Monday, October 17, 2011

Apple Marketing Misstep and Cloud Sneak Attack

    Version numbers & product names are pure marketing.  In my opinion Apple made a marketing mistake in naming the latest phone the “4S”.  Many bloggers,  Bill Houle among them, stated this as well.  

    I was resisting writing my own thoughts and reviews until I saw this article from BGR which is very much in alignment with my own thoughts.  Also, after playing with Siri and other iOS goodness, I’ve come to the conclusion that the software is helping start what could be the next major revolution in tech.  The sneak attack is iCloud, Apple’s cloud computing beach head.
    The BGR article really echoes my thoughts about the hardware.  If you look at it, Apple changed just about everything that really matters to achieve their vision of what’s next.  The case and screen resolution doesn’t really need improvement to take things to the next level.  In fact, a thinner or teardrop shaped case is harder to hold, why mess with perfection.  I’ll let others wax on that topic, but what really stands out is Siri.  Siri, Apple’s voice recognition, only runs on the iPhone 4S.  When I told Siri, “Remind me to call home when I leave here.”  The software upgrade was brought into sharper focus.  I was at work when I gave that command and when I left today, I not only received a notification on the phone, it also presented me with a call button that would have called my house if pressed.

    There are multiple articles that will probably do a better job of describing Siri and why its voice recognition and capabilities are better than anything we’ve seen before, but the top two are natural language and the fact that you don’t need to know the command, just the concept of what you want.  No two people say the same thing the same way.  We are string our words together just a little differently and make different choices in lexicon to communicate the same basic messages.  The people that built Siri understand this, therefore, today in Siri’s first release it will give me the weather if I say “Do I need an umbrella today?” and if I say “What’s the weather today?” and multiple other incantations.  The recognition is unreal, and it can be used to dictate as well when you are not playing around (“Beam me up Siri” sometimes will come back with “OK, Stand still”).  Although it’s not true AI (artificial intelligence), it has huge promise.  Apple calls this “beta” so we can expect the commands and concepts that Siri understands to grow tremendously.  And because the heart of Siri is located in Apple’s huge data center, processing power doesn’t have to grow on the phone and improvements can be made daily.

    When Apple’s new iPhone was announced, it didn’t meet the incredibly high expectations of the blogosphere and therefore disappointed.  Never-mind the hype was created by those very same writers who were wrong on multiple accounts.  Fast forward 6 weeks, and Apple broke their previous pre-order sales record and sold 1 million iPhone in the first 24 hours.  Fast forward another couple weeks and Apple exceed their previous opening weekend sales by selling 4 million units in the first three days the product was available at their stores and carrier offices.  I will have to say, much of the record breaking was attributed to the fact that (I think) they had more time to build inventory while they put the finishing touches on the software.  In addition, iOS5 (a huge release in itself) adds to the capability they have today.  Another helper to the sales number was that it was available via multiple carriers on day one, Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T in the US, and multiple carriers outside the US.  In general though, the market has voted.  As apple continues to build their base and bring people into the tent, and these users tend not to leave once they enter.  Normally, loyalty is low when it comes to cell phones but the iPhone is no ordinary cell phone.  Once a customer you tend to stay (once you go mac, you never go back).  I expect Apple to continue to break records in sales.  As Apple’s base of users grow, every release of product is being marketed to that larger and large base for upgrades.

    The Sneak Attack

    Apple’s iCloud that was introduced as part of the iOS 5 release isn’t all that exciting.  Although it allows you to sync and backup your phone without a computer, and the photo streaming between your iOS devices and computer is cool, iCloud gives Apple a beach head from which to launch new services.  Today’s iCloud is like NASA’s and the USSR’s 1960s vintage space program, building rockets under the guise of space exploration while learning how to build ICBMs.  iCloud allows Apple to build the intellectual capital to deliver even greater things.  Building large scalable cloud computing solutions to deliver services that are secure, reliable and fast to millions of people at the same time is hard, and the knowledge on how to do it is scarce.  Currently the best way to acquire this knowledge is to build something that forces your team to learn not only in technology but how to hire the right people and what policies and processes work.  Google did the same thing by giving away gMail for free.  China is doing it with their man space program (you didn’t believe they really care about space exploration did you?)  By delivering the gMail service, Google learned how to deliver any cloud computing service to millions, and scale it to be fast and reliable, thus giving birth to Google Docs and other services.
    I should mention that Apple’s iMessaging (text messaging without text service) and their cool app “Find My Friends” probably use the cloud to enable their service.  This, along with Siri, should be putting a very big load on the iCloud infrastructure.  I would think that Apple is slowly moving more and more capabilities into the cloud with users and even techno geeks like me not really sure what the capability is coming from.  This lack of techno speak is the trade craft is developing.  Rather than talking tech, they talk about delivering capability and doing cool things, but rairly the tech behind it.  Let’s face it, most people would rather focus on the cool capabilities.

    I expect Apple to capitalize on what they learn from iCloud and it huge infrastructure and deliver new services via the cloud.  I look forward to see how Apple applies their perspective, design approach and creative culture to cloud computing in the coming years.


- Chris Claborne

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