Apple doing to software what Microsoft did to hardware?

Now that Apple has announced that OS X updates will be free going forward, and many of its first party apps like iWork are going to be free with new devices, Microsoft seems to have its task cut out. Many people seem to think that this move by Apple will really hurt Microsoft. In some ways Apple is trying to commoditize software the way Microsoft commoditized hardware over the last 2 decades. However, there are a few key points that not many have mentioned:

  1. Microsoft has given away major OS updates for free. E.g. Windows XP SP2. In a way, the Apple move was preempted by the free Windows 8.1 update.
  2. Microsoft is a past master of bundling free software with its OS. Remember Internet Explorer vs Netscape? Or more recently, Office being given away with Windows RT.
  3. Apple hardware remains luxury items, and free OS upgrades are not going to make budget conscious people switch from Windows to Apple devices. That said, the real threat comes when people realize that a tablet meets their requirements and is probably cheaper than a PC (desktop\laptop) when it is time to get a new device.
  4. The real threat to Microsoft comes from Android, as OEMs are gradually warming up to Android as an alternative for Windows for laptops. Since the market is undergoing a major shift in the kind of personal devices being used (desktops to laptops to mobiles & tablets), there is a big scope for a free OS. Android has been successful on mobiles while Linux failed on PCs due to this very reason.
  5. OS development has an associated cost even if you do not pay a third party for it. Apple is just subsidizing the software costs through hardware margins. Even if OEMs decide to opt for Android or Chrome OS, they will need an in house team to customize the OS. Of course, OEMs probably already have an in house team developing software for Windows given the typical bloatware that comes pre-installed on PCs.

The bottom line is that Microsoft has to continue to woo its OEM partners who bring in the OS revenue, while at the same time transform its revenue source to hardware. The Nokia acquisition becomes even more important now.

Thinking about the most forward thinking smartphone in the world

As with the “S” iPhone releases so far, the iPhone 5s continues the trend of looking practically the same as the previous version while making radical improvements under the hood. I have never had and iPhone of my own so far, but that should not stop me from sharing some thoughts on the new release:

  • The A7 processor with its 64 bit architecture is undoubtedly the most forward thinking part of the launch. In 2 years, Apple’s entire mobile portfolio should be 64 bit, and 3-4 years from now, most iDevices will be 64 bit as well given the typical upgrade cycles.
  • The A7 also probably sets the foundation stone for a possible move to Apple’s own SoC on their larger devices like the MacBook and iMac. The A7 is in touching distance of Intel’s new architecture for Atom, and 4-5 years of incremental updates should bring it up to the good enough mark. Of course, Intel would have pushed the performance envelope even further by then, but how much of that will be meaningful remains to be seen.
  • It should be interesting to see what happens to the Apple TV going forward. It has the most modest of specs at present, and without an app platform there is no need for much improvements in performance. This is likely to change by the end of the year, or at most within the next year.
  • The GPU is also interesting as it supports pretty high resolutions (well above 4K). Another point to think about for the Apple TV.
  • Then, there is the M7 motion processor that is decoupled from the main SoC. This serves as a perfect test bed for whatever wearable device that Apple may be designing, but also indicates that there are likely to be A7 based devices without the M7 – iPads maybe or even a future Apple TV.
  • Motion processors seem to be getting popular, and Google-Motorola arguably beat Apple to market in this regard with the Moto X. On the Android front, this is bound to bring in some efficiencies resulting in better battery life. And there is of course Google Now which is bound to start making greater use of such processors sooner rather than later (Kit Kat & Nexus 5?).
  • The TouchID fingerprint sensor is likely to be just as radical, and I’d say a bigger feature than Siri. Initial usage feedback is pretty positive. Let’s see how it holds up in the longer term given that the 5s is supposed to be a future thinking device.
  • The lower “s” of the 5s is also pretty forward thinking given that we’ll have a Galaxy S5 in 5-6 months.
  • As for the Android copycats, we can be sure that the flagships of next year will feature 64 bit processors, motion processors, fingerprint sensors (S Finger a la S Voice?) and dual tone flashes. Hopefully they also get out of the megapixels race on the camera front and go for larger pixels (Windows Phone seems to have avoided it so far).
  • iOS 7 also possibly indicates what a notification centre on Windows Phone would look like given the similar design language in many areas.

Update: Some very interesting thoughts by Cringely as well about Apple outmaneuvering Microsoft on the no compromises PC model:

Jump forward in time to a year from today. Here’s what I expect we’ll see. Go to your desk at work and, using Bluetooth and AirPlay, the iPhone 5S or 6 in your pocket will automatically link to your keyboard, mouse, and display. Processing and storage will be in your pocket and, to some extent, in the cloud. Your desktop will require only a generic display, keyboard, mouse, and some sort of AirPlay device, possibly an Apple TV that looks a lot like a Google ChromeCast.

iOS 7 on the iPad mini: First impressions

I managed to install iOS 7 on my iPad mini over the course of last night. Some initial thoughts on the experience so far :

  • It’s a pretty large download at around 750 MB OTA.
  • Lot of greetings in different languages once the device reboots & the setup begins.
  • It is evident that iOS 7 is designed for Retina displays from the setup screen itself with the jagged fonts & display elements, and definitely increases the chances of a Retina iPad mini release this year as some reviewers have noted.
  • The notifications finally make use of the larger display of the iPads.
  • Quite a lot of animations, and it really taxes the hardware resulting in some choppiness at times. Seems to happen the most on the revamped task manager. This is bound to be a lot worse in the iPhone 4, which has the most dated hardware of the devices getting this update, and it’s pretty clear why Apple left out many features on the iPhone 4. I doubt the iPhone 4S will fare much better than the iPad mini or iPad 2 for that matter, as it has a higher resolution screen than either coupled with slower hardware.
  • Speaking of the task manager, it is totally revamped, and totally resembles the Windows Phone task manager including a card for the home screen (which in turn was inspired by WebOS). The multi-finger gesture (4 finger+ upward swipe) to launch the task manager is still the same, but feels odd as the feature is full screen now.
  • Flickr & Vimeo are now first class citizens of iOS, just like Facebook & Twitter.
  • iPhone apps look a lot better now as they use the Retina assets and run only in the 2x mode. Definitely a big improvement on the looks front.
  • Folders seem to have no app limits anymore and open up full screen. However they show only 9 apps at a time, which results in a lot of wasted space. Should’ve been 16 IMO.
  • Auto app updates are finally here, but haven’t seen it in action yet due to the App Store behaving wonky at times possibly due to the load from the iOS 7 release – app updates seem to show up and disappear periodically.
  • The title bar clock now has am\pm in small letters, and can change its colour depending on the app. E.g. Facebook makes it blue

Below are a few screenshots of the iOS 7 on my iPad mini.

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Should you really care what tech critics say?

One thing that has been made abundantly clear over the last decade is that technology critics have endless amounts of advice for the leading companies rooted in conventional wisdom. Somehow, companies that have kept their ears shut or added liberal doses of salt to the advice seem to be the ones that have done better.

Want examples? Here’s what one had to say about Apple in 2004:

If Apple is really the brains of the industry–if its products are so much better than Microsoft’s or Dell’s or IBM’s or Hewlett-Packard’s–then why is the company so damned small?

Regarding mobile devices:

Newton had its problems–it was clunky, hard to use, and probably ahead of its time. But it still seems baffling that Apple failed to capture a meaningful stake in the $3.3 billion market for personal digital assistants (PDAs), a business that by some measures is now growing faster than either mobile phones or PCs.

And iPod & online music:

That’s why recent releases of competing portable music players take on great significance. Selling for as little as $299, the Dell DJ is about $100 cheaper than the iPod with the same 5,000 song capacity. (A $500 iPod holds 10,000 songs). A third product, a 20-GB unit made by Samsung to work with Napster 2.0, costs $100 less than the 20-GB iPod, or about $300, and boasts a lot more features, including a built-in FM transmitter–to play songs on a car radio–and a voice recorder.

And the competition is swarming. Dell and Samsung are challenging enough, but this business is about to turn into a battle of the titans. Wal-Mart is launching a cut-price online music store of its own–and now Microsoft and Sony, no less, are joining the fray. So Apple’s venture into online music is beginning to look like yet another case of frustration-by-innovation. Once again, Apple has pioneered a market–created a whole new business, even–with a cool, visionary product. And once again, it has drawn copycats with the scale and financial heft to undersell and out-market it. In the end, digital music could turn out to be just one more party that Apple started, but ultimately gets tossed out of.

Ending it with this note:

If Apple teaches us anything, it’s that effective innovation is about more than building beautiful cool things.

The rest as the conventional saying goes is history, starting with the iPhone in 2008 and iPad in 2010, and of course iTunes is the defacto online music resource. Also, not to forget Apple’s brief stint as the most valuable company in the world last year. The entire article makes for some very weird reading in hindsight.

Fast forward to the present and critics have upgraded their conventional wisdom to what Apple\Google\Amazon have done, and here’s what one has to tell Microsoft that slipped up on the web and mobile revolution:

Ballmer oversaw a decade of missed opportunities, and he very well may have hastened Microsoft’s decline. But it might have been inevitable. The truth is that for all its claims of innovation, Microsoft never generated much in the way of profits by innovating. This then is a tale of the long, slow death of an enormous cash cow.

And so Apple and Microsoft have had their fortunes reversed in less than a decade, and the critics have been having a ball over the last couple of years as they dish out unsolicited advice to both. Google and Amazon are gradually beginning to receive their share as well, as people try to figure out their long term strategies.

Blast from the past: Nokia, the N810 Tablet & the Long View

Long in the tooth, but gotta give some leeway, considering that this was written before the App Store debuted on iOS, and before Android (which incidentally is the Linux OS that ate Nokia’s lunch):

Contrast this war with Nokia’s handset, which is based on Linux. Nokia is building a platform that can run arbitrary software. It’ll be messy, and will go through several iterations. But in the end, we know how this story plays out: iPhone is Compuserve; Nokia is the Internet. (Google’s (GOOG) much-speculated mobile device is also rumored to run a pared-down Linux.)

via Nokia, the N810 Tablet & the Long View — Tech News and Analysis.

Lawyers & ethics – an Apple saga

In the high stakes patent games, trust no one, especially not the lawyers whether working for you or against you:

But the documents in the public record thus far may just be the tip of the iceberg, and big questions remain. Why didn’t Morgan Lewis—which knew the lawsuit was coming before it was filed—see an ethical problem in letting one of its partner invest in a patent troll, especially one specially designed to target one of the firm’s big clients? And how many other big-firm lawyers are entwined with “start-ups” that are actually holding companies, created to attack the very corporations they are supposed to be defending?

via Apple, betrayed by its own law firm | Ars Technica.

Spell to hack your Mac

Who’d have thought that Apple had such huge Harry Potter fans:

The SMC, or system management controller, is a chip used to regulate a Mac’s current and voltage, manage its light sensor, and temporarily store FileVault keys. Turns out that the SMC contains undocumented code that is invoked by entering the word “SpecialisRevelio,” the same magic words used to reveal hidden charms, hexes, or properties used by wizards in the Harry Potter series written by author J. K. Rowling.

via “SpecialisRevelio!” Macs use Harry Potter spell to unlock secret “backdoor” | Ars Technica.

Tech Companies Pressed by N.Y. Over Handheld Device Thefts

This attitude could so easily be extended to the common man, taxes and administrative corruption – What steps are you taking to save your money from government corruption?

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote to Apple, Google, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Samsung Electronics Co. seeking information about what the companies are doing to combat thefts of their devices in the state, according to copies of the May 10 letters.

via Apple, Google Pressed by N.Y. Over Handheld Device Thefts – Bloomberg.