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ATPM 17.05
May 2011


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by Wes Meltzer,

Remember the Netbook? Oh, Yeah…

Why Acer Failed at Upending the PC Market

An insight from Horace Dediu that I haven’t read anywhere else: “You could not use a netbook in places or at times when you did not use any other laptop.” He analyzes Acer’s failure to overtake the PC market, and netbooks (cheap, small, lightweight laptops) were the centerpiece of their campaign. Unfortunately, all a netbook is is a small, underpowered laptop, not a new paradigm, and so as the prices for conventional laptops continued to drop unabated, the whole category lost its steam. Apple, at the same time, did something that Acer (who didn’t pursue new software) couldn’t do in introducing the iPhone and iPad: they reinvented the way people interact with computers. That’s why Acer is in such hot water, and Apple is sitting pretty.

Woz: Tablet Is for “Normal People”

Worth note: Woz, the engineer of legend, said at Storage Networking World (ha!) that the iPad was “for the normal people in the world.” He’s astute enough that he sees the connection to the Newton, and even earlier, to some of the projects in the Jobs era. And he’s not quite the pie-in-the-sky idealist that Jef Raskin is; no Humane Environment stuff. Woz lives in the here and now.

Josh Topolsky Reviews the BlackBerry PlayBook

Some of the guys at Engadget left recently to start a fantastic new blog, called This is my next, so here I am to offer you Josh Topolsky’s excellent review of the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. (That’s a lot of CamelCase.) He says that the device is surprisingly fantastic, including its new QNX OS. Even the Flash support is good, something that I am both glad to hear (as someone who sometimes develops in Flash) and sorry to hear (because for many things a non-Flash experience is superior). On the other hand, he points out that the cameras aren’t bad, but they’re also fixed-focus lenses. And the design is pretty utilitarian. He writes:

[I]t’s an incredibly sleek and stylish little tablet, solidly built and smartly unadorned… The second view, one taken by my good friend Chris Ziegler upon first seeing it up close, is that it looks something like a $99 photo frame you might find on the shelves of Walmart.

A 14-Year-Old’s View of the iPad: Only Does “Less” to Geeks

J-P Teti—a 14-year-old blogger; god, I remember what I was like at 14—wrote a fantastic post last month about why the iPad is such a success, and why most computer geeks don’t get it. He frames it in the context of a conversation he had with a classmate of his: she was going to get an iPad instead of a laptop, she said, because “it’s the same price and it does more.” The thing that J-P points out that more computer-savvy users (including you, dear reader, if you are reading this column) don’t understand that to most people, computers are significantly more complex than they need. They use their computers for Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. But all the raw power that people like us take for granted under the hood is like the V8 in my grandma’s 1987 Audi: unused capacity. He makes a very astute inference from this, that the iPad “is actually opening up technology to more people…Apple is encouraging regular people to explore and play around.”

Android: The Little Green Man Everywhere

PC World: Why Google Needs Android to Be Less Open

Tony Bradley of PC World makes a very astute point about Google and Android: the Android experience can be so fragmented for developers that a lot of them are probably throwing their hands up in exasperation. (He doesn’t cite it, but the item about Netflix I blogged a few months ago is a great example: Netflix says that thanks to a lack of platform-level DRM and the infinite realm of handset-maker’s customizations, they may eventually be able to support individual devices, but probably never “all Android devices” the way they support all iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch with iOS 3 or higher.) The fact that there are multiple, competing application stores, two branches of the OS, and ten thousand different possible hardware specs, is all working against Google and the Android ecosystem. He argues that Google needs Android to be less open (minimum spec requirements, universal App Store, one or two programming languages, locked down modifications to core OS components) to succeed in the long run.

Google Cracks Down on the Android Bazaar

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Google is cracking down on the Android ecosystem’s Wild West mentality. I think this is an interesting point: Google’s always been the Bazaar in Eric S. Raymond’s Cathedral and the Bazaar model, a counterpoint to Apple and Microsoft. But it seems that they’re realizing that, in order to improve the OS experience and the consistency of the brand, they’re going to have to limit the vendor customizations and user hacks, etc., in the ecosystem. Also, something I haven’t seen widely reported elsewhere, is that Google is trying to reject Verizon devices that use Microsoft’s Bing search instead of Google. That smells like antitrust to me...

Thought Exercise: Apple, Not Google, Delays OS Source Release

Not to bang on Google too much here, but Jim Dalrymple of Loop Insight tries an interesting thought exercise. Google recently announced that they were delaying the release of the source code to Honeycomb or making it available to phone makers, saying that they’d taken some “design tradeoffs” and “a shortcut” in order to get it done for tablets in time. Imagine what the shouting and hollering would be if this were Apple! Now, in fairness, Apple doesn’t have an open-source OS, so it’s hard to make a perfect analogy. But in general, Apple has learned to remain mum about such things, like the white iPhone 4 or iOS 4 for the iPad. If they’d said, “We took some shortcuts to get iOS 4 done for the iPhone 4, it won’t be ready for the iPad for a while yet,” there would be a great deal of chatter, let me tell you.

Google Puts the Asterisk in “Open”

Justin Williams of Second Gear takes a fun look at Google’s version of “open,” which I mentioned earlier. This is a fun one: as I will say to everyone who will listen, Android is not about open. It’s about selling ads. As soon as anything imperiled that, like bad press for Android or a bad user experience, Google was going to tighten the reins…and here they are.

Why Google “Opens” Android, but Not PageRank

Marco Arment hits the nail on the head regarding Google’s position on Android, in a much longer post on Facebook’s Open Compute project. He’s writing about Facebook making public their server infrastructure designs (at least to the best of my layman’s understanding), which, he argues, is a pretty good example of companies commoditizing things that are complementary to their primary business model, as a kind of loss leader. Hence IBM’s sizable contributions to the open source community, or Apple making WebKit open source. But, as Arment points out—and this is where the Google part comes in—companies never commoditize the part of their business model that pays the bills. So Android can be open; but search technology is kept just as close to the vest as Apple with their hardware. Google doesn’t care if they make money off Android, because to them it’s just another search and ad delivery platform.

So, in Spite of Android, What Makes the iPhone Different?

The App-Only Phone

Greg Cox takes a stab at answering the question, why is the iPhone unique in its app ecosystem? The biggest names in the app world have their feet in both camps, just as the Adobes and Microsofts do today, but most small firms don’t show any interest in Android. He argues that it’s because Apple puts the apps front and center, where Microsoft and Android fragment the experience; I would argue that in some ways that’s a consequence of the differences between the Mac OS X and Windows application ecosystems, too. There are tons of small firms that make their bread and butter selling software to Mac users with unusual or creative needs. Companies like Red Sweater or Realmac seem to scarcely exist in the Windows world. Warts and all, the iOS App Store is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition; if nothing else, the proportion of paid apps that sell well is a lot higher.

Time Warner, Bright House and Verizon Customers: Watch ESPN on Your iOS Device!

For those of us with Time Warner or Bright House cable or Verizon FiOS TV service, you can now watch ESPN on your iOS device thanks to the network’s WatchESPN application. And not just ESPN, but ESPN2, ESPN3 (formerly ESPN360), and ESPNU. I love this, and not just because it must surely be the first time ever that it’s been a positive rather than negative to be a Bright House customer. Now, you really can watch TV—as long as it’s ESPN—anywhere in the house.

Following Up: Why Do Android Apps Look Worse Than Their iOS Equivalents?

From the guys at Android Gripes—who are, it’s worth note, fans of Google but not of Android—a long list of examples where the Android app looks less polished, more geek-oriented, or just plain harder to use than the iOS equivalent. Why is that? Meebo is a fantastic example: would you want to use that? The iOS version is a little cartoony, but it also looks like it’s been art directed.

In Other Wireless News…

“Galápagos Syndrome”: Why the U.S. Wireless System Is So Backward

Horace Dediu, who has been on fire lately, takes a look at why it is that the US wireless market is such a mess. The short answer is that everything is incompatible with everything else: US regulators focused on the front end of consumer plans and choices, where European regulators focused on network incompatibility. The point I haven’t heard anyone make, besides Dediu here, is that American wireless coverage is so bad precisely because each company had to build its own network. Around the world, carrier roaming is quite common, and I have to imagine European carriers all have common-carriage agreements. In the US, it’s not even an option most of the time, except, e.g. T-Mobile’s roaming agreement with SunCom, before they bought them. So, as Dediu says, “Operators are therefore keen to lock customers in to post-paid plans to ensure cash flows that drive capital allocations.” Telefonica’s coverage was better in a small mountain village in Spain than AT&T’s in central Orlando.

How Hard Can a Mobile-OS Upgrade Be?

Horace Dediu asks what I think is a good question: how hard are mobile upgrades, really? Microsoft has been having an impossible time getting updates out, and there have been issues with hardware vendors not pushing out Android software updates. But, Dediu is saying, this is not just a question of technical difficulty: hardware vendors other than Apple don’t have a stake in keeping devices they’ve already sold up to date, and the carriers would rather wait for universal updates than support the one-off updates many devices require. Hence, stasis: many Android users can’t run newer versions of the OS, and Microsoft still doesn’t have a Windows Phone 7 update out.

Other Odds and Ends of the Month

Question of 2011: Smartphone Market 2011 = PC Market 1989?

Jon-Erik Storm takes a look at the furious debate over the latest Comscore market-share numbers showing Android in the lead. (Problem No. 1: they aren’t counting the iPad, 15 million-plus strong, because it’s not a phone.) Storm catches Fred Wilson and Henry Blodget making a couple of points that are somewhat confusing: Blodget claims the iPhone is “dead in the water” because its market share didn’t increase. (RIM lost market share! Can you be more dead?) But more interesting is the assumption that this is a zero-sum game: if Google wins, Apple loses. Neither Storm nor I am convinced this is true, although, as John Gruber pointed out in January, Apple’s prize for “losing” the PC wars is to be 2011’s most profitable computer manufacturer. But as far as the mobile space goes, it’s not at all clear that the market will stabilize on only one OS. Take the example of video game console platforms in 3Q 2010: Wii 49%, PlayStation 31%, and Xbox 20%. No one predicts doomsday for Microsoft.

Camino Looks to Switch To WebKit, Gecko No Longer Embeddable

The guys at Firefox are more or less ending the project that allowed the embedding of its Gecko component in other browsers…and it sounds like, at least in the Mac world, that means one more WebKit browser. I remember when Camino (formerly known as Chimera) was the Next Big Thing, especially compared to IE and OmniWeb. Firefox sucked in those early days, you have to remember. But then along came Safari and WebKit. I hope this doesn’t mean the end of the Camino project; I hope they can refactor the code to work with WebKit and keep moving forward. It’s an extremely innovative browser, and I think it has a future. So I guess this means it’s WebKit or bust for Mac users: only Firefox will still be using the Gecko engine, and Firefox’s XUL elements are pretty un-Mac-like. Safari of course, Chrome, OmniWeb, et al., are all WebKit-based. (And yes, I know about Opera, but they’re just not a major player on the Mac.)

A Guide to Going Paperless

I wrote about this a couple of months ago for ATPM, so I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one. Are you drowning in paper? Macworld had a fantastic article about what it takes to cut down on paper. A few are the easy, low-hanging fruit—get banks to stop mailing you statements, for instance—but when it comes time to buckle down and scan in new and old documents, I suggest you read this article to help you find your way.

Apple to Add “Do Not Track” Support to Safari

The FTC has asked advertisers to offer a better opt-out mechanism for consumers who don’t want to be tracked by advertising networks as they traverse the Web. (Imagine that!) The FTC is recommending a browser-based solution, and Mozilla suggested an HTTP header. Apple is getting on board with the solution, along with Microsoft, and will release something with Mac OS X Lion this fall. So that leaves Google out in the cold. I think that’s interesting, if unsurprising: unlike the other major browser vendors, who, respectively, sell the OS or support an open-source product with a foundation, Google makes their money from the very thing this attempts to regulate. It remains to be seen whether the FTC will force this on recalcitrant vendors, but Apple wants to be on the right side of this voluntarily.

FTC Calls Google on the Mat Over Do Not Track

We mentioned a few days ago that Google was the lone holdout among major browser vendors for Do Not Track. (We also wondered, a tad facetiously, why that might be…) Now comes word that the FTC is calling Google on the mat over their reluctance; after all, the only other major vendor not supporting Do Not Track is Opera, and Google has a lot more market share than Opera (17.4% vs 2%). And Macworld points out an interesting wrinkle: their sources at Stanford presume that Do Not Track will be part of WebKit, with only the user-facing preference controlled in the browser application. Will Google expose the setting? Will they figure out how to suppress it outright for Chrome users? Keep your eyes on this one.

Holy Grail for Artists: Adobe Connects Tablets to Photoshop

In the Holy Grail of convergence, Adobe has announced something I’ve wished I could have since I bought an iPad: an SDK interface to use your tablet’s screen like it’s a tablet interface, except with your hands instead of a stylus. I am not crazy about the Magic Trackpad, and a Wacom tablet only works with a stylus or mouse, but thanks to Adobe, I will soon be able to draw with my fingers in Photoshop. They’ve developed an SDK that allows apps to connect to Photoshop CS5 over a TCP connection, and are opening the SDK up to developers. I can’t wait to see what people come up with for this. On the other hand, first I need Photoshop CS5…

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