apple

Pros & Cons

1 November 16

At an event at Apple’s Town Hall on Oct. 27th, Apple introduced a new line of updated MacBooks pros and a TV app available in December.

And?

So to recap, three revised MacBook Pro models, and an app available in a couple of months.

Apple also introduced an update to Final Cut Pro X.

I See. Whelp, I’m going to get some lunch. You take it from here.

First up was the new “TV” iOS app, for the Apple TV but not exclusive to the Apple TV, that will help you find shows across all installed video apps. It does this based on your history, and by using verbal Siri requests to find recorded shows.

It folds in the functions of the movie and TV stores, along with the contents of your video library and adds a new Apple Music-like function called “Watch Now” that will keep track of shows you are watching and suggest new shows based on your history and from curated lists. If you do not have the correct app, Apple TV will suggest it as a download.

The impression I got was that Apple still isn’t quite sure what the app is for, in terms of functionality. The argument for using the “TV” app seems to be simply that Apple will require you to use it, as they also mentioned that it would replace the “Videos” app on the iPhone and iPad. The duplication of the TV, app and movie stores only really makes sense on iPhone and iPad devices, so I also think that this app was more about bringing Apple TV functions to iOS devices, more than the Apple TV itself.

I also think that this is the portal through which Apple intends to release it’s own content. If, indeed, Apple is getting into the content business, it makes more sense to put them here than it does within the confines of Apple Music or iTunes. The delay in the app’s release until December may be more indicative of when the Apple content will become available than any software development issues. It does not work with Netflix, nor with Amazon Instant Video, two of the most popular streaming services, and they could also be using the time to negotiate something.

In addition, an update to the Apple TV tvOS will add the ability to request live sports across the apps you have installed. The already-announced single sign-on feature remains as a feature that is “coming soon.”

Apple’s key message was calling it a “unified TV experience” and that there was now “no reason to watch TV anywhere else.”

I often wonder if anyone at Apple has ever actually watched TV. They seem to approach the whole medium like alien anthropologists who are trying to reconstruct what TV was using incomplete 10,000 year old information. “We have observed your Earth transmissions and offer our advanced technology to view these time-wasting diversions,” is the pitch Apple tends to give us. I’m amused that they’ve hired a small city’s worth of car people to work on the car project, but only a couple of TV executives to work on the TV project.

Of course, I’m not sure I’d want an Apple TV designed by TV executives. It’d probably result in something as unappealing as Apple Music.

Next up was the Mac. In his introductory remarks, Tim Cook referred to the Mac as “something dear to all of us at Apple,” which completely eased the minds of all Mac users everywhere.

The MacBook Pro received it’s first significant update since late 2012. The new MacBook Pro comes in 13 and 15 inch models with brighter displays, faster graphics and a thinner case. The new models are one half-pound lighter, as well as being smaller in every dimension. Aside from the headphone jack, Apple has removed all ports, including the MagSafe power port, and replaced them with four new ports. These new ports are functionally both USB-C and Lightning 3 ports, and can also work as power adapter ports. Apple is also adding the Touch ID feature to the Mac for the first time.

The headline feature of the new MacBook is the Touch Bar, a second miniature touch sensitive display that appears as a strip above the keyboard, replacing the function keys as well as the escape key and eject key. Also gone are the brightness controls, illuminated keyboard controls, desktop controls, and audio controls. Apple demonstrated that these functions will now be available as user-configurable keys in the Touch Bar.

Applications will also have access to the Touch Bar area, to put in controls of their own. When an application uses the bar, the standard controls are reduced and put to the side, much like the Control Strip feature from System 7. All Touch Bar controls also have an “x” button to dismiss the bar. That function was not demonstrated at the event, so its unknown for now how a user might mute or pause audio and video while another app has control of the Touch Bar.

Like most Apple product upgrades, there are trade-offs to enjoy the new features. However, no product in recent memory from Apple has introduced more trade-offs than this one. The RAM has a limit of 16GB, which will be okay for 95% of Apple’s customers, but many will have issue with limited RAM in a “Pro” machine. Creative professionals commonly max out the RAM on their computers, and now they’ll have no expansion or upgrade in a brand-new computer, an unprecedented development. The SSD drive is soldered to the motherboard, and cannot be expanded or upgraded, nor can it be resurrected if something should go wrong with the computer.

With only support for USB-C plugs, any devices that use USB, USB 3, Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 2, or HDMI, now need an adapter. For most people that’s practically all their devices – including the one-month old iPhone 7. Flash memory cards will need a reader, and MagSafe power adapters are eliminated.

What one gains from losing all these ports and options is a computer that gets 1 extra hour of battery life and a standard GPU that’s far below industry standards. So for a computer that’s not much faster, that’s traded all ports for four new ports that haven’t been adopted by the industry, has traded 14 keyboard keys for soft keys, added Touch ID, and lost a half pound in weight, the new MacBook Pros come with a price increase of $400-$500 over similarly-spec’d 2012 MacBook Pros. The new non-touch 13-inch runs a CPU that has a significantly slower clock speed than the “old” 13-inch for $200 more.

The new MacBook Pro line is less of a advancement of the device than it is a repositioning of the device. It appears that Apple, after re-flagging their “iPad” as the “iPad Pro” and after the introduction of these new MacBook Pros despite the lack of Pro features, is adjusting the definition of “Pro” in a way that uses the term more for branding purposes than as an indicator of it being suitable for professionals. The device bears far more in common with the MacBook Air than it does with the previous generations of the Pro, and it is not competitive in price or specs with the high-end or mid-range laptops from other manufacturers.

The market for this computer are people who desperately want to upgrade from their 4-year-old MacBook Pros, and those who are interested in the Touch Bar and Touch ID features.

Apple did make the compelling case that the new MacBook Pro is markedly better than the 25-year-old Macintosh PowerBook 170, proving itself better in many different ways. We have maintained a “do not buy” recommendation for the PowerBook 170 for 23 years.

The MacBook Pro update also reshuffled the Mac portable line significantly. Previously, the low-end of the line, the 11-inch MacBook air began at $899 but the new low-end is the 13-inch MacBook Air at $999, and Apple essentially said they intend to replace this model with the 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro at $1499. So in one day, the MacBook line just got a little more expensive in a market where laptops are getting cheaper and cheaper.

This creates a clear gap in the laptop pricing scheme between the Macs and the iPad Pro. Apple has essentially cleared out the 11-inch MacBook Air to make the 12-inch iPad with keyboard the successor in that pricing category. When one looks at the laptop line from Apple, it now starts with the 9-inch iPad Pro with keyboard and extends through the 12-inch iPad, the 13-inch MacBook Air, the MacBook and then the new 13-inch & 15-inch MacBook Pros. Apple is now actively driving the low-end Mac portable customer to the iPad.

That brings us back to this piece of depressing blackness, the question that’s been on everyone’s mind for a couple of years now, and suddenly becomes even more relevant: When will Apple kill the Mac?

Do you want these chips? I wasn’t going to… Oh, you got serious here. I’m just gonna go walk around the block.

Apple’s revenue pie chart shows that the Mac is a measly 12% of revenue for Apple, it’s third-biggest segment behind the 13% of ‘Services’ and 61% of the iPhone. As we’ve already seen, Apple now wants the low-end laptop business to go to the iPad, intentionally cannibalizing Mac revenue, and passing potential Mac customers to another platform.

However, in terms of actual money, the Mac is generating a very consistent number, around 6 billion in revenue per quarter, and has been doing so for over four years. It’s just that Macs aren’t growing anymore, and that as Apple grows, that $6B means less and less to Apple as a whole.

As much as it makes sense to keep the Mac vital, Apple has shown a flat-out intolerance for any technology that is not a service or a touch device. Even then, the iPhone seems to take up almost all of their resources.

One can also interpret the Touch Bar MacBook Pro as an honest attempt to juice up the Mac and make it more friendly to touch-screen customers, but one can also see the new features as using repurposed tech. With the Touch Bar and Touch ID running off the guts of the T1 chip, the heart of the Apple Watch, the Touch Bar is a way to use the technology of the commercially underwhelming Watch to greater effect.

Clairvoyance is the only way to know if this will be enough. Apple is upgrading the Mac so infrequently that one can easily see a few more bad quarters resulting in a down-sizing of the Apple product line, and the first casualty could be the Mac.

My instinct is that while Apple does not want to kill the Mac outright, they do want it to be a low-maintenance project, and would like to convert as many Mac users to iPhone and iPad users as possible. The problem is that there are plenty of users in the Apple ecosystem who use both. They use both because there is no solution on an iPad or an iPhone for certain tasks, and there won’t be solutions for years, if not decades to come. Forcing users to use the iPad or iPhone and abandon the Mac does not change reality.

Here are some tasks that simply can’t function on a tablet, or function badly: Researching, presentation creation, advanced gaming, movie production, animation, audio editing, graphic design, programming, long-form writing, text editing, photo editing, engineering, architecture, music sequencing, computer IT administration, accounting, data entry and 3D CAD applications.

Now, all of these tasks can be accomplished to some degree on a tablet, but the desktop and laptop provides a markedly better and far more efficient way of doing this kind of work. Also, most tasks that involve sustained work of more than 20 minutes becomes uncomfortable with a tablet. Trying to force users and developers to endure an inferior experience on a tablet or phone is not going to win you customers. A touchscreen environment has some advantages, and some disadvantages. Simply put.

Apple wants the world to be on touchscreen computers, and they are hell bent on making it reality. There is a fine line between making something for the benefit of your customers and making the computer you prefer to make by ignoring your customers. You can ignore your customers when they complain about having to give up the past to embrace the future, but Apple appears to be ignoring their customers when they have a reasonable point to make. To the customer, Apple is tilting at windmills only they see.

Apple used to be great at pushing us, whining, crabby, fussy customers into the future by telling us a story about why we had to do it. They no longer tell us those stories. They just throw apparently random changes at us that somehow always require us to spend money for a questionable future benefit.

The reasonable thing to do would be to vote with your pocketbook and not buy the new MacBook Pro. But Mac users who desperately need an upgrade will have to do it. They have no choice if they want to run new software. So Apple’s lock-in with their technology effectively quiets the noise the company should be hearing. If we all complain about the irrational changes made to the MacBook, iPhone and Apple TV lines, but still buy them, why would Apple interpret these complaints as anything but sour grapes that we’ll get over?

It’s a curious thing you see with large companies that suddenly have no idea why customers buy their products. You expect it from a company like General Motors, McDonalds or Comcast. They get so hung up on meeting their own needs that they lose any ability to comprehend their customer’s needs and what they will need down the line. General Motors should have produced a feasible electric car with amazing technology a decade ago, but they didn’t see it, and made 500 varieties of SUVs and are being challenged by Tesla. McDonalds could have understood that their customers wanted better, healthier food and made a decision to go all in, but instead they have 45 different hamburgers on their menu are are challenged by dozens of healthy competitors. Comcast could have understood that investing billions and billions into expensive content wasn’t going to be of any value in a few years when video can go straight to YouTube and be shot for zero cost.

None of these companies will die off, though. They are all powerful enough to keep making money, their customers unable to find an alternative, and loyal to a fault.

When a company is so focused on meeting their own internal needs, whether that be profit, contractual obligations, political maneuvering, internal power struggles, or executive self-esteem, they quickly forget the basics. They forget how to make a product.

Are you done with the soap box? I need it to get something off a shelf.

apple

Bill Graham II: The Revenge

5 September 16

It’s getting harder and harder to get excited for these September events. Here’s the TL;DR version – iPhone with minor improvements, Apple Watch with minor improvements, new bands, iOS available in X weeks, macOS available in X weeks, tvOS available in X weeks. Apple Music/iCloud is fixed and really will work this time, honest. Mass-appeal band plays it out.

Let’s trudge through the particulars and do the long-form version.

Well you’re a bright ray of sunshine

The iPhone, as has become traditional, is largely a known thing by now. Leaks have been steady for over a month. It’s basically the same look as the iPhone 6/6s but with 50% fewer gaps on the back for antennas. The home button is now force touch and haptic. The innards are now water “resistant” up to a meter. The display will have a wider color gamut. The Plus and maybe the regular size will likely work with the Apple Pencil.

Oh, and someone forgot to put in an audio jack. I hope someone got fired for that one.

The camera has been upgraded on both, undoubtedly, but the Plus is getting an even bigger upgrade, with what appear to be two cameras that will add telephoto and wide-angle capabilities.

And this phone will come in colors! Well, more accurately, shades. In addition to metallic grey, metallic beige & metallic pink, we will also see a metallic black and shiny black. They’re dropping metallic extra grey.

Nothing in the above is really a big deal. These are slow, iterative changes. But there are three things that are worth noting about this iPhone. So let’s talk about what seems odd about this model, and what it could mean.

When you say talk, you mean lecture

The first thing people have jumped on is the lack of an audio port. What’s strange about this lack of a traditional audio jack is that there seems to be no rational explanation for it. Yes, the jack is old tech, and has a few inherent liabilities when it comes to designing a product. It’s big, it’s clunky, makes waterproofing tough, requires a cord that’s prone to tangling, doesn’t give you power or control options and it collects lint easily.

Over the past several months, almost half a year, tech pundits have been debating this change relentlessly. It’s been though enough discussion, that I think we’ve actually come to a conclusion on this point. The arguments offered towards keeping the jack are strong. The arguments for getting rid of it are weak.

But if you look over Apple’s history with the audio jack and headphones, you’ll notice that they have been fighting the audio jack for over a decade. The 2nd gen iPod got a Frankenstein connector that was designed to add control features back as far back as 2002, another strange version a year after that, and Apple’s made several alterations to the cord since then to accommodate a microphone. The control features on the cord have had a few changes, and there are even incompatibilities with some devices and headphones. The original iPod shuffle, for instance, can’t take the modern Apple earphones, without some jiggering. Even the Mac has had an intermittent relationship with having an audio input jack.

On the iPhone, the jack was at first on the top, then on the bottom, making users pocket their iPhones upside-down when listening to them. The standard Apple headphones have had varying cord lengths, trying to find the divine, perfect length of cord, ensuring that half of the users find it too long, and half too short. There are Apple patents that show a half-rounded jack to keep devices thin, and attempts to make the jack smaller.

What this all indicates is that the industrial design team at Apple hates, hates, hates the audio jack and the cord that comes with it. They have been trying to run a way around it for a very long time and now have just decided to say “fuck it.” So now, we’re going to get to see how bad an idea this is. Is this a bad idea Apple will just stick to their guns on, and force everyone else to change? Or will the jack reappear in a future model to thunderous applause?

Either way, this change doesn’t feel genuinely necessary. It’s going to hurt. It’s not like the floppy drive thing back in the 90’s, excising a fading technology that had been around for less than 20 years. The audio jack has been around for over a century because it worked so darn well for everyone. To get rid of it shows the fine line between innovation and hubris. This really feels like a mistake. Worse yet, it feels like a ploy to add more profit, sending you to Apple and Beats for the replacements.

And I do expect Beats to have some products ready. If they don’t, there’s essentially no reason for Beats to exist within Apple’s structure.

The second thing to note is for the first time in the history of the iPhone line, we’re getting a third model based on the same case design. Internally, there’s changes, but externally, this phone is going to look nearly identical to the 6 and 6s.

There are two ways to look at this – that Apple is on a new three-year plan for new models, keeping the same external design for one more round. The other argument is that whatever Apple had planned for this year is delayed. If the “real” new iPhone 7 is delayed, and this iPhone doesn’t make a splash on features, the wise move might be to wait for next year.

The third aspect of the new iPhone to think about is the increasing differentiation between the Plus and the regular. It already had a bigger screen, better battery and destabilization, but now it’s getting even better cameras, and it will likely work with the Pencil.

When you also consider that the “small” end of the iPhone is now the iPhone 5 SE, that makes the “regular” iPhone 4.7 somewhat superfluous. It doesn’t have the whiz-bang cool features of the Plus, and it’s doesn’t have the one-handed usability and portability of the SE. Does it need to be in the lineup at all? And if it does, can it be as expensive as it is and still sell?

There’s also a possibility that the Plus will become two models, if you go by some of the leaks. There could be an iPhone Plus and and iPhone Pro, the Plus having a single camera and no Pencil support, and the Pro a Plus-sized phone with the dual camera and Pencil support.

So taking all that in, the only reason to keep the 4.7 is if it’s in the sweet spot between the big and the small. Users might not feel that that’s the case.

State your conclusion!

With these three factors in play, it’s hard to see this iPhone as positioned for success. One can also see the SE getting a boost in sales, as people go for the headphone port and the smaller size.

It’s certainly not a lock that that this iPhone is going to be a disappointment, but no single feature appears to warrant excitement about the new iPhone, and there are already, before the launch, several reasons to pass on buying it. Apple’s leaving themselves liable not only to bad press but competitors as well.

I’m not predicting doom, just malaise.

…And the Watch?

The Apple Watch did exactly what we all feared, and slid right off people’s wrists into their dresser drawers, resting with Sacajawea dollars and old business cards in the very back. The messaging features failed to do much more than make people retrieve their connected iPhones to answer, and the 3rd party apps were almost universally underwhelming. The only usable feature for most people has been the fitness applications, and this is where the future lies for the Watch.

Rumors say we’ll get GPS on the watch, and this will be an intriguing boost to it’s fitness tracking capabilities. My expectation is that Apple will re-focus the watch around fitness, with a “sportier” version, and putting the luxury aspects aside for now.

If you follow some of the scuttlebutt surround the Apple Watch development, there were stories that Apple chose to remove some sensors from the watch to avoid it becoming subject to FDA approval as a medical device… And because the design team wouldn’t allow sensors in their fashion-minded bands.

That could be changing. If Apple has decided that the Watch is no longer a fashion/luxury product, and directed the design team to make it a fitness product, those band-mounted sensors could return and expand the health-sensing aspects of the Watch. If Apple sells a health band as a separate device, then the Watch itself might not be subject to FDA approval – just the band.

Like you know how the FDA medical device regulatory system works

It would also not be surprising for the Watch to get some satellite devices, such as a shirt-mounted heart sensor, shoe-mounted sensors and even ear-mounted sensors. The satellite health devices would make the Watch the centerpiece of a new health push for Apple. No rumor I have seen yet suggest this as a possibility, it’s just speculation on my part.

Otherwise, the Watch did not prove itself as a fashion trend, did not sell very well to the average schmoes, and did not ignite people’s passions or developer’s imaginations. Another year of marketing the Apple Watch like the previous year will result in continued mediocrity.

And that’s the show!

Then comes the big announcement.

Wait, what?

I wish I knew what it was, specifically, but it’s got something to do with Apple’s services.

This isn’t on any of my rumor sites!

As big a deal as a new iPhone is, the event is missing a lot. Macs are not being introduced. iPads were already taken care of. iPods are on the protected species list. It wouldn’t be much of an event with just revised iPhones and a revised Watch. Not that Apple isn’t capable of disappointing, but these two items aren’t going to take that long to talk about. There has to be something else, and I think it’s going to be services-related.

True, the introduction of the new OSes may take some time, but there’s a hole the size of a new product in the event agenda. That new product could be a variety of things, and all I can do is guess. So here are my best guesses:

  • Apple TV content, plans for future announced
  • Apple Music expansion (Better support for small labels, more exclusives, more artists)
  • iCloud expansion (A new 2TB plan was recently announced. Why?)
  • iOS social apps (Video sharing, Android support)
  • Apple Pay peer-to-peer

You could also choose multiple items from that list, too. Hey – crazy idea. Maybe it’s something no-one’s even speculated on of before. Wouldn’t that be a kick? Something new, that nobody’s blathered on about for months before it was announced? An actual surprise?

Final idea: this year, they end the event with U2. Because it’s never been more relevant.

apple

Channeling Apple TV

14 July 16

Apple’s Eddie Cue made some interesting statements about what he sees ahead for Apple’s TV plans. The quote that’s getting the most publicity is a statement that Cue doesn’t like the so-called ‘skinny bundle.’ Along with the recent inclusion of Sling TV and other streaming packages on the Apple TV, that meshes with what had come down the rumor pipe a few months ago — Apple has put their plans for a streaming TV package on hold.

Although there is no product I would more like to see from Apple, I think this is a good move. The product Apple seemed to be veering towards was feeling a lot like a standard Cable TV situation, with bundled channels. Essentially, instead of paying a cable company for their channels, the public was going to pay Apple — and that’s not a breakthrough product.

Now we’re back at the beginning, with no prospective Apple TV streaming service in the near future. So, given a “start from square one” approach, what would the best TV product & service look like?

A Whale with a Tractor for a Hat!

First, what do we want from TV? What is the essential thing we’re looking for when we shackle ourselves to Cable? The easy answer is “Entertainment.” But that’s a broad answer. We can be entertained by a whole lot of things that don’t have anything to do with a TV screen. What type of entertainment are we looking for?

I’d say that we’re looking for passive, produced entertainment. That is to say, we want a non-interactive experience, because once we choose something, we sit and watch. And that’s a key word as well, a word that’s used but become invisible from over-use: “Watch.” We use our eyes and watch. We are spectators only, and we like it that way.

We also want produced entertainment. By using the word “Produced” it means that we just don’t want to get raw, unfiltered pictures and sound, we want it all to amount to something. We want something to be focused on a topic. We want to see that topic developed. We want a story.

We thrive on stories. As a people, heck, as a race, we live through stories. We are addicts to storytelling. When we sit down in front of a TV, we want someone to tell us a story. Sometimes we want a 2-hour story. Sometimes we just want to see someone kicked in the nuts. Our culture and our minds are based around stories, and we are addicted to anything that can give us more.

Therefore, the ideal TV service should be a story-delivery machine beyond compare.

Shush, Momma’s Watchin’ Her Stories

But here’s the problem. Stories of the variety we want from TV are held in the hands of middlemen. We call them TV networks. TV Networks don’t develop a lot of their own programming by themselves. They pick from a list of prospective TV projects and then fund them for an episode or two to get a look at it. They then decide what worked for them and their advertisers and evaluate. Will they further develop a project, go with what they have — or most often, drop it altogether?

Over the years, however, TV programming became a zero-sum game. It didn’t produce entertainment people really liked on it’s own terms, so much as they liked it better than what was on another network at that same time. That was the way TV worked through the 1990’s, and explains “My Mother, The Car,” “BJ and the Bear” and “Manimal.”

Yet, even as TV Broadcast Networks were challenged by Cable TV Networks, the middlemen kept their stranglehold. To keep themselves alive, TV Networks diversified and became entertainment conglomerates. They merged with movie studios and other large entertainment companies. Now we have behemoths like Comcast and Viacom that control several channels, and have done so for nearly 25 years now. But this bundled strategy only works when there is no way around the cable box for TV entertainment.

That strategy is now in the midst of collapse. With streaming internet video, the Network TV game-plan is falling apart. With YouTube and similar services able to provide the exact same entertainment people want from TV without the involvement of the networks — and in a lot of cases provide better entertainment — it no longer makes a lick of sense to sign up these same conglomerates and create “Bundled TV 2.0” when it comes to an Apple Streaming TV Service.

What makes more sense is to let the shows find their own way to the screen. You need a way around the middlemen.

You’re Free Now, Storage Wars

Today, when we sit down to watch TV, we tend to watch “whatever’s on.” What we’d like to see, though, is our favorite programs on our own terms. Even with a broad variety of on-demand offerings, most TV Networks do not provide all their programs or all episodes of any given program. They function more as a catch-up on missed episodes or as starters to get into a series. It’s disjointed and provides a poor viewing experience. If you want the complete series or season, they’ll ask you to plunk down $30-40 on iTunes. For a really good series, that makes sense. For a reality show, it certainly doesn’t.

Up until now, cost hasn’t mattered so much, as we’ve paid one fee for TV access. An hour of fifty-year-old sit-com re-runs cost us the same as an hour of first-run premium drama. We’ve never really valued one program over another — until we had to pay for a single episode, and now the value of a show becomes a little more important to us.

Once, we loved the idea of spending forty dollars a month to get 60 channels. We were overjoyed when we could get 225 channels. Now, because we have a sense of value regarding TV entertainment, we want to know exactly what we’re getting from each channel, and we don’t want the crap ones. In addition, we’re interested in getting the newest programs that all our friends are watching, and those networks that can provide new, original programming are the most valuable ones.

But what are we getting that’s new on a Cable TV Channel? How much content is actually being produced? For many networks, they may produce less than an hour of new programming on any given week. Some never produce original programming at all. Even for those that do, the vast majority of new programming is live event material, like news, talk shows and sports events. Even cheap reality shows can be sparse, often premiering new shows once every two weeks or more.

Put another way, the programming offered through most Cable channels are repeats. The most watched Cable TV Network in America is the USA Network. They typically show 23 hours of repeats on any given broadcast day.

Quiet, I’ve Only Seen This Episode of NCIS Three Times

In a world made up of computers, broadband internet and mass storage, it is becoming more and more ridiculous to pay money for random repeats. After all, TV shows have become files on a hard drive, and paying any sum of money for old files of movies and TV shows seen hundreds of times before is no longer novel or compelling — especially when we can’t control when they come on. With little difficulty, a viewer can go get copies of those shows if they truly wanted to watch them. When faced with a choice between paying eighty bucks for 225 channels full of shows they will never watch or have already watched, they will download their TV for less, rather than watch a scheduled broadcast.

That’s where a viewer becomes a user. It’s when a TV viewer no longer watches “whatever’s on” and wants to treat entertainment like they treat music, games, web pages and documents. They want the files. They use the TV, not just watch it.

The bubble is bursting for Cable TV, as establishing an entire 24-hour network to broadcast just a handful of hours of new programming a week seems almost obscenely extravagant and needlessly redundant.

In this environment, the whole nature of TV changes. We can dispense with a network, because we no longer need their delivery system of antennas, satellites or coaxial cables. The content becomes the driver of the experience, with the viewer making choices based on their tastes instead of relying on the tastes or business needs of those who run the delivery system.

But if this is true, why isn’t it happening already?

What stands in the way of this kind of future is the non-trivial fact that TV shows are expensive to produce. When you start making a TV show, you need initial up-front pre-production costs covered, then money for each episode.

I’ve been following the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Kickstarter, and even for such an inexpensively-produced show, they need an initial investment of approximately $550,000 for startup costs and then $250K per show. You can imagine what the costs for a prime-time drama are. To meet those kinds of expenses, you need the money of a network, and even more importantly, you need the network to assume the risk, should the show not work out.

What we lack is an established method of venture capitalism for television. Venture capitalists have been developing ideas for a long time, providing the up-front money for software and/or services in the tech world. In television, you need to develop the same kind of ecosystem. Finding backers has been essential in stage performance for centuries now, and there’s no good reason why it can’t happen for TV.

Still, as long as big TV networks exist, and can take on all the risk, we won’t see a lot of progress. Individual investors take on too much risk, while networks can mitigate that same risk, so networks will continue to be the best funding option.

We could wait for the dam to break, and for cracks to appear in the big TV networks, but the better approach would be to help create this new TV environment and show the way. In fact, it would be smart to just drop the term “TV” altogether and call them serials. The smartest thing Apple could do now would be to start investing in individual productions of new serial dramas, with an eye towards bringing new stories of high quality into existence. They don’t need to be exclusives, either. Just promoting a new VC method of serial development would be the aim. With a thriving industry of independent production going, Apple would stand to benefit. People would be spending their idle time on Apple devices, not on other companies’ TV sets.

So Why Are You Still Writing? Why Isn’t This Article Over?

This strategy only really applies to a particular part of the traditional TV experience: scripted shows. There are, essentially, four types of television programs: Movies, Scripted Shows, Events and Reality TV.

Movies: Movies still make up a lot of the bulk of programming for cable channels, and they’re the a la carte programming option of choice for a lot of people.

Scripted Shows: These are serialized TV shows, from sit-coms to miniseries. I’m calling them “scripted” to differentiate these from reality programming.

Events: This covers live or “plausibly live” shows like news, talk shows and sports programming.

Reality TV: The crown jewel of human achievement. Even though most reality shows are scripted, they are intended to be perceived as unscripted. We’ll also put documentary-like shows in this category as well, which is anything from Hitler documentaries to video cam shows.

What About Those Sketchy Dudes Who Sell Knives?

So with a VC structure to develop serials, and movies developed in the traditional way, and delivered through iTunes, that leaves Reality and Events. Reality shows are not worth getting worked up about. They can live or die on their own merits. Events are the last, and most important component. Conversely, the live part of the Apple TV puzzle is the hardest to solve, especially when it comes to sports.

As long as networks are still willing to shell out insane numbers to get live sports broadcasts, much like the current environment for making serials, any given sports league will resist the idea of striking out on their own, because that involves a whole lot of risk that the networks are willing to absorb. Also, in most cases, TV Networks are vastly overpaying for sports.

The reason that TV Networks spend so much on sports is due to advertising. Sports still deliver the biggest audiences, far more than any other type of programming. Even if spending a billion dollars on a sport for a season only gets you 500 million in advertising, the average rating score for your whole network goes up, and you can charge more for ads in all of your programs. You can also charge cable companies more to carry your content.

So when it comes to sports, if you want that audience, you will have to go out and buy it. If Apple wants a spike in headlines and a jolt of Apple TV sales, they can go out and snatch a contract with the NFL or go with international soccer or F1. However, these options have been on the table for a while, and Apple hasn’t used them. More likely, Apple would rather partner with established sports outlets like ESPN and bring their content to the Apple TV.

The problem with this solution is that live sports is the one driving force in television viewership, and by extension, the biggest driving force for anyone trying to establish a streaming living room experience. If you want to have an app for NFL games or soccer or any other established sport, you can’t do it if TV networks keep tying up the rights. While the excellent MLB app does an amazing job for baseball, the NFL app delivers clips of talk shows. To get sports off of the networks, and bring it to streaming, money will have to be spent. Fortunately, there is also a lot of profit to be made here, and once sports networks get a taste of a strong user base directly subscribing to their content, they will be streaming for good. They just need to be show that it can work.

That’s what this all comes down to. Implementation. Lately, Apple has not been the best at implementing the many things they do. Newsstand, HomeKit, CarPlay and even the iPad Pro Pencil all come immediately to mind. If the Apple TV and a streaming content service is going to work, Apple will need to implement content delivery themselves. They don’t have to be in it for the long run, but they do need to get it started and then let momentum take it the rest of the way.

In terms of strategy, this is also the way to get TV networks to release their stranglehold on serials. Once they no longer have the crutch of sports viewership to lean on, they’ll have to start developing better programs and come on board with downloaded serials to save what they can of their business.

Then What?

Then we dispense with the idea of “channels” and “networks.” They become subscriptions. A network will offer a subscription package for it’s programs, but not for it’s channels. You won’t stream TBS or MTV, you’ll subscribe to a show or bundle of shows. You might see a situation where a hit show is offered at $19.99 per season and for $29.99 you get some extra shows that are also looking for an audience. You’d get a free preview episode, or a ‘first five minutes free’ kind of offer.

At that point, networks and studios merge, and even the idea of streaming TV shows starts to fade. Streaming will be the domain of sports, news and events, and you’ll subscribe to them directly instead of paying the middlemen.

That’s where all this is ultimately going, but we may need to give it some time. Time for the entertainment conglomerates behind the networks to realize that they need to give up their broadcasting assets and turn themselves into investors, following the same model that has proven so profitable for apps.

So what your TV experience will look like in the future is what Eddy Cue described in the article. You’ll ask your TV for shows and/or have them already picked for you. The tech is already there. The ideal story delivery machine is already in most people’s homes or on their phones. It’s the content that needs to make the leap into the unknown, and that may also involve a push. Apple’s prepared for the leap, but are they prepared to push? Are they prepared to invest?

apple

WHUT 2 L(.)(.)K 4 @ DUB DUB DEE CEE

11 June 16

Predictions? Well, more like a list of features I’d like to see.

Hardware:

(Whooshing noise of an arid, empty landscape. A tumble weed bounds past.)

If they do anything on the computer side, it’s probably going to be a CPU refresh on the MacBook Airs. Leaks also show a MacBook Pro refresh is coming, and it’s even in late enough stages to show some cases and an intriguing LED touch strip to replace the function keys. I would be surprised if Apple wants to wait until the Fall event to talk about it, but I’d also be surprised if they unveiled them now. Something tells me that Apple will have a Mac event of some sort in July.

Services:

Apple Music needs a cold slap in the face, and rumors do point to a “refresh” of the service. But what does that mean, exactly? What would be changeable? My answer would be for better Genius-like discovery, shareable playlists and a cheaper pricing tier. And of course, to fix that “delete your library” feature which didn’t go over so well.

iCloud Disk is behind the pack in it’s usability. The gold standard in file sharing is dropbox, and I’d like to see more features added to make iCloud Disk as flexible. I’d also like to see some Mac backup features. I expect to see neither.

iCloud did go out for half a day last week, which usually means that something was major being tinkered with. What it could be is a total wildcard. There really is no sense in guessing, and you would be a fool to try. So here’s my guess: end-to-end encryption of all Apple syncing services.

Apple Pay has been going great, but the next step would be to allow loyalty systems and peer-to-peer payments. It’s not wrong to think that Apple might also become a PayPal-like system with its’ own accounts, but I don’t know if they want to scare off banks and credit card companies yet, who would be terrified of Apple taking over their sector and pull out of Apple Pay instantly.

It would also be nice to be able to choose a different card on the fly at the POS rather than having to dive into the settings to do it.

iOS App Store changes have been detailed over the past week, but I’m not convinced that enough is being done. Searches are not a complete answer for discovering apps, because you don’t always know what you’re looking for by name. Searching by category can be a lost cause, as the 1.5 million apps are separated by just 24 categories. That’s only 62,500 apps per category to scroll through to find what you want.

Mac App Store is lonely and needs a sandwich.

Software:

The rumored re-brand of Mac OS X to macOS has something else behind it. OS X has been a marketing tool for over a decade, and to push it aside might mark a huge turn Apple is making. Have they got something to replace UNIX? Or maybe the marketing people may be bored and are just changing things for the sake of change. I don’t know if we’ll get a complete answer as to what’s going on.

I do know in my bones that Apple wants to make their own processors for the Mac. And that may necessitate making a new version of the Mac OS.

As for the nitty-gritty of Mac OS X features, Apple seems to just work from a big top hat full of slips of paper to figure out what to do next. Last year was a new system font, Safari pinned sites, a notifications panel and yet another way to control your desktop windows. None of that was exactly an in-demand necessity nor a sea-change.

What I’d like to see is a simplification of the desktop to eliminate obscure gestures and replace them with on-screen cues. I’m getting fed up with making the wrong motion with a finger and then winding up on a different desktop or seeing the window I’m working on shrinking down to micro-size as I’m trying to get things done.

Siri on the Mac? Sure, why not. It’s probably an improvement, but usually I’m already at my Mac, with my hands at the keyboard. A voice interface doesn’t save a whole lot of time, in the end. I think it’s more of a “gee whiz” feature than a useful one.

And if I call out “Hey Siri,” does my mac, my two iPads and my iPhone all respond? It would be nice if my devices kind of figured out which one was in charge and I only got a response from one of them.

iTunes just got a nice UI re-think, but it was not a complete job, and we may hear what the long-term plan is for it at WWDC.

Please, for the love of God, update iWork back to usable status. Either that or just tell us that you’re ditching it for Office. It would be nice to know either way.

iOS I still don’t like the control panel feature, as I think this becomes the junk drawer of the OS, and I’d like to have a cleaner solution. Putting the navigation buttons at the top of the screen for the larger phones is still a problem as well. On iPads, especially the 12”, the interface needs to be a little more dynamic to feel more native to the large screen size. The icons on the launcher are ridiculously spaced out, for instance, but you could also improve the stock apps like Music which have vast areas of white space with tiny, tiny icons.

There’s still a need for inter-app data sharing on iOS and I’d really love to see a more robust copy-paste interface. It’d be nice to drag-and-drop between split-screen apps, too.

watchOS is wide open for change. The current tap-firm press-scroll-winding interface is bonkers. I still don’t know how you get to the launcher screen. It’s bad enough that any change to the interface is probably going to be a good one. The thing to keep an eye open for at WWDC is a renewed emphasis on medical device support. I think that the last stand of the Watch will be as a medical device hub, with new Apple-designed bio-monitoring devices.

Messages needs a push beyond it’s current features. I think it needs to get friendlier with it’s casual users, with fun features like Snapchat’s video filters and LINE’s stickers, but also move into group collaboration like Slack. Messages could go to Android, sure, and expanding the user base is great, but it may be more important to stop losing your existing users.

Lastly, this is a developer’s conference, so I also expect yet another version of Xcode that will deliver some feature only developers would even be able to understand. Last year, I said that I’d like to see a more prosumer-focused programming solution rather than just going after the veteran hardcore coders. It still stands.

apple

Event Noir

21 March 16

(Sits down at the counter, removes fedora, places it to the side and grabs the menu.) Hey there, Myrtle. I’m hungry enough to steal the dog’s dinner. What’s the special today?

(Takes pencil out of beehive hair and places it on order pad, ready to go. Chews gum with an open mouth.) Hey handsome! A kinda-new 4.5-inch iPhone, a kinda-new 9.7 inch iPad “pro” and Apple Watch updates!

(Puts fedora back on and hands menu back.) Good chewing the fat with you, Myrtle!

You’re a panic and a half. I’m just tellin’ ya what we got. Tell you what, just because I like ya — Updates on China!

(Heads to exit) Gonna miss my cross-town train!

We also have OS betas, and if you’re real nice, maybe even you can get me to talk about the Department of Justice!

(Turns around with on hand on the door.) You still ain’t playin’ my tune, gorgeous.

(Arms akimbo, a frown on her face) Well, I guess we can talk about the new campus. That’s excitin’. People love the new campus.

I’ll read about it in the papers. What about all that headphone hoi-polloi?

Hey, we’re 86’n rid of that good-fer-nothin’ headphone jack once and for all. Pretty clever to do it now instead of waiting until September, huh?

I high-tailed it to Frisco for this?

Hey, nothin’ here tightens my wig, either, hot stuff. We’re just tryin’ to keep the stock up, kapiche? Now take a seat and eat what we feed ya.


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