Apple’s long game

September 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Robert X. Cringely speculates that apple is aiming to replace the desktop with iDevices plugged into monitors with keyboard and mouse on Bluetooth, using 64-bit processor “desktop architecture” as clue. There are some interesting ideas in the article, but I don’t think that’s where Apple are heading. It may be that they would, as Robert suggests, have people attach their phones or iPads to the desk, but I think it is more likely that they will have a distinct device for the desktop. A trend that Apple have supported and encouraged is for apps to run on all devices and share the data in the cloud. The big transition in computers that I have experienced over the past 5 years is the separation of data from device. More and more, the physical devices are just endpoints from which I access my data. I wrote the first draft of this post on an iPad at the breakfast table using iA Writer. I edited and polished it on iA Writer on my iMac. I didn’t need to do anything to transfer it, it was simply there when I changed device. Tethering the devices doesn’t seem to me to fit in with

I believe Apple is aiming to unify desktop and iOS in long term, which is where the new processor comes into play. I fully expect Apple to be transitioning their desktop and laptop computers to ARM at some point in the next few years. They’ve done this before. When they looked at the PowerPC roadmap and realised that it wasn’t going to deliver what they wanted, the migrated to Intel processors. But they didn’t do it overnight; they spent 5 years compiling all their software on Intel in secret, just in case they needed to make such a change. They provided an emulation system to support PowerPC applications for several years so users didn’t have to make a big-bang switch.

Apple play a very long game. They trial new tech in minor roles. For example, the used trackpads on laptops for several years to let them perfect multi-touch long before they put the technology into a phone as the primary feature. iPhone 5 introduced different screen size in a very minor way which meant that existing apps still ran perfectly well, letterboxed to the iPhone 4 screen size. But the good developers learned how to use the SDK features to respond to different screen sizes. Apple introduced an entire new mechanism for laying out components on the screen that let apps deal not just with two screen sizes, but with a wide range of sizes.

Universal apps have let people build a single app that works on iPhone and iPad with different UIs for some time. The experience that developers have gained through this would make it easier to move on to apps that will suit large monitors. Apple know where they want to be when the possibilities of the hardware reaches the right level, and in the meantime they introduce small changes along the way to guide developers towards being able to match their goals with the software.

My view is that putting the 64-bit ARM processors into iDevices is not a way of having a portable, plug-in desktop, but is a way for them to transition to large-screen support for apps on the way to unifying their mobile and desktop worlds. 

Innovation

September 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

From the press over the past week, the iPhone 5s looks to most users and pundits like an incremental change. Same form-factor, no amazing whizz-bang headline feature. There has been the predictable “end-of-innovation at Apple” backlash. As a programmer, though, and as someone who appreciates that what is going on inside the box is of much greater significance than what the box looks like, the innovations apple have put into the 5s are obvious and significant. The sheer amount of processing power, managed by a great architecture, will let developers run wild with new ideas. The user experience will be fantastic because of the sheer responsiveness of the hardware. The result will be a superb experience for the user, even if the user has no idea what it took to give them that experience.

Anyone can take a processor, a screen and an OS and stick them in a box and sell a lot of cheap devices, but building something that has intrinsic quality at all levels is a rare ability.

The core of Microsoft’s problems

September 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

From The Verge:

“The Nokia deal is a lot of things,” said Ballmer. “One of the things it is, is a way to make sure we can capture the gross margin upside because we’re making most of the investment today, that we need to make even owning Nokia.” It’s clear Microsoft wants to take some of the smartphone profits away from giants like Apple and Samsung, and Nokia is a key part of that plan.

That, right there, is the difference between Microsoft and Apple and, I believe, the core of Microsoft’s problems. I appreciate that this is a conversation with investors, but Balmer is laying out his goal purely in financial terms; a goal that is simply to take profits away from the other players. Even on investment calls Steve Jobs always talked about the passion to create great products that people want to use. He knew that the profits are a side-effect of that goal. It’s not always what the investors wanted to hear, but he didn’t change his message depending on who he was speaking to.

When your goal is simply to make money, to take profits from others in the market, then you can’t focus on making great products. If you always have one eye on the bottom line you can’t keep both eyes on the ball. You are prone to panicking, and doing things like buying Nokia, a company that has already been ruined by pursuing the same strategy.

Balmer also said:

“We know that we’ve gotta do a great job”

There’s no doubt that’s true. The question is, do they know how?

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