YouTube is making Gil Scott-Heron look bad.

I can’t wait for network TV to die already.

I believe Apple is about to do for TV what they did for cellphones two years ago.

Most pundits have opined on AppleTV’s shortcomings, overwhelmingly declaring it a dud, even though it’s still sold more than Roku and about the same as Series 3 TIVO.  This is nonsense.

Clearly, after introducing iPhone and ATV together, Apple made a strategic decision to go all out on marketing and developing a best-in-class phone, rather than just a good phone and a good TV box.  They focused their resources rather than fighting a war on two fronts.

Fast forward to next week’s release of iPhone 3.0 which:

  • Puts the platform way ahead of the nearest competitor on a feature-by-feature basis.
  • Explodes the target market to include many new personal uses (e.g. ad hoc multi-player gaming with bonjour), industrial applications (as a sensor and device control interface), and commercial uses (e.g. handheld payment processor with attached ribbon printer).
  • Turns it into a video recording, editing and sharing tool (which BTW is sure to hasten the rise of citizen journalism).

Meanwhile in the last two years Apple has:

  • Drastically expanded the base of ObjectiveC / Cocoa developers.
  • Perfected a supporting ecosystem: App store, iTunes, push notifications.
  • Developed Open CL to squeeze more out of a low-power CPU/GPU combination.
  • Added enough movies to iTunes to make the rental service a viable alternative.

And consider how content has changed as well:

  • Low-def content has been embraced by a whole generation, not only for low-budget amateur productions but also for clips and highlights of commercial programs.
  • Podcasting of video has become viable at current hosting costs and broadband speeds.
  • Commercial podcasts are increasing as providers free themselves from licensing restrictions.
  • Hybrid models are developing.  For example Current TV delivers via cable, website and podcast.

This confluence of factors creates a perfect opportunity for Apple to kickstart the switch to real IP TV, by which I mean on-demand delivery of content produced by millions of sources (not the same 500 channel all-or-nothing model simply delivered over IP).

I believe this Summer, having placed the iPhone in an overwhelming competitive position, Apple will repurpose its iPhone engineering and marketing resources to the ATV, and shortly thereafter release a major overhaul of the software, including an API.  This will be followed by an App Store, and push notifications.

By the end of the year viewers will be watching Youtubes recommended by friends, the day’s extended family videos (recorded with their iPhones), the news (DailyKosTV, Democracy Now or Pajamas TV), the sports wrap-up podcast from a small state university in Oregon, a BBC drama, and CSI.  All from the couch/bed and without having to click around, hunched over a small computer monitor.

And because it costs Apple nothing to deliver it, each provider is free to use their preferred revenue model: free, ad supported, subscription or paid hosting.

I will be so happy to ditch cable and stop paying $60 to watch a couple of shows a week.

iPhone 3.0 top features

March 21, 2009

In addition to usability enhancements such as copy-paste, wide keyboard for all apps, universal search, background SMS send and SMS forward this is an important release because it really expands the possibilities for the platform:

  1. In-app purchases: Buy additional levels in a game, another city guide, more talk time, an article, etc.  This might be the re-launch of micropayments.
  2. Peripheral control APIs: The iTouch platform can now be the face of home appliances, entertainment devices, industrial equipment and testing tools.
  3. Bluetooth networking and discovery with Bonjour: Should allow starting and playing games with one or more friends across the room, and sharing pictures, contact cards and other files.
  4. Voice memos over MMS: What if instead of spending one minute typing a text message I just speak it? Recipient can then reply by voice.  Asynchronous as SMS, but efficient as talking.
  5. Streaming video: If providers deliver paid live content to the iPhone this could be another pathway to the living room (iPhone supports TV out).
  6. Embedded maps: Now watch LBS apps really take off.
  7. Push notifications: 3rd party communications apps are now possible.

AppleTV 3.0

February 8, 2009

Daniel makes his wishlist for AppleTV 3.0  As usual a great article, and I particularly agree including a DVR or DVD player is complete anathema to what they are trying to accomplish, but I do join a few commenters in saying an HDTV would be great:

  • It’s a great marketing tool:  An actual TV which plays all this additional content and rents movies is a much more immediate and familiar concept for (largely unsophisticated) consumers.  Apple should offer just one 24″ model which is perfect for the bedroom and easy to demo at their stores.  Once the customer is comfortable with the concept they are more likely to consider getting the freestanding box for their larger/existing TVs.
  • Apple’s enormous purchasing power in LCDs allows them to build with a lower bill-of-materials than competitors.  In turn, more LCDs for TVs lowers the cost of LCDs for iMacs.
  • Convenience: Switching source on the TV is simple enough, but having to reach for that third remote repeatedly to go from an iTunes TV show to live TV, back to an iTunes movie gets very annoying.
  • Stickiness: No chance of user disconnecting it.  Even if customer doesn’t use often, new features and content can be announced when TV switched on.

Also, just to expand on how they really need to add content, and recognizing how difficult it is to work with the studios and their contractual tangles, perhaps they should go for multiple niches.  For example festival-circuit films, film school projects, French cinema, Bollywood.  Most of these either have no existing distribution agreements in the U.S. or would be eager to gain the exposure.  Each niche would have a small but very enthusiastic audience that would also purchase mainstream content and could be very vocal evangelists.  Of course, this only works if Apple’s overhead to setup agreements and prepare content is very low, which I would expect.

Best product of 2009

January 8, 2009

Yes, I know there’s still 357 days left, but I can’t imagine anything else topping this iPhone-sized, laser-based projector that uses a fraction of the power of a bulb projector.

Soon we’ll be projecting an entire desktop environment, or a movie with friends, from our cell.

Here’s a short video too.

Goodbye Blue-Ray?

January 7, 2009

It is striking that in introducing the new 17″ MacBook Pro not a word was wasted by Apple, media or analysts on its lack of Blu-Ray support.  This is their top of the line creative artist mobile platform mind you.

Steve Jobs is getting pretty close to killing Blue-Ray for good.

A breakthrough MacWorld

January 7, 2009

A DRM-free iTunes is a big deal. Game-changing even.

A couple implications I can think of:

  1. Labels have come full circle.  The war on music piracy has either entered a new stage, or ended altogether.
  2. iTunes’ market share will grow faster this year as consumers with non-iPods can now purchase there.
  3. Amazon and Walmart have lost what little competitive advantage they had.
  4. The risk of a lawsuit by U.S. or European anti-monopoly regulators (for not opening up FairPlay) is gone.

It’s really surprising that after years of blasting Apple over their DRM, when it is finally gone detractors have nothing nice to say.

The NYT gets it right.  WSJ and Marketplace don’t (they think the change in pricing is more important).


December 27, 2008

GigaOM concisely explains the what, why and how of OpenCL.

OpenCL is a programming framework that allows software to run on both the CPU and the graphics processor of the computer. This means programs will run faster and offer more performance on a machine’s existing hardware

Nividia pushed CUDA for scientific computing while AMD tried to push Close to the Metal (now Stream). But as sending tasks to the GPU became easier, the software and hardware providers realized an open standard that wasn’t linked to a particular chip vendor would be the best option. So earlier this year Apple offered OpenCL to the Khronos Group, a standards-setting organization, and Intel, Nvidia and AMD joined forces to create a standard that would work on multiple chips.

The standard was released 12/9, and of course will be supported in OSX Snow Leopard, which some say will be ready ahead of schedule in Q1 09 (hear that MS?).

My question is, does Apple do this already (using proprietary libraries) in iPhone and AppleTV? or will they do a software upgrade soon which is, in effect, a hardware upgrade?

OK, another question: Where is MS in all this now that Intel, AMD and Nvidia are behind it?  Will they come up with their own proprietary extensions just for PR reasons (instead of leveraging their partners’ work)?

Apple should buy Skype

December 14, 2008

Recently I ran into a poll at asking what people thought Apple should do with their 22 billion cash horde.  Some suggestions were wacky (GM,Microsoft), some where unimaginative (Adobe?).  I said Skype, and it got a few votes but within a few days it was off the top 10.  I wish I could find the article now, but Wired’s search is useless (searching for ‘apple’ returns zero articles!).

If you’d asked me last year I would have said they needed a studio so they could fasttrack their move to the living room.  It has been slow-going, but nowadays they seem to be working out their differences even with NBC, although I still think they could use taking minority positions (with just enough leverage) in smaller independent players, even foreign ones.  The AppleTV could be so great delivering niche content, even before the majors embrace it.

Skype is a case of a great product that has been largely underutilized by its owner.  Whatever synergies with eBay Meg Whitman foresaw never materialized.  The fact that it continues to thrive and grow without any strategic leadership is a testament to its intrinsic value and position in the market.  But Apple could really unlock its true potential.

Short term Skype would allow Apple to start breaking the chains of the AT&T contract: Skype on the iPod Touch + Skype-In would make an excellent free house phone (and remote control, and nightstand email-checker, etc.). It would also offer another avenue for Apple to reach Windows users and bring them into its bubble.

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