Apple

Content is software by Dan Weingrod

Towards the end of Walter Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs, he quotes Bill Gates telling Jobs that, “I used to believe that the open, horizontal model would prevail, but you proved that the integrated vertical model could also be great”. The integrated model is, of course, the model of tight hardware and software integration that almost killed Apple, but ultimately has transformed it into not only the most influential, if not most popular, mobile hardware provider as well as suddenly becoming the top driver of business PC sales.

But there’s another player in the world of hardware software integration that has just as keen an understanding of how to make it work, and that’s Amazon.  Admittedly this hardware software integration is hard to see at first. Amazon’s hardware gets some pretty mehsome reviews, and on the software side as Walter Mossberg says: “like its predecessor, the new Fire buries Android, demoting it to mere plumbing”. (And yes, I know I’m ignoring the software achievement of AWS here, but I’ll get there in a moment).

To understand where Amazon is succeeding in integration you need to substitute the word “software” with the word “content”. Instead of classic hardware software integration Amazon’s real success has been with integrating content with a hardware and delivery ecosystem. Its something that they have positioned themselves to do much more effectively, and creatively, than any of the other walled garden ecosystems out there.

In a way, it’s a throwback to how the big consumer electronic companies like Sony moved to purchase movie studios in the 1980’s. For these consumer electronic players content WAS software. It’s what made their hardware work, gave it added value and provided an opportunity for vertical integration. That they never really succeeded at it is a testament to how hard it is to actually take the messy world of content and integrated it into specific hardware applications.

One would have thought that Apple would have been able to do a good job of this, especially considering Jobs’ successes at Pixar, but it seems that they also end up fumbling. While Apple initially made content integration work with the iTunes store, it’s hardly advanced the concept in any significant way since that time. ITunes remains a clunky piece of forced software and all attempts to “modernize” it, such as the late, unlamented Ping, just feel like someone trying to keep up with the latest trends. For me, the most egregious example of Apple’s lack of understanding of content was when Apple had to suddenly confront the issue of adult content with the launch of the iPad. Jobs’ rant about “freedom from porn” displayed a serious lack of understanding of how the messy parts of content, like freedom of speech, just don’t behave like software and will never conform to a strict code or elegant integration.

Amazon, on the other hand, has always had a better understanding of the role of content. Obviously, in part because it’s where they began and is ingrained in their DNA. And while they’ve had their own serious issues with adult content, overall they display a publisher’s understanding that when content becomes your software, it can’t be bound by rules that hardware might impose on it, especially when consumers are paying for it. So while it may get messy, this long experience why for Amazon, device and software integration may be a little less important than the content/software that they deliver.

What this has led to is some very creative approaches to looking at how content can better integrate with the new hardware/software ecosystems. For example, one of the most impressive announcements in the last week’s Kindle launch was the announcement of Kindle Serials, a whole new installment based publication platform, which extends the groundbreaking idea of Kindle Singles. In fact, Amazon has generally been in front in breaking new ground for long form writing and content. With this type of thinking, Amazon is really placing much of its creative and design strength around the area of content creation. By creating and integrating new content formats they are cementing the role and adoption of their so-so tablets and software.

Another part of this integration is what I’d call content logistics, and this is the part where AWS comes in. For Amazon, it’s always been clear that the device and its software are less important than the logistical backbone that gets the all-important content to the user. When I order an eBook on Amazon I can choose to send it to my Kindle, my iPad or read it on screen. The specific qualities of the device ecosystem we are using less important to Amazon than the infrastructure to get the content to the user. As Bezos said during the Kindle launch, “People don’t want gadgets any more; they want services, and the Kindle Fire is a service”. In other words, the service that integrates new forms of delivering content in new formats could be more valuable to users than the elegant integrated vertical model that they are receiving it on.

 

 

 

 

Macs I Have Known by Dan Weingrod

Up until a few years ago I had a big, garish yellow squarish carrying case that we kept in our attic. I must have gotten it from someone in the late 80’s. Heavily padded around the insides, it was a Mac bag that would help you make an early Mac, (pre-SE I think), a portable computer. We all laughed at that idea at the time, even though the bag included a brochure with photos of handsome executives lugging this bag around with smiles on their faces. It was never quite a laptop although the aspiration was always there.

The first real Apple computer was a Mac IIx. With a laser printer and monitor it cost my first business around $20,000. I still manage to impress a few people in the “can you believe how much my first computer cost” discussions when I mention this. I remember jumping on it the moment we set it up and getting into my first, pre-internet, timeless reverie of playing, gaming and worrying about how to turn it off, only ended by realizing that suddenly it was 11 PM. I’d been on the computer for 5 hours and hadn’t really done anything. Some things never change.

I also remember the instruction manual, which for all of its brilliance and user friendliness pointed out that if we had a problem we couldn’t figure out we should “ask other Mac users if they’d experienced the same thing”. The idea that maybe somehow we could figure it together smacked of some sort of corporate irresponsibility to me then, but is almost second nature today.

Our shop was a Mac shop and in a bizarre twist I became the de facto network administrator. AppleTalk was so simple and intuitive at the time that it was second nature to dive right in, figure out the problem and look real smart in front of whomever I’d just solved the problem for. It was pretty much the same for everything within that early Mac ecosystem. It was simple and approachable. It made me into a techie without even trying.

At the same time, early 90’s, we couldn’t afford a new home computer so we bought an Apple IIe for next to nothing through my father-in-law. I remember buying floppy disks via mail order and reading the prophetic advice in the user manual that someday computers would include something called a hard drive which might possibly, some day, hold as much as 5 Megabytes of information!!

I discovered the Web and moved to PC’s at the same time. PC’s weren’t my choice, it was mandated by my jobs. Windows 3.1 shocked me with its DOS prompts, but I got used to it. But Mac’s were for the creatives now; I was working more with words, spreadsheets and PowerPoint (though I did really miss Persuasion). At the same time I found that my facility with computers stayed and grew mainly because of the fact that my Mac experience was like my first language. Macs created the syntax and the grammar that informed my computing experience. I judged everything else based on that experience and that experience made everything else more readily approachable.

One of the first things I did after leaving my job was go to the Apple store and buy a new MacBook Pro. I’d been on PC’s for over 15 years and it seemed to me that this would be a perfect, symbolic break from the world that I was leaving into a world where I would be back to defining my own path. There were other reasons too. I was already totally invested in other parts of the Apple world: iPhone, iPad and even a Nano on a watchband. Using it for the first time and hearing the clunky startup bong felt like a welcome back. As I’ve used it more and more I’ve found plenty of reasons to fall in love again. I happen to love the OSX swipes, the plug and play ease is still there, and the design keeps delighting me. At the same time I’m disappointed in the Apple closed system mentality, especially around images, and I just can’t get around under the hood like I used to.

Macs were my introduction to the world of computing, but more to the idea that I could extend my mind, my fingers and eyes into possibilities I hadn’t really imagined. In a way the Web was just a natural extension of that experience. Macs gave me the initial boost and head start into this world. They weren’t perfect. They were high priced, elitist and headstrong, just like one of their inventors. At the same time their elegance, delight, simplicity and hardheaded persistence of vision, just like their founder, has been grateful company for me.

First Thoughts on the iPad by Dan Weingrod

It's not that I'm underwhelmed, it's more that I think that the iPhone was a more momentous launch and will ultimately have more historical resonance. Don't get me wrong, I'm drooling for the iPad. The technology looks solid and the size seems great, especially for some of the eyestrain apps I've been using on my iPhone. The price point is far more forgiving than I had ever anticipated, but the truth is that all the hype made the launch somewhat anti-climatic and got me thinking about historical implications.

There are a lot of things I love about Apple, but what I've loved the most is their ability to create disruptive prodcuts that wed brilliant product design with killer user interface. iPod and iTunes achieved this to a degree, but this was more about legitimizing and streamlining what people had been doing for years on Napster and LimeWire. iPhone was more of a paradigm shift. While it took a fair amount of its design approach from the iPod, it's biggest impact was to yank the mobile phone out of the Telcos' grasp and put it into the hands of end users. Post iPhone the Telcos' job is now about providing bandwidth instead of software or sleazy pricing traps. And even that remains a challenge for them. More importantly the iPhone moved hardware and software innovation into the hands of developers and end users with Apps and the App store.

The iPad, at first glance, doesn't feel like the same kind of event for me. True,It could be that I'm regretting forking over the bucks for a Kindle a year ago, but there's something about the Kindle that also feels right and gamechanging in the way the iPad does not.

I haven't read any of the post launch spin, so I may change my mind by tomorrow, but for now I think I'll wait for Version 2.