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The Apple Spring Forward (aka Apple Watch launch) Event Post

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I started this post a few hours after watching Tim Cook and company launch a number of product revisions. The most anticipated of which was the Apple Watch. I was in full Post Traumatic Apple Event Disorder mode. I have collated some of my thoughts about the event below and tried to order them into some sort of cogent narrative.
Apple TV connections

The reduction of cost in Apple TV hardware was an interesting move. Apple has decided to go for market share rather than margin with the device and the incumbent HBO Now service might be just the catalyst to drive adoption. That Apple is leading with a HBO streaming service tends to imply that Apple has likely given up on trying to build its own ‘cable channel over IP’ offering. It does raise another interesting question about how other studios will want to handle their content in iTunes or via a an app similar to BBC iPlayer. Apple is passing on to consumers the cost benefits of using the older silicon design that powers the Apple TV. It also means that the Apple TV is the least powerful computer in Apple’s product range – including phones and tablets. The AppleTV is an egalitarian device rather a luxury brand product and a vote against widespread 4K adoption; unless the price discount is making room for a premium 4K capable device at a later date?

Social Enterprise

Apple’s moves at becoming a ‘social enterprise’ were interesting. For an organisation so polished at presenting itself to the outside world, the ResearchKit announcement and the case study with Christy Turlington felt awkward.  ResearchKit was delivered in a flat manner and didn’t explain how the product fitted in with Apple’s position on user privacy. Turlington’s appearance was like a particularly sycophantic Charlie Rose interview. There was a lot to talk about without having to ‘over-reach’ for celebrity endorsement.

Apple needs to work harder picking the spokespeople to burnish its reputation, the nature of the projects and the deliver to be less cringeworthy. The very nature of the product and design story means that Apple already has a certain amount of implicit moral imperative and the company should be more in-tune with that.
Apple Watch app
Apple Watch

I am deeply conflicted by a lot of the discussions around the Apple Watch, for a number reasons:

I haven’t used an Apple Watch, but watching others use it in the demos made me think that it is fiddly and dare-I-say-it: hard to use. It could be un-Apple in nature

Scott Galloway point to the Apple Watch and describe Apple as having transitioned to a luxury brand. The Edition watch maybe a luxury product, but not all of the Apple product range are luxurious – the AppleTV at a new price point of $69 implies ubiquity. This maybe a specific choice to get scale for the media content that other luxury Apple devices need to function. Just in the same way that quality newspapers couldn’t survive solely on sales to luxury consumers. What does this mean for those Apple customers who use the the devices as professional or creative tools?

Much of the debate revolves around what luxury consumers want by people who can’t afford to buy the Edition version of the watch. Do the kind of luxury shoppers who wouldn’t care about a $13,000+ watch have a smartphone, or a smart person to organise their lives? An astute reader of Popbitch will soon realise that the celebrity accessory to have is a personal assistant, not a bejeweled Vertu. Secondly, not being available is a luxury as privacy and time are the preserve of the reach in an always-on world

Many of the more positive predictions depend on the Chinese luxury market. The luxury market is changing in China. Luxury goods are used as tools in China; if you look successful, you are more likely to be successful in a culture that relies on high-touch personal relationships to facilitate business. However, consumers are becoming more sophisticated and moving away from at least some of the gaudier products. The Middle East may be a more opportune market for Apple.

A second use case in the Chinese luxury market is that of a compact storage of value for capital flight or making a payment. The culture of payments for favours is being clamped down on my the Xi administration which has been made visible by a 20%+ drop in luxury watch sales. I don’t know the way plutocrats would likely jump on the gold Apple Watch.

‘Apple Watch is just an iPhone remote control‘ Craig Johnson senior analyst at Piper Jaffray – heard on Bloomberg TV. ‘Luxury watches are a store of wealth, an Apple Watch isn’t‘. Which is probably true for many people on Wall Street, but may not true for the truly rich.

Apple MacBook

The MacBook carried the biggest dissonance for me. For long time Apple customers, MacBook means entry level laptop. They used to come white polycarbonate shells that matched the iMac G4 and Apple eMac. Instead the MacBook seems to reflect status:

  • A price point above the MacBook Air, but less powerful and less adaptable
  • Good battery life, but underpowered for many tasks
  • Three finishes including a gold colour that screams status in the iPhone line
  • A single port which made many of geek friends freak out with anger. The morning after one of my friends posted on Facebook about the single port: I am still angry. I use a Retina MacBook Pro at work and suffer from a lack of ports for external drives (including an optical drive), Ethernet, a secondary display and a card reader for multimedia work. The MacBook has a single port which replaces the MagSafe with a USB connection. For business users or creatives the machine is gloriously impractical and destroys their investment in things like the Apple Cinema display. I currently an Apple TV and have tried to screen-cast over Wi-Fi to it for presentations, it doesn’t like video at all. When I travel I usually present, for business users who travel regularly like me the MacBook feels like a pig-in-a-poke. Is the MacBook then decided to be a luxury consumer device?

The trackpad which is being rolled out across other Apple laptop models looked attractive to me. The next generation of keyboard seems to be less convincing. I suspect its attractiveness will be inversely proportional to your touch typing speed due to the lack of haptic feedback from shorter key travel.  Despite the price point difference, I suspect that the MacBook is actually designed to cannibalise some Apple iPad sales as an executive toy – I don’t know whether it will.

More information
Jargon Watch: Post Traumatic Apple Event Disorder
On Smart Watches, I’ve Decided To Take The Plunge
The Watch Post
Size Zero Design | 厌食症设计
Questions I Have About Apple’s Business | Apple 业务挑战
CES Trends
Waking from an Apple Watch hangover « Observatory
New Apple Stuff and You | The Wirecutter

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MWC 2015 from the Sidelines: Day Two

Reading Time: 2 minutes

As the MWC 2015 hype around consumer product launches died down, we’ve seen a decline in overall online chatter around MWC with a drop from about 180,000 mentions on the Monday to approximately 110,000 mentions on Tuesday. As I write this post, there is not one single MWC-related story on the Techmeme news aggregator which acts as a kind of de-facto geek zeitgeist.

Netizens would appear to have a ‘magpie’ mentality, being attracted to shiny trinkets.  The closest we saw to glitz was prototype technologies such as the Fujitsu smartphone which had a built retina scanning function to out-tech Apple’s finger print scanner. Fujitsu has a history of biometric innovation having brought to market an ATM machine which read the vein patterns in your palm a few years ago. Whilst interesting, these technology showcases have more than a hint of therapyware about them as companies prototype in public to try and understand what is likely to be a viable future offering.

The decline online discussion belied the variety of topics that were being announced at the show.

We saw a surge in interest in the ‘Internet of Things’; not only in terms of product offerings but discussing the issues that IoT is likely to usher including security and a forthcoming bottleneck in cellular backhaul capacity as demand increases.

Fifth generation (5G) mobile services are likely to be an enabler for the ‘Internet of Things’, and carriers have managed to pull together to define what they want from 5G. The challenge the industry faces is scaling the technical hurdles to deliver 5G infrastructure technology, in the five years or so that the industry has envisioned it will happen in.

Companies are already focused on putting the business model for 5G in place whilst 4G services are still evolving. One example was Japanese electronics firm Panasonic who announced an LTE-based MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) that would be aimed at connecting machine-to-machine communications.

More information
Scan your iris to unlock your phone in Fujitsu’s eye-opening concept (hands on) | CNet
5 Key Security Tools From Mobile World Congress | CBR Online

MWC15: Panasonic becomes a MVNO | TelecomsTech
MWC: Future Heartbleed and Shellshock bugs will plague IoT devices, warns Canonical | V3

Europe pulls together a plan for 5G – carved mostly from dreams | Rethink Wireless
MWC: 5G essential for connected world, says Huawei | Global Telecoms Business (paywall)

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MWC 2015 from the Sidelines: Day One

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In covering MWC 2015 yesterday I talked about the pre-event Sunday consumer product launches. These launches continued into Monday with Microsoft revealing more about Windows 10 alongside some mid-range smartphones. Sony’s press event was notable for both its style and content. Sony took a lower key approach to the show than in previous years. It hinted in interviews that this was part of a wider strategy by the company to shift Sony’s launch calendar, from being around the latest processor updates, to leading with consumer experience improvements.
mwc day 1
Looking at the online conversation around MWC on Monday, it unsurprisingly dominated by consumer devices. In particular hardware specifications of the devices, which shows just how much of a mountain Sony will have to climb in trying to change the event narrative away from device ‘speeds and feeds’.

Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote at the event looked to downplay the role of rolling web access out in the developing world. In the reality his keynote was on the fault line of a chasm between telecoms providers and internet (or ‘over-the-top web’ to use Deutsche Telekom’s parlance) companies such as Google and Facebook.

Messaging stripping away traffic from SMS, Project Loon and have all been factors of concern. Google’s announcement that it planned to become a wireless carrier through a global set of MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) agreements hasn’t helped either. César Alierto, chief executive officer of Telefonica talked of moving the debate from net neutrality to a wider digital neutrality in order to create a level playing field for both carriers and internet companies.

This divide between carriers and internet companies has been characterised by Bloomberg as part of a larger US/European digital divide, with large US companies having a greater market capital that they can use to buy up European rivals and push through developments in the face of carrier resistance.

Another gap between the US and Europe was the continued importance of digital privacy at the show. Silent Circle rolled out a more polished version of the GeeksPhone-based Blackphone and a tablet companion. Finnish security company F-Secure promoted its Freedome VPN as a way of dealing with PRISM-style internet data collection.  Finnish mobile operating system company Jolla announced SailfishSecure in association with SSH Communications Security.

Digital privacy wasn’t only a business opportunity for gadget makers, but also of concern to telco CEOs, who where concerned that a lack of consumer confidence in privacy would adversely affect business. Vodafone, Telenor, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica all called for policy makers to provide stronger safeguards for citizens data privacy and digital security. This wasn’t solely altruistic as carriers saw a potential role to play in helping consumers securely manage their digital identity. How realistic that might be after the Gemalto data breach remains to be seen.

Finally, the news that caused most confusion in Racepoint’s European HQ was that Ford showcase prototype MoDe electric bikes at their MWC press conference – I know we don’t get it either.

More information
Rory Cellan-Jones interviews Sony on whether it should walk away from mobile (BBC)
Why Sony didn’t announce the Xperia Z4 smartphone at MWC | The Inquirer
MWC 2015: Google Announces Wireless Carrier Plans By Becoming A ‘Mobile Virtual Network Operator’ | TechTimes
Telcos Demand ‘Digital Neutrality’ | EETimes
Zuckerberg in Barcelona highlights widening US-Europe gap | Bloomberg
Security and Microsoft take center stage as Mobile World Congress 2015 opens | CNet
Telco CEOs see urgent need for privacy, data security | TotalTelecom
Mikko Hypponen To Talk Privacy At The Mobile World Congress | F-secure
Ford unveils ‘MoDe’ electric bike prototypes at MWC 2015 | CNet