Apple throws down the social gauntlet

There’s already a ton of press about Apple’s WWDC, and a lot of discussion about the next generation MacBook Pro, iOS 6, Mountain Lion and more. Some things of note: Engadget has a good review of the new MacBook Pro, John Gruber at DaringFireball breaks it all down into 3 main takeaways, and of course, there’s all the coverage from the Verge. I won’t rehash any of what’s been discussed, but there are a couple of things that I found particularly intriguing that don’t seem to be getting much coverage.

Apple made a big deal about being able to share maps, photos and web pages through social networks and the integration of Twitter (the deeper integration, that is) and Facebook that’s coming in iOS 6. This means that more people will be able to share things with their existing social accounts. Not terribly earth shattering, but it’s something that all of the iOS users I know have been clamoring for. In the background, however, is something that’s even more intriguing.

The first is Apple’s sharing capabilities beyond just Facebook and Twitter. Apple is placing a ton of  importance on Apple IDs and the complement of Mountain Lion and iOS 6 seamlessly integrating the desktop and mobile experiences. Take a picture on your iPhone and it appears on your desktop. Create a document on your desktop and you can not only view it on your mobile device, but edit it as well. Microsoft is moving in this direction with Windows 8, but from what I’ve seen and heard, their efforts aren’t nearly as seamless. Apple is truly blurring the lines between the desktop and mobile in a way the others can only hope to do.

Beyond that, however, and even more interesting, are the new sharing features for photo streams. You will soon be able to share pictures with people in your address book, and those people will not only get a shared album in their own photo stream but they will be able to comment on these photos as well. That is HUGE! That means that Apple users have the ability to share with true friends – NOT Facebook friends, or business associates, people you knew in the 7th Grade or other acquaintances and followers that you’ve accumulated since you signed up for Twitter and Facebook. These are actual friends of yours. These are people you regularly call, message and interact with. This, more than anything else, is the beginning of the Apple social network.

Look at it this way: one of the major uses of Facebook is photo sharing. However, photo sharing was never easy in Facebook. Have you ever tried to share a photo with just a few Facebook friends? It’s difficult at best. Photo sharing is so popular that Facebook bought Instagram and then released their own camera app (and what platform got the Facebook camera first?). However, the iPhone is one of the most popular cameras out there and with the new sharing and commenting features in photo stream, Apple takes the primary Facebook hook and brings it back into iOS and the desktop. Users can now share pictures with JUST true friends and the people they are closest to. They are filling in the gap between sharing with “friends” and sharing with friends.

Finally is Passbook. This is Apple moving into Square and Google Wallet territory. It can’t be anything but…especially since it already mirrors Square’s Card Case. The implications of this are huge, and Dan Rowinski over at ReadWriteWeb does a much better job of breaking it down that I could. Suffice it to say that Apple is moving towards processing transactions, just as a Visa or Amex do, but couple that power with the ability to provide services that neither Visa or Amex could ever hope to provide.

There are some that are saying that Monday’s keynote at the WWDC was an attempt to throw down the gauntlet with Google. Well, that could be, but it may have been an even subtler jab at Facebook. Apple looks to be moving towards creating their own social network. I guess only time will tell.

Microsoft building an ecosystem with Barnes and Noble investment

Microsoft is one of the largest players in the next generation of platforms and operating systems but it’s the only one with out an ecosystem. That is, it’s the only one without revenue generating services that can help power and guide those platforms

In a previous blog post, “Windows 8 will succeed, but Microsoft could still fail“, I talked about Windows 8 and the impact it could have on the antiquated business model Microsoft has for their Windows Division. Specifically, I talk about how their business model is in trouble due to pressures on providing free upgrades like Apple and Google do for the iOS and Android platforms. I further propose that, without additional revenue generating services, Microsoft is going to have a difficult time competing in the platform space moving forward. In order for Windows to succeed in the Post-PC era, Microsoft needs to build an ecosystem that provides their main source or revenue in the consumer space.

Oddly enough, it seems Microsoft understands this and its recent injection of money into Barnes and Noble is proof.

It’s no great secret that Microsoft is years behind Apple, Amazon, and Google in providing online services. In addition, Microsoft will not be able to build these services in a reasonable amount of time and, to be honest, their track record has proven they aren’t necessarily very good at it. They have attempted multiple music services, either through building it themselves or via partnership, and none were very successful. In addition, their implementation had a long lasting impact on users because they took down DRM servers making some music no longer able to be played.  Bing has been somewhat of a bomb and continues to cost Microsoft money.

The “funding” of a new Barnes and Noble digital and educational company is brilliant. This allows Microsoft to complete against all three major e-book players on a fairly level playing field very quickly. Without Barnes and Noble, Microsoft would be in a world of hurt, plus they have added another piece to their ecosystem.  Microsoft is already planning to come out with an App Store for Metro, which will provide some decent revenue opportunities, but having access to the Barnes and Noble customer base and providing their e-reader on all Windows 8 versions is a step in the right direction.

Now the question is, where is Microsoft going to get video?

A friend of mine, Jeff Hardy, sent me an email and suggested, albeit sarcastically, that Microsoft buy Netflix. The funny thing is, I agree 100% with the idea.  Netflix is in trouble. They don’t have enough money to get enough content and they’re stuck.  Companies such as NBC, CBS, FOX, Showtime, HBO, etc. don’t like the Netflix model. Plus, Netflix has another issue: their model works great for older content but you can’t sell customers on older content. New and ever-changing content drives revenue. That’s why CBS, NBC, et. al. have their own apps and websites for customers to consume “new” content.

Microsoft has the perfect opportunity to get into the TV and movie service, immediately and across ALL platforms.  Microsoft could go from zero ecosystem to a complete ecosystem, across every device and platform available, practically overnight. Once Microsoft has their new media service (i.e., post-Netflix), they will have the money and the leverage to bargain with the NBC, CBS, HBO and other media companies. Microsoft will now own the platforms – Windows Mobile and Windows for desktops and tablet – and will have the ability to extend Netflix into a rental service as well, just as Apple has with iTunes and Amazon with their Prime service. The Amazon model is really the one everyone needs to move to. What’s holding Amazon back is that their video can only be played on limited devices and the service is very dependent on Flash.

So that leaves Microsoft with a need for a music service, and it sounds like they’re going to try to develop their own solution again. This time it should be simpler both because they’ve tried it before, and this time there are a few good models to use moving forward.

Investors, and even politicians, are giving Microsoft a lot of heat for sitting on nearly $60 billion in cash. This might have been a very smart decision and will give Microsoft a lot of flexibility in their direction and development of online services as there are some very well established companies that can make Microsoft very relevant very quickly, for the right price.

It would be a pleasant surprise if Microsoft could erase their consumer failures over the last 5 years. Apple’s iOS has had the same look and feel for the last few years and I don’t think Apple has felt pressure from Google and Android from a “user experience” standpoint. Microsoft, especially with there Metro interface, might be the nudge that Apple needs to evolve their very functional, but somewhat boring, mobile platform.

After all is said and done, what do you think of a Microsoft acquisition of Netflix? Does it make sense? Do you think Microsoft has what it takes to build a comparable ecosystem to Apple, Amazon and Google?

Windows 8 will succeed, but Microsoft could still fail

image courtesy of OnLive

I couldn’t agree more with M.G. Siegler’s post “The Slow Decay of the Microsoft Consumer” over on TechCrunch. He makes a few good points, but this point really got me thinking: “Windows 8 could be better for the company, or it could be worse. The world is drastically different than it was even just three years ago…While Microsoft is going all-in…on their tablet strategy with Windows 8, there’s no indication it will actually work. If it doesn’t that could significantly hurt the Windows Divisions’ numbers.”

Windows 8 will successfully create a “Post-PC” platform for Microsoft by merging their desktop and tablet strategies into a very functional and usable operating system. However, by doing this, Microsoft may have not considered the financial consequences and the impact this strategy will have on a $20 billion dollar per year business.

The current Windows business model is based on consumers paying for Windows on new machines as well as paying for major Windows upgrades. Microsoft also encourages customers to upgrade flavors of Windows, like moving from Windows Home to Windows Home Premium to gain access to new features and functionality. This business model will not work in a Post-PC world because the platforms of the two largest players, namely iOS and Android, are essentially free!

That’s because the platform itself is no longer the revenue generator. The platform is simply the delivery method for revenue generating services like movies, TV shows, music, books, apps and, most of all, advertising. Apple has iTunes/iCloud/iAd and Google has Google Play/Ads/AdMob which are integrated into iOS and Android and that generate billions in revenue. More importantly, if Apple or Google were to add another revenue generating service, they simply provide consumers with a free upgrade of the platform so they can consume that new service.

Microsoft is in a much different position:

  • Microsoft may be able to sway consumers initially to buy into the Windows 8 platform, but Microsoft will not be able to force consumers to pay $199 for future upgrades. Microsoft will need to give more for less to gain on Apple’s 100 million iPad head start!
  • Microsoft is seeing the impact from iOS and Android free upgrades on the Windows Phone platform. Microsoft initially provided Windows Phone 6 customers free upgrades to Windows Phone 7. Now, consumers are demanding those same phones be upgraded to Windows Phone 8 for free. Microsoft is stuck between a rock and a hard place: either upgrade for free and lose millions in revenue or charge for the upgrade and risk losing revenue because customers find Apple and Android a better value.
  • Microsoft must build revenue generating services that Apple and Google already have today. Microsoft has struggled to provide media related services in the past and Google is finding out it’s not as easy as simply releasing a BETA service and hoping people sign up.
  • The numbers below paint a pretty stark picture. Microsoft will need to continually update Windows so that it can compete against Apple and Android and have the flexibility to provide additional revenue generating services to the largest possible audience. However, forcing paid upgrades on consumers will not accomplish this as consumers will simply stay on previous versions, just as desktop consumers are sticking with Windows XP versus moving to Windows 7.
    • Windows
      • Windows 7 – 57%
      • Vista – 8%
      • Windows 2003 – 1%
      • Windows XP – 34%
    • iOS
      • iOS 5 – 74%
      • iOS 4 – 25%
      • iOS 3 – 1%

As M.G Siegler pointed out, Microsoft is “all-in”. I believe Microsoft will succeed in building a very usable and functional post-PC platform that will make for an enjoyable experience, both on the desktop and on tablets. What has me most concerned, is Microsoft’s ability produce revenue generating services to replace the inevitable loss of Windows licensing revenues once customers demand what Apple and Android already provide– free upgrades.

That is my take, what do you think? Will Microsoft be able to charge for upgrades when others don’t? Will Microsoft be able to catch up to the leads they’ve already given to Apple and Google?

Road Testing the iPad – Final Thoughts

Derek Curtis and I on a conference call with the office.

With only 48 hours left on my trip, I feel I have experienced enough to write the last blog post and finish up my thoughts on the iPad and how it performs on the road. So, as I sit here in a cafe in Rome I offer you a summary of my almost 3-week experience with the new iPad while traveling through Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy.

The miles have been plentiful and transportation methods varied: plane, train, automobile and boat. The locations have been as different as can be with heavily populated cities, very rural cities and even cities set on water, such as Venice’s different islands. The one constant, however, has been the iPad and its impeccable performance. Overall I am really, really impressed with how it’s performed for me, regardless of the circumstances of its use.

Review of the new iPad for consumers

As a consumer, I’m concerned about some of the hardware aspects and how they affect standard usage. I’m also an avid user of various media (movies, video chat, photos, etc.) and the iPad excels in this area. Add in the simplicity and power of iOS and you have a pretty powerful combination. That said, there are a few items I want to note:

  • With over 50 different wi-fi connections that I’ve used, including the one on the train from Amsterdam to Paris, the iPad has performed flawlessly. This is contrary to a few of the Android devices I’ve used, including the Android phone I carry with me every day.
  • The AT&T cellular service has stayed well connected all throughout Europe.
  • Battery life was impressive, giving me a good 6 to 8 hours of continued use. However, I did notice the 100% battery issues some people are reporting. This will hopefully be resolved in a future update.
  • The new iPad does get hotter than the 1st and 2nd generation iPads. It’s not awful but it’s probably as hot as it should get without being uncomfortable.
  • The higher-resolution screen makes many tasks, like remoting into my iMac, much easier and more efficient. It also makes reading easier on my aging eyes.
  • Having access to a data plan and using the GPS functionality allowed me to always have maps and directions on a big screen. However, turn-by-turn navigation is much better on my Android phone. Even so, having an interactive map on the big, beautiful iPad screen  was awesome.
  • I used FaceTime and Skype to talk to the kids back home. So while I was away from home, using these on the iPad made is feel like I was still there with them.
  • Photostream allowed the family to see all of the pictures we took. Images went to our iMacs at home, to the iPhones of our children and even to the iPad my grandparents (try to) use–all in real time. I originally thought that Photostream was going to be a less than useful feature when it was announced. Boy, was I wrong! Allowing us to keep our family up-to-date on what we were doing and giving them the ability to see what we were seeing, practically in real time, was a great way to share the whole experience.
  • During downtime, it was nice to watch a movie or TV show on Netflix or Hulu or listen to music on the device or using iCloud/iMatch.

Review of the new iPad for business and the enterprise

Now, from a purely business perspective, here are some additional impressions:

  • VPN worked perfectly with our Microsoft RAS servers, unlike the constant issues we have when connecting with Android. I’ve been using VPN not only for business, but also so that I could watch Netflix and listen to Pandora–services that can’t normally be accessed from international IPs. It’s a great work around and the iPad worked flawlessly!
  • The native NT authentication in Safari is another lifesaver. Android’s lack of compatibility with NT authentication is one of the main reasons it isn’t being adopted in the enterprise.
  • The cellular data efficiency of iOS is outstanding. Using data on an international plan is VERY expensive, but iOS did a great job managing data activities and using wi-fi as the default alternative whenever it was available. As a result, I was able to keep the iPad on and get emails and notifications immediately while traveling overseas. I see this as a major benefit over using a MacBook Air on a trip like this.
  • I can’t say enough about the applications that are available, not to mention their quality. Dropbox, WebEx, Evernote, LogMeIn, RDP Lite, Kindle, Facebook, Tweetbot, IM+, Around Me, Quick Office, Hulu, Netflix and Atomic Web were among the most common third-party applications I used the last few weeks. The quality and usability of these apps played a major role in an overall great experience.
  • The ability to work on servers when necessary, write or review any document at the office, do simple coding in PHP or jQuery mobile, instant message with employees or even have conference calls and view presentations with and without video were all possible with the iPad, much to my surprise.
  • And usability isn’t the only area that is impacted but efficiency is as well. For example, something I appreciate in the Atomic web browser is the ability to remove images from webpages and also use the Google web mobilizer to strip webpages down to just the necessities (namely just to display content). This probably saved me hundreds of dollars on the trip, as condensing pages down to just text decreased my data usage.

So after all of this, how is the new iPad for business use?

I’m absolutely amazed at how capable the iPad is and I have to say that the results gave me a greater insight into the future of computing and where things are headed. Just like many others, I wondered what role a tablet can play in both our business and personal lives. I used a tablet for testing our products or reading the occasional website or even reading a book at night, but this test helped me see that the much-discussed “post PC era” is really here and the tablet will replace the computer for a large percentage of consumers. This is especially true for consumers who are on-the-go.

More importantly, this was primarily a test of a business use case, and I can easily state that the iPad (and eventually tablets in general) are more than capable for business use. I’m a bit of a unique case as I tend to want to do more with a tablet than most business owners. I can’t see the CEO of a management consulting firm, for example, needing to VPN into a server to modify DNS or other items; but even with my advanced testing, the iPad performed flawlessly. Tablets are here to stay and the post-PC era is creeping ever closer.

The Value of Email

There is a lot of talk these days about social media–its import, its impact, its value and its effect on how we do business and communicate. What’s lost in all this discussion, however, is any recognition for the only consistent and pervasive similarity between ALL social media outlets, from Twitter to Facebook to Google+: email.

Why is that?

Well, there are a few reasons. The most obvious one is that email is ubiquitous and is a commodity–it’s almost become a generic service. As such, it seems to get lost in the shuffle when people talk about the latest and greatest service release. It’s so persistent in our lives that we tend to forget that it exists. However, now more than ever, email is possibly the most valuable commodity each and everyone one of us owns. Need proof?

  1. In the Internet Age, email has become the most common unique identifier an individual possesses, surpassing things like Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers or other, more traditional means of identity.
  2. Your email address has a dollar value attached to it. Your email address ranks near your social security number and your credit history as the one piece of data that advertisers and marketers feel has the greatest value to them.
  3. Email is central to EVERYTHING you do online. You need an email address to sign up for things like newsletters and promotions, to order items online and you even need an email address before you can sign up for social media services like Twitter and Facebook.
  4. Email is everywhere. Anyone who owns a computer has an email address and these days virtually everyone has at least a computer, tablet or smartphone that they carry around. In fact, the Google Android mobile OS even requires a Google account–including a Gmail address–in order to operate. Your iPod and iPad sync to Apple’s iTunes service, which requires an email address. Since email is required in order for these things to operate, you could technically NEVER even use email–never send an email, never check your email account–yet you NEED an email address in order to get around in today’s online economy. Email truly IS everywhere.

The list goes on and on. The infographic below places email side-by-side against social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and even demonstrates email’s ubiquity when compared to the number of searches Internet users perform. IN ALL CASES, email reigns supreme. Legitimate email usage is far larger that social media, total searches, and even total internet pageviews combined. (Note: Click on the infographic to open it in a new window.)

Now to the data. Here are links to some of the sources used to gather and present the information in the above infographic:

For more information on the value of email, be sure to check out the following posts that correspond to a talk Jeff Hardy, vice-president of business operations, gave at HostingCon 2011 in August:

And here’s some media perspective on the discussion, courtesy of ReadWriteWeb:

This post was written by Derek C., vice president of marketing and communications for SmarterTools. If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to the SmarterTools Blog so you don’t miss an update.

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