaps, most of all, they suffer shorter battery life.

To the unenlightened, this sacrifice seems ridiculous, foolish, pathetic. Why would someone sacrifice their hard earned money for a phone that is so clearly inferior? The answer is simple, their devotion, their sacrifice, is repaid daily, a thousand fold. As the battery gauge dwindles, they are reminded that, so to, the daylight dwindles. As the gauge turns red, they are reminded of the the autumn of their years. As the screen blinks and goes black, they are reminded that life is precious, that the breadth and depth of life needs to be explored, and embraced, that life can not be captured in pixels no matter what the quantity.

As for me, I only rarely run short of battery life on my old iPhone, so, to show my devotion as I anticipate the arrival my new iPhone, I am collecting all the 30-pin cables I’ve accumulated over the years, cables that will no work with my new iPhone. Once collected, I’ll straighten them carefully, gather them together, and then slowly, methodically, braid them into a scourge, so I might flagellate my skin and demonstrate my devotion.

Apple Said to Reap Fees From Banks in New Payment System – Bloomberg

A few months after Apple released the first iPhone, they cut the price by $200 because…well, we don’t know. It could be that sales were below what they expected, or it could be that it doing better than expected an they (and/or AT&T) wanted to build on the momentum.

Either way, the fact that the retail price of the phone was subsidized by other revenue streams is part of what made the price cut possible.

I note that a similar opportunity exists with the new Apple Watch, which plays an important role in Apple Pay, their new mobile and internet payment system. As Bloomberg reports, Apple Said to Reap Fees From Banks in New Payment System.

WWDC and MOOCs

I have been overwhelmed by the spread of what some have been calling MOOCs (massive, open, online classrooms). I remain enthusiastic about the potential for an internet-catalized revolution in education, but I think the real missing ingredient isn’t the content, or the scalable assessment tools, which is what these commercial efforts have been focusing on, what’s missing is culture and community.

I think there are interesting parallels to Apple’s WWDC even, which has been selling out in record time:

Many more people want to attend WWDC than the conference can accommodate. There has been no shortage of interesting suggestions for how to fix this. Broadly speaking, WWDC has not changed in decades. Apple and its developer ecosystem, on the other hand, are radically different than they were just five years ago. Something has to give.

via Hypercritical: The Lottery.

Apple has tried to remedy the situation somewhat by putting all the materials online, but it seems that many recognize that this isn’t sufficient because it doesn’t provide the cultural and community benefits of attending WWDC. Right now the practical size of WWDC is partially due to a limit on the available venues in San Francisco, but fundamentally it is the number of attendees to Apple’s engineers, what in education is called the student-faculty ratio. Lower is generally better. Apple, on the other hand, probably doesn’t want to get too big, and definitely doesn’t want to grow to fast because there are limits to the rate at which they can train qualified engineers they can train up in “the Apple Way”

On Apple’s Hiring of Kevin Lynch, Former Adobe CTO

Yesterday the news came out that Apple had hired Kevin Lynch away from Adobe, where he served as CTO. The hire hasn’t been without controversy.

Over on Daring Fireball, John Gruber reacted to the news with contempt and disbelief, pointing out that while at Adobe, Lynch had displayed questionable judgement in his championing of Flash at the expense of Apple and iOS:

Lynch wasn’t just an employee pushing the company line. As CTO, he was the guy who defined the company line — and his line had Adobe still pushing for Flash on mobile devices over three years after the iPhone shipped.

Gruber concludes that Lynch is a “bozo.” He makes a strong case for pinning the label on lynch, but he fails to consider alternative explanations for the hire.

On Apple Insider, Daniel Eran Dilger has a different take on the hire. He points out that Lynch has a long and successful track record with digital media creation tools. He came to Adobe when they hired Macromedia, where he was their top technical and product exec. He was instrumental in the creation of Dreamweaver, and the Mac version of FrameMaker.

It is also worth noting that despite the fact that while the success of the iPhone and iOS caught Adobe, not to mention the rest of the tech-industry, flat-footed, Flash had a damn good run up until that point, and since then, Adobe has done a reasonable job establishing itself on iOS with end-user-apps, and tools for content creators, even without Flash.

I’ll suggest an alternative take: Apple hired Lynch as part of an ongoing effort to improve their tools for creating content and apps for iOS devices. Time will tell whether or not he was a good hire. Certainly other tech execs have fallen from grace, only to redeem themselves. Take Google’s Eric Schmidt, who had a great run at Google after getting beaten badly by Microsoft while leading Novell, or Steve Jobs, who was run out of Apple by a guy he himself hired and had a middling run with NeXT before returning to Apple and leading it to its current preeminence.

What the Technology Press and Bloggers Doesn’t Understand About Apple (or the rest of the industry)

John Gruber and others have done good work highlighting the ravings of Apple’s doomsayers and trying to understand what makes them tick.

I’ve been ranting and raving about what’s wrong with the world-view that, “the latest Apple product was a boring incremental update and that they need to release something disruptive or they are doomed,” for a while now, but I figured it was time for me to actually write some of it down.

My take is that these technology writers might know a little something about writing, to the point where they can collect some facts and hack them into a narrative that seems to accommodate them, but they don’t know shit about technology and user experience.

They know that once upon a time, Apple almost died, but then Steve Jobs returned, saved the company, bestowed the the revolutionary iPod, iPhone and iPad upon a grateful public, and as a result, became one of the most valuable and most profitable in the world. From this they conclude that if Apple doesn’t do the same thing, in the same way, again, soon it is doomed, and Steve Jobs won’t be around to save it.

Their mistake, is, as I said before, they don’t know shit. They don’t understand that users are most apt to embrace revolutionary change when the status quo is shit. If the status quo is already pretty good and improving at a steady rate, they’ll stick with what they know. This is perfectly rational, sensible behavior. Incremental improvements let people build on their existing knowledge, revolutionary change requires that they unlearn what they already know and learn something new. Steve Jobs understood this. Time Cook, for those who listen, seems to understand this.

Apple released the iPod, iPhone, and iPad into a stagnant landscape. It stagnated because of Apple’s own failures, and Microsoft’s failure to innovate and improve user experience, despite its success in crushing competition and dominating the industry. Apple was disruptive because catching up on a 5-10 years of missed innovation was disruptive.

Going forward though, the best interests of Apple and Apple’s users aren’t served by disruption, they are best served by strong, steady, relentless incremental progress. As long as Apple keeps up a healthy pace in the areas they’ve already entered, there won’t be obvious disruptions. Instead, every few years, people will feel like things have improved enough that they feel compelled to give Apple more of their money and take home the latest version of Apple’s gadgets. When they get them home, they’ll have an easy time moving all their data and settings over to the new device, and be reassured by the familiarity of the user experience. They’ll also feel glad they spent their money, because the new device will be the best phone/tablet/computer they have ever owned. Their old one, which they may have hesitated to part with, will seem old and worn.

If anyone has doubts about this approach, they need only look at Apple’s oldest product line, the Macintosh. After a rough decade preceding and following Steve Job’s return to Apple, Mac hardware and software has seen regular incremental updates. In the process, Apple has seen its share of the personal computer market grow steadily, and it has taken the lions share of the most profitable segments of the market. They’ve done this from a base that was far far weaker than their positions in the mobile phone and tablet market.

As for what the future holds for Apple. I expect that they will, eventually, move into new markets in a big, disruptive way, but they’ll do it on their own time.  It’s also possible that, despite their best efforts, competitors will end up disrupting Apple before they disrupt themselves. I won’t bet on when though, and I’d be skeptical of anyone of anyone who insists that such a change is coming soon.