Friday, January 19, 2007


Mike Elgan at Computerworld (and then again at MacWorld) tells us why he thinks Steve Jobs blew the iPhone launch, big-time. Here's why he's wrong, point for point. 1. Jobs raised buyer expectations too high Elgan reckons the enormous publicity surrounding the iPhone will backfire as users and analysts figure out what it can't do. This was already happening less than an hour after the keynote, as geeks realised they couldn't load up their Java apps or use it as a modem for their laptops, and it was entirely calculated to happen that way. By the June launch these people will have settled down to play with their Linux smartphones again, and the rest of us can focus on what actually matters in a phone: Features that the average person can use, not bullet points on a spec sheet. If running a Terminal SSH session to your ISP's telnet account is important to you (or if you even know what that means) then the iPhone isn't for you. Buy one for your mother instead, and they'll love you for it. If you know what an Ogg Vorbis file is, you probably didn't want an iPod. Newsflash: They sold pretty well without you. 2. Jobs raised Wall Street expectations too high Elgan points out correctly that the 10 million sales target is way higher than 1% of the smartphone market. Spot on, and that's why this isn't a smartphone, no matter what SJ had to say to launch it. At least it's not a smartphone in the way you think it is. It's more correctly a featurephone, like my K610i or my 6280, only this time with features I can actually use, or even find. Email on every phone I've ever owned has been a nightmare; even using the halfway decent Opera Mini browser to access the web is a less-than-pleasant experience. I gave up with Nokia's WebKit-based browser on the N80 after 3 minutes of struggling with the unresponsive and badly-designed hardware. 10 million is still a tall order, but you don't really think Apple is going to try that with a single $599 phone do you? Do you think the iPod sold that many in its first, or even second iteration, and at its $400 launch price? 3. Jobs gave competitors a head start By announcing in January, Jobs gave competitors 5 months to match the iPhone it would seem. I guess that's true if you think that we've seen all the iPhone will offer. Me? I think Jobs could have personally delivered product schematics and specifications to Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung and Panasonic, and they'd still screw it up. And while they're all pitching the features their smartphones already have (remember these guys are convinced the iPhone just spins things they've been doing for years in a pretty box) Apple may just blindside them by selling a premium product to a market segment that's been grousing about phones that don't work as well as their iPod do. This is a much longer game, and it's not about killing the Blackberry or the Treo. Trust me, Apple wouldn't even touch a market that small. Oh and Elgan neglects to mention that Apple didn't have a choice about not announcing the iPhone – the FCC would have announced every detail of the phone long before launch, no matter how tight Apple keeps things. 4. Jobs undermined Apple TV hype Apple should have focused on the Apple TV at MacWorld? I guess you don't own Apple stock Mike? The Apple TV is a headless iPod with wireless and HD output. It's a fun product, a strategic one even, but it's not a game-changer. Anyway, with the hype surrounding the iPhone, and the subsequent disappointment that one can't actually buy it yet there's bound to be a whole bunch of Apple TV boxes sold. It would have taken a brave man to go to the MacWorld stage with just an Apple TV to pitch, and the time was right for the iPhone. 5. Jobs put iPod sales at risk Ok, so I have a bunch of Christmas money, term's about to start, and there's a really sweet 4Gb iPod nano in the Apple store, but I'm going to wait 5/6 months to blow $500 on a new phone instead. Give me a break. The pricing and announcement-to-availability window are calculated entirely to maximise iPod sales. Like everybody didn't know this was coming already. I suspect a bunch of people who were waiting for the phone to launch just decided to get that nano, or that 5G, right away. 6. Jobs wrecked Cisco talks I don't see how Elgan can call this one without knowing a lot more about what really went on. To me, it looks like Cisco were trying to spin a pretty spurious trademark (one that trades off of a lot of goodwill around the iPod, with very few products to show) and get some kind of agreement from Apple to inter-operate with their VOIP products. That's a lot of work, and would likely create a lot of confusion around the Apple product (not to mention really pissing off Cingular). I expect Apple was willing to pay for the name, or for licensing it, but Cisco were demanding something much more involved. I suspect Cisco's gamble will prove regrettable, as Apple can afford to pay for the name, or just change it. Either way they win.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007


This week I met with Gregory Sporton, and we formally ended my affiliation with the Visualisation Research Unit, which he heads for UCE. While from my perspective this was long since a done deal it was still a poignant moment: I worked very closely with Gregory and Mike Priddy in establishing the unit under some very difficult conditions, and it consumed inordinate amounts of my emotional and mental resources for a considerable period of time. I'm still dealing with the ramifications of that. It was a valuable experience though, and some fun was had along the way, for which I'm grateful. I won't be rushing to invest quite so much of myself in an institutionally-led project for some time, I think.

2006 was filled with big, dramatic events. If I have a hope for 2007, it's that it brings a renewed emphasis on the small things which have too often managed to escape my attention. I'll continue of course to watch the developments at the VRU with interest and enthusiasm, and I'll most likely blog them here often.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Steve Job's Macworld keynote today means that it's once again the time of year when countless pundits and technologists lay out their expectations, beliefs and hopes for 2007. It's really astonishing how Apple has become the focal point for so many of us in terms of our broader hopes for technology and the ways it can transform our lives, and no other company looks even close to taking over this role any time soon, no matter how much attention we pay them. In contrast Microsoft has become for many the embodiment of practical, pragmatic technology; workable but a long way from the elegant, gleaming future we vaguely recall being promised. Perhaps inevitably then, Apple falls semi-naturally into the role of anti-reality, offering a glimpse of a brighter world in which everything just works, and in which design embodies qualities of humanity so often lacking in consumer technology. Now Apple doesn't always deserve to be granted this role as it's as prone as any other company to getting things wrong, sometimes spectacularly so, and it can take an inordinate amount of time to fix (or abandon) the things that aren't working. Witness the .mac service, which continues to languish somewhere between merely inadequate and downright embarrassing. This isn't the time for me to add my suggested fixes to those already out there from a considerable number of users and ex-users, but I think 2007 needs to be a make-or-break year for the Apple's web services strategy. It's tempting to suggest that the solution begins and ends with Google, but things are rarely that simple, and I suspect it'll have lot more to do with iTunes than anyone to date has speculated. What I mean is that if we want to see the near future of Apple's strategy we should look very closely at what makes the iTunes-iPod ecosystem so successful, and imagine some close equivalents across the whole Mac /digital hub space. Think smaller components of Leopard and its progeny tying into paid-for services with the emphasis on consuming and publishing digital content, and you're getting a lot closer to the future of .mac, which won't be called .mac at all. I don't expect to see SJ announce much, if anything, about .mac at today's keynote, but we might see the general direction in the iLife and iWork updates, and potentially in any new iPod ecosystem products that appear.

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