Category Archives: Mobile

From Stone Age to Phone Age

It’s high school graduation season. I’m at that age where friends, family, and colleagues are celebrating. There’s a timelessness to graduations. At every ceremony I’m reminded of my graduation. Look in the face of any kid in cap and gown and you’ll see your friends’ faces from years ago. But look down a few inches and there’s something new – the phone. It’s the all-consuming device. Kids don’t have conversations any more. They simply get together and use their phones in the same physical location.

The data streams they create and process are simply amazing. Thousands of text messages and hundreds of images per month, and perhaps dozens of videos. Like our grandparents with their Polaroid cameras, most of the images receive no further processing – point, shoot, share. No Photoshop, no iMovie. Just send. And this is where it gets interesting because now we see the rise of apps such as Hipstamatic. Many have mused that just as the cameras in our phones became capable of producing decent images, a generation of tools specializing in degrading those images emerges. Seems crazy.

Hipstamatic allowed me to set the eery mood of this swamp in the field rather than having to load it on my Mac and tweak it in Photoshop.

As a software designer for today’s content creators and an instructor to the next next generation of creators, I look at it differently. There are now creative tools that allow the artist to look at an image and decide the look to apply at the moment of capture. It’s understood that the Hipstamatic or Instagram shooter has forfeited access to a raw file to process in Photoshop, but that’s not much of a forfeiture when the image was unlikely to be processed anyway.

These tools add a degree of creativity back into the photographic process that was lost in the era of one button to Facebook simplicity. Personally, I’m enjoying these gimmicky tools, and I’m finding they often do a pretty damn good job helping me realize my vision.

 

The Web isn’t dead, browsers just suck

I spent a good part of the weekend reading up on Chris “Long Tail” Anderson‘s obituary for openness, Wired Magazine’s  The Web is Dead. The article and its sidebars are a pretty dense read, but well worth it. Once again Anderson has done what he does best. He’s garnered a lot of attention making an apparently shocking claim that’s really not that shocking at all. “The Web is Dead” is a far better attention grabber than his actual thesis that Web browsers just plain suck on mobile devices.

Specialized devices, with hardware limits (screen size, lack of mouse/keyboard, etc) require specialized apps. They also tend to come with billing relationships built-in, so this is an opportunity to reset assumptions about what consumers will or will not pay for. No surprise that content producers are flocking to apps, a greenfield opportunity to find a more sustainable model for digital content.

The above is an Anderson quote from what I found to be the most interesting part of the multi-article feature, the robust debate among Anderson, Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle. It sums up the two key issues quite nicely. The browser-based Internet is challenged by the poor usability of the browser interface on mobile devices, and large content providers have failed to develop a sustainable business model for delivering high quality content over the Web.

Anderson believes the open Web is in peril because media giants like his magazine’s publisher have been losing money on it. Citing the railroads, telcos, and electric utilities of the 19th and 20th centuries as examples, standardization and lower barriers to entry eventually lead to massive consolidation because no one makes money in hyper-competitive environments. These markets (like most) evolve towards oligopoly. Anderson also points out that apps on mobile phones solve a lot of business problems — the networks are closed and provide gatekeepers, customers are used to paying for content on closed networks, and the billing mechanisms are in place to make small payments feasible.

Though touched on at times, the Wired articles fail to pay enough attention to Google’s role in this world. For the most part, Anderson and his colleagues relegate Google to Web company status. And that is a significant flaw in their hypotheses. Google is a mobile player. It might not own the networks, but it controls the fastest growing mobile platform in Android. Google’s more laissez faire approach to app developers promises a more open mobile world. Customers will demand Android remains open. (The various authors also pay scant attention to HTML 5′s potential.)

Whatever flaws exist in Anderson’s argument do not detract from the value of his main point. The threat to the open Web is less about net neutrality than big media consolidation. Furthermore, Steve Lohr carried the banner of evolution over revolution quite well yesterday’s New York Times piece, Now Playing: Night of the Living Tech.

Yet evolution — not extinction — has always been the primary rule of media ecology. New media predators rise up, but other media species typically adapt rather than perish. That is the message of both history and leading media theorists, like Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman. Television, for example, was seen as a threat to radio and movies, though both evolved and survived.

The open Web will survive. Advertising will survive. Apps might just be the fad – if an HTML 5 site on an Android device can deliver the app experience without the middleman, meet the new Web, same as the old Web.

What does number one really mean?

Earlier this week, Apple’s market capitalization topped Microsoft’s. From a bragging rights point of view it just doesn’t get any better than this for Steve Jobs and Apple. Even the staid gray lady, the New York Times laid it on thick.

This changing of the guard caps one of the most stunning turnarounds in business history for Apple, which had been given up for dead only a decade earlier, and its co-founder and visionary chief executive, Steven P. Jobs.

Of course, market capitalization represents Wall Street’s take on which company is more valuable. And it can be argued that neither company is worth nearly $220 billion. Remember the free market is only accurate over the long haul. The less accurate it is over time, the longer the long haul gets as defined by the experts. It’s the closest we have come as a society to perfecting the perpetual motion machine. The less accurate analysts and forecasters are, the more they are able to convince us of their importance. But I digress and would be remiss if I failed to note that the contrarians have come out in droves. A sampling from MarketWatch:

But how many times in a row can Apple pull yet another rabbit out of its hat? When a company is riding a wave of investor euphoria, its stock price already reflects the expectation of many more rabbits. Almost by definition, any unexpected developments from such companies will be bad news.

Stock talk is of virtually no interest to me. I could claim the high road as an adherent of the Random Walk hypothesis, but I’m not. Call me a proponent of the Random Mugging theory – walk down Wall Street enough times, and some punk out of Wharton will find a way into your wallet.

The last time Apple was number one

At the dawn of the personal computer era, Apple was the undisputed leader. IBM wasn’t much of a player but wanted in. IBM embraced MS-DOS and its more open ecosystem. Apple kept its platform mostly closed, and the rest is history.

Pretty much the same thing is happening now in the mobile space. Apple’s keeping its iPhone platform closed. Google’s entered the space with its open Android platform. I’m not deaf to the argument that times have changed. In an age of virus and malware attacks, privacy threats, and rampant generalized paranoia, the market may very well reward a closed and apparently safer platform. Steve Job’s bizarre promise of “freedom from porn” might play well in Peoria, assuming one can get an AT&T signal in Peoria. But we can take it a step further and put forth the proposition that the iPhone also gives us freedom from Verizon, Sprint, and T-mobile.

It really does look like 30 years ago all over again, but looks are deceiving. Only a fool underestimates Steve Job’s adaptability. Do not forget that the man who made it job #1 to kill the Newton upon his return to Apple is the man who brought us the iPad.

Excuse me if I opt not to place a wager on this race.