Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Apple's iPhone - only one reason why I won't (until...)

Apple's iPhone will be to mobile devices as the Mac is to personal computing.

Like most people, I've had a bunch of different mobile devices over the past 10 years or so. At first, they were just phones, but now? I like the basics, so I have an old Nokia 3220 - just about as basic a phone as you can get today. I use it as a travel alarm and I make phone calls with it. It has a camera, which I use mostly to create wallpaper for the phone. No PDA. It works anywhere in the world.

I also have £19.95 mp3 player that I bought at Heathrow Airport. I can drag and drop music to it from the iTunes player (or the O/S), record face-to-face interviews using the built-in microphone, digitize music with it via stereo line-in or record music from the built in FM radio. Way more than the iPod, for way less money (when will Apple put encoding into the iPod?!).

Simplicity rules my computing experience also. When it comes to my computer, I find Windows totally unusable. Windows does not accommodate the user - the user has to accommodate Windows. As close as it gets to helping is when it says something like "You don't seem to have an Internet connection - would you like to use the connection wizard to find it?" OK. So why the blank do I need to give this little wizard guy (which looks more like a dialog box than a wizard) my "permission" to find an Internet connection?

In contrast, when I first opened my 3 year old Powerbook G4 and hit the power switch, it fired up and asked me whether I was using DSL, cable or some other connection. When I answered the question, the next screen asked me to register the computer. It had automagically found the Internet. It didn't ask me if I had the drivers for the third-party wireless router in the house. In about two minutes, I was using my computer. Later, using Firewire, the new computer transferred everything from the old computer, including all my software, files, preferences, serial numbers, everything. If this were Windows, I'd probably still be transferring files (and why does Windows still have a file manager?!). By the way, it has crashed only a couple of times since 2004, when running Microsoft Office.

So simplicity and minimalism have always driven my technology decisions. Back in the '80s, computer-savviness would win arguments and impress your friends, but nobody really cares now (unless they are insufferable geeks, which is OK, but let's keep that in its place).

My take on "devices" is that they're supposed to make you more powerful while simplifying your life, not make you feel small and weak for not understanding their commands or make your life more complicated.

This is EXACTLY why I would consider an iPhone. The fact that the iPhone doesn't have some of the features that non-iPhones have (like GPS) doesn't matter to me. The whole "missing features" discussion misses the point altogether. As for GPS, if I needed directions I'd use the Web (it's an iPhone, for Pete's sake) and get a map.

So here is the point: Apple's real product isn't computers, phones, set-top boxes or media players. It isn't even hardware or software, although it is intellectual property.

Apple's REAL product is HUMAN FACTORS ENGINEERING. Not "usability engineering." The latter is what Microsoft does. If you've ever been subject to a Microsoft usability study, you know that Microsoft spends lavishly on usbility. Their studios are to make a product manager drool (I know: as a product manager, I've conducted usability studies). But Microsoft's usability testing makes sure that people understand the tasks that their software puts you through. It doesn't promote the kind of 'out of the box' thinking that true Human Factors Engineering does.

So yes, I would buy another dose of Apple's peerless Human Factors Engineering, in the form of an iPhone. Except for one thing. They signed an exclusive with AT&T. I will never, ever buy another product or service from AT&T. Ever again. In my life. Why? Because, over the course of thirty years, inept management turned one of America's greatest companies into a shell of its former self.

I think that Divestiture was right, but in the years subsequent, it seemed that the company did everything it possibly could do - wrong - by failing in virtually every business it stayed in, while spinning out is successful ones. Until finally, AT&T was so weak and clueless that it allowed SBC, the predatory champion of "Revestiture" (thanks to Gary Arlen for inventing that term) to ingest its bones and take over its name.

So yes, it's now a different AT&T, but between its former cluelessness and its current arrogance, I won't buy from them. And I won't even get into how AT&T allowed itself to be used by Bush's NSA to spy on Americans.

So, if Apple ever signs with Deutsche Telekom, maybe I'll buy an iPhone in Europe and bring it home, where I can use it with my existing T-Mobile account. Hopefully they don't hit me up for roaming.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Net Neutrality - Comment to the FCC by June 15th

Net Neutrality is a big public policy issue, and the FCC is accepting public comments until June 15.

Common Cause posted a petition to submit comments to the FCC for you (as have other activist groups, including MoveOn.org)

But I thought "why should I have them do it, if I can submit one to the FCC directly" - that is, until I tried. It isn't easy to find any information about this on the FCC's Web site, let alone find the online comment form (how's that for public service). So for your convenience...

Here is the FCC's online comment submission form. You can upload a document containing your comments, or, you can enter your comments directly into the online form. Once you've done that, you will be presented with a confirmation screen, with a confirmation number. You can search for your entry later by going here.

In March, the FCC announced a Notice of Inquiry (right-click to download PDF) into: "...the behavior of broadband market participants, including: (1) How broadband providers are managing Internet traffic on their networks today; (2) Whether providers charge different prices for different speeds or capacities of service; (3) Whether our policies should distinguish between content providers that charge end users for access to content and those that do not; (4) How consumers are affected by these practices."

And for your reference, Here (right-click to download) is the FCC's explanation of the matter, "In the Matter of Broadband Industry Practice - WC Docket No. 07-52."

Good luck!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Thanks to Apple... Congratulations on 30 years

Techcrunch posted a "30 years of Apple" blog entry a few days ago - Wow, the memories came flooding back! So I responded, and I re-post my response here. And there actually is an IPTV tie-in to all of this.

I worked at an Apple dealer in So California (Computer City) in 1981-1986, managed its San Diego store for a few months. We carried Osborne, Grid, Altos, Vector Graphic, IBM, Apple, Compaq… Remember when the Apple ][ became the //e.

Back when Apple had a rep firm instead of a sales force, we would get all excited on (i think it was Friday) when the rep would come in with a big wad of money and peel off hundred dollar bills for every Apple /// sold. A local accounting firm bought dozens of them, and I used the proceeds to put the earnest money on my first house and partially pay for my wedding reception! Those were the days when 23 point margins were the absolute floor for a sale, and you had to get permission from the owners to sell at lower margins. (”only if it’s more than 50 units..” - unheard of for a bunch of kids running a retail computer store! Heck, our technician was only 15 - we used to have to take turns giving him rides home because he was too young to drive)

Then Businessland came into our market and lured many of us to sell to corporate accounts. We did pretty well there - must businesses were buying their first computers. But Businessland was not an Apple dealer and it was like pulling teeth to get a Lisa for a guy who used to buy from me at my old dealership and absolutely wouldn’t buy from anyone else. But he had to have his Lisa. I can’t imagine any computer mfr bending their channel marketing rules like that today!

In the mid-late ’80s, the phone companies all tried to sell computers. The thought process being that if some little upstart like Businessland could be so successful selling toy computers, imagine how successful the Telcos could be selling computers AND phone systems! PacTel InfoSystems was started by the West coast RBOC, and Will Luden, of the Luden’s Cough Drop fortune, was put in charge. They had absolutely NO CLUE about computers - in fact, they refused to do any tech support on a PC because it was “outside the demarc” - meaning that it was customer premises equipment, not part of their network, and therefore outside their domain. The “telcos in the computer business” phenomenon was short lived, and probably accelerated the demise of the full=service computer dealer (who was already being undermined by low-margin clones).

I was Northern Telecom’s (now Nortel Networks) alliance manager to Apple from 88 to 93, and wow we had fun. We had full access to Apple’s skunkworks (and I had a counterpart that had wide range in Northern Telecom and Bell Northern Research). One of our projects, “MacPhone,” was introduced commercially in 1990 as Meridian TeleCenter - basically a Mac hooked up to the RS232 port on the back of a Meridian PBX telephone set. The Mac ran a software program (developed by a bunch of guys at BNR in Ottawa and Mt View Calif) that worked all the features on the phone that nobody would learn how to use, such as conferencing people together - but it was all point and click. The Meridian PBX used an ISDN-like 2B plus 2D communications link, so it could send commands into the PBX.

A year later, a third-party developer was hired to add a video codec board to the Mac, which added full duplex videoconferencing (H.261) and screensharing (over circuit-switched data) to "MacPhone" . We also got it to work over Switched-56. At one point, the product team had people in the US, Canada and Australia working on it.

In 1992, it was the first third-party demo at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC). The Northern/BNR team wheeled in a whole PBX for the demo! It sold a lot of Macs for Apple, into universities and businesses, and a lot of switching equipment for Northern Telecom (but very few customers actually bought and used the product - it was mostly used as sizzle to sell the steak).

The Northern Telecom sales people and their channel partners totally didn’t get it! And after about 1992, Apple lost interest in this kind of technology leadership as well. John Sculley left. The 90s were a dark time for Apple - it’s amazing that they survived (imagine if Sun had actually bought Apple, in a parallel universe).

Apple refused to go to the clone business (well, they did for awhile, and Jobs shut it down when he returned to Apple in the 90s. In retrospect, he did absolutely the right thing). Apple’s full control of everything from its OS to its industrial design and its sales outlets was something we would never have imagined back in the 80s but it’s certainly a major key to their success now. Good for them!

So, now the obvious question, since this is Steve's tvstrategies IPTV blog....

What does ANY of this have to do with IPTV?

For starters, Apple is one of the leading product designers in the world. As a product manager, I've been involved in usability research and one of the old adages of Web design holds doubly true today: "If it's more than 2 clicks away, you've failed." Apple understands this.

Also, "convergence" is nothing new to Apple. They worked with Northern Telecom to get an edge in a new kind of communications called Local Area Networking (NT created the method that was standardized as IEEE 802.9), and the two were doing "convergence" before almost anyone else (except for the TeleCompaq in the mid-'80s).

Every IPTV middleware vendor - including Microsoft, now that Steve and Bill are all kissy-kissy again - should take some guidance from Apple.

All this shows how far the industry has come: the phone companies and computer companies are not only talking, but they are largely beginning to understand one another and what's more, they have become part of one anothers' strategic plans once again.

Except this time, the stakes are much higher.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Why did I wait so long?

Welcome to the tvstrategies blog.

This entry is really to say "Gee, Steve, it's the early twenty first century - isn't it about time to get with the program?" Watch this space for entries relating to IPTV technologies, service and business models, service providers and content.

On the opinion side, I'll occasionally comment about the consolidation and corporate control of the Media, which I believe represents a serious threat to American democracy.

Fortunately, IP Video, interactive television and the Internet are beginning to help restore the balance between the individual and big media (and the powerful corporate and governmental forces behind them).

These New Media technologies and service models are giving individuals a stronger voice, and the world is becoming a better place for it. It is that trend that attracted me to IPTV in the first place.

I will try not to make this blog a vehicle for shameless self-promotion (see the Web site for my consulting practice, Advanced Media Strategies, for that).