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Recapping the Keynote: This Is Now Tim Cook’s Apple

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Apple had a big week. If you want to understand what, exactly, they announced, I won’t recap it here. Other sites do a better job of that than I ever will. In fact, I recommend you hop over to Apple’s mainsite to see new goods firsthand.

During the keynote, I posted to Facebook the thing that struck me most: this past Tuesday was the day Tim Cook made Apple his company.

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Since Steve Jobs’ passing, Tim Cook has lived in the shadow of the Silicon Valley icon. His performance and more awkward speaking style was criticized from day one, with some of the vitriol verging on damnation. He’s no Steve Jobs, they said. He’s not the same quality of showman, they said. He can’t work the famous Reality Distortion Field (RDF) as Steve, they said.

And they’re right, all the voices. He can’t.

He doesn’t want to.

Tim Cook just said namaste to Steve Jobs and gently took Apple from his embrace. Tuesday was Cook’s christening in which he took his own bottle of champagne and set Apple on a new course – his course. This keynote marks the time when Steve’s fingerprints probably weren’t on anything Apple announced – this is, for better or worse, Cook’s direction and vision. And from what we saw, it seems pretty compelling.

So much was evident in the keynote – Cook was overflowing with excitement, and even through the awkwardness, we saw a leader in full. The room vibrated with energy, and every single Apple presenter was brimming with confidence. Cook and company knew this was the biggest keynote since the original iPhone debut in 2007, and they were geared up, ready for battle. Other industry titans – Samsung, Amazon, Motorola – all tried to get their newest stuff out before this past Tuesday, to gain some sort of first-mover advantage. Apple remains, to its credit, the 800 lb. gorilla.

So then: Apple is a company that has found it’s stride – again – under a new leader.

Two new iPhones (finally, bigger screens), a direct attack on mobile payments and, to some degree, services like Paypal and Google Wallet, revamped operating systems across all their products, and, of course, Apple Watch. The latter, naturally, was the big news, as it creates a brand new product category for Apple. You know it’s a big deal when Cook invokes Steve Jobs’ famous “one more thing…” quip before the introduction. That was a nice homage, and the geeks went crazy.

Products will always be products – the march forward is indefatigable. What isn’t so sure is how a company transitions leadership teams, especially when the baseline is Steve Jobs.

Cook did exactly that, and it was fascinating to watch.

No pun intended.

The Feed: Apple iPhone 6 Edtion

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Tech news and commentary for the week ending September 5, 2014. As an office full of Apple fans (mostly), here is the best and latest speculation about what’s coming out of Cupertino next week.

Apple is heading towards full-on entry into mobile payments. What this means is that you will be able to pay for things with your iPhone (or iWatch, as the speculation goes) and physical credit cards won’t be necessary. Earlier attempts to get this done (mostly on Android) were non-starters because the effort focused on implementation technology (NFC vs. Bluetooth), while ignoring the business and alliance side of things. It seems Apple is tackling that. Link.

If there is an iWatch, I have no doubt the functionality and style will be market-leading. The one thing I’ve always worried about is battery life, and if this report is true, there might be an issue. Then again, Android smartwatches that are in the market right now have to be charged twice a day, so the bar is already set pretty low. Link.

Apple is building a massive structure outside the Flint Center for the Performing Arts at De Anza College in Cupterino. I mean, huge. Symbolically, this is an interesting venue, because it’s the same place Steve Jobs introduced the Mac 30 years ago. Link.

If you can’t wait to see what Tim Cook unveils next Tuesday, the best sneak-peek of the iPhone 6 that seems legitimate is this video, which is in Russian. This of course hasn’t been validated, but the web seems to think this is real. Link.

The keynote event is this Tuesday, September 9. Apple even has a countdown timer on its site. Link.

A quick op-ed blurb here: since Steve Jobs passed away, all eyes have been on Tim Cook, usually in the wrong context. It’s been wrong because many analysts have expected Cook to be Jobs v2.0, instead of Tim Cook. There has been praise for Cooks methodical, calculated style, and many calls of frustration (bordering on damnation) that Cook is Sculley 2.0 and will return Apple do the early pre-2000 dark ages. My prediction is on the other end of the spectrum: this event will be Cook’s stepping out party, and he will make his mark as Apple’s chief in grand style here. All signs point to it: the lineup he’s expected to announce (two iPhones, the iWatch, a possible new iPad Air 2), the crazy structure that’s being built, the significance of the venue as it relates to Apple history.

This will be one to watch.

Pun intended.


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Game Changers: What Apple Announced This Week at WWDC

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You can’t go anywhere on the web without reading one of a zillion articles about what Apple announced at Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), so instead of going long on this and reiterating what everyone is saying, I’m going to summarize the big things as succinctly as possible.

Why even bother? Because some of the things Apple announced are HUGE.

Open-API Touch ID Functionality

Touch ID – the software behind Apple’s fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S – is excellent, and once you start using it, you get used to it – fast. Passwords feel archaic, and you get annoyed when you have to type one.

This week, Apple opened Touch ID up to third-party developers, which means anyone can create an app that foregoes passwords and instead uses a fingerprint biometric. Think about that: Apple is swinging an axe straight down on the neck of the confusing, easily-compromised password scheme we all love to hate.

This will change the way login security will be handled on a massive scale. Just wait and see how quickly developers snap this up.

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Why Apple’s iOS 7 Is Its Most Important Product This Fall

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I’m writing the first draft of this post on Wednesday, September 18, a few hours before Apple releases its most important product this fall. The product will cost absolutely nothing, and some might not even know about it until they see a friend with it, but within months, every iPhone, iPad and iPod touch user will have their worlds rocked, for better or worse, by it.

That product is iOS 7, a complete overhaul of Apple’s mobile operating system.

Only geeks like myself have been following Apple’s development of its next-gen mobile OS. Most don’t know about it, and probably don’t care, until they update and realize that their iPhone has become an entirely new iPhone. Then they’ll feel as though they got a new phone for free.

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Casual Friday: Dissecting This Week’s iPhone Event

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Apple announced on Tuesday what the its leaking supply chain has been saying for weeks. There were no surprises, and this is a bad thing.

On the whole, leaks-made-good aside, Apple made some good business moves today. The 5C will be legitimate second-tier phone, the MacBook Air to the iPhone 5S’s MacBook Pro. Nobody really cares about that, though, except Apple brass, as they drive to expand the iPhone portfolio. The dividends from that investment will come down the road. Then there’s the announcement that the iPhone will now be sold in China, but again — ho-hum for a highly-anticipated keynote.

Hardware-wise, the upgrades were there in the new iPhone 5S – I like the motion sensor (hello contextual computing!), camera improvements, and new 64-bit CPU/GPU architecture – but these are unabashedly evolutionary. Sure, the fingerprint sensor on the 5S is nice, and it will open doors to killing passwords once and for all and enabling iBeacon stuff, but it’s not there yet, and it’s not across all iPhone models. Here, in its nascent stage, it’s a nice way to lock your phone without a passcode and reduce the crazy nuisance of entering your Apple ID all the time. That’s a real user experience improvement, as subtle as it may be.

But if I’m on Apple’s board, I’m asking where the new disruption is. I know they’d come back and say they’re creating innovative experiences for its customers, and that’s what differentiates the iPhone from other smartphones. And they’re right. But eventually, this well is going to dry up, and incremental iPhone upgrades every year aren’t going to cut it. And yes, admittedly, it’s getting nigh impossible for Cupertino to shock and awe us with a phone anymore. The market is too mature.

Nonetheless, Apple’s shareholders and hardcore fans are looking for it to transform another industry. They’re looking for it to introduce another iPhone or iPad, but for a brand new market. Say, for instance, a smart-camera that can serve as a legitimate second body to a pro camera. Or a smack-in-the-face disruption to cable and satellite TV companies.

Before every iPhone event, I wish to myself that all the leaked news and images are intentional leaks, and that Tim and company are going to show us something completely different, shoving the leaks right back down the throat of the all-too-permeable overseas supply chain. But it never happens. (Again: mature market, not a young, green-field disruptable market. But those are out there, right?)

The ‘doubling down on secrecy’ Apple is trying to accomplish is being undercut by its very own supply chain. Heck, the Apple blogging community knew about 95% of what Apple announced today four weeks ago. The only thing it didn’t seem to know is camera details, the 64-bitness of the new A7 CPU, and the M7 motion sensor.

Lest you think I’m piling on to what other blogs are saying, let me clarify: Apple’s announcements may be perceived as boring, but they’re boring like a fox, to completely slaughter metaphors. They’ll do well to kindle worldwide iPhone growth, give Apple a legitimate, premium iPhone (people get tired of buying yesterday’s news), and the quality of UX on the iPhone will remain second to none.

The question isn’t whether that’s good. The question is whether it’s enough. Shareholders haven’t been impressed, but then again, the street (a) always sells the news, and (b) rarely understands the long-term impact of Apple’s strategy.

Incidentally, the most exciting thing Apple talked about today? iOS 7, the new operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Available for free on September 18.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Casual Friday: Is Android Better?

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Paul Stamatiou’s Android Is Better post is generating a ton of attention (it made it to the front page of Techmeme, although it’s not there anymore), and I want to riff on it.

Most readers know I am an “Apple Defender”. “Defender” is an accurate word to use because I find myself in conversations defending iOS and Apple devices from inaccurate accusations and barbs, as well as defending some decisions that have (or have not, as the case may be) come out of Cupertino lately. But defense is not what I’m going to do here, you see.

Because I am not a slappy. I have used and written positively about Android and Android devices. And here, in reading Stamatiou’s post, I find myself agreeing with almost everything he writes – with one giant caveat. We’ll get to that later.

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Larry Ellison Sees Bleak Future for Apple Without Steve Jobs

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Mikey Campbell, AppleInsider:

Rose asked the tech mogul to share his thoughts on what Apple will become without Jobs. Ellison said “we already know.”

“We saw — we conducted the experiment,” Ellison explained. “I mean, it’s been done. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs. We saw Apple without Steve Jobs. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs. Now, we’re gonna see Apple without Steve Jobs.”

Strong words. Can’t say I agree with Ellison just yet, but the fact is the rate of product introduction has slowed, and some board members are starting to get antsy. Panic time? Not yet, but the market better see some of the product pipeline Tim Cook is always talking about, and soon.  I know certain folks like the constant iteration approach Apple has taken so far, but the fact is its main products have matured, and there is legitimate competition in the marketplace. We can’t just have incremental improvements all the time. Right now Apple owns the key teen/young adult demographic, but when it goes, it goes fast.

(Side note: Ellison’s view, coupled with Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster speculating that the rumored iPhone 5C will be intentionally hobbled by not having Siri, drives me nuts. But, I’m betting Munster is wrong, per usual. )

Apple’s iOS7: Thoughts and Impressions

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Last week at its annual WWDC conference, Apple gave us a preview of iOS7, the next-generation operating system coming for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch this fall. As any regular reader knows, I am an entrenched Apple slappy, but I consider myself realistic. Here are my thoughts on what Apple showed us.

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Design

The big change is the banishment of the skeumorphism we had under Scott Forstall and an introduction a new design language led by Jony Ive. The new look is mininal, with bright, colorful, flat icons, more generous whitespace use, and a revamped system typeface. From what I can see so far, it’s nice looking, but I suspect between now and GA iOS7’s look will mature beyond what we were shown last week. Right now, it’s a bit too bright, and the color palette seems…off. But I’m not worried, because it will mature. More on this later.

I think the current iOS (v6) is getting tremendously stale in light of what Android and even Windows Phone are offering today. A new design aesthetic is welcome. But is it a total rethinking? At a visual level, not quite. There’s still the familiar rows of rounded-corner icons, still the folders with limitations. The new look is a blend of a revamped veneer coupled with a GUI structure well-known to iOS users everywhere. And perhaps that’s the point: Apple isn’t going to ape Android or create some brand new UX when its devices – arguably the most successful mobile devices in the world in terms of actual usage – are so well understood by a legion of users across multiple demographics. New for the sake of new when the tradeoff is usability is not something Apple is keen to do.

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Casual Friday: Linkology, or Stuff You Don’t Want to Miss

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Some stuff I found while looking around this week. I have to share all this because my ‘Saved For Later’ tab in Feedly is getting obnoxious.

Here is a 14-year-old girl absolutely nailing Van Halen’s “Eruption”. This is amazing to be because not only is she 14 and plays it perfectly, but also because I have tried to play guitar before, I have gotten in contact with the collings guitar dealers, and even after much practice I make sounds come out of the guitar that would typically require a chainsaw. I’m awful.

Exactly my feelings on Google Glass — and I suppose all wearable computing options that are sure to trickle down to us within the next 24 months or so. We all see what smartphones have done to us in terms of social OCD and internet/data addictive tendencies; what will wearable devices inflict on us socially? Despite being a gigantic nerd, I have tremendous reservations about living in a world where everyone has a camera strapped to their face. But that’s another blog post.

A few months ago, Drew Sheppard created a seriously-cool, layered, animated GIF of Yu Darvish’s pitching delivery style. It was a smashing hit (no pun intended), and it proliferated all over major baseball sites within hours. Now, Sheppard has done this Detroit crowd proud: he has given Miguel Cabrera the same treatment. This time, Sheppard illustrates Cabrera’s amazing plate coverage and his ability to hit homers from just about anywhere inside the strike zone. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but this is pretty impressive.

Tim Knoll is a bike prodigy, and his street tricks make the street-long wheelies I used to do look positively lame. Check this out:

Saving the Long Island Iced Tea. Sure, it’s a retro drink that never earned retro appeal, and it’s been cornered as a trashy drink ever since its fall from grace. Can this bring it back?

Apple’s Tim Cook kicked off D11, this year’s AllThingsD executive conference. As usual, he was full of interesting things to say, but he didn’t tip any hats worth tipping (WWDC is two weeks away, and that’s when the future of iOS and OSX will be revealed. Those are the hats.). Here is the transcript. Related: Tim Cook explaining why he isn’t freaked out about market share.

A new site I find deadly accurate: The Sweethome. What is it? Brought to you by the same folks who cooked up The Wirecutter (a directory of the best personal tech/gadgets), The Sweethome is a listing of the very best household appliances, utilities and tools. Want to know what the best ice cube tray is? Nail clippers? Cordless drill for household projects? The Sweethome has great picks, and quite a few that are less expensive, high-quality items. Give it a look.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Irresponsible Speculation About Today’s iPhone Event

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This time, Apple has done a good job of keeping the next-gen iPhone a secret. Aside from some hints purportedly provided by Asian case-makers, a slip in iTunes code that suggest an ‘iPhone 4S’, and some wishful thinking about a new iPhone 5 that predicts the same approximate form factor as the MacBook Airs, we really have no idea what’s going to happen later today (1 PM EDT/10 AM PDT).

There are a ton of websites out there that have cast their opinion on what Tim Cook will announce in a few hours (man, it’s hard not writing ‘Steve Jobs’); I find the most cogent among them this piece by John Gruber.

Still, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t throw out what I feel will come to the supplicating masses. So below are a few of my guesses, and let it be known that I have no idea whatsoever is actually coming.  Hence, guesses.  Here goes:

  • First, an iPhone 4S will be announced, which will basically be an iPhone 4 with the A5 CPU (same as what’s in the iPad 2) and some upgraded internals. Capacities might also rise to a 64 GB ceiling. On this model, I can see the camera staying at the current 5 MP rating.
  • An iPhone 5 will be announced, and I’m one of the few who still think it will have a different form factor than the iPhone 4S. I can’t see the iPhone 5 looking exactly the same as the 18-month old iPhone 4 and (if it’s announced) the mid-market iPhone 4S. Whether this new form factor is ‘teardrop’-shaped like the rumor suggests I have no idea, but if pinched I would say yes, it will have some resemblance.
  • If there is indeed a iPhone 5, I expect a larger screen (3.7″ or 4″) and new, 8 MP camera with a stronger flash in a different location on the back side of the case. I also expect an improved battery and even 4G support (even though 4G is the greatest battery hog ever).
  • The iPhone 3GS will be discontinued; I can’t see Apple selling it into 2012. The low-end model will be the iPhone 4, the mid-market product the 4S, the flagship the 5.
  • We’ll get a demo of the latest build of iOS 5, in which I expect to see a full demo of Assistant, the voice-operation technology that’s essentially a marriage of Siri (which Apple purchased a couple years ago) and Nuance (with whom Apple is rumored to be working). I expect Apple’s implementation to finally get voice right: it wil be easy and extremely accurate.
  • I see the iPhone 4S/5 being available just before the end of October. Ditto for iOS 5.
  • Finally, I expect Sprint to be added to Apple’s stable of iPhone carriers. In fact, this seems to have already happened.

So there you have it: complete speculation by a guy who has no affiliation whatsoever to anything Apple.

Oh, and let’s be clear about one thing: if there is only an iPhone 4S announced (better CPU and camera), people will whine and cry like you’ve never seen before. On one hand, they’d be silly to: the iPhone 4 is Apple’s most successful mobile device ever. On the other hand, it would be a bit disappointing to see what amounts to a CPU bump and camera upgrade after 18 months. Other handsets are advancing nicely, and I don’t think this is the time for Apple not to knock them all back on their heels a bit and give them something new to try and copy.

There you have it. Complete and utter groundless speculation.  Agree? Disagree? Think I should be working for Apple? Let me know in the comments.

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