Friday, October 7, 2011

Thank You, Mr. Jobs

I listened with sadness to the news the other day about the passing of a visionary innovator, Steve Jobs. Even though I never met the man, he was a huge influence in my life. From the Apple ][+ and the Macintosh to the iPad and the MacBook, and of course all of the Pixar movies, his work has been a big part of my life.

In the summer of 1983, I got my first computer job as a salesman of the early microcomputers. It was the year Apple introduced the 2e. The next winter, I was fortunate enough to be able to play with the very first Macintosh computer in my town. The stories of how the Apple 2's and then the Mac came into being were legendary. Steve Wozniak put together a kit for hobbyists to build their own computers, and Steve Jobs saw the potential. Wozniak and Jobs started marketing the kit to hobbyists, and it was a smash hit. It grew quickly into the Apple 2, in the early 80's, and the company they started became a huge success, almost overnight. Steve Jobs immediately saw the day when the Apple 2 would not be able to grow in the market, so Apple started development of the Lisa computer, and then the Macintosh.

Jobs was just into his twenties, and suddenly a millionaire. He realized that the business of Apple would grow larger than he could manage, so he recruited John Sculley from Pepsi Corporation to run the company. This freed him so he could work on his Macintosh and other projects. The Macintosh group took over a building on the Apple campus and raised the pirate flag over it. A huge amount of  effort was put into the most innovative computer of its time, which really set the standard for nearly all of the things computers run on today: mouse movement, windowing, graphical fonts, pull-down menus and multi-tasking. Clicking and dragging, shift-clicking, and the drop-down menu that computers use now and people take so much for granted were first seen on the Lisa and Macintosh computers as far back as 1982. Of course, some of the research and development was done at Xerox, but Apple was the one to bring it to the market.

I worked in the Apple sales business for several years. I learned to expand the Apple 2 with add-in boards, and I learned to connect all sorts of peripherals. I remember the first time I saw a Macintosh. It was a real joy, almost transcendent. The way the mouse moved, the little icons and the way they opened when you clicked them. You could select text and change fonts. You could open and close windows. You could copy files by dragging them. You could cut and paste. It was amazing.

They had the first Macworld Exposition in San Francisco. I was there, and I still have my first issue of Macworld Magazine with Jobs on the cover, which was given away free for all of the people who went. The vendors were few, and the turnout was moderate, but the energy was electric. Apple introduced the LaserWriter, which was the printer that started the Desktop Publishing craze. Jobs described it as a printer that would "knock your socks off." Aldus Pagemaker came out at Macworld Expo, and Adobe, with Apple investment, created the postscript language, which drove the LaserWriter. Now, anyone could make flyers and create newsletters, things which had always required outside services.

An interesting fact is that both the Apple name and the Macintosh name had to be liSculley saw Apple's core product line, the cash cow, to be the Apple 2 series, and Jobs saw the Macintosh as the future of Apple. The difference of opinion caused a rift and the Board of Directors at the time fired Jobs from the company he started. He went off and started Pixar and NeXt and worked in relative obscurity. Pixar is still a very successful entity, now owned by Disney. NeXt was bought by IBM, and somehow Jobs came back to Apple. Jobs developed the concept of the iPod and iTunes, and soon after that, the iPhone and then the iPad. These are all products that were probably logical extensions of existing technologies, but it was the Apple branding that made them so successful. And they helped build the brand.

Apple has long ago ceased producing Apple 2's, and the Macintosh line has gone through many changes. Very shortly after Jobs was ousted, the Macintosh actually became Apple's cash cow. Eventually, Jobs made a comeback, and in 1998, he introduced the iMac, at the Macworld Expo. Since then, Jobs has always had something new and exciting to introduce. He was a really good marketer, and he captured people's imaginations. His life story has always been inspiring.

When I bought my very first computer, it was the Mac 512. It cost me over 2000 dollars, and it was worth every cent. I had it for several years, and later bought a Mac Plus. My children learned computers on Macs. I was a Mac Guru in my town, and I made many friends among other Mac users. I was called MacBert, and worked selling and supporting Macs in consumer and education markets for ten years, before leaving the sales business. This was well before Jobs came back, but I saw every single Pixar movie at the theater in the meantime. They were truly movies for kids of all ages. They made me laugh and they made me cry, and who would think that a cartoon would make a grown man cry? Even now, I use an iPod and an iPad, and a Macbook Pro, and I work with Macintosh computers as an IT person.

Anyway, none of it would have been possible were it not for Steve Jobs. I feel like the world has lost a great asset, one which can never be replaced. I have a personal gratitude for the things which have made my life so interesting, and for the sheer enjoyment which could come from a machine which was once envisioned as only a business tool, the personal computer. Steve Jobs made it fun. For that I say, thank you, Steve Jobs.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Apple Sues Again

Apple Computer, Inc., has filed suit against Samsung, claiming that the Galaxy S Tablet violates some of Apple's patents. The suit was filed last Friday. Apple says that Samsung is blatantly copying the iPhone and iPad in its Galaxy S product line. Samsung is one of the largest electronics companies in the US market in products ranging from cameras, DVD players and cellular telephones, and has emerged as Apple's most successful competitor in the Smart Phone and Pad Computer markets. Apple seeks to enforce at least 10 patents, and several other claims about the look and operation of the Galaxy S devices.

This is coming on the heels of Apple's lawsuit against Amazon over the use of the name "App Store" which Apple uses to market iPhone and iPad applications. Even though Apple still claims the largest customer base in the combined Smart phone and tablet markets, Android phones are beginning to outsell the iPhone. A combination of better pricing and non-exclusive distribution makes it possible for users to get Smart phone technology from more than AT&T and Verizon, where Apple has exclusive distribution agreements. Android has no such agreements, and so Sprint and T-Mobile customers can buy Android at a better price, and from more carriers.

Android enjoys wide availability and an open-source development environment, whereas Apple maintains exclusive distribution and a proprietary OS. At first, the exclusivity benefits Apple, due to the laws of supply and demand. Limiting the availability drives the price higher, making the iPhone a status symbol. Apple deserves much credit for pioneering the field, but their business practices have only short-term value. When the iPhone was new, people would make phone calls to other people so that they could show off their iPhones. When Android was introduced, it was not quite up to the level of sophistication that iPhone had, and apps were scarce. But the ability of people to own a Smart phone that worked like an iPhone for all practical purposes made it possible to jump-start demand. It could be argued that the AT&T-only distribution of iPhone was then a detriment to Apple's sales, when the other large carriers like Verizon and Sprint had the ability to offer similar technology.

This situation is a lot like the original Macintosh evolution in the 1980's. The Mac was a groundbreaking use of technology which commanded a high price, and many people took advantage of it. They were willing to pay more for the look and feel. Apple decided to keep the software and hardware together, and not to market the operating system except to their own hardware customers. At first, Apple made a lot of money on the exclusivity and limited availability, but Microsoft began to market Windows which would run on any manufacturer's hardware, except Apple's. The rest is history.

A change in Apple's practices at that time could well have made the Macintosh OS the dominant force in the PC market. However, Apple held fast to their marketing plan, and nearly went out of business. Apple instead decided to sue Microsoft over the look and feel issues. Apple did not fare very well in the suits. Microsoft was forced to make a few cosmetic changes to their Windows desktop, but Apple didn't get the financial relief they were seeking. Years later, Apple needed to borrow money from Microsoft in order to stay in the game.

The decision to switch to Intel processors and other industry-standard architectures over their proprietary hardware helped Apple to regain some of their marketability, due to lower costs of production and a wider availability of hardware expansion. They completely rewrote the operating system to run on a Unix kernel, and developed the Mac OS as a shell. These have kept the Macintosh alive, and somewhat competitive. However, the invention of the iPod and the development of iTunes made Apple a market force once more. Evolving the iPod to the iPhone and then the iPad have kept Apple a leader in new technologies, and helped make the company profitable. But the same marrying of hardware and software as nearly killed the Macintosh a decade ago may well be their demise again.

Apple's decision to market the iPhone to Verizon's customer base has come too late for many people. Samsung already had the Galaxy S phones in the hands of the major carriers, and Android had reached a critical mass in terms of available apps. There are still carriers who cannot distribute Apple's products, and the wide availability of Android products will allow people to stay with their carriers rather than to switch to AT&T or Verizon. It would seem that there are very few people willing to change carriers in order to gain access to the iPhone. At this point, Apple is asking for financial compensation for lost sales, which were the result of poor marketing decisions more than technology being copied or patents and copyrights infringed. It would seem that Apple has not changed much in 25 years.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pad vs.PC

In the past year, the iPad has inspired other companies to produce competing tablet models. The Android operating system for Smart phones provides the development platform for applications to make them competitive with the iPad. Samsung makes the Galaxy-S pad, Dell has the Streak tablet, and of course there are others. Amazon's Kindle is also a competitor for the iPad, although it isn't an Android-based tablet PC.

Between the iPad and the Android-based tablets, sales have shot up, at the same time as regular laptop and notebook PC sales are dropping. This cannot be good news for Microsoft, which dominates the operating system market for laptops. nearly every laptop sold includes a cut for Microsoft, which has obviously been shocked into action. There is now a version of Windows 7 for Smart phones, introduced earlier this year. Microsoft will be trying to catch up with Android. If Microsoft manages to extend the reach of the Windows 7 Smart phone IOS to tablets, it will be difficult to capture a significant share of the tablet market. It could well be the beginning of the end of the near-monopoly status of Microsoft's Windows operating system.

This can only be a good thing. Microsoft has enjoyed market dominance for too long. Apple has had some success in cracking the OS market with its Macintosh, and when Apple introduced the iPod, iPhone and iPad, they changed the market forever. When Google introduced the Android OS for Smart phones, it opened up a competitive market where Microsoft was not competing. Being based on the Linux open-source operating system, Android is an attractive platform for smaller developers. There are no royalties to be paid to the owner of the underlying code.

Perhaps the greater availability of Android apps will propel the acceptance of Linux as a reasonable alternative to the Windows and Macintosh OS/X platforms in the desktop and laptop market. There are a great many applications available for Linux, and the distributions are free for anyone to use, if they want. How Microsoft can get away with charging nearly 200 dollars for an operating system is amazing, since Linux is available for little to no cost at all. And most standard applications on Windows have reasonable substitutes on Linux.

Some have surmised from the explosive sales of tablets that we are seeing the end of the laptop as we know it. I personally doubt that we are seeing much more than a sales spike of a fad or fashion, which will drop off as soon as the gadget lovers all have one. Laptop PCs still have their functions, which include better file storage systems, and the availability of really powerful software applications that are available on desktop PCs. The question is whether people will replace the laptop extension of their PC with a tablet extension of their telephone. The answer is yet to be seen, but my bets are on the laptop.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Amazon Takes a Shot (or Two) at Apple

It seems Amazon has decided to take a shot at Apple's seeming dominance in both the digital music and the Smartphone application marketplaces. Apple revolutionized personal music players when they introduced the iPod, which was the heir apparent to the Walkman and Diskman players of the 80's and 90's. Then, they came up with the iTunes store, where they sold a billion songs downloads by 2006. The iPod grew into the iPhone, and the apps started coming. Apple expanded the iTunes store to include the AppStore for iPhone apps, and hit a billion apps in April of 2009, just two years ago.
Growth of the iPhone was driven greatly by the technological sophistication of the product, but the Apple brand was a major contributor to its success. Many people wanted to own the Apple logo on their cell phone. Of course, the exclusive marketing with AT&T as a cell phone carrier made it necessary for iPhone owners to be AT&T customers. This exclusivity may have been a good decision for Apple's bottom line, but that would only have been a short-term benefit. As soon as Google dived into the Smartphone market, the game changed.
Customers of other networks now had an alternative to the iPhone. There were always going to be people who were locked into a contract with Verizon or T-Mobile, that couldn't switch. As soon as Android-based Smartphones became available, they started eating into Apple's dominance in that market.  At first, a lack of apps would tend to hold back some demand, but as Android expands its market share, app developers enjoy an expanding customer base for their apps, making development an attractive proposition. Android has now caught up with Apple in terms of market share, and the new phones are extremely attractive.
The results of this competition are that Apple is marketing the iPhone to Verizon customers, and AT&T is buying T-Mobile. Meanwhile, Amazon offers free cloud drive storage to Android users, and has the Amazon MP3 store with as many selections as the iTunes Store. At the same time, Amazon is opening up the market for free and paid Android apps with the Amazon App Store. Apple responds to this new threat by suing over the name App Store, which is a lame response for a once-proud innovator.
It remains to be seen how this will all shake out. The availability of the iPhone to more potential customers via Verizon may be just in the nick of time. But it may be too late to stem the tide of Android, once amazon puts its weight behind the platform.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sleep Deprivation

A hundred years or so ago, electric lighting became available to the general public, so people could stay up late and read. Later, radio was invented, and people could stay up late and listen to it. Fifty years ago, there was television, so people could stay up late and watch TV. Thirty years ago, the first computers and video games were in peoples homes, and they could stay up late and do extra work or play with computer games. Soon, cable TV and the videotape made TV available 24 hours a day. Now there is the Internet and smartphones.

Each of these advancements affected the population differently. Initially, many people had no electric lights until even 40 years ago. There are still places where there are no electric utilities. Plus, literacy rates were lower. As electrification spread, more people could stay up late reading. When TV was first available, only those who could afford TV's would stay up late with them. Plus, they went off at midnight, until cable TV changed that. Video games and home computers didn't affect as many people at first, but as prices went down and more people could afford them, more people could stay up late with their games.

The interconnecting of computers and smartphones has opened new vistas. Not only can you stay up late surfing the 'net, you can interact with other people in real time. You can chat, e-mail, and update your status on social network sites. The number of connected people has expanded to cover nearly everyone. The opportunities are endless... but time is not. Even though computers are faster and broadband is faster and there are 3, 4 and 5g networks, the number of ways you can use the speed has expanded exponentially. There are so many things to do that there is no way to keep up. Something has to give.

That something is sleep. You get up at a certain time, go to work or school, and at the end of the day, return home and get on the internet. Next thing you know, it is 2:00 AM! Countless young people, armed with game consoles, computers and smartphones, are connecting to online games, chat systems, social networking sites and email servers. They update their status, chat with each other, send pictures, write on virtual walls, send emails to each other, and look at what their friends are doing. For every minute they spend creating their content, they need to spend that much time for each of their friends. Statistics show that people who network with friends on the Internet have upwards of 100 friends. That means they have to check up on 100 people every day. They frequently don't go to bed until the very early morning.

I believe that a most young people are not getting enough sleep. They have too much to do, and not enough time. I'm sure many adults have similar issues, but I think they are more capable of dealing with the problem. They have to go to work to stay employed. They will only go so far on limited sleep before they adjust their computer time to suit their work needs. Otherwise, they join the ranks of the unemployed, who have much more time to attend to social networking, but much less to talk about. Kids, however, usually have a parent or two to keep the household running, so they have a lot more latitude to decide what will give and what will not. Much of the time, it is school that will give. Kids will stay up late until all the other kids have gone to sleep, then they will be late to school the next day. They will be in a bad mood, and get in more trouble. Sleep deprivation makes people testy.

I have seen this, empirically, so I know it to be true. I don't know what the solution is. Parents will need to take control of their children's online time, just as they did their television time in my youth. The trick is to start early, when they are young, and still relatively easy to control. Give them boundaries, and be consistent. Otherwise, they will be staying up late and getting up late well into their twenties. And guess where they will be living?