Tag Archives: iPad

Facebook isn’t AOLifying the Internet, but Apple is

Gizmodo put out a post last week that gathered quite a bit of attention called Facebook is AOLifying the Internet–and That Sucks.  In it, the author concludes that Facebook’s never-ending quest to add features that keep people glued to their site means they are an aggregation of sub-par services that decrease the quality of our online lives.

It wants to be Netflix, it wants to be your Xbox, it wants to be Foursquare, it wants to be Gmail—Facebook wants to be the internet. Will you let it?

His argument is actually very much akin to the argument against “big box” department stores like Walmart and Target.  Supposedly the big stores are “evil” and we should be supporting local businesses because they have more heart and are better at specific things than the big box stores that don’t specialize.

However, the author misses the fact that Facebook, unlike AOL, is always looking for ways to go beyond its walls with Like buttons, comment widgets, and the rest of their social plugins.  It wants to enable your social interactions on Facebook.com and off of it.  They know they won’t control your Internet experience, but if they can make it richer, they can still provide value and give you a reason to keep coming back.  How many of us are thankful for Facebook Connect that keeps us from having to create new accounts on every site we go to?

AOL held its customers in a prison of AOL content and community, but Facebook knows that it can’t compete with third-party content, so they don’t even try.  They help their users find the third-party content that their friends are sharing, and that’s actually a pretty “open” thing to do.

A more viable comparison to AOL is actually Apple.  Even since the release of the iPod, Stevie Jobs has been working hard to lock people in to the iEcosystem.  If you have an iPod, you need iTunes and the iTunes Store.  You can’t just throw MP3s onto your iPod, you need iTunes.  If you want to buy MP3s online and put them on your iPod, it’s much easier through iTunes Store than through Amazon.  Ripping a CD you just bought?  Better do it with iTunes to make sure it works right.  When the iPhone rolled around with its App Store, our dependence on iTunes deepened even further.  Have an iPad?  All the same restrictions apply.

Apple knows they can’t truly lock down their platform, but if you have an iDevice, life is MUCH easier for you if you use it the way Stevie wants you to use it, that is, with the other iSoftware and iDevices that were designed for it.  If you want to play a file that’s in the wrong format or want to use a different music player on your computer or want to organize your media files yourself, suddenly you have to search for workarounds and hacks.  If you have an iPod/iPhone/iPad, it just works better if you use iTunes, and actually even if you use a Mac.  The Apple ecosystem is (almost) complete.  You can look even further at how Apple restricts the apps they allow in their App Store, but perhaps that’s a topic for another day.

You can fully complete your assimilation with the iEcosystem by subscribing to MobileMe, but so far this is where Apple has fallen down.  The services MobileMe offers are all available elsewhere on the Internet, for less money, so only the true Apple believers are on the platform.  I think Apple knows their offering isn’t strong enough here, but watch out: New reports like this one lead me to believe they are renovating MobileMe to become a tighter piece of the iEcosystem.  Once that’s up and running, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a smooth experience with Apple devices require an iPod/Phone/Pad, iTunes, a Mac, AND a MobileMe account.  Starting to sound more AOLesque?

So while it’s not a perfect analogy, Apple wants to control your mobile, computing & media consumption experiences just as AOL wanted to control your online experience.  Apple’s platforms may not be completely closed, but they are certainly much easier to live with if you work within the iEcosystem.

None of this is to say that Apple’s products don’t deserve the success that they’ve seen.  They are excellent, forward-looking products, and for people who live within the iEcosystem, they perform admirably.  For those of us who have needs that go beyond the iEcosystem, life becomes difficult quickly.

And this is where I believe Apple’s strategy diverges from Facebook’s.  Facebook knows you’re going to consume content anywhere you find it, and they want to enable that and find ways to make it a richer experience for you.  Apple wants you to find content (media) in the places they recommend, and they want you to consume it using their devices.  Facebook wants to enable your online life, while Apple wants to BE your computing life.  This is by far the more AOLish strategy.

NookColor: First of the iPad Challengers

If you’ve read my blog at all over the past couple of years, you know how unenthusiastic I am about e-readers in general, and the Kindle specifically. Today, Barnes and Noble introduced their new reader, the NookColor, and it’s a huge leap forward that should help them gain significant market share.

The NookColor is, of course, full color, but also important, it features:

  • A web browser
  • Support for digital music files
  • Support for MP4 video files (I’d like to see more codecs supported, but it’s a start)
  • Android OS
  • Its own app store, so presumably most Android apps will work with it, although B&N will  curate the offerings
  • 8GB of internal memory, with a Micro-SD slot that can support up to another 32GB
  • A mini-USB port
  • Wifi

All that, for the low, low price of…$249.  You read that right.

James McQuivey of Forrester Research talked a little today about how this new Nook will affect the Sony and Amazon offerings, but what I want to know is how it will affect the iPad.  If you read through that feature list above, it matches the iPad almost feature-for-feature, although it surely has a slower processor, and of course wouldn’t sync with iTunes.  (Personally I find iTunes bloated and slow, and can’t stand using it anyways, so no loss there.)

So the question is will people keep shelling out $600+ for Apple’s iPad?  If so, why?  The prestige?  The “cool factor”?  Because they’ll only buy Apple products?

The NookColor really hits the sweet spot, and is a sign of things to come.  It caters to those of us to don’t read enough to justify a dedicated e-reader (most Americans, I’m guessing), and to those of us who think the iPad just isn’t useful enough to justify the price (I don’t think I’m alone there, either.)  The NookColor is actually the first e-reader or tablet that has piqued my interest as having sufficient functionality at a reasonable price point.  And it doesn’t look half-bad, either.

I don’t think B&N has the marketing chops to take on Apple, but I think the NookColor is the first in a string of low-end tablet/readers we’ll see come out in the next year or two that will turn tablets into a commodity product, like netbooks.  At their current pace, Apple may see the iPad get Mac’ed in the not-too-distant future.  Its cost and closed nature will relegate the iPad to a niche market of customers who will spend significantly more for the sense of style and status that Apple products bring with them, but the mass market will yet again pass Apple by.  Incidentally, Android phones are selling faster than iPhones these days, too…

Good article on Apple’s opposition to Flash

Ravi Nagarajan has a good writeup on The Real Reason Behind Apple’s Decision on iPad Flash Support (applied to iPhone/iPod, too.)  From the article:

Technologies like Flash and Silverlight allow developers to create rich content that can be delivered via a web browser. There is no gatekeeper regarding who may run such content as long as the user has a web browser that supports the plug-in technology. This open access model directly threatens Apple’s obsession with retaining tight control over what applications are allowed to run on the iPad.

Apple is so reluctant to allow users to control the software that runs on the iPad that the device even lacks such basic interfaces as a USB port. Failing to support Flash and other plug-in technologies is presented to the public as an attempt to shield users from buggy software that could cause the iPad to crash. Yet Apple seems content with supporting Flash technology for Macintosh computer systems. If Flash is so buggy, perhaps Apple should eliminate support on the Macintosh computer lines as well?

iPad: For the early adopter’s mom

mom-daughterSo after the iPad announcement on Wednesday, it seems like much of the tech world has been panning the iPad for not having the features they were hoping for, like a camera, multitasking, more storage, etc.

So today we’re starting to hear more voices defending the iPad, saying that it does have a reason for being, that it does have a customer, and that customer is…moms.  I first heard this from two friends of mine, then saw it on Greg Meyer’s blog, and then on Cnet and TechCrunch.  The argument goes that moms don’t like laptops because they’re too bulky to carry around, but they still want to read, do light emailing, and web browse, but a smartphone is too small for these tasks, so the iPad fills the bill.  The iPad is like the Nintendo Wii of tablets – it’s targeted at a mass market, not the hardcore like the PS3 and Xbox, so stop complaining that it doesn’t have every feature under the sun.

While this argument is tempting, it fails in a couple key places.  First, no device that fails to win the early adopters will capture mass market support.   The Wii was a hit among early adopters – primarily the under 30 set.  They put it on their wishlists, got their moms to buy it for them, and then when they realized it was so easy, they showed their moms how to use it.  It succeeded because of its simplicity, and with a lot of help from a $250 price point.

The iPad, on the other hand, looks simple, but really isn’t.  Consider a couple of every day use cases in the form of this imaginary conversation with my mom:

“Joel, I want to watch this DVD on the plane.  Can I do that on my iPad.”

“Sure, just rip the DVD on your laptop then import it into iTunes, and download it to your iPad.”

“Um…how do I do that?”

“Nevermind.  I’ll do it for you.”

“Joel, I want to store a bunch of word documents on my iPad so I can have them handy when I do my volunteer work, how do I do that?”

“Um…there’s an app for that.  I’ll do it for you.”

“Joel, I want to send the photos on my digital camera to your aunt.  Do I do that on my iPad?”

“Do you have a 30-pin to mini USB adapter or a 30-pin to SD card adapter?”

“A what?”

“Just use your laptop.”

“Joel, I want to buy an ebook and read it while I travel.”

“Well, now you’re in business.”

Ultimately, it’s a device that has a form factor and UI that may be attractive to moms, but it requires tech savvy to actually use it for anything more than what mom already does on her smartphone or laptop. So good thing mom has you, the early adopter around to help her use it.  And you’ll probably have to buy it for her, too – how many moms are going to shell out $500 on this kind of gadgetry?

So there you have it: the iPad will sell like hotcakes.  To the moms of early adopters, early adopters who are nice enough to buy it for them.  I’m sure Apple’s shareholders are pleased to hear that.

iPad fails to live up to the iPod/iPhone legacy

Apple iPadStevie Jobs yesterday announced the much-anticipated iPad, a tablet device that he says fills the gap between smartphones and laptops.  There have been a flurry of articles since then for and against the iPad, mainly focusing on what features it has or is missing, but I’d like to look at it from a higher level, looking at the product positioning and the problems it is trying to solve.

In introducing the iPad, Steve asserts that it is “better (than smartphones and laptops) at these tasks”: browsing, email, photos, video, music, games, eBooks.  But the product he then demonstrated didn’t seem to be better at any of those tasks.

  • Browsing and email: these will always be easier on a laptop that has a physical, full-size (or close to full-size) keyboard with a mouse/touchpad/pointing device. The iPad’s touchscreen does not make web-browsing or email easier, nor does its small size.  The iPad will be adequate for short email or browsing sessions, but for many of us our smartphone is already good enough for that.
  • Photos, video and music: it’s a nice photo browser, but to watch movies you’ll need some sort of stand.  The hard drive (64GB max) is too small to be good at storing any of these – it would fill up with 10 DVDs, and I know many people whose music collections alone are larger than 64GB.  To upload pictures from your camera to the iPad, you’ll need to stock up on dongles because it only has one 30-pin port for connectors (no USB).  This device (being based on iPod/iPhone software) is clearly intended to complement a laptop or PC with larger storage capacity, not replace it.
  • eBooks: this is the one application in which the iPad outshines smartphones and laptops.  And it could be argued that the addition of color (neato!) makes it better than the Kindle, but for people who read for long stretches the Kindle’s e-ink screen will still make it the better option, assuming they aren’t reading magazines or textbooks that rely on color.

Apple lost sight of the fact that tech devices must simplify our lives.  The iPod made it easy to listen to music (and later, watch movies) on the go.  The iPhone gave us a world of applications with a slick interface in our pockets.  It let us take pictures without a camera and navigate without a dedicated GPS, and it let us do a myriad of light computing tasks without a laptop.  The iPod and iPhone both revolutionized their markets and changed the way we live, but the iPad fails in this regard.

The iPad is too big to be truly mobile, and it’s too small and limited to replace a laptop.  Rather than simplifying my life, the iPad is making it more complicated – it’s a third device I have to maintain, load media onto, and buy dongles for.  And all this starts at $499?  No thank you, Apple.

Even Hitler doesn’t want one.

For more details, here’s a sampling of the extensive coverage out there: