Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pick Out Your Cloud ...

Lion's and Clouds, and no new iPhone, OH MY!

So Apple laid out a clear computing strategy on Monday at its annual World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC).  What does all this mean for the average user in what's being called a "Post PC era"?

A long time ago, in a living room far far away, people kept their music and movies and box sets of TV shows on entertainment center shelves.  You want to listen to that favorite song of yours?  You popped your cassette or CD into the player and rock out.

A not so long time ago, in a living room just a few days ago, people kept their music, movies, and tv shows on their computers.  You want to listen to your favorite song, watch your favorite movie or TV show?  You fire up your computer and push the content to one of the other devices sitting around the house or hook the computer directly to the TV itself.

Fast forward to this "fall" we will be "PP" post-pc.  In your living room are no CDs, no DVDs, maybe not even a computer.  This fall the only thing in your living room may be an iPad or an iPhone or an iPod Touch or an Apple TV and maybe a laptop.  iCloud will effectively become that large entertainment center shelf or that clunky tower desktop or even that beautiful new laptop you bought.  It's your personal virtual shelf for your media.  It also becomes a virtual laptop as well.  What the H* does that mean?

Laptop's are used to store documents, photos, and back up of your iOS devices.  iCloud now becomes the place where you can store documents, photos, and back up your iOS devices.  What does that mean for your laptop?  It means you don't need one anymore.

So iCloud is a virtual shelf for music, movies, tv shows and it's a virtual laptop/desktop and stores your documents, photos, and backs up your iOS devices.  You    suddenly only have to plug in to power the device.  Your iOS device can be your only connection to the internet.  For some, that's all they need.  In some developing countries, that's the extent of their financial capacity.

Some may see iCloud as just another way to lock in apple customers, but Apple has just freed the most innovative set of devices to be their own animals and still keep your entire life in tow.  If Apple can truly overcome their MobileMe fiasco, they have just pulled off a major computing coup.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Technology ... a change is going to come

Roger McNamee did an interview with CNBC last week regarding the changes in technology.  There are several comments made by McNamee that I found interesting.  For full disclosure, I do work for General Electric (not in IT), which is now a minority owner of NBC (parent company of CNBC).  

"Apple is killing the web".  Sound familiar?  "Video killed the radio star...". In the end apps and websites will co-exist.  As each is developed for different user experiences.  Businesses will need to figure out their overall "user interaction model" across the different technologies and determine how best to leverage each.  If there is focus on one or the other without a good strategy or reason why, businesses will lose.

"Google as the leader of the HTML camp".  Google is the leader of the search camp, but it was Apple who pushed for innovation in HTML5 because the web was being split into the Flash and the "Flash-not" camps of website development.  Google has developed several web-based applications to drive usage of a "cloud" based user experience, but little innovation has come out of Google in regards to HTML5.  Google has made it's contribution to HTML5 with the introduction of the video format (webm) to compete against h.264.  However, that was after Apple began the push to HTML5.

Index Search and "signal to noise ratio" ... This would be the true culprit of killing the web.  The Bing commercials probably have the most accurate depiction of the randomness that you get when searching for something.  With Wikipedia I get a "curated" set of information.  With apps, the user get specific categories then applications that are more directed.  Google, Bing, and Yahoo is great for "blind or obscure" searches.  With the risk of clicking and dragging and having my bank account drained by some 10 year old in Jersey I prefer to steer clear of "big search" for the most part.

"They are about to upgrade the infrastructure on the world wide web".  IF you've been asleep for the past 4 years then yes, the web is going to be upgraded, but ever since Apple pointed it's reality distortion field at Adobe Flash (when the first iphone was released and then the ipad), that upgrade has been taking place.  Most major websites have a HTML5 version, most browsers now support HTML5.  The piece that is missing to make the major leap forward are good HTML5 content development tools for the individual up through the mid-sized company so authoring websites can be just as easy as it was with Flash.

The discussion ended of course with questions about going long or shorting certain stocks.  There's no intent of that with this diatribe.  The point here is that technology boils down to (1) user experience and (2) ubiquity and (3) relevance.  When a technology is hard to use, difficult to get to, or there is a substitute / can be skipped all together, it fails and people move on.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tablets killed the television stars.

So CNN released an article on January 14th about how tablets (specifically iPads) are starting to eat into prime time television for reading.

The article proposes that the times normally used for paper reading or TV is being usurped by tablets because folks are reading more.  Are folks really reading more?  Has the electronic book really replaced the remote control and folks no longer watching TV?


With TV now being "when" and "where" you want it, you can now make more trade-offs on your time.  If you want to catch-up on all your shows every Saturday or Sunday and focus on finishing up that last book in the Twilight series, you can now do that.  

Without doing any math, I would propose that TV and reading has increased in tandem over the last couple of years.  Now that I can 'carry' multiple books and multiple movies / TV shows with me when I go somewhere, the idea of "Prime-time" is almost a thing of the past.  Sure I have to remove myself from Facebook as all my friends 'blog' about a show as it happens, but I have to squeeze in my time with Gregory Maguire and Anne Rice too!

So are you reading more and watching less TV?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year ... New Gadgets

As everyone begins their Nostradamus impersonations, I figured I'd throw my hat into the ring.

Cable vs 3rd Party Services.  Sadly enough there are many people who believe they can't get basic network channels without cable (NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, CW).  As more and more people realize that you can and Net Neutrality rules assist in keeping Netflix & Hulu alive.  There will be much more of a rock'em sock'em fight next year.

The CD/DVD drive gets put on final notice.  It had to come sooner or later.  It took 25 years before VHS died and now its looking like only 10 years for CD/DVD to die.  You will probably see more companies using USB sticks to distribute software when you can't get access to the web.

Verizon iPhone.  Ok, two things need to happen before this is even remotely possible
- VZW starts using SIM cards (currently on their 4G network)
- VZW agrees to not having control over the phone at all (one reason they lost the contract in the first place)

Tablets, tablets, tablets
So they aren't new, but leave it to Apple to polish up a turd of an industry and make a killing.  BlackBerry, Samsung and a few others are working hard to bring their iPad-killers to market.  Kudo's to Samsung for actually getting theirs out the door.  We have yet to see one that can truly go touch-screen to touch-screen with the iPad, but companies are coming close.  For 2011 expect to see more tablets than you ever wanted to see.

3D.  I have never been a fan of 3D.  I had my first 3D IMAX experience and it was ok.  I think the industry is realizing that home-based 3D is probably not going to cut it.  I've ran across several 3D televisions and the experience is not there, unless you've spent 10 grand for stadium seating in your  mini-mansion.  TVs will be thinner, bigger, and have more web-capability built in (a la Google).  3D will be an option (as some manufactures have done) that is seldom used.

Robots!!  We've seen some pretty crazy things with robots this year.  It will only get better next year.  There are more and more "consumer ready" robots, either as toys or vacuum cleaners.  We should start to see more in every day work settings.

Gesture based control of EVERYTHING.  Thank you Microsoft for finally putting something fantastic out into the world.  The MS Kinect which has been hacked, rehacked, and deep-fried (figuratively) to bring us some amazing control over a myriad of things from robots to Netflix.  Minority Report has finally arrived.  All the hacks are in alpha or beta stages now, but expect real usable software next year.

CoarseSmart, BlackBoard, and a host of other educational platforms will begin taking off as more students are walking around with tablets instead of books.  Keep an eye out on companies like Inkling that are providing more social connections in the learning process.  The big publishers need to be concerned with the ever increasing avenues available to students to obtain books.

That's it.  Of course non of this could be realized by the end of 2011 and we could face 2012 right where we are now.   What does your crystal ball say?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tivo ... A 'Walled Garden' that is dying on the vine, maybe..

Tivo has become one of those words like Xerox... It is representative of digital video recording.  Since 1999 we have been indulgent in what is called "time-shifted" viewing of content.  I can record shows that occur at set times during the day and then watch them when I get ready to and even skip through commercials.  The setup requires a box and a monthly subscription (usually $10 - $12) per month.  This box is in addition to any cable or satellite boxes you may already have.  Tivo has options for using Cable Cards as well.

Over the years Tivo has attempted to pull more folks into it's services (games, weather, etc).  Recently it has added the option of including Netflix and  What Tivo has failed to do is engage in the "place-shifting" evolution of content consumption that is occurring.  I don't always want to sit in front of my television to watch video (that I've recorded).  I may be in front of a desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone and want to catch up on the last two episodes of Family Guy.  You could go and purchase another box (SlingBox) to add to your collection and power consumption, but why hasn't Tivo stepped into the second decade of the 21st century by offering apps across several platforms for viewing or at least open up their software for others to develop good solutions.

Tivo does have API's available for accessing their DVR, but at best, people have made remote control apps for their boxes.  There is no good solution for pulling content and re-encoding for the other platforms.   There is desktop software (Roxio, Tivo Desktop) that will allow you to manually do some work, but that is additional $$ and it's a very manual process.

Tivo = Television As A Service  (TaaS) ??  Yes, that's where Tivo should head.  Hulu doesn't cut it because available content is controlled by the networks and is delayed.  Tivo should be a good layer on top of existing television by including "place-shifting" and "social capabilities".  Liking a show in Tivo should integrate into Facebook and Twitter.  I should be able to take up to 10 seconds of a show and post with comments or send to my friends saying "OMG ... so funny, take a look".

Tivo won't last munch longer if the only thing you can do is sit on the couch to use it...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Get it when you want it ... Get rid of cable, create your own "On Demand"

So we cut the cord in our household 2 years ago and went cable-less. But why? With all the amazing shows that you can watch and ensure you are caught up around the water cooler, why would anyone not have cable?

Let's do some numbers ....

Digital Premier = $110
HD = $8
DVR = $15.00

Cable = $133 ... $130 for good measure

Number of hours per day that TV is on in an average U.S. home: 6 hours, 47 minutes ... 7hrs for rounding's sake.

Let's use 30 days for a month ... so 210 hours of television. Assume each 1hr block represents a show.

So you are paying $0.62 per show, which is great if you really sit down and watch 7 hours of television every day for 30 days.

Let's put some brackets around this ... let's just say I can only watch TV for 3hrs a night and because of a busy weekend schedule, I don't watch on the weekends.

Let's use 4 weeks for a month ... so 60 hours of television a month.

Now you are paying $2.16 per show. That's pretty expensive considering I'm probably watching commercials in about half of those shows I'm watching. That was a loosing proposition for me.

If we were to strip away everything and start from scratch ...

Over The Air HD (ABC, NBC, CBS, WB) = $0.00
Tivo HD DVR = $10.00 per month ($200 up front for the box)
Netflix 1 DVD At A Time + Instant Watch ($8.99) + Blu-Ray ($4) = $13
Apple TV (just because you want a little extra) = $0.99 cents to rent a TV show, $4.99 to rent a movie in HD
($99 up front for the box)

Alternative Setup = $26 bucks a month ... plus any shows I may watch, round to $30 for shows or a movie here and there.

What are you missing. SPORTS ... Sports have been the one thing that has kept many folks from cutting the cord.
Live streaming of just about every game that ESPN covers.

Now how do you get that on your 100" reach through and grab someones popcorn HD screen? There are several computers that do HD straight to the back of your TV.

What else are you missing ... sitting in your living room and watching any fresh episodes of BIG cable shows like True Blood or The Big C. You get them later (on netflix or Apple TV). Stars did something different with their show Spartacus where they had it available immediately on Netflix the week it aired. More than likely cable networks will do this more often.

One could argue that to do the alternate you have to have good internet

= $60 if you are starting from scratch
= $20 if you already have it and are dropping cable television

So your savings could range from $40 (no internet at all) to $80 (had cable before and dropping it now)

Either way it's cold hard cash back in your pocket every month. A good way to be thrifty, no?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Unlikely metaphor: Computers, Cooking and the lie of Price

Just about everyone has one these days. Starbucks and local coffee's houses have their livelihood through scores of people hanging out with their laptops sipping their coffee's with uber long names. What is the right one for you? Not sure. Hopefully this will help you be more informed.

SO ... remember these commercials?

Processor ... Think of it like the cook in the kitchen. Some cooks are slow and some are fast at processing information. The other piece is something called the "bus speed". Think of it like the servers at a restaurant. If the servers are slow and the cook is fast; well, we know how that meal usually ends. A fast processor and a fast bus are important.

Memory ... Bytes. kilo, mega, giga. RAM (Random Access Memory). If process and servers are as to cooks and servers then memory is as to ?? Kitchen space. Although it's called Random Access Memory, it's purpose is far from random. If you don't have enough kitchen space, you can only take so much out at a time to prepare a meal. The meal takes longer to prepare. If you have the chef's kitchen with 4 islands, then meal prep is a little faster.

Hard Drive ... ok folks, stay with me. We've got cooks, servers, kitchen space, and now ... Refrigerators. Yes for long term storage of information you have hard drives. Just like a fridge, the bigger the better. You also want to be concerned about how fast information can be pulled from the hard drive. you have RPM (like your car) speeds, but some hard drives don't have any moving parts (solid state). Best thing to do is ask about the data transfer rates. If the person attempting to sell you a computer gives you a blank gaze. Walk away immediately.

Graphics / Audio ... you don't hear much about this piece, but it's like the restaurant ambiance. This can easily go under the radar as the differentiator in price for most computer buyers. On a daily basis you are interacting with one of 4 forms of media (1) text, (2) images, (3) video, (4) audio. And we all know if the place isn't friendly or too messy or down right boring, then you probably won't come back.

Most folks are writing papers, emails, or novels and for this, all of the above can be purchased mid-range and you will never have buyers remorse.

Audiophiles will know that it's either Dolby 5.xx or it's poor. Yes computers can output Dolby. Just ask if yours will.

For images and video, you can't shirk your duties on buying a computer that can handle it. This is usually the price differentiator on laptops. If you plan on airbrushing your favorite photo of yourself before you post it to Facebook, creating a movie from all those clips you took over the summer, playing World of Warcraft, or watching Netflix Streaming you don't want to have a cheap graphics card. If the person in the store can't explain to you why a graphics card is important, speak to their manager before they cause another person to have buyers remorse.

So that is the meat and potatoes .... but you have to have some other sides, right
Wireless ... if it's not included, you are living back in 1995. Make sure it's N ... it's that speed thing again.
Bluetooth ... again ... 1995
Webcam ... ok ... living in 2001 if it's not integrated

Operating System. We won't cover this here. Such a touchy touchy subject and people have their preferences, just like with their food.

If you are like me and are skeptical of the hype when you see the above commercials, you should do a side by side comparison of machines. What you will find is that the lie of price is a good one. If you were to go on HPs, Apples, or Dells website and customize a laptop you will find that creating comparable configurations that price becomes pretty much the same. So now that you are armed with this information and are probably starving from my food references, head to the mall. Grab some mall food and be a smart shopper about your laptop.