Category Archives: Apple

Siri and Steve

A quick note on Steve’s passing… I cannot add to all that has been written, but the greatest thing about Jobs is that not only he understood technology but he also understood products. He understood that a consumer makes a choice on a product or service by what he sees, experiences, touches and most importantly by what he feels… Based on that understanding of the consumer, he was able to reinvent decadent value chains into profitable ones – product manager in God Mode.

Siri will be yet another feather in the man’s cap. I have not used Siri much, but have seen it used extensively by my wife. What is so interesting about it is that it is not a search app, it is an artificially intelligent interface to a bunch of apps including search. That distinction is important in understanding how Apple has positioned Siri – as an interface. It is almost like voice is the new touch…. And to ease the pain of adoption (in a way that only Apple can) it has made Siri fun and funny; compare those responses by Siri to the training passages of Dragon Naturally Speaking. With an incremental (some say disappointing) update to the iPhone Apple has made voice recognition and artificial intelligence mainstream.

Siri comes with a very rare (for Apple) beta label… Maybe the only way Apple can perfect this one is by putting it out there… and as it improves and hopefully has an API for, we will see the “insanely great” happen all over again.

The Human Interaction Platform

One of the main reason that we are seeing the tremendous growth in smartphone adoption is because the operating system, for the most part, is invisible. I always considered “Settings” to be less intimidating than “system preferences”. “System Preferences”  is the place your tech-savvy nephew goes when you cannot get to your Facebook page, even after restarting your computer 5 times (though restarting twice is hope, and anything more is pretty much lighting  a candle for Technolopolus). Although “System Preferences” is less intimidating than its Windows counterpart: the “Control Panel” – <joke> the inspiration for CNN’s Situation Room… </joke> Always trust Redmond to make everything a tad complicated and then feel the false joy in using something complex… I never got that.

Point being it is much easier to use a smartphone than to use a computer. The smartphone just works, while the computer tells you stuff like “The instruction at “0x000000000” referenced memory at “0x00000000”. The memory could not be “read”. Click OK to terminate program” when you are trying to launch Word. Cool stuff if you are watching a science fiction movie, not so cool if you have a term paper due tomorrow. Some might argue that the two devices serve two completely different functions: one is a smartphone and the other is a computer. Not really – when was the last time you used your desktop computer to compute something? Both devices connect us to content that matters – the difference is the smartphone (and the new tablets) is primarily a content consumption device, while the PC (and I use the term interchangeably for both Windows Superior (Apple) and Windows) is used for both production and consumption. The difference is inherent because of the form factor. It is more convenient for me to type/research/copy and paste this post on my Macbook, than it is for me to type this on my iPad or iPhone.

Which still does not let explain, why the operating system still plays such an important role in the usage of a computer… for the computer to become even easier to use, the operating system has to become invisible. It is a lesson that Apple has learnt from iPads and iPhones and is now applying it to laptops and desktops, effectively turning the computer into an appliance.

Some might argue against it – the computer has to be a puzzle for the brain to solve, instead of being a tablet that displays pretty stuff. We need that to stay smart. Really? That’s the argument – complexity for smartness’ sake? That is smart…

It is yet another cue take Microsoft needs to take from Apple – the operating system has to redefined as a human interaction platform. A platform that is invisible to the user and easy to develop apps for any garage developer… That simple, but essential change in philosophy will help.

Interestingly, the Xbox is heading there, with the new Kinect which makes interacting with content even more personal than ever… the innovation in the Xbox has happened because it has been treated as a start up funded by MSFT, rather than a division of MSFT. In all fairness. MSFT is applying lessons learnt from consumer services to the enterprise – Sharepoint 2010 is a CMS with social networking features… so good job there. But not realizing the difference between a truck and a car clearly shows a lack of understanding of where the world is heading – remember the AT&T tilt with a stylus and the Windows interface… doesn’t that seem so 1970s?

The Day the Music Died (no MJ tribute here)

I have not written a blog post in some time, so that gives me – the communicator (wannabe) – the fundamental right to vent and rant.

I am pissed at me (word from our sponsors: Despicable Me is out in theatres) for thinking Umair Haque has been full of shit recently. I thought his head was in the clouds (Up in the Air is out on DVD) and he was hanging out with Bill (Maher) and Richard (Branson) smoking doobies and blowing the fluff in the faces of his readers (that would be me – told you it is about me). So why this epiphany, you ask?

It was the Apple press conference. Those that do not know me well and those that do, will tell you I am a major Apple fan (check out my black turtle neck collection at huge man – it’s like Apple is Justin Bieber (relax there is an explanation as to why I know of him) and I am my little cousin, who with a comb in his hand tries to style his hair like Bieber 80% of the time he awake. Well, okay… it is not THAT bad – but the point being: I love Apple products. But that is not the reason I love Apple, the reason that I am so enamored over a tech company is because they are not a tech company. At least they don’t think like one. I am in IT… to the normal human, I am the stereotypical geek, who carries two PDA’s (I do), one laptop and the iPad (that was supposed to replace the laptop), the only original DVD in my collection: Star Wars (I don’t) and someone who gets a power trip out of having “admin” rights to a machine (Napoleon should’ve been a tech. Would’ve saved the blood n money). So to this geek, Apple is great, because it takes the power away from me and gives it to the users. There is no greater goal in IT, then making IT more personal and personable to the end user. I love it to see geeks squirm blaming Apple for taking away their power. Knowing how to right-click, doesn’t make you feel smart anymore, eh?

Then there is the idealism. Apple truly believes that it is not about the market share; sure the market share is a bery bery important thing. But the market-share is a consequence (not the goal) of getting up every day and believing that your single purpose as company is to make great products that people love using. Some (geek alert) may deride them as toys for adults, but isn’t that the whole point though? Using technology should be easy and if you are lucky it should be fun. Applied technology is an extension of our natural senses as human beings… we have used technology to feed and enhance our senses (plug opportunity: retina display in iPhone 4 is amazing!). This interaction if complex can kill the personal relationship between a user and his/her content (and enter desktop support). Apple makes this interaction fun and simple (and natural). Consider the John Ives quote (paraphrased): “For us, it is about removing everything between the user and their content.” Ah the elegance of thought! The C becomes the PC, once the user’s personal data gets on it. It is about “I” first and then the device (iDevice). For all the people that are afraid of using their computers, and have no idea what “runtime memory error” means, they should contact their systems admins. No, I was kidding. They should have hope – a tech company that sees the world from their perspective is the numero uno (press 2 for English) company in the world. About time my brother. About time.

If the boy king has returned and has rightfully claimed his throne – why am I upset? Well because Apple has started doing things that are very un-Apple like. It has started looking like Steve’s left the building and Apple is being run by Nixon. First there was this over-the-top reaction to a lost phone, then the reception-issues with the iPhone 4, then the deleting of comments referring to the Consumer Reports report that does not recommend the iPhone 4 (still calling it the best smartphone out there) and then there was this sneaky press conference on Friday.

Sure you are giving free cases. Sure the iPhone 4 has been the most successful launch Apple has ever had. Sure this problem is not unique to the iPhone 4. We get that. What I did not get is why is this an engineering flaw and not a design flaw. Is the Jobs ego so confusedly bloated now that instead of presenting rational arguments, Apple chooses to hide behind the technicalities of the English language and not admit that the best design company in the world could make an error in the design of a product. Why was Bobs Mansfield present at the conference and John Ives absent? I am okay with the band-aid proposed, what I am unhappy about is the assessment of the problem. It is important to me that Apple admits and fixes problems like these with the same fanfare that is associated with its product launches. That is what leaders do, that is what they are supposed to do – take control of the issue, admit to the mistakes and present a clear-cut plan of action, while reminding their users why they make these products (okay they did that last one). I think the great communicator lost this communications battle. So what if the Bold has the same issue? I have a freaking iPhone in my pocket for a reason.

And what the hell is up with this censoring of information?!? Closing your eyes doesn’t cause the world to disappear. You guys have an unplugged hole in Gulf of Mexico spewing oil by the boatloads? Was that you? I expected better.

Maybe I am over-reacting to this one incident. You are allowed one mistake after a decade of clean, right? Maybe the problem comes with being number one and having the highest market and mind share? Maybe.

But I expected better.

So what does this have to do with Umair smoking weed with Bill and Richard? Umair talks about the current economy being a ponzi-economy. A system that rewards companies for doing bad -I need to buy a house. To do that I will get a loan I cannot afford (shift the risk to the bank). The loan approval officer approves it, because his bonus structure is tied to the loan getting approved (risk shifted). The bank looks the other way and its investment banking arm packages these loans as derivatives that investment guides push to their clients (risk shifted). Banks are not worried at all because they are too-big-to-fail and tax payer will bail them out (risk shifted). Cycle repeats itself and a bubble is created. So you see there is a inherent incentive in the system to conceal information and transfer the risk.

I believe (Umair does not) that it is meaningful value creation that is at the heart of Apple’s renaissance. “Apple had to go back to being Apple” – said Steve. “Do no evil” was Google’s motto, that Apple practiced. The last two months were weird and this time there is no Gil Amilio to blame.