Thursday, June 9, 2011

End Of The Digital Hub: Apple's Crowning of iCloud

Apple crowns a new digital hub as the Post PC Era has officially begun with Apple's push for iCloud and its iOS5.

No one that we know will ever question the ability of Steve Jobs to market and explain a concept.  Two days ago, there was a major shift in Apple's strategy for how the computer woulc change.  Have we reached the Post-PC Age?  Before we can answer that questions, we must explain what Apple's strategy has been since 2001.  For this, we let the master do it himself - Steve Jobs.  Here is his keynote speech from Macworld, where he first introduced the concept of the "digital hub."  If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link: http://youtu.be/lmvmtmqqbeI.


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In 2001, Apple saw the PC as evolving.  It still saw it as a central machine among all the other devices such as digital cameras, iPods, and Camcorders.  Jobs explained that this was because these non-PC devices did not have the processing power, did not have the ability to burn CDs and DVDs, and did not have the ability to get on the Internet. At that time, it made perfect sense for the PC to be the mass storage device and the central hub for all the other peripheral devices.   All these factors have today changed.

But first let us review what Jobs said in this presentation.  He stated that from the 1970s when the PC was invented was the prehistoric age.  No one really understood all that this device would do and so there were many experiments with it.  Then he stated that the PC entered its second era from 1980-1994 which he called the area of productivity.  To Jobs, this meant the rise of software that would change the way the world worked, such as word processing, spreadsheet, database programs, music programs, drawing programs and the desktop publishing revolution just to name a few examples.
"Mac can become the "digital hub" of our emerging digital lifestyle, adding tremendous value to our other digital devices."
Steve Jobs, 2001

The next era in Job's presentation was the Internet Revolution which to him had lasted from 1995-2000 (remember this presentation was done in 2001).  Jobs like others, especially Kevin Kelly understood that the productivity of the previous age continued, but something was added to it - the Internet.  He viewed in 2001 the Internet as having matured.  Of course we doubt he would agree now.  With this maturation of the Internet he saw the dawning of a new age in computing.

The third great age of the PC he saw as beginning in 2001 and extending until 2011, if his latest presentation two days ago means anything.  This he called the age of the "digital lifestyle."  By this he meant that arrival of other digital devices, such as the digital camera, iPod, etc.  It was in this age that the PC would act as the "digital hub."  It would be the storage space for all these devices and the way for the music, videos and pictures to reach others.
"These nine Apps constitute iCloud...iCloud is intergrated with your Apps...so a competitor that doesn't own the apps, or doesn't have great developers to intergrate with their apps. They can never do this. They can never make it so that it just works."
Steve Jobs 2011


The iCloud Revolution
Apple did not invent cloud computing.  There are excellent applications that use a web cloud, one shining example being Dropbox.  As an excellent article by Michael Muchmore in PC magazine stated, Amazon and Google both see their services as hard drives in the cloud for music.  These kinds of services fall far short of the promise of cloud computing.  Indeed, Apple is the first company to really integrate their cloud with their devices.  We really see little point in Amazon's and Google's cloud service with services like Rhapsody around.  To us, if you're just going to use your cloud for music services, why not let someone else store all the songs you want?  Despite Apple's inovation in this area, we still think the days or owning music are basically over.  in the future, we believe you will rent it.
"They want to purchase an iOS device as their only device and that is exactly what we're going to support in iOS5."
Scott Forstall
Senior VP iPhone Software, 2011

This idea of renting your music may be something abhorrent to record companies.  But this is the new business model which we think will take hold, when it comes to movies, books and music and perhaps many other things.

But iCloud is a much greater revolution.  It aims to become what the computer was at the time it occupied its place at the "digital hub."  There is no doubt that only Apple is situated, at the moment, in the manufacturing situation in which it designs the core apps, the hardware and the cloud to all work together.  We doubt it Google's vision will be able to duplicate this experience.  In essence, these nine core iOS apps, the hardware devices, and the cloud become a virtual computer all working together.  It is the way of the future and Apple, as usual is leading and popularizing this revolution.

The Post PC Era Begins
The facts that were revealed by Scott Forstall as to how many people in different countries in the world did not own PCs was quite startling.  Most of us, think of owning a PC as a normal thing.  In 2005, research conducted by Seagate, the hard drive maker, concluded that 76% of Americans owned a PC.  From the look of Apple's displayed chart it looks like the PC owners are up to 80%.

That is not all.  A report just released from Gartner, downgraded the sales of PCs for 2011 from 10.5% to 9.3%.  According to Gartner, consumers have lost interest in netbooks or min-notebooks and are holding back on replacing or upgrading their laptops and PCs.  The report predicted that PCs will join a larger device market which ranges from "smart televisions to the most basic feature phones."  But for the iPad to really replace a PC in most people's lives, it will have to solve the following issues:

1. Word Processing
There is no doubt that for many average consumers, the iPad and other other tablets cannot replace the PC.  This situation exists for various reasons.  In the area of word processing, most people are still using Microsoft Office.  As of the beginning of 2009, over half a billion people were using Office.  Most people do not use even 10% of the features of the product, but they are still accustomed to using it, accustomed to where the buttons are to do functions that they use every day.  The word processing tablet experience has still not matched this PC experience.  Since from our observations, most people use PCs to do word processing, presentations, read their email and browse the web, it seems that Apple's goal is to make the tablet replace these functions on the PCs.  This is a marked change from Apple's first approach to not let the iPad cannibalize sales of their MacBook Air.  Anecdotally, we have two stories.  We know someone who has rarely, if ever used a PC who loves and uses the iPad every day.  We also know of another person, who had an iPad and then purchased a MacBook Air come to the point of not using their iPad much because "the MacBook Air was almost as small and yet had a keyboard."  The programs now used on the iPad come very close to Office for most people's needs, but they no doubt will, if Apple has anything to do with it.
2.  Safari Mini Browser
Safari is indeed a wonderful browser, but it still needs a way to do to equal its desktop cousin.  There is the lack of flash availability, although this is being alleviated by the increasing use of HTML 5 (which still load SLOWLY) and in the case of one particular App, Skyfire an attempt to remedy this problem by processing the flash videos themselves and then sending them to your iPhone or iPad.  Not all flash based sites work, but they are hard at work adding more every day.  Another problem that the Safari browser faces is the sophisticated use of javascript in modern websites today.  Elie Burztein discovered that over 45% of the top 100,000 websites use javascript.  A typical example of this was a discussion we found on the subject of javascript between two developers.  There is a compatibility table of different phones and it shows how crazy the whole area of javascript still is.
I haven't made mobile sites myself, but from I see in compatability tables, blog posts and other stuff... you're entering a world of pain.  Performance - everything you know from desktop is true on mobile too, but is more noticeable, so every optimization technique you know - use it.  DOCTYPE related stuff - AFAIK, it has no effect. They're in permanent "trying to be standards" mode.  JavaScript limitations - event related issues, due to the touch interface. Other than that, iPhone and Android's default WebKits are good. The same can't be said for other phones, so do hope it's only those two that remain in the equasion.  CSS related issues - that's where the world of pain is... different browsers implement various non standard techniques in order to make web sites tailed for desktop to appear fine, but that ends up creating a lot of complications. iPhone and Android are no exceptions. Expect A LOT of bugs there... about ~90% of the problems of mobile browsers I read about are CSS related.
3.  Keyboard
This is an issue which to us, has been greatly improved in the iPad or a tablet.  There is more room to type on the screen and we find it as fast as a regular keyboard, once you get use to it.  Anyone acquainted with the history of the QUERTY keyboard, understands that our present keyboard was not designed for speed.  This only shows the power of the brain to adjust to anything new and rewire itself to work well with it.

Since a lot of services are still web-based, javascript-based many of their features may not work on the iPhone, iPad and Android browsers.   We are not certain why Google restricts this use of javascript, but we know why Apple does.  Apple fears the introduction of malware through javascript, which is fairly common in the PC world.  Let us not be confused, Safari does support javascript, but only javascript code that Apple has produced.  Some mini browsers like Opera have circumvented Apple's limitations on java code by doing the work in their servers and then downloading to their iPhone and iPad app.  This has had mixed results.  This limitation in the mini browsers is why apps will become more and more important and web apps have decreased in use.  It is possible that with iOS5 and new apps these limitations will be solved in iOS and Android devices.

We are convinced that touch devices like Tablets will replace the most common uses of PC in people's lives.  As usual, the youth lead the way.  Touch screens will lead the way, along with all that this new interface entails.  Gartner predicted that at least 50% of students in school districts will expect touch screens in the devices they use by the year 2015.

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