Category Archives: iCloud

Apple Strengths and Weaknesses 2013

iPhone_iOS7_reclining

Apple’s stock price has been battered since last September. Growth and profitability have not been the usual off the charts this last year. Are Apple’s glory days over or is this a pause in Apple’s ascent to greater heights? What are Apple’s key strengths and weaknesses going forward?

Weaknesses

Let’s go straight into the thick of the weaknesses first. Then I’ll tell you what I like about Apple’s prospects.

Online Services

iCloudApple is first and foremost a hardware and software company. The cloud is not Apple’s first love and not their native language like it is at Google and Amazon. Google, Amazon and Facebook are all in on the Cloud and it shows. Apple is playing catch up and hasn’t gotten everything right with iCloud. iTunes is aging.

As communications and whole industries have gone digital, the Cloud has grown in importance. If Apple doesn’t keep investing heavily here, they can’t stay competitive. Apple’s ill-fated introduction of Apple Maps and stumbles with DotMac, MobileMe and now iCloud show they are persistent and committed to success in the Cloud. They know it’s a deal-breaker. I don’t see any reason they can’t master this area. But I do believe we will see Google stay ahead of Apple overall in the Cloud.

The Cloud is not ruling the world yet, though. During the heyday of Web 2.0 back in 2005 and 2006, there was a growing consensus that “everything is going to the Cloud”. Not so much. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and native apps and Apple’s App Store in 2008 made web-based apps seem limited. Users have spoken. They want snappy and powerful native apps that benefit fully from being optimized to the hardware of an iPhone, iPad, smartphone or tablet with all their powerful sensors. At minimum, Apple has bought itself a chunk of time here to play catch up in the Cloud. The jury is still out on which side will dominate when the dust settles. Will the Cloud resurge or will native apps sustain their current lead? Sooner or later the cloud with HTML 5 and beyond will be cool. That it will make device-optimized apps obsolete is questionable at best right now.

Nexus7_gen2Premium Pricing in a Bad Economy

Apple has carved out a position in the market as a premium quality producer. As Apple says, “We don’t make junk!”. Apple has it made selling to the affluent because they are viewed as the maker’s of the best quality devices and the best user experience. If price is no object, most go for iPhones, iPads and Macs. That’s fine but eventually you run out of rich people and have to sell to the rest of the economy and the world. Apple has done pretty well to date on this front by leveraging their economies of scale. However, Samsung, specifically has the same scale as Apple and isn’t limited to producing for the top tier. There is plenty of evidence in places like China and India especially, lots of phones are going to the Android side. The problem is much worse where there is no subsidy for phones like there is here in the US.

Sometimes Bigger is Better and One Size Does Not Fit All

Competitors, especially Samsung, have had a field day producing gadgets that are bigger or smaller than what Apple makes. There have been large wins with larger phones all the way up to the 5.5″ Samsung Note 2. The biggest win there is in price sensitive markets where people have been sold on the bigger screen of the iPad, need a phone and can’t afford 2 wireless devices.

GalaxyNoteIIvsiPhone5There are very good arguments to be made for a single device to serve as both an always connected internet phone and an always connected tablet. It’s cheaper and you get that lovely 24/7 connectivity we all prefer. Bigger screens are more impressive. You might occasionally regret the size when holding it with one hand or trying to fit it in a tight pair of jeans, but content and web pages sure look good with more screen real estate. Big phones have got to be great in the showroom!

Apple’s Strengths

What about the other side of the coin? Apple has demonstrated excellence in design, innovation, quality and customer service. Yes. These are Apple’s core strengths. How are these holding up in the face of fierce competition especially from Google and Samsung?

Design

The competition’s imitation keeps improving and HTC has created a great looking and feeling large Android phone with the HTC One. The top three contenders, Samsung, Google and Amazon are well beneath Apple’s dazzling designs but, as we’ve said, a low price does wonders to smooth over that deficiency. Not everyone cares that much about great design. Here’s hoping Apple keeps finding ways to use all that money they have in the bank to secure the best deals on components. Apple makes the iPod touch which is a super cheap iPhone almost, so they know how to cut corners on costs when they want to. A cheap iPhone would be an iPod touch with a cellular antenna. With a subsidy, Apple would be giving them away free.

Apple still has a large lead here but Google has upped their game (thanks to Matias Duarte) making the stock Android user interface and Nexus devices look and feel much better. The top contenders are all playing the design game now. We think this competition will continue, but now Apple is striking back with iOS 7 a bold and arresting makeover that may be what the doctor ordered for reviving their lead in the design space. Those who are intimately familiar with actual use of the iOS7 betas have come away impressed. iOS 7 will very likely be a hit with its unique multilayered, translucent experience. Anyone getting bored with iOS as we’ve come to know it will be wowed all over again.

Innovation

Yes, we think Apple has been slacking a little in the innovation department but then that’s what it always looks like before they blow us away with their big new things that come only every few years. We all waited year after year for a smaller laptop and finally got a MacBook Air and an iPad. Both have been way cool but they didn’t come out as fast as we would have liked. Chalk it up to greatness.

I think iOS 7 looks super innovative and the new Mac Pro shown off at the World Wide Developer’s Conference in June looked off the charts amazing! TV seems to be taking awhile and that hurts Apple’s image a bit. I also love OS X Mavericks because it addresses a lot of longstanding issues in OSX brings them up to the level of excellence we expect from Apple. These aren’t earthshaking improvements, but they will be well-appreciated.

Apple is still clearly the leader in computer and mobile hardware and software right now. To a point, everyone else is still playing catch up. I do want to acknowledge that Google has a mind of its own, has lots of money and does interesting things with it. Also, Microsoft’s introduction of the Surface tablets is innovative in its own way. Lets not forget the Metro UI and Windows Phone which are legitimate innovations too. One of the differences between how things are going now and how they went with iPod dominance is that the industry sees that mobile phones and tablets are to a large degree replacing desktop and notebook computing as we’ve known it. There is a sense of urgency along the lines of innovate or die that wasn’t present back in the iPod days. It took a few years to develop but there is a true creative ferment that Apple has to contend with.

Quality

Quality is how Apple rolls. They aren’t going to change in this regard and the competition will undercut them when they can and cut corners in doing so. In a sea of products and advertising, quality stands out. Samsung and Amazon have shown that quality isn’t everything in their smartphone and tablet offerings, though. In price sensitive markets, a lot of people just want to get into the game.

Tim Cook has his hands full, but as he says, don’t under estimate Apple. They have lots of cards to play. It’s clear they have a good chance of staying on top.

State of the Apple 2012

A lot has happened in the world of Apple this last year. Apple has released new Macs including powerful MacBook Airs, OSX Lion, iCloud, the iPhone 4S with iOS 5 and just announced a strong OSX Mountain Lion release coming for Summer.

Along the way, Steve Jobs died – on October 5. A tragic loss to millions around the world. Even so, Apple is on a roll of immense proportions and is showing no signs of slowing down. Its stock valuation is larger than any other corporation in the world, but you know that already.

If you’ve been here before, you know that Apple is a passion of mine. I bought my first Mac in 1986 (the Mac Plus). That was a big commitment at the time. Back then, I was an up and coming computer professional just starting my own business. The question was do I go with my strong attraction to the Mac or go with the already dominant and rapidly growing IBM PC? I went Mac then and have stayed the course. At the time it looked like the innovative and easier to use Graphical User Interface of Macintosh would overtake the PC, but that didn’t happen. Even now, Mac represents only 10% of the Desktop PC market.

What has happened for several years now is that Mac is growing at 25-30% per year and PC sales are flat. The reason for Apple’s success has not been the Mac, but the introduction and massive success of the iPod, then the iPhone in 2007 and now the iPad. We live in a world swimming in mobile devices with people bumping into each other as they pay much more attention to their phones than their whereabouts. Mobile has begun to dominate the market and looks hell bent to take us all into a Post PC world where the PC is more of an after thought (actually, the PC as we know it may become part of the scenery literally as walls and glasses become screens). Just last week it was revealed that Apple sold 155 million iOS devices in 2011 which exceeds the total number Macs sold in its 28 year history (122m).

Even though Apple lost the battle between Mac and PC, they drove the computer industry forward, even in the Eighties and Nineties. Bill Gates could see that Apple’s Macintosh technology and graphical user interface was the wave of the future. So Microsoft created Windows using the Mac as a point of reference. Microsoft’s dominance systematically drained Apple and by the mid-nineties Apple’s future was in doubt. Steve Jobs returned to Apple after a hiatus of over ten years and revived Apple and led it to where we are today.

I’ve been doing blog posts here on the state of Apple for several years now. I’ve predicted Apple’s success, but no one could have predicted the current situation. Apple has been moving computers forward by leaps and bounds and taken computer tech far beyond the graphical interface, desktop/laptop into whole other categories. With Apple’s rise, the computer and associated technology industries have exploded into uncharted territory. We’ve gone from a computer on every desk to a computer in every pocket.

So, where is Apple with Tim Cook at the helm, without Steve Jobs to drive it forward? So far so good. Apple has not stopped innovating but I don’t think anyone expected it would. Apparently Steve Jobs worked with Jony Ive and other Apple executives on at least a four year product timeline. I’m hoping those four years will march like clockwork to not only improve the Mac, the iOS platform and devices, but create whole other platforms and initiatives. We know from the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson that Apple is working on major initiatives in education (iBooks Author) and the Living Room (Apple TV). From the looks of Mountain Lion and iCloud, lots more is in store.

As a technology professional, my job is to invest my time (R&D) and efforts (software development, consulting and writing) in the right places so I can, through early adoption, R&D and experimentation, stay ahead of this unfolding curve. I have acquired Apple’s latest technologies early including the first iPod, the first iPhone and iPod touch. The first iPad. I’ve since upgraded first thing as advances in these tools were made. I don’t buy every model, but have purchased every iPhone model on its first day, the Nov 2008, Nov 2010 and July 2011 MacBook Airs. I’m on the case and study the iPhone and iPad apps as they pertain to my target users: designers and the broader group of professional knowledge workers like myself (see my Independent Knowledge Professional blog that evolved from my Tech Ronin blog started in 2003).

The Mac, iPhone and iPad are #1 in their categories (the latter 2 are number 1 in sales, while Mac is agreed as the better desktop/laptop machine for those who have a choice. They are going gangbusters and I see no reason to doubt that will continue for the foreseeable future. Of course, nothing is forever, so Apple will have to find it’s way on its own (without Steve Jobs) to continue its success as time goes on. It’s not easy to do what they’ve done and it won’t be a slam dunk to continue it. IBM has done pretty well. Microsoft has seen better days, but I wouldn’t count them out by any means.

With Apple’s size now, they have to make big markets. I have no doubt that iBooks Author will succeed (and have written a recent blog post about it over at my Independent Knowledge Professional blog). Same for Apple TV. Who can do it better? They have all the money in the world ($100 billion at last count). They have Jony Ive as head of design which is a central, defining role at Apple. They have the ultimate Operations guy in Tim Cook. This should be fun to watch — and participate in.

My bread and butter work is the development of custom FileMaker Pro database applications for businesses – I call them decision support systems. I’ve built a FileMaker-based software product called Studio Manager for the creative services industry so do most of my consulting there, but I do a certain percentage of my work with a variety of other businesses from solopreneurs to corporate work groups.

Technology consulting comes along with the territory. I advise on what hardware and software to buy as part of my help in developing solutions to business challenges. I’ve had a web presence since 1995, so do a little consulting re blogging and social media. I’m a big Twitter fan (I’m @tokerud) but could live without Facebook. I love the Kindle and have recently acquired a Kindle Fire. It’s pretty good. Amazon is the other A company I believe in.

My generic advice to you without a personal consultation? Get a MacBook Air if you don’t already have one as your main computer (it’s OK to have a larger desktop machine when needed but such a machine is rarely versatile and mobile enough to be your primary machine). Get an iPad 3. Use an iPhone. Right now these are your best bets for hardware/software technologies to use in your knowledge work. Use them for staying current, managing, creating content, communicating, thinking.

You need to place bets with your hardware and software investments, and most importantly with your time. Every minute spent with these devices is know-how acquired – progress along key learning curves. Technology investments elsewhere will have smaller returns. Obsolescence and the avoidance thereof is a reality any knowledge worker must take seriously and manage him or herself to.