Particle Debris (week ending 4/16) Lust, Creepy Ads, Nuts and Nerds

| Particle Debris

iPhone lust is growing amongst teenagers, according to a recent note to his clients by Piper Jaffray analyst. He noted that 31 percent of U.S. teenagers plan to buy an iPhone in the next six months and 14 percent already own one. With 50 million iPhones out there now, and the iPad stoking the mobile fires, Apple seems unstoppable.

We knew that Twitter had acquired Tweetie for iPhone from Loren Brichter. And will distribute “Twitter for iPhone” for free. What happened next, however, was that the developer community got all up in arms about Twitter potentially destroying the market place for paid Twitter apps. One of Twitters group leads tried to calm those fears, but whether he’s convincing remains to be seen: “Twitter Officially Responds to Developers. Tries to Calm Fears.”

Our own Jeff Gamet and Ted Landau have weighed in on the developer communities response to the recently revealed section 3.3.1 of Apple’s iPhone SDK license agreement. Before they posted their articles, however, I was amused by this analysis by John Siracusa, who posed the situation in terms of a high stakes poker bet by Apple in “Apple’s Wager.” What would be the result of Apple losing its bet?

In preparation for Apple’s earnings report on April 20, Philip Elmer-DeWitt collected the estimates from a boatload of analysts on the expected iPhone sales for Apple’s Q2. The estimates range from a low of 6 million (Richard Gardner) to 7.85 million (Turley Muller). What I found interesting was the precision of the estimates, down to 0.01 million versus the range of estimates: 1.85 million. It’s a massive disconnect between accuracy and precision (for the mathematically minded), but Heaven knows — these analysts aren’t mathematicians.

For those in the hunt for the new Apple MacBook Pros, these Macs no longer have just a manual mode for switching between the two GPUs. There is an automatic switching mechanism, and it’s nicely explained by ars technica’s Chris Foresman.

Have you ever wondered if there are additional people you should be following on Twitter but are not? A new service by Twitter analyzes the people you follow and makes recommendations on who you should add to your list of friends. Several of use have tried it — with uninspiring results. But it might work better for you. Use Twitters “Follow Finder Page.” Here’s an introduction by CNET.

Microsoft has acquired a bad reputation for occasional poor taste in its advertising and seems to have tripped up once again. Consumer Reports has accused Microsoft of having a creepy Kin video ad that could possibly encourage sexting. Here’s the take by Consumer Reports.

“Are you nuts?” asked Steve Jobs when he got an e-mail from an eager iPad potential customer in Switzerland. It all started when Paul Shadwell asked Mr. Jobs about delayed availability of the iPad for customers in Europe. It seems Mr. Jobs just can’t stop typing on his iPad.

Has Intel pissed off Apple for good? Will Apple fall into the AMD camp? Or at least embrace them as a second supplier? It sounds like a soap opera, but the friction between Intel and Apple now seems palpable. Kasper Jade and Prince McLean at AppleInsider analyze the politics and technology in “Apple in advanced discussions to adopt AMD chips.”

Technical Word of the Week

Nerd crush (n.) A crush on someone that developed because of admiration for the person’s skill, talent, intellectual abilities etc. Example: “I have such a huge nerd crush on our professor.”

I suspect this could expand to products as well as people. “The Captain has a nerd crush on his iPad.” Time will tell.

Comments

Lee Dronick

I didn’t think that the Kin as was bad, especially considering their target demographic. Will it encourage sexting, no more than any other device that can send texts.

Did you all see the story about Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s Prime Minister, stranded in New York City by the volcanic eruption plume and using his iPad to “run” the government.

Speaking of iPads, I have good news and bad news. The bad news I probably won’t buy one for several months, the good news is that the wife said to go buy myself a new MacBook. She wanted the iPad for her college homework, but the semester is ending in a few weeks and she is taking the summer off.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John Siracusa sortof gets it right. Android share is growing very fast and is driven by many factors including availability on multiple carriers, from multiple manufacturers, and at multiple price points. To me, that’s a real strength. Others call it fragmentation. There is some anti-Apple backlash that’s fueling the growth. Motorola Droid launched on Verizon taking a hard slap at Apple. Another Android phone is touting the possibilities of openness in commercials running all over the place now.

On Android, I like that it doesn’t treat me like I’m stupid. There is a lot of simplicity for simplicity’s sake on iPhone, and it leads to obvious scaling problems. Take the home screen. On Android, the home screen is super flexible. You can attach apps and widgets. You can group them for activities, like night time or walking. An app or widgets can appear in multiple home screen. Or on none at all. There’s a catalog you can dig into apps you don’t use all the time. Now, is my Mom going to pick that up and be comfortable as quickly as she would an iPhone. Probably not. With 10 minutes of training and practice, will she get how Android works and think her iPhone is toyish in that respect. Hell yeah.

Siracusa has the “bet” right. But I think what he misses is that Apple got all these developers in the first place through the reputation Apple had. They were mostly going to be loyal to a fault unless they were screwed with. Big unless. This week’s banning of a Pulitzer Prize winner’s satirical app is but another example of App Store capriciousness and unpredictability that goes clear back to the opening of the App Store. It raises the costs of developing apps for iPhone and iPad. It makes loyal Apple fan/developers look elsewhere. And when they look elsewhere, as I have, they tend to find that things aren’t nearly as bad as we’re led to believe. Sometimes, they’re actually a little better.

Lancashire-Witch

Apple’s deficient supply chain management processes have let down non-US customers.  I don’t know if it was simply a matter of understating the Sales forecast for iPads in the US and diverting stock to meet the demand, or if manufacturing is not meeting the schedules, or one of hundreds other things that can disrupt a supply chain; but whatever the reason, the CEO asking “are you nuts?” does nothing to pacify a frustrated customer.

Nemo

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with developers, who are either clients or who work for clients, that are developing apps for iPhone OS 4.0 and asked them whether they were angry to the point of revolution with Apple over Section 3.3.1, barring Flash, and the approval policies of the App Store.  In response, these developers would prefer that Apple didn’t have these policies, which, in some cases, imposed additional costs and work, but were uniform in saying that the profit opportunities on Apple’s mobile devices and the quality of its free tools more than compensated their efforts so that they were just interested in coding and making money, rather than revolution.  See http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/developer_survey_iphone_os_1_blackberry_2_windows_mobile_3_android_4/. 

Nor are the policies of the App Store a problems for the vast majority of developers.  The fact is that only a tiny minority of apps are rejected from the App Store and most of those rejections are for technical reasons or because the apps violate moral or legal precepts that almost no one would disagree with.  However, there are the notorious cases, such as the one that Bosco refers to, supra, which Apple has already redressed by approving the app at issue.

Coming to a policy for approving apps on the App Store for a company like Apple that does business worldwide is a very difficult matter of law and business judgment.  When faced with the need to develop a policy that will work across multiple cultures, multiple settings, such as primary education and particularly the Texas State School Board, and multiple legal jurisdictions results in a policy of avoiding anything that is or could be controversial, not only in the United States but any where in the world.  Apple, after all, sells its products in Muslim countries, as well as Israel; in open western democracies and in China and Russia.  In the U.S. alone not allowing things in the App Store that can impair Apple’s business prospect leads to the no controversy policy, which occasionally leads to the rejection of things that shouldn’t be rejected.  And to correct the matter requires the intervention of a senior executive.

Google’s policy not only doesn’t avoid the problem, it risks making it worst for at least Google.  If something gets on the Android MarketPlace that offends Muslims, as, for example, the drawing of the Danish cartoonist that depicted Mohamed as a dog, which appeared in one Danish newspaper, or that victimizes children, the aggrieved won’t care about Google laissez faire policy of managing the MarketPlace.  They will hold Google responsible and expect Google to act appropriately, notwithstanding its laissez faire policy of managing the MarketPlace, either that or they will insist—think China—that Google not do business in their country.  Google’s laissez faire approach to managing the MarketPlace risks making it the home of fraud, malware (which has already happened), bad apps, incompatible apps, pedophiles, the loud intemperate voice of the political extremes, even terrorists, which will attract the attention of the national security authorities, etc. 

This why I think that Google’s approach will ultimately prove unworkable and will force Google to take a responsibility for the Android MarketPlace and why what appears to be Apple?s policy for regulating content on the App Store by avoiding controversy is reasonable, if imperfect.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo, how the store is managed never becomes as issue if there is an alternative distribution mechanism. On iPhone (and iPod Touch and iPad), all apps widely distributed must go through Apple approval. On Android, users of most phones (a recent AT&T offering excluded) can side-load software, so approval is not a licensing requirement for developers. The Apple choke point in distribution is the only reason any controversy exists!

But the thing I don’t get with all the money there is why VCs are reluctant to fund pure software plays in the App Store. Are the VCs stupid?

Nemo

Well, of course, Apple could abandon its responsibility to provide a reasonable users’ experience on its mobile devices.  But I am glad that it has chosen not to do so, because of the nature of its mobile devices and the nature of the typical user of its devices. 

Apple’s mobile devices with their constrained computing resources need to work reliably for the typical users, who aren’t blessed with sophisticated computer skills.  That typical user demands that the device just works, and Apple couldn’t provide that if developers were allowed to do whatever they like.  Now, perhaps the savvy customer would properly locate the fault for subpar performance on a bad app, but that is not what the typical user does.  The typical user blames the maker of the device, and that would be Apple.  In Apple v. Psystar, for example, Apple adduced records of thousands of calls from Psystar’s customers, who were furious with Apple for the poor performance of OS X on Psystar’s counterfeit Mac computers.  But with its mobile devices Apple avoids that problem by providing a level of quality by, among other things, requiring that apps written for its devices comply with certain parameters of design, and in so doing Apple earns its customers’, at least its typical customers’, loyalty and patronage.

That is part of Apple’s business model and more profoundly, part of Apple’s culture.  It is not for everyone, but it is also part of Apple’s culture that making great, as opposed to mediocre products, requires that you can’t be all things to all people, for that inevitably leads to mediocrity, so Apple doesn’t try to do that.  It identifies its markets and designs for the customers in those markets.  That inevitably means that some will be better served by others and their products.  Apple accepts that, provided that it is serving the profitable parts of the most profitable markets with products and services that best serve the needs and desires of customers in those markets.  If you are among the customers in markets that Apple hopes to win and if it is failing to meet your needs and desires and your needs and desires are typical for that market, Apple will listen and adjust to not merely better serve you but to try to serve you best. 

However, for those who fall outside of Apple’s target markets or whose needs and desire are atypical in that, for example, they fundamentally object to the Apple’s philosophical and, in my view, licit approach to regulating its products and services and those who make complimentary goods and services, they must take their custom elsewhere.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Well Nemo, instead of suing HTC, Apple would do well to hire them to design and produce their next iPhone. Replaceable battery, gorgeous AMOLED display, 5 megapixel camera with flash that actually takes decent indoor pics, haptic feedback, speaker that doesn’t get blocked when I hold the device in my left palm to play a game… These are some of the things I am enjoying now on my Nexus One.

In my estimation of the how things are today (not when the iPhone OS 4 unicorn ships), Apple has erred on the side of simplicity with its mobile platform. Android is easily simple enough for my Mom, and she would appreciate Pandora in the background today. Probably not for my grandfather, but he gets a super simple flip-dialer, has 3 buttons for speed-dial and just hand dials other numbers.

Nemo, really, you’re going to have to be super loyal to Apple to contend that they have the best products and processes in this space. Meanwhile, Apple is giving customers all sorts of reasons to examine their loyalty. Removing Scratch? Of course it breaks the rule about interpreters, but maybe this calls that underlying rule into question. Maybe for a wider audience, it calls Apple’s moral authority to make such rules into question. You could really have a whole website dedicated to rejected apps. If you know just the basics about statistical errors (type 1 vs. type 2), you can mine this gold mine endlessly, all at the expense of Apple’s reputation. And when those errors reveal systemic problems (satire, scripting, skin), you get diamonds too!

Nemo

Dear Bosco:  Anyone can introduce a new smartphone between Apple’s release cycles and thus, exploit new technologies that Apple won’t have an opportunity to introduce until the next generation of its iPhone.  It’s a smart thing to do, and it is done with the hope of being able to differentiate one phone, before Apple can introduce its updated phone, and thus, capture a little share before Apple lands on them with both feet.  This is a strategy that both competing makers of smartphones and PCs use, because they know that Apple simply doesn’t slap new features and technology into an updated product but instead, takes the time to design its products to integrated new technologies in a way that it thinks will produce a great product that provides the best user’s experience.  But with smartphones, the strategy of introducing a smartphone between Apple’s update cycles doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect of slowing sales of the iPhone.  It seems that customers are willing to wait on Apple, especially now that Apple has given them a peek of what is coming in iPhone OS 4.0.

What we have seen of iPhone OS 4.0 suggest that Apple has a different view than you of what the typical user and even more advanced users want in the user’s experience for a smartphone.  Notwithstanding your sainted mother, the market will tell us whether you or Apple is correct.

As for my experience with statistics and with type 1 and type 2 errors, it has been more than two decades since I’ve studied advanced statistics, but when I did study it, I studied it with Jan Kmenta, a founding father of econometrics; I was a decent student.  The data suggest that if the null hypothesis is that certain types of content, e.g., caricature of political figures, will prove to be unacceptably controversial, Apple’s tiered structure of censoring, which apparently escalates to Phil Schiller and ultimately to Steve Jobs, produces an acceptably small frequency of Type 2 error, while avoiding the risks of Type 1 errors, which could prove disastrous not only for Apple but, as was proved by the Danish newspaper’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as a dog, could result in an international incident, riots, and loss of life.  The Type 2 errors can be fixed by a simple reversal of the decision to censor the app or content, but the Type 1 error could easily and quickly progress to something that can remedied, if at all, only at great cost.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo, you should look into the merits of the Scratch app and the challenge to Apple’s approval scheme that it presents. Because its rejection will generate a ton of grassroots backlash and call into question the appropriateness (and risks) of Apple’s iPad in educational contexts. Above and beyond dead pixels... You and I both know that this has nothing to do with protecting users, and everything to do with milking profit from a totally unexpected profit center (App Store). Which is fine, so long as nobody pretends it’s about anything else.

Google Voice… This is really the most amazing thing I’ve discovered about the Android universe. I now get transcribed voicemails sent to my phone and email. It has turned a tool (voicemail) into something I absolutely hated and despised as a business tool into something I am going to give another shot to. Most attorneys I know live on cell phones and voicemail. I’d think Google Voice integration would be at the top of any of their mobile phone requirements list if they knew about it. Oh, Apple let it sit in approval limbo, and Google had to deliver it via optimized web page.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this technology is that Apple is in no position to copy it internally or buy a small to midsized company that has it. Google has spent years building its dictation technology, and it gets marginally better with each subsequent usage and feedback. Google took a novel approach of enticing millions of people to train its recognizers via its free 800-GOOG-411 service. Dictation is a funny technology. The core algorithms are well understood. The entire value of any particular stack is the training database. Apple will not be able to take its typical not invented here approach and deliver anything useful to its mobile customers on this front.

Based on my brief usage, I’d bet Google’s dictation stack could actually do well at “What the hell did Jesse Jackson say?”. It’s that impressive. Oh, did you know anywhere you can enter text on Android, you can tap the microphone key on the keyboard, and just dictate? It makes texting your friends a lot faster, that’s for sure.

Nemo

My Dear Bosco:  Your charge that Apple denied Scratch to charge a monopoly rent, which is economist speak for charging what you can when there isn’t any effective competition, is patently without merit.  Apple, in announcing the new Developer Agreement (Agreement) for iPhone OS 4.0’s SDK, did not increase its part of the split for content, and though it did announce a new charge for in app iAds, 60/40, with the 40 for Apple, that split is, as Steve Jobs said, the industry standard.  So Apple’s rejection of Scratch, because it does not comply with the new Agreement has no effect on revenues from the App Store.  Nor does it have any effect on Apple’s revenues, because, as you know, developers get Apple’s tools for free, and the new iAd is also based on open-source or non-discriminatory third-party licenses, which is much more than you can say for Flash, which requires a royalty that is restrained now only because it is under powerful competitive attack from open-source technologies that Apple and others are backing. 

Apple has given Scratch both a roadmap and the means, i.e., SDK, to get Scratch back onto its mobile devices.  If the developers of Scratch want to get back on the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Apple’s future devices, they need only resort to coding in the appropriate Apple SDK.

As for transcriptions.  I already have that with Vonage.  But there are several other VOIP entities with access to dictation technology—and you’d be surprised, I think, at Apple’s portfolio of technology for dictation, as Apple has been at work on transcribing voice years before Google existed—which are working on similar technologies for Apple’s mobile devices. 

And Google could be one of them, if it writes its Google Voice app to not essentially transform the phone functions of the iPhone into a type soft Android phone.  See Apple and Google’s respective responses to the FCC inquiry into Apple’s delay of Google Voice, where Apple made that charge and Google admitted that Google Voice did modify core component of the iPhone OS.  So Google too has a roadmap for getting Google Voice back onto the iPhone and iPod Touch, provided that its complies with Apple’s Agreement for the SDK, rather than trying to transform iPhones into Android phones. 

And it is my informed opinion that no federal district court will require Apple to accept the original Google Voice, for that would amount to letting one of Apple’ direct competitors, Google, use its own devices, its iPhone, to compete against it.  While Google may, as Vonage, Skype, et al., write a voice app for the iPhone, the antitrust laws of the United States don’t require that a person aid his competitor by letting that competitor redesign that person’s product to suit the competitor’s competitive advantage.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo, Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all for Apple or most any company getting anti-trust scrutiny from the government. However, I do hope that the company face a requirement from the marketplace to justify its Draconian policies.

On Google Voice, the Apple response to the FCC does not claim that Google used inappropriate APIs, but that it replaced core functionality. There is a difference. For example, Apple writes that: The Google Voice application replaces Apple?s Visual Voicemail by routing calls through a separate Google Voice telephone number that stores any voicemail, preventing voicemail from being stored on the iPhone, i.e., disabling Apple?s Visual Voicemail. Well duh, because there is no API to access voicemail messages so that they could be sent to a server for transcription, let alone schedule it automatically. Visual Voicemail actually remains in the phone, but not functional. The step that makes it non-functional is not code Google ads to the phone, but an industry standard dial string supported by most networks to reroute missed and busy calls. The change is made in AT&T’s network! The same change is made whether Google Voice runs as an app or a web page. So contrary to what you write, there is nothing Google can do to recode Google Voice so that it would meet Apple’s App Store guidelines (which are just insane in this case).

Similarly, Scratch was pulled for having an embedded scripting language, which kids use to create their own interactive stories. No amount of recoding would change this fundamental intended usage of the product.

These two decisions are indefensible by Apple, unless you accept as a defense that Apple just knows what’s appropriate, and its millions of customers who might use one of these apps don’t possess the judgement to decide what’s on their phones. Apple admitted in the FCC note that AT&T plays no veto role in their approval process. Neither of these apps affect the network. Of course, explanation number one of the App Store approval process (and one that they allude to in the FCC response) is protecting the network.

It’s OK Nemo. The examples will continue to pile up, and they will continue to be more compelling. You’d do well to just entrench into the “protecting its profits” position. At least that is consistent. By being arbitrary and mixing things up, Apple may actually be increasing the desirability of being approved in its channel. That’s like the pretty girl in high school not saying yes to every guy who asks her out. The downside is if your reputation depends on playing nicely with all parties, it is necessarily going to take some hits. And open, frictionless platforms like Android will attract the really interesting applications.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I want to add just one thing. Most, if not all of the controversy and bad will goes away if Apple would allow unrestricted sideloading of apps onto the iPhone. Even like on Android, where the default out-of-the-box setting is to NOT allow it, and the user must enable it. So, considering the truckload of crap that Apple is taking daily, why not? Because the only tenable non-refutable answer is about monetization, which is not an acceptable answer to most who consider the issue. It puts Apple in the position of having to lie to its market to keep its market, which rightly taints the brand.

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