Sep 10 2010

The Future of Apple TV

Hard core techies have been able to stream online content to their televisions for years! Even as far back as 4-5 years ago you could have streamed content through XBox and manage it through Media Center. I know some several folks that are using a general purpose Mac Mini connected to a TV to streamline video podcasts and movies purchased on iTunes. The smart TV will be big in the next several years, especially since all the major technology players are heavily investing in it. Google recently announce Google TV, Yahoo! has been working for years on enhancing television viewing experience with TV widgets.

You can find internet ready connected televisions from your favorite brands at retailers like Costco and content delivery companies are partnering with anyone they can to provide on demand streaming of video content. Netflix is going through a metamorphosis process where it knowns it’s business of sending out DVDs in little red envelopes is starting to shrink ad it has partnered up with console maker Nintendo and Microsoft to provide movies and shoes on demand.

Apple wants to do to the movie and television business what it did to music, control it from top to bottom. Apple came to dominate the online music sale by a two prong approach, through iTunes music store and iPod music player. To move into a delivering movies and television shows online it needs to develop a similar approach. Apple needs both the online retail side and the television set-top box. With a mix of hardware and software, Apple can lock down to platform and lock out out players like it has in App Store/iPhone mobile environment and the iTunes/iPod music space. If Apple can get into your living room by making the easiest possible device that can stream music and movies and apps to your television it can push a lot of product.

Apple has a track record of making seamless products in terms of industrial design and user experience. This is their strength, and compared to other products in the market Apple TV will be a more attractive choice, especially for those that don’t want to read forums all day to make things work together. The only forceable set back is that people are really interested in another set-top box! Most households already have a game console, cable box, blu-ray player, and what not connected to their television set. The future of Apple TV is to make the television with the necessary hardware and software built in to connect with with it’s iTunes store. Apple has plenty of experience making hardware, it currently makes a beautiful 27-inch iMac. I could see Apple easily adding a 32-inch and 40-inch to their product line. Apple won’t just make another television, it won’t be a Vizio. I could see an Apple branded television set, maybe an iMac HDTV, with built in app support, touch enabled, online streaming, and more.

The future of the Apple TV is not as a set-top box, it’s the as a iMac HDTV! In addition to touch, it would need a new revolutionary user interface, per se gesture base a la Minority Report. This is why I’m getting an Apple TV, not because of what I can do now, but what it will be in a few years out.

Sep 3 2010

Apple Ping Is Not a Social Network Site

When it comes to Apple you have two camps, the fanatical Apple fanboys and the Apple haters. The divide in between these two camps is wider than the digital divide and when it comes to real points both sides usually get them wrong. Since Apple announced iTunes 10 and its social commerce component Ping, I’ve seen this debate flare up again with new FUD and fodder. The first misconception between Apple fanboys and haters alike is that Ping is another social networking site. Ping is very much social, but it is not a networking or a site. Ping is a social commerce component integrated into iTunes via the iTunes desktop application and the iOS iTunes app available for the iPhone and iPad. Ping is a game changer, just like the Apple App Store was before that, and the iTunes before that, and the iPod before that. Ping is a game changer and tech pundits and press are trying to make it out with old rules from previous games/products, that’s their first fallacy. It is clear that one will use Ping to contact an old high school buddy or stalk an ex, like they would on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace. Ping is all about social commerce, not social networking.

Unlike Facebook, that is forced to make money by extorting advertiser to buy ads to their own Facebook Pages, or forcing application developers in using their Facebook currency that is as worthless as a $10 billion Zimbabwe bill, Apple Ping is not about connecting you to friends and family and it sure doesn’t care about your social graph, it care about your consumption graph. Ping won’t compete for users with other social networking sites at the same level that Facebook does with Google Buzz or MySpace. For the most part, social networking sites like Facebook aim to be nothing more than a time sink, and they have grown in large part by social games oblige users to poke and send virtual lasagna to each other. Ping complements the users iTunes experience when they are already on iTunes looking for new music. This is evidently clear especially when you look at how social networking sites like Facebook uses numbers to describe their growth. Facebook describes their growth by counting the number of users that were active in a given month and trying to track the average number of hours a user is on Facebook. Apple tracks its growth by the number of products it has sold. Facebook is designed to simply waste peoples time and have them click on clicks, and Apple designs products that appeal to users.

I want to be clear about the following fact, especially since it is what most Apple haters get wrong. Apple does not need to be the marker leader to make the most money!!! Even though Apple has seen a growth in its market share in laptops, for example, it still has a small slice. But with double digit margins, it means it can sell less product and still make more money than commoditized competitors like Dell or HP. Apple has played this card well before, for example it is choosing a similar approach in the mobile space. It would rather have a small market share, and simply have a better profit margin and more control over its products. Unlike Facebook, Ping doesn’t need market share to be profitable. For example, Facebook requires millions of impressions to make a buck or two on ads.

In its current release, Ping reminds me a lot more to the first generation iPod than the iPod Touch. Currently, Ping feels clunky, is sparely populated, doesn’t have enough bands listed, has a ton of spam, doesn’t support music or apps, etc. At this stage, Ping is still lacking many features to make it comparable to what we expect from a social networking site. For example, when it was released numbers where not formatted with a comma for values larger than a thousand. This issue was fixed within a day of release. I would also like more personalization of my profile page, the ability to add my homepage URL, my other social networking sites, etc. Basically Ping needs a lot more polish, but I’ve heard that Steve Jobs has done that once or twice before for a new revolutionary product line.