06 October 2011


What can be written that hasn't been written already?

I met Steve twice and consider myself very fortunate to have done so. The first time was when I was headhunted for the potential role of head of IT for Next Computer and had passed the first interview with the CFO - Susan Kelly Barnes who I was really impressed with. It was early days in the company and no one outside knew what was going to come out. I was fascinated of course, though I was mostly set on returning to the UK. My interview with 4 different people went ok, but not brilliantly. With Steve I felt I probably had a C grade - when he only does A++. It was an intense experience where he demonstrated (as has been said by many others) a truly unbelievable breadth of knowledge about everything from MRP systems to corporate IT decision making etc. He was intrigued that I had been behind my employer at the time buying around 300 Macs. However, I'm not sure he thought I was clever for that or a fool. (My employer had been the leading VC behind Apple and the company that brought it public though by then it was in the distant past). However, the ideas we had at that time contributed to innovations in software on Unix workstations that went on to change the way Wall Street looked at information. The Mac was my personal inspiration for that - the first computer that really allowed visualisation of information and ideas.

Later on I met Steve again when he was the keynote speaker for our company (Tibco) at our annual client conference and he remembered me positively from the interview (so maybe it was a B-). A few years later he was to return to Apple.

When I see my daughter use an iPad - which she was able to do at 13 months - the day we got one, and my mum too make a Facetime call and work on her family tree, it is a joy for me - as indeed has been my experience of just about all of Apple's products (even with some rough times in the middle). I cannot believe we no longer have him here shaping the future, but every single day I appreciate the impact he's had on my life and that of people around me. He eventually succeeded in creating the world's best business, but more than that, he's achieved that while making profound and undeniably positive changes to the way the whole world uses accesses information and content and collaborates with each other. What an incredible and astonishing achievement. RIP.

25 January 2010

Couldn't resist!

Back-from-the-blogging-dead for just 1 post!

For the last few weeks, it's been full-on with the rumour mill on the Apple iTablet/iSlate or whatever. Let's just call it the iTablet here though I doubt (hope) tablet or slate will be in the name.

There have been some really intelligent things written by the usual commenters (oh, if I could write and think like Gruber!), and there's been the usual useless prophesying of doom, me-too, etc.

What the naysayers still haven't realised after years of being proven wrong is that Apple hasn't just been lucky, it's been incredibly smart for years and years. The only area where Apple has arguably not delivered a success in the Jobs-era is the AppleTV - and this is the one thing that Steve Jobs described as a hobby around the time it was released. If you haven't figured out this guy is smart yet, it's really about time you stopped "analysing"? I've interviewed with him before, and believe me he knows what he wants and he knows the people who can make it happen (I DIDN'T get the job!)

Has Apple's success happened overnight with just a few clever ideas? No. Look at the small pieces that have to be put together one component at a time to deliver the whole experience. It is this attention to detail in terms of the overall experience that takes each individual product above its competitors and keeps it out ahead. At the same time, Apple would rather leave out a feature than do it badly or have it create other problems that they KNOW, but the "analysts" don't. Does it now look like a stupid move to have a 2G iPhone as the first model?

So, with this in mind, we enter this week in the expectation that Apple will completely re-invent another area of our lives that we didn't even know needed re-inventing before the rumours started. Just as Apple killed the successful iPod mini with the iPod nano, I expect it this week to announce the product that begins the long-term decline of the laptop. Of course, many people will still need a laptop and/or prefer one (I'm likely to be a long term user for many reasons, but I would probably be considered unusual), and these people will generally be the ones that pour scorn on the new direction. Other people will say it wasn't Apple that did it, but that Apple is just responding to the netbook companies that started it.

But, Apple will do it in Apple's way - using user interface paradigms that initially we'll be unsure about, but will begin to appreciate as we see it demoed, as we see it being used, and as we begin to use it ourselves. Irrespective of the absolute form factor and other features, it will be the way we interact with it that will make THIS product introduction be the defining way such devices will work in the long term. Think Mac GUI and mouse, iPod clickwheel and iPhone multi-touch here - defining moments in the consumer electronics industry.

Could Apple get it wrong? Possibly. Newton 1.0 wasn't ready for primetime. Newton 2.0 was, but never got over the reputation of 1.0. Jobs is smarter than the people around Apple at that time. He has been waiting until it all comes together to do it right (iPod required small disks, firewire and clickwheel to do something revolutionary; iPhone required touch, SSD, high power tiny chips).

Apple have been sweating these details for years. I've read a rumour that the iPhone came out of the tablet development, and it's not an unlikely scenario. Multi-touch was not sufficiently developed or even understood to be used in something revolutionary beyond a small device with limited gestures. As MacWorld contributor Dan Moren wrote, this device will succeed or fail based on whether people BELIEVE they can INPUT stuff into it quickly and accurately - whatever stuff they want, but especially the stuff they are used to putting in their laptops via a keyboard. Any additional inputs (e.g. dictation, recording) will be bonuses. But the basics are a REQUIREMENT.

If Apple CAN get the input side right (early reactions will no doubt include the same people who condemned touch on the iPhone), then it has several advantages over the situation in mobile when it jumped in. Here, they were a late entrant into a theoretically competitive and maturing market - a market that was supposed to swallow up the iPod line as this functionality became just an extra app built into a mobile. Also, there was the gateway managed by restrictive telcos to negotiate - what was the most Apple could put in the device that would still allow them to partner with one or more major telcos? The iPhone remains below it's true potential today for these reasons (e.g. VoIP on 3G), but has blown a big hole in many of the restrictive models that were around before - something rarely appreciated by Apple's critics, but which has benefitted all handset makers and consumers.

In this case, we have an immature market, with no gatekeepers - and that is even giving some credit to the tablets already out there that are really nothing more than windows pc's with a stylus. With the iPhone, there were NO apps when it was released, and the best we could get were a limited number of web apps. Apple will release the tablet with a rich set of applications already there to demonstrate it's usefulness, and the existing iPhone developers will jump on ship quickly making use of possibly the best application delivery platform ever available (I do not see this as just a big iPhone - that would fail, but I do see many of the developments being carried over to the iTablet. I guarantee, there will be no shortage of apps very quickly - perhaps even day 1. Let's just hope that the good ones rise to the surface quickly. I believe the key in widespread success will be how quickly the ecosystem of hardware add-ons and software develops to produce compelling uses that were never before possible with either a laptop or a tiny phone. That will create the barriers to entry allowing Apple to profit from the device over the long term.

That brings us to two other key success factors. The first is how much Apple can open up this device when compared with the iPhone. I've no doubt this will be an openly multi-tasking device (not just limited to certain Apple-designed apps) - but how this is done without compromising performance, reliability and security will be key. I also think Apple will have to allow alternative application delivery methods here - at least in the medium term. Central control has served it (and its customers) well for the iPhone. But this model will be too restrictive in the longer term for a device like this, constrain new business models and entrants into the ecosystem. I don't believe Windows will develop fast enough to offer good alternatives, but Google can take either ChromeOS or Android into this area quite quickly and give a more open proposition if Apple doesn't do it fast on the back of release.

The final issue comes down to cost. Apple is known as the high cost company - something I feel is grossly misrepresented by many in the media and the anti-apple brigade who can't understand basic specification sheets or look at cost of ownership - but let's face it, plenty of companies will come up with something cheaper that purports to do a similar thing. Can Apple deliver this best-of gadget at a compelling price - much as it has with the iPhone - by both quantity production and perhaps viewing the device as a gateway to content consumption and application purchase for which it's getting a cut?

If these things are on Apple's side, then this device becomes the main device we carry around with us as we work, play, travel, etc. THE primary device on which content is consumed, communicated and collaborated (but less so, created). Sure, we'll still need our phones - and for many this may still do - but how often will most people need their laptop? It's not even going to be one device per family - this will be intended to be a one-per-family-member product much as the iPod has become - with you in the kitchen/breakfast table, a companion to watching tv, on the train, in meetings, at conferences or lectures, as we go about most aspects of our jobs and our leisure activities. There will be a steady shift back towards the home computer/desktop computer as the place it all comes together and for heavy lifting (e.g. photo/video management) - as well as (or maybe just) the cloud for the actual storage of our data.

The notebooks have tried to destroy the laptop market by cheapness. Can Apple destroy it (an area it makes much of its profit) by building something BETTER than a laptop for most of what we do? I personally think it can and I think Steve Jobs is on a mission to do this (remember the comment "the PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago"? Is that not a motivator for him to change the game?). The mainstream media have set this as a (perhaps an unfairly) high hurdle, but Wednesday's announcement will probably be judged on whether the new product meets this challenge (while being criticised for attempting to take the challenge on and not delivering in every single possible area!). It is a measure of Apple's achievements that this is even being talked about so enthusiastically BEFORE a product is released - where's the excitement from Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc who should equally be capable of this sort of development, let alone the Redmond machine which will once again be left looking foolish and void of ideas. It will be a true measure of greatness if Apple can deliver something that yet again inspires a new round of innovation.

What an exciting week ahead!

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26 May 2009

Guardian Own-goal

I've written on many occasions about the Guardian and Observer - their inability to call the right shots on Apple, the MMR scandal of the Observer and a few other gaffes, but I had to write this one down for posterity demonstrating that their sports correspondents also seem to be a bit weak.

On Sunday in the last game of the season, Everton beat Fulham by 2-0, (well done Everton by the way and particularly congratulations to David Moyes and Bill Kenwright for an amazing year), and the Guardian report by Jamie Jackson on the match had the following gem (no doubt it's been fixed in the link UPDATE - yes it has, but here's the quote anyway):

Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United are Everton's opponents in Saturday's FA Cup final.

This will no doubt come as a shock to Everton, who felt that beating Manchester United in the semi-finals would have been enough to eliminate them from the competition. Chelsea may also feel aggrieved having been ousted after legitimately beating Arsenal in the other semi-final.

This is such a basic mistake, it's hard to imagine anyone even remotely qualified in football making it. But perhaps, Mr Jackson just wanted to get United mentioned a few times in the short report on the match? Perhaps the article gets more hits if this team is mentioned, even though the link to this game was tenuous at best?

Anyway guys, time for a root and branch clean up of your writers?

I'll be winding this blog down even further over the coming months as no one is really interested, and I'm so short of time nowadays (those that know me will understand why, those that don't are free to ask!). But I will try to take the opportunity to revisit some of the posts and see if Hobsblog called the shots better than the British press. (hint: I think we did!)

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06 January 2009

iTunes DRM-free 40 minutes BEFORE MacWorld!

Just spotted that a whole load of albums - TingTings, Duffy, etc are now all DRM-free on the UK iTunes store.

So, it looks like this one rumour is TRUE! Finally. I don't think the labels had much choice ultimately - it would have been severely anti-competitive to prevent Apple from having this option, when competitors had been given it.

Anyhow, I'm off on a spending spree. Oh, and the Ting Tings is just £3.95 and Duffy £4.99 - not bad prices either!

You heard it here FIRST!

Update: Albums from the Cure, Morrissey, Echo and the Bunnymen - all of which I'm sure previously were with DRM, now are iTunes plus. Labels include Sony BMG and Warner.

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22 November 2008

New Google Public Transport Info Sucks!

Got my iPhone 2.2 software loaded and thought I'd check out some of the new features.

I haven't been able to get Google Street View to work yet for London, but I did come to try the new travel directions feature. Unfortunately the results are embarrassing - for Google, and I think this needs a lot more work on it.

Here's what I got for a simple route from Piccadilly in London to Battersea SW11. It's a route of about 4.5km or just under 3 miles, walkable in about 55 minutes. A single London bus (19) will do the journey in (hopefully) about half that time.

Google's instructions were as follows:
1. Walk 1.1km to Hyde Park corner (fair enough).
2. Take the 702 bus towards Ascot but getting off at Victoria station - 1 stop on. (For my American friends this journey is like getting on a greyhound bus in Manhattan and going 5 blocks down 5th Avenue).
3. Get the the 025 bus towards Eastbourne (a town on the south coast), but getting off at Gatwick airport.. Note, no suggestion about the much faster train service from exactly the same place also to Eastbourne and also stopping at Gatwick airport. Gatwick airport is about 25-30 miles from central London.
4. Now take the airport bus from South terminal to north terminal!.
5. Get a bus EB4 from Gatwick to Fulham Broadway back in Central London.
6. Finally walk 2.4km to SW11 (total walk of 3.5km).

This public transport version which saves just 1km of walking, takes 3 hours and 15 minutes and appears to travel at least 60 miles! There is no cost given, but I suspect it is substantial.

Google claims (on it's website) to use the travelinesoutheast.org.uk data. However, using this service throws up several London bus routes (though not the best ones). It would seem that Google has ignored 98% of the available alternatives (including all London buses, and all trains).

A year ago, we used a government service to find the best route to drive to Hastings on the south coast, and it threw up a route going via Ashford and over 90 miles in distance. The direct route (which google itself gave) was around 55 miles. The government site then added further futility by suggesting speed should be no more than 55mph to limit CO2 emissions! Sure, your CO2 emissions might be 10% less than they would have been, but their stupid route would have increased it by 50% over what it should have been anyway!

It seems we've still got a way to go in making these services useful. I'd hate to see what a tourist would have done with Google's information, and I'm glad I use my bike to get around London.

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17 November 2008

New Forest Donkeys waiting for bus

Just got back from a brief trip to the New Forest which despite being grey and rainy was still spectacular. I can certainly recommend the New Park Manor Hotel and Spa which - on a Sunday night deal - is great value. But my favourite moment is captured here (trying a new camera incidentally as well) while cycling round the area.

I'll definitely be heading back for a spring visit with hopefully better light.

Funny thing is nobody had told the donkeys that the bus doesn't run on Sundays!

30 October 2008

New Apple store in London White City

I queued up to get into the new Westfield Centre in White City this morning, then queued up to get into the new Apple Store (not helped by none of the centre staff knowing where it was - it's on the 3rd floor).

Anyhow, here's a photo of it. It's certainly not London Regent Street-size but bigger than some I've seen.

The Westfield Centre is quite an amazing experience - not exactly my cup of tea - but as the 3rd largest of its kind in UK (and largest inside a city), it is worth a visit.

I wonder now if London has more Apple stores than any other city? With Regent Street, Brent Cross and now Westfield/White City, that's as many/more than Manhattan I believe. Then Kingston, Lakeside and Bluewater would all count as Greater London by virtue of being in or around the M25. Can any large city beat 6 as of Nov 2008?

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