Apple

How Apps, Music and More Can Buoy Apple Beyond the iPhone

6 February 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Contrary to popular belief, Apple isn’t a hardware company. Nor is it a software company. Apple is, fundamentally, an ecosystem company—one that, with the help of millions of developers world-wide, has created a vast web of software and services that run on its 1.3 billion active devices.

Apple revenue has been dominated by the iPhone, but thanks to the services side of its business, the company is proving to be more durable than any single iPhone generation.

The trouble is, as Apple increasingly emphasizes device prices over volumes for revenue gains, it confronts a fundamental tension—between charging people more for hardware and, simultaneously, more for services to access through it.

The former puts profit margins ahead of prevalence, while the latter emphasizes maximizing the number of gadgets in customers’ hands.

. . . .

Just as Chief Executive Tim Cook predicted in 2016, Apple has increased revenue from its intangible services into a Fortune 100-size business. In the 2017 calendar year, Apple reported $31.15 billion in revenue from services including Apple’s music (both downloads and subscriptions), video sales and rentals, books, apps (including in-app purchases, subscriptions and advertising sold by Apple), iCloud storage and money Google pays Apple to be the iPhone’s default search engine.

Another way to think of it: Apple is on track to take in about $26 a year in revenue from each of its 1.3 billion active devices.

. . . .

Mr. Cook says by 2020 he wants Apple’s services revenue to double from its 2016 level. Between now and then, if revenue from iPhone sales holds steady or declines, which would be a natural consequence of people holding on to their devices longer, then growth in services could become the primary driver of Apple’s overall revenue growth—or even the one thing that keeps it from declining. Services, and the millions of developers and thousands of companies behind them, are the reason the iPhone is so sticky, says Horace Dediu, an Apple analyst.

. . . .

When iTunes was king, the bulk of Apple’s services revenue was music and movie downloads; with the arrival of the iPhone, it soon became apps. As Apple rolls out more gadgets, its services revenue will continue to diversify.

. . . .

Apple already offers an upgrade program, where users can pay off an iPhone after 24 months or trade it for a new one after a year. Imagine a service where you simply subscribe to a regularly updated iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods or some subset of these devices. Mr. Dediu estimates that for every Mac or iPhone, the average Apple customer spends on average a dollar a day on hardware plus services.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

Thoughts on Apple Books

25 January 2018

From Digital Book World:

The news of Apple rebranding the iBooks Store to Apple Books, and preparing a fresh new entry in the digital publishing landscape, is welcome.

Apple’s bookstore, much like many other parts of the company these days, has suffered from neglect. The store, as it is currently, evokes a vision of tumbleweed blowing through an empty desert: nobody’s home, nobody cares, and it’s quite clear there is no larger strategy present.

Apple did the right thing by going outside the company and hiring Kashif Zafar, by all appearances an accomplished publishing business mind, originating out of an engineering background. That is, frankly, exactly what Apple needs, as their digital book store needs to be re-engineered from the ground up.

. . . .

1) Deploy iBooks Author anew

Apple, believe it or not, comes right out of the gate with one strong competitive advantage: they have a relatively-easy-to-use, vertically-integrated, HTML5-based authoring tool that has grown an international user base since it was introduced in 2012.

When iBooks Author was first released, it was ahead of its time. And like everything that is ahead of its time, it was poorly understood and not nearly as well utilized as it should have been.

Fast forward six years later, and digital book readers are clamoring for new types of experiences.

The biggest problem with iBooks Author has always been the mediocrity of the iBooks Store. Publishers producing phenomenal content using iBooks Author have met poor sales, thanks to poor searchability and poor discoverability, over and over and over again.

. . . .

3) Apple Books needs to match Amazon on key criteria

The Apple Books Store needs to be as searchable as Amazon. Historically, the search function within the iBooks Store has been flat-out broken.

The Apple Books Store needs to be creative in how it makes books discoverable.  Undoubtedly, this will be a combination of algorithmic competency and human curation.

With both searchability and discoverability, Siri needs to play a role as Apple ramps up their voice-first computing efforts. Intelligent voice integration needs to be part of the fabric of the Apple Books experience.

The Apple Books Store needs to be author and publisher-friendly. This means giving authors and publishers deep flexibility with pricing (including bundling / discounting), deep flexibility in how their books are represented within the store (control over author-specific landing pages would be a good place to start), and deep flexibility in marketing (including ability to have hosted video book trailers, deep control over sample content, and more).

There is plenty of opportunity for Apple to compete here. Every single product page on Amazon.com looks precisely the same way, in exactly the same format. Amazon’s practical blandness can be bested by a highly-functional, colorful and vibrant, individualistic approach that holds serve in key areas while innovating beyond what Amazon offers in others.

. . . .

5) Go cross-platform anywhere and everywhere

Apple’s walled-garden approach is not compatible with the interests of readers, who want to be able to read their purchased books on whatever device they choose.

. . . .

The publishing industry – the ENTIRE publishing industry, which goes far, far beyond just traditional publishers obviously – desperately needs a viable competitor to Amazon.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG says competition is always good.

Apple used to be a fierce competitor and achieved dominant success in the iPhone/iPad markets.

Apple also did a phenomenal job of linking its products to a cool personal style/lifestyle image. You might be working a temp job for minimum wage and living in a sub-basement closet, but when you hit the street, your iPhone instantly improved your image so much you took a selfie.

Because of high product quality and that image thing, Apple managed to price its products higher than its competitors and still maintain a dominant sales position.

In some categories.

In personal computers, Apple had a 7% share worldwide in 2016 compared to Lenovo at 21%, HP at 20% and Dell at 16%. Apple makes great computer hardware, but it’s dominant only in some niche markets in a Windows world. iPhone and Windows desktop/laptop is a typical tech combination.

For a growing number of small web startups, Chromebooks are the thing for everybody who is not a programmer. Marketing doesn’t need Macs to run the blog, build a presence on Twitter and Instagram and check out what competitors are doing online.

Apple is really a phone company. It doesn’t dominate any other significant markets. (And Apple is definitely not dominant in major Asian phone markets.)

PG isn’t the only one who suspects that Steve Jobs was the head magician who made all the sub-magicians at Apple work right and not do ordinary things.

The most important post-Jobs product launch happened with the iPhoneX in September.

Apple-watchers more expert than PG think the Apple magic that usually accompanies a major iPhone launch just wasn’t there. Apple fanboys and fangirls all stood in line and jumped in right away, but the far bigger wave that usually follows may not have been so large. Apple’s first post-iPhoneX earnings report is anxiously awaited.

Back to the main point, PG thinks the ebookstore ship has sailed – from Seattle. As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression and Apple blew that chance with its first store. From an author standpoint, PG marked it as undesirable right after its opening when it appeared that Apple hardware was necessary to prepare books for the store.

The Amazon bookstore is 100% platform agnostic and Amazon doesn’t care if you access it from an iPhone or a homebrew Linux computer. Amazon works hard to create a single great customer experience without spending any time or money on enhanced Apple-only features.

Plus Amazon has a huge cache of data about how to sell books and what the world’s largest collection of online customers buys – both inside and outside of the bookstore. In the US, in France, in Canada, in Scotland, in Chicago, in Dayton, in Boulder, in Bel Air, in Steamboat Springs, in Rocky Comfort and Rhyolite.

PG doesn’t see many people talk about the huge value for prospective customers that lives in Amazon’s product reviews, including the millions of book reviews it has collected.

It’s easy to make snide comments about the intelligence, education and motivation of some of the reviewers, but most book buyers have developed a pretty good filter to distinguish quality Amazon reviews from those that originated in a packed room in India.

PG suggests that large numbers of reviews and the metadata Amazon presents when a book has received a large number of reviews – Top Customer Reviews, Most Recent Customer Reviews, Also Boughts and Rated by Customers Interested In, which shows how the customers interested in specific topics rated the book PG is considering, are valuable assets for shoppers of all tastes.

Even if Apple copies all of Amazon’s bookstore features, the lack of this giant pile of data from previous buyers will produce an inferior experience.

As far as indie authors are concerned, the key indicator for PG will be whether Apple is willing to meet or beat Amazon royalty rates.

He noted that the latest (and last?) version of the Nook Store has a top indie royalty rate of 65%. That the big brains at Barnes & Noble couldn’t bring themselves to go all the way to 70% is one of the many reasons why the company is circling the drain.

When the big brains at Apple hit speed dial to call PG about their new bookstore, he’s going to say, “75%. 80% for bestsellers.”

The Antitrust Case Against Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple

16 January 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Standard Oil and Co. and American Telephone and Telegraph Co. were the technological titans of their day, commanding more than 80% of their markets.

Today’s tech giants are just as dominant: In the U.S., Alphabet Inc.’s Google drives 89% of internet search; 95% of young adults on the internet use a Facebook Inc. product; and Amazon.com Inc. now accounts for 75% of electronic book sales. Those firms that aren’t monopolists are duopolists: Google and Facebook absorbed 63% of online ad spending last year; Google and Apple Inc. provide 99% of mobile phone operating systems; while Apple and Microsoft Corp. supply 95% of desktop operating systems.

A growing number of critics think these tech giants need to be broken up or regulated as Standard Oil and AT&T once were. Their alleged sins run the gamut from disseminating fake news and fostering addiction to laying waste to small towns’ shopping districts. But antitrust regulators have a narrow test: Does their size leave consumers worse off?

By that standard, there isn’t a clear case for going after big tech—at least for now. They are driving down prices and rolling out new and often improved products and services every week.

That may not be true in the future: if market dominance means fewer competitors and less innovation, consumers will be worse off than if those companies had been restrained. “The impact on innovation can be the most important competitive effect” in an antitrust case, says Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale University economist who served in the Justice Department’s antitrust division under Barack Obama.

. . . .

“Forty percent of Google search is local,” says Luther Lowe, the company’s head of public policy. “There should be hundreds of Yelps. There’s not. No one is pitching investors to build a service that relies on discovery through Facebook or Google to grow, because venture capitalists think it’s a poor bet.”

There are key differences between today’s tech giants and monopolists of previous eras. Standard Oil and AT&T used trusts, regulations and patents to keep out or co-opt competitors. They were respected but unloved. By contrast, Google and Facebook give away their main product, while Amazon undercuts traditional retailers so aggressively it may be holding down inflation. None enjoys a government-sanctioned monopoly; all invest prodigiously in new products. Alphabet plows 16% of revenue back into research and development; for Facebook it’s 21%—ratios far higher than other companies. All are among the public’s most loved brands, according to polls by Morning Consult.

Yet there are also important parallels. The monopolies of old and of today were built on proprietary technology and physical networks that drove down costs while locking in customers, erecting formidable barriers to entry. Just as Standard Oil and AT&T were once critical to the nation’s economic infrastructure, today’s tech giants are gatekeepers to the internet economy. If they’re imposing a cost, it may not be what customers pay but the products they never see.

. . . .

The story of AT&T is similar. It owed its early growth and dominant market position to Alexander Graham Bell’s 1876 patent for the telephone. After the related patents expired in the 1890s, new exchanges sprung up in countless cities to compete.

Competition was a powerful prod to innovation: Independent companies, by installing twisted copper lines and automatic switching, forced AT&T to do the same. But AT&T, like today’s tech giants, had “network effects” on its side.

“Just like people joined Facebook because everyone else was on Facebook, the biggest competitive advantage AT&T had was that it was interconnected,” says Milton Mueller, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who has studied the history of technology policy.

Early in the 20th century, AT&T began buying up local competitors and refusing to connect independent exchanges to its long-distance lines, arousing antitrust complaints. By the 1920s, it was allowed to become a monopoly in exchange for universal service in the communities it served. By 1939, the company carried more than 90% of calls.

Though AT&T’s research unit, Bell Labs, became synonymous with groundbreaking discoveries, in telephone innovation AT&T was a laggard. To protect its own lucrative equipment business it prohibited innovative devices such as the Hush-a-Phone, which kept others from overhearing calls, and the Carterphone, which patched calls over radio airwaves, from connecting to its network.

After AT&T was broken up into separate local and long-distance companies in 1982, telecommunication innovation blossomed, spreading to digital switching, fiber optics, cellphones—and the internet.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

iBooks Author Conference Highlights Worries about iBooks Ecosystem

26 October 2017

From Tidbits:

There has been a lot of talk lately about how dedicated Apple is to its professional users, the ones who use Apple hardware and software to make their livings.

. . . .

In a conference room tucked away in a library on the campus of Vanderbilt University, I spent a morning surrounded by professional Apple users who earn their living with one piece of Apple software: iBooks Author.

. . . .

Authors who choose iBooks Author do so because it’s free and it’s flexible, but the other reason I heard repeatedly was that it’s the “best in class.” iBooks Author can do things that no other publishing tool can do, making it easy to create multi-touch, multimedia-intensive experiences. Metrock said he is asked once a week about a Windows equivalent of iBooks Author. “It doesn’t exist,” he says.

Jason LaMar, an Apple Distinguished Educator and author of “Ohio: Pathway to the Presidency” mentioned that Apple hates the name iBooks Author because it undersells what the app can actually do. It’s the closest thing Apple has to a modern-day reincarnation of HyperCard, and it even has a built-in publishing conduit to the iBooks Store and a reading app, iBooks, that’s bundled with hundreds of millions of devices running iOS and macOS.

That might sound like a ticket to publishing fortune, but it’s sadly not the case. Denise Clifton of Tandemvines Publishing, who worked on the investigative reporting book “An Air That Still Kills,” said that the iBooks Author version was the best and most advanced, but sold fewer copies than any other.

Even giving an iBooks Author book away for free isn’t enough. Despite the fact that Jason LaMar’s book was promoted by Ohio’s Secretary of State, was recommended to every school superintendent in the state, and is the top education book in the iBooks Store, only 3000 copies have been downloaded from the iBooks Store.

It’s no secret that Apple doesn’t pay much attention to iBooks Author.

. . . .

iBooks Author was one of Steve Jobs’s final initiatives, and he had ambitions to conquer the textbook market, as detailed in Walter Isaacson’s biography, “Steve Jobs.”

“The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt. But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money,” Jobs told Isaacson.

It wasn’t until after Jobs’s death that Apple launched iBooks Author (see “Apple Goes Back to School with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U,” 19 January 2012), but even so, it was a revelation to publishers, seemingly poised to change the industry. Michael Cohen’s “Why iBooks Author is a Big Deal” (21 January 2012) is a perfect encapsulation of that early optimism. Even initial concerns were optimistic because Michael was afraid Apple was about to take over publishing!

But as we now know, that didn’t happen. So what did?

Metrock and many others cite the 2013 antitrust ruling against Apple as the event that killed Apple’s enthusiasm for publishing. It was both expensive and led to years of cumbersome antitrust monitoring. If you want to understand the legalities there, you won’t find a better explanation than Adam Engst’s “Explaining the Apple Ebook Price Fixing Suit” (10 July 2013).

“Most people think it took Apple’s appetite away for innovating in the digital book space,” Metrock said.

. . . .

Metrock suggests that no one at Apple has the heart to kill it because it’s one of Jobs’s final legacies. “If this weren’t Apple’s, it would have been killed,” Metrock added.

. . . .

Apple seems content to let the entire iBooks Author ecosystem stagnate. Metrock highlighted how Apple remodeled the iOS App Store for iOS 11 while the iBooks Store remains unchanged, with poor discoverability. “If you’re a small or medium-size publisher counting on revenue, the iBooks Store is not for you, unless you can get on the front page, but good luck with that,” Metrock said.

Link to the rest at Tidbits and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG will reiterate his prior opinion from the time of the original antitrust litigation – Apple and its five co-conspirator publishers, the Price-Fix Six, were incredibly stupid in their illegal behavior which, at a minimum, should have raised a forest of red flags for managers and their attorneys.

From an antitrust legal perspective, the verdict of the trial court was pretty much a foregone conclusion. None of the participants were in the least bit intelligent in their actions. Many other price-fixing conspiracies have done a far better job at structuring and concealing activities in a way designed to avoid adverse legal consequences. Some of the intelligent conspiracies have been successful and others have not, but the Apple/Big Publisher conspiracy was doomed from the start.

Apple eBooks Antitrust Settlement

18 October 2017

PG received the following this morning. He suspects he’s not the only one:

Your Credit from the Apple eBooks Antitrust Settlement is ready to use

You now have a credit of $4.00 in your Amazon account. Apple Inc. (Apple) funded this credit to settle antitrust lawsuits brought by State Attorneys General and Class Plaintiffs about the price of electronic books (eBooks). This new credit is in addition to any previous credit you received from the settlement.

. . . .

In order to spend your credit, please visit the Kindle bookstore or Amazon.com. Your credit is valid for six months and will expire on April 20, 2018, by order of the Court. If you have not used it, we will remind you of your credit before it expires.

If you have any questions about your credit, please visit http://www.amazon.com/applebooksettlement or contact Amazon customer service.

Publishers Escape Liability in E-Book Antitrust Case

10 September 2017

From FindLaw:

A federal appeals court said book publishers violated antitrust laws by conspiring to change prices for ebooks, but they did not injure the retailers who sued them over it.

In Diesel eBooks v. Simon & Schuster, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said the retailers could not prove by the publishers caused their losses. The decision also spared further embarrassment for Apple, which was forced to pay a record fine in a related matter.

“We have ruled that the publisher Defendants and Apple did indeed conspire
unlawfully to restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Act,” the judges said, referencing
United States v. Apple. However, the court said the conspiracy did not cause the plaintiffs any damage in this case.

. . . .

In the ebook infancy, the industry operated largely on a wholesale business model. Publishers would sell ebooks to retailers with a suggested price, but the retailers set the final price.

The major publishers unilaterally changed the model, however, requiring retailers to sell at the publisher’s price. The publisher then paid the e-tailer commissions for sales.

In the wake of the change, Diesel went out of business.

. . . .

The appeals court had already heard the story, when the federal government and 33 states sued Apple and six major publishers. The trial court found they violated the Sherman Act.

“Through their conspiracy they forced Amazon (and other resellers) to relinquish retail pricing authority and then they raised retail e-book prices,” U.S. District Judge Denise Cote wrote at the time. “Those higher prices were not the result of regular market forces but of a scheme in which Apple was a full participant.”

Link to the rest at FindLaw

Are the tech giants too big to be good partners for book publishing?

22 August 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

An online discussion forum that includes publishers and librarians and tech people usually sends me several emails a day. About 10 days ago, a conversation evolved about Google Book Search and the Google Library Project, two initiatives by the search giant that were initiated in the early part of the last decade.

Because both programs essentially gave Google a trove of book-published content for full text search, there was a wariness among the publishing community about them when they started. In time, publishers (through the AAP) sued Google and the course of the lawsuit ultimately led to a sharp curtailment of Google’s ability to just do the scanning. After a while, it appears the reservoir of interest at Google for the project, which started as more of a “service to humanity” idea than a profitable one, just evaporated. The scans that Google had already done became part of the HathiTrust repository of content, an important research and scholarship tool in the non-trade world without any recognition or impact on the trade world at all.

. . . .

And, of course, Google is the single most powerful source of “discovery” and many in publishing wonder if books overall would have benefited from Google being more “knowledgeable” about what is inside of them.

So, to this day, years after the litigation and the scanning program have concluded, there is a division of opinion in the publishing community. Some see Google as a bully and a villain, trying to make its own rules to benefit from publishers’ content and crippling the value of copyright. Others focus on the lost opportunity and believe publishers would actually have more valuable intellectual property (more valuable copyrights!) today if they’d just allowed the Google programs to develop and flourish.

. . . .

In the course of the discussion, a very knowledgeable and experienced veteran of publishing across education, professional, and trade offered the comment that “Google is a terrible partner.” I asked him (offline from the group discussion; he’s a friend) to amplify that.

My points of context for Google weren’t in publishing; they were in tech. My own most extensive experiences with the big three tech companies that publishers dealt with — Amazon, Apple, and Google — was working out their participation at publishing conferences.

. . . .

What I saw was that Apple was the most uptight; it was hard to get speakers because messaging was so tightly controlled by upper management.

Amazon would sometimes be very agreeable, but primarily when they had an agenda: some program they wanted to get across or some point they wanted to make. So they were often cooperative, but very much on their terms to put across their message du jour. In general, they wouldn’t do panels or Q&As. They needed to control the conversation and skillfully avoided being pushed to publicly discuss anything they didn’t want to talk about. But they were often available and always interesting, and unlike Apple (in my experience), would engage with you honestly about their agenda.

. . . .

Google was, in my experience, by far the most open and accessible of the three companies. You could tell them you wanted speakers or panelists to cover one subject or another and you’d get directed to people who could help you. And Google employed a pretty fair number of ex-publishing people who were conversant about issues from a perspective that publishers could relate to.

. . . .

What my friend said in response to my inquiry, in which I had only mentioned Google, was, “Google, Apple, and Amazon are all bad partners. Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Firebrand are good partners.”

So much for my contextual frame.

But grouping the three to me made the point that my context was what mattered. Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Firebrand all make their living in the book business. Google, Apple, and Amazon have a financial stake in the book business that amounts to a small rounding error to their overall financial performance.

. . . .

For the entire life of the book business until about fifteen minutes ago, it was very much a free-standing industry. The only larger-than-the-industry enterprises it had to deal with were the Post Office and United Parcel Service. Our authors, designers, typesetters, printers, and, most important of all, customers to which we shipped directly (the wholesalers and retailers and libraries) were part of the publishers’ world. They depended on the publishers as much as the publishers depended on them.

Amazon was the first piece of evidence — and still the most important piece of evidence — that the old world has disappeared.  . . . . They sell more than half of the books for most publishers, but all the books they sell probably amount to less than 5 percent of their total margin. And while Penguin Random House may be in the neighborhood of half the consumer book sales overall, they wouldn’t amount to nearly that big a percentage of Amazon’s book sales because Amazon gets a disproportionate share of professional and other niche markets and thus from publishers who don’t compete at all with PRH in the consumer market.

And because Amazon has very intentionally created a whole massive pool of consumer books that nobody else has, through their own publishing and enabling independent authors.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG has had direct business/legal dealings and negotiations with Apple and Amazon over the last 15 years or so. For context, he has also had business negotiations with Microsoft, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and Intel in the tech world plus every major investment bank in New York (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, etc., etc.), most of the large accounting firms plus Disney, American Express and a bunch of other big companies.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean PG knows everything about negotiating intellectual property partnerships and other deals with large organizations, but he does know some things about that subject.

PG definitely has not represented any large publishers in their dealings with large tech companies. He has, however, represented a lot of authors in their dealings with large publishers.

Speaking generally, large publishers are not cut out to be good partners for tech companies.

Publishers are simply too rigid in their business vision and very much focused on the short term (which is strange for organizations that license copyrights, which extend far into the future).

This short term outlook is substantially affected by the fact that the Big Five publishers are all owned and controlled by other and larger media conglomerates. Four of the Big Five are owned by large European publishing corporations that are not known for their commitment to innovation and could not be described as tech-savvy in any sense. The fifth Big Five publisher, Simon & Schuster, is owned by CBS.

Each of these media conglomerates is heavily focused on this quarter’s and this year’s income, expenses and profits. They’re not what anyone would call forward-looking or focused on the long term. If they think about the long term at all, they’re convinced it will not be much different than last quarter.

(PG worked for a major subsidiary of a very, very large international media conglomerate for three unhappy years and knows that of which he speaks.)

This means that if Google sends someone to talk to the President of a Big Five publisher, Google is talking to a middle-manager in a much larger business organization. The Big Five President can do pretty much whatever he/she wants to do with Barnes & Noble and Ingram (as long as it doesn’t have an adverse impact on profits), but cutting a strategic deal with Google is way, way out of his/her job description.

Organizations like Google, Apple and Amazon quickly become frustrated with organizations that are not able to move rapidly.

iPad vs Mac: Episode 7

21 August 2017

From Monday Note:

With the sophisticated user interface and powerful system apps afforded by iOS 11, the iPad feels like it’s finally reaching maturity. But what does the device’s clarified identity say about the Mac’s future?

The iPad is a strange animal, a Chimera that has had trouble finding its place in an Aristotelian classification of computing creatures. Is it a smaller PC, a bigger phone, something else? During the January 2010 iPad unveiling, Steve Jobs briefly departed from his usual razor-edged storytelling to admit ambiguity about the identity of his latest creation:

“[iPad] has to find its place between the iPhone and the Mac”

Jobs’ hesitancy proved to be insightful. In fact, exceptionally so: Seven years later we’re still debating what the iPad actually is. The meteoric rise followed by a three year slump didn’t help clarify the iPad’s place in the world.

. . . .

Tim Cook has long professed his faith in the iPad’s future:

“The iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing.”

Does the iPad’s rebound prove him right? Does Cook’s proclamation mean that the iPad is destined to replace the Mac? This question — perhaps I should say ‘agitation’ — was raised when the iPad came out and continues to this day.

In the Socratic spirit I referred to in last week’s Monday Note, I’ll take both sides of the argument…

It’s abundantly clear that the iPad will continue to replace the Mac.

. . . .

By offering flexible user interface choices — touch only, Smart Keyboard, Pencil — iPad Pros will not only compete with the Mac, they’ll surpass the laptop.

The iPad also wins the price war. Prices range from $329 for an entry-level 9.7” iPad to $1099 for a 512Gb 12” iPad Pro. Add a keyboard and a Pencil to a fully decked 10.5” iPad Pro — it has a better screen than its larger cousin — and you’ll top out at $1212.

. . . .

Although the Mac still brings in more money-per-device — the Mac’s ASP of $1,303 is three times that of the iPad’s $435 — the company’s mobile devices make it up in volume. Last quarter, Apple sold more than 55M iOS devices (iPhones and iPads), compared to 4.3M Macs.

. . . .

As it becomes a more general-purpose machine, the iPad will continue to steal uses and users from the Mac. As often stated by its execs, Apple isn’t worried about cannibalization. More important, the iPad’s ever-improving UI and functionality will wrest users from its competitors.

This leaves the Mac line doing nicely for two disconnected reasons: High-end “truck-like” applications, and the estimable population of users who, as a matter of personal preference, opt for the traditional “horizontal-hands” UI.

Link to the rest at Monday Note

With due respect to all his Mac friends, PG says Apple is mostly a phone company. A quick check discloses that the iPhone has represented over 50% of Apple’s revenue for almost five years, nearing 70% during several quarters during that time period. The iPad and Mac aren’t what make Apple the company it is today. If the iPhone misses a beat, Apple will shrink quite rapidly.

PG started in DOS when dinosaurs roamed the earth, then transitioned to Windows. A few years ago, with the help of one of PG’s Apple-bedazzled offspring, he bought a top end Mac laptop with appropriate software, but, despite using it as his principal computer for a few months, the magic just wasn’t there for him.

One of the problems was finding Apple versions for the zillion little non-mainstream software programs PG has built into his daily workflow and which either save him lots of time or provide extra security for the confidential information he has on his computer.

An example? Autohotkey , an open-source macro program.

PG’s use of macros dates back to WordPerfect, a perfectly lovely word processing program (far better than MS Word is, even today, in PG’s stunningly humble opinion) that was acquired by Novell, another essentially extinct company, and died a quick death thereafter. (PG knows Corel still produces a product called WordPerfect, but it bears as much resemblance to the real thing as a dinosaur skeleton does to a living velociraptor.)

PG had over 150 WordPerfect keyboard macros that he used in his daily work. With them, he could move like a rocket in his law office. In some cases, he could literally finish a document for which lawyers typically charged the equivalent of a four-figure fee in today’s dollars before the client finished writing a check to give to PG’s paralegal to pay for the document.

Any legal documents PG produced on a frequent basis were macro’d to the max.

He practices a much different type of law today than he did in that day, but still uses Autohotkey keyboard macros for his legal work, his blogging and to make things a bit zippier in the Lair o’ PG. Examples of macros used frequently on TPV are ltr – “Link to the rest at”, ttt “and thanks to ______ for the tip.”, tpv “The Passive Voice” and lwsj “Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)”.

One of the earliest macros PG remembers reading about was used by a prolific author who used an ancient word processing program called WordStar. The macro inserted a period, then a closed quotation mark, than an Enter key, then a tab for the next paragraph, then an open quotation mark. He used it for finishing one paragraph of dialogue and beginning the next:

words, words, words[.”

“]Words words words

If you type at 65 words per minute, you are using approximately 20,000 keystrokes per hour. If you can make some of those keystrokes instantly produce much more than a single character each, your productivity could increase.

Amazon’s Alexa Has A Data Dilemma: Be More Like Apple Or Google?

15 July 2017

From Fast Company:

Devices like Amazon Echo could someday turn into a treasure trove for developers that make voice assistant skills, but first companies have to figure out where they draw the line when it comes to weighing data sharing against consumer privacy.

Now that dilemma is heating up: Citing three unnamed sources, The Information reported this week that Amazon is considering whether to provide full conversation transcripts to Alexa developers. This would be a major change from Amazon’s current policy in which the company only provides basic information—such as the total number of users, the average number of actions they’ve performed, and rates of success or failure for voice commands. Amazon declined to comment to The Information regarding the claims, but the change wouldn’t be unprecedented. Google’s voice assistant platform already provides full transcripts to developers.

The potential move by Amazon underscores how it is caught between two worlds with its Alexa assistant, especially in regards to privacy. By keeping transcripts to itself, Amazon can better protect against the misuse of its customers’ data and avoid concerns about eavesdropping. But because Alexa already gives developers the freedom to build virtually any kind of voice skill, their inability to see what customers are saying becomes a major burden.

. . . .

With Google Assistant, developers can view a transcript for any conversation with their particular skill. Uber, for example, can look at all recorded utterances from the moment you ask for a car until the ride is confirmed. (It can’t, however, see what you’ve said to other apps and services.) Google’s own documentation confirms this, noting that developers can request “keyboard input or spoken input from end user” during a conversation.

For developers, this data can be of immense utility. It allows them to find out if users are commonly speaking in the wrong syntax, or asking to do things that the developer’s voice skill doesn’t support.

. . . .

In terms of sharing data with developers, Apple’s Siri voice assistant is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Google. Developers who work with SiriKit get no information about usage from Apple, not even for basic things like how many people use voice commands to access an app, or which voice commands are most commonly used.

. . . .

But keep in mind that Siri’s approach to third-party development is entirely different from that of Google and Amazon. Instead of letting developers build any kind of voice application, Apple only supports third-party voice commands in a handful of specific domains, such as photo search, workouts, ride hailing, and messaging. And instead of letting those apps drive the conversation, Apple controls the back-and-forth itself. The apps merely provide the data and some optional on-screen information.

Because these apps don’t communicate with users directly, there’s no need for them to have conversation transcripts in the first place. Instead, Apple can look at what users are trying to accomplish and use that data to expand Siri on its own.

The downside to this approach is that Siri just isn’t as useful as other virtual assistants.

Link to the rest at Fast Company 

If PG lived in China, he would be inclined not to use Alexa.

Dear Apple, Please Don’t Give Up on iBooks in iOS 11

21 June 2017

From The Mac Observer:

Here are some ideas I have to improve iBooks in iOS 11, because I want to see it succeed. As an avid reader, I was disappointed that there was nary a mention of iBooks at WWDC 2017. I’m not just talking about the app, I’m referring to Apple’s eBook ecosystem as a whole. I think improvements can be made in both areas, and that Apple could give iBooks a bigger presence in physical Apple stores.

. . . .

When it comes to books—or any type of content—the two most important features for people are discovery and sharing. The App Store is getting a major redesign in iOS 11, one designed to make it easier to discover new apps and games. I’d love to see Apple bring the same attention to iBooks. A new UI could feature eBooks and audiobooks in new ways and make it easier for readers to figure out what to read next.

. . . .

Now, to the iBookstore ecosystem. Apple should make it easier to self-publish on iBooks. I’ve never personally used the iBooks Author app, but the consensus among many users is that it produces gorgeous books, but is difficult to use. Apple should also take a cue from Amazon and make iBooks the premier platform for self-publishing. While it’s possible to self-publish on iBooks today, the process is not as easy as it is on Amazon Kindle.

. . . .

Currently, iBooks has a “More Books You Might Like” section under the Featured tab, but the suggestions are awful and I almost never browse through them. Using machine learning, Apple could scan my iBooks purchases and recommend books based on genre, popularity or other factors. Apple may already be doing this—or something like it—but recommendations on iBooks needs to improve.

Link to the rest at The Mac Observer

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