ANOTHER PC BITES THE DUST

Well, my personal travel laptop (Windows 7) just bit the dust. After spending a night thinking about it I replaced it with a MacBook Air. I use an Air at work and it will result in me traveling with one less charger.

The other deciding factor was Time Machine. It works so well, especially if you are traveling like me ..  you can never backup enough.

But the Apple vs Windows war isn’t over. My sons have become PC gamers again, the XBOX is gathering dust. In fact when discussing the hype of the XBOX One, the boys concluded they are no longer interested, which surprised me. When I was at Microsoft I remember hearing stories about Robbie Bach fighting the internal MS machine to keep the XBOX a gaming focused device (The Windows team wanted it to run Windows). Now that he is gone, it seems that the device is slowly starting to lose focus and get lost in MS’s confusing consumer strategy. Too bad, it is a truly great platform.

According to our in-house experts, gaming PCs using Steam offer better games, better graphics, these insane "sales" where they can pick up new games for almost nothing (75 percent off is not uncommon) and instant access via high speed download.

The PC isn’t dead in our house after all.

BRAND OVERCOMING IMPERFECTION AT APPLE

 

I have always believed that one of the strengths of Apple is their ability to create a cult like loyalty among their clients. If you believe the old sales saying of “Make one person happy, they will tell 5 people. Make one person unhappy, they will tell 250 people”, then that loyalty is very valuable as they are willing to overlook issues, to the point where they  openly defend these issues. I was in more than one debate on Apple versus Microsoft with Apple fans during my tenure at Microsoft.

It is an impressive measure of their brand strength, product quality and customer service (which is unbelievable).

I say all of this because my move to Apple was filled with high expectations. A transformational experience … as described by almost every Apple fanboy/girl who I spoke to. But it has not been perfect, in fact it has been filled with a number of issues and as a newcomer, with a clear bias (i.e. Working for Microsoft for almost a decade), I find it interesting.

An example:

One of the ‘must haves’ for our iMAC was the ability to use the screen as an XBOX screen so that the boys would not have to head into the basement to play. Sitting upstairs in the kitchen as a group is a family ‘must have’. I spent a ton of time researching this and thought I had it nailed with the Kanex XD. It allows you to take an HDMI feed and have it utilize target display mode on the iMac. Simply put – you can play your XBOX on the screen.

What I did not realize is that the ‘new iMac’ with the Thunderbolt upgrade does not support target display mode as identified in this KB article – Apple engineers didn’t build that capability leaving many Apple users in the cold. The greater issue is that at the time of purchase and through a ton of trouble shooting, no one understood this. Even yesterday, I tried a different product that they sell in the Apple store (Belkin AV360) and everyone in the store thought it would work. It did not.

On a general perception level, I find some of the basic functionality substandard (i.e. iPhoto is just unusable, Time Machine backing up every hour is silly, the mail experience isn’t great and I noticed a security update!), but balance that off with admiration for the industrial engineering and increasing admiration for many of the positive features of the OS (i.e. Watching my boys crank out a very cool iMovie on the first day we got the device). But it is not the perfection I was expecting.

So I conclude with two thoughts and one offer:

  • Every business should aspire to Apple like brand loyalty. As their earning results continue to show, it is a very enviable position to be in.
  • The power of the Apple community is very important. It is dangerous if newcomers set too high of expectations and are not embraced within the group and ‘assimilated’, quelling dissatisfaction.
  • If anyone would like to buy a fully functional brand new Kanex HD that works with a iMac older than March – send me an email because I missed the 30 day return date trying to figure it all out :)

ORDERED

 

It is ordered. The Microsoft household has their first Apple on the way. Granted, the Apple will be surrounded by 5 PCs and a number of XBOX360s, so we remain Microsoft centric. We will see if it passes muster.

I ordered up the iMac 27”. One thing is for sure, the iMac monitor is one of the most striking monitors on the market. There is something very impressive about Apple’s industrial design and as this will be on the kitchen desk, the ‘All in one’ feature is very appealing on the clutter and cord reduction front. Although, it may disappoint our cat (even though he is a little too big for this now).

2010 Kipling Sleeping

It will be very interesting to see if that claim of ‘just so simple’ is true for someone who is totally unfamiliar with the OS .. and no fervently biased toward Apple (smile).

SONOS: FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS

 

I love to try new technology, although there are a few that I have skipped and this is one that I skipped 3 years ago. On the home theater side, our house is wired. Ethernet, speakers in many rooms, a media server in the basement that distributes our music, videos and pictures and an XBOX on every TV to view the content. The problem with the XBOX (besides Media Center’s insane flakiness) and music is that you have to be in the family room to control the media. So if you are outside on the deck and don’t like the song or find the volume too high, you have to go inside and change it. Not any longer.

I looked at a Sonos 3 years ago when a friend showcased it at his BBQ in England. In his old home he had bridges set up and controlling speakers with the Sonos proprietary wireless network distributing music around the house. It worked very well for him as old English homes are very hard to wire due to their plaster walls and age. The Sonos indexed his music and playlists from his PC and the proprietary remote control allowed him to stand outside and switch songs, select genres, alter volume or pick a new playlist. The problem was the price and the remote. In the old model you needed all of the kit … the remote (which was a brick), the bridges and on and on. It was a $1,200++ investment.

Not anymore. While at WMC I came across the Sonos booth and found that they had made a couple key advancements. The most important for me was the remote control. They have taken the software and released it on iOS, so you can eliminate the need for yet another remote control and put it on your iPhone or iPad for FREE. They also announced that it will be out on Android any day, which will be great on my Atrix and Samsung Galaxy. According to the Sonos site, you can have up to 16 devices interacting with the system (PCs, phones, tablets). No more looking for a remote, just grab one of the phones that is lying around and take control.

Sonos Product Family Diagram

Which leads to the second component, the ZonePlayer 90. As the house is pre-wired, I do not need to use a wireless network to distribute music. Instead, I invested $400 and bought the ZP90. I plugged the device into my network (via Ethernet), linked it to my amp (via optical), logged into the Sonos app on my desktop, pointed the software to the folder which contains my music and playlists and Voila! Up and running. It doesn’t care if I am using Windows Media Player or iTunes (I don’t … although I did say last week that we should get a Mac .. for the heck of it), it reads them all.

This is a fantastic piece of kit. Sonos has been at it a long time, and with the free software app on the phone/tablet, the cost is negligible and the best out there.  Well done Sonos.

THE DEATH OF THE DESKTOP?

 

The death of the desktop is something that analysts have been talking about for a very long time. Many are anti-Microsoft and allow their sentiment to color their view. Others see the future, and simply hope for a different technical landscape with more choice, a hope that many had for Linux (unfulfilled on the desktop) and that Apple started to make inroads against, gaining as much as 10% share. Others simply hope to see cloud computing enabling a simpler, install free world where the hardware requirements on the desktop are replaced by server based, internet computing power. Scott McNealy could be argued as one of the earliest and most vocal proponents of this model, although his famous dislike/jealousy of Microsoft often coloured his point of view:

"At Sun we believe in the network-computing model. We’re not wired up and married to the host-based centralized computing model, and we’re not all tangled up in the desktop hairball – that is the desktop computing model of the Intel-Microsoft world. Everything from the first computer we shipped a long time ago goes out with a network interface, and every desktop, server, application, software product, and service product that we’ve ever offered has been network-centric."

Rightly or wrongly, disappointed or happy (depending on your personal and financial motivations), the desktop remains alive despite much effort – not unlike the often sought after, fictional ‘paperless office’. And as my weekend demonstrated (Where I spent countless hours rebuilding 2 Windows 7 machines after only 18 months of use, due to constant profile corruptions, blue screens and much family pain) the desktop is far from simple and far from ‘well’.

But change is afoot and the dominance of the desktop OS faces a new challenge. Before I expand on that thought, I will make one clear note, it is far from decided and you can count on one thing, Microsoft never gives up and has more resources than all of the competition combined. It will remain a driving force in the desktop destiny, that is for sure.

That being said, I was struck by a few items over the last two weeks that seem like key inflection points in the future of the desktop. Consider the following:

1.   The rise of the tablet: The tablet was envisioned by Gates and Microsoft many years ago. As far back as the late 90’s, Microsoft was talking about digital ink and their push into what they called the ‘Tablet PC’ market. I had one of the first tablet PCs, a Compaq T1000 and it was revolutionary, I could write on it in meetings, it was thin and very versatile. But Microsoft’s approach had 2 fatal flaws – it was a large, desktop based OS that required fast hardware (which is a direct contradiction to the tablet form factor) and had very poor battery life.

Fast forward almost a decade, and in almost a XEROX PARC like moment for Microsoft, the iPad shows up. In one fell swoop, Apple created an entirely new market with well engineered hardware and an operating system which is much more mobile OS than desktop OS. They built the tablet – OS and hardware from the ground up and one could argue, that with many new tablets on the horizon, this class of device has demonstrated value and is going to thrive as a viable desktop alternative. Just go sit in an executive boardroom and you will see why. iPad’s everywhere.

2.  The rise of the thin OS:  The rise of the tablet and the growth of smart phones running high speed processors (1ghz+) is driving demand for a thin OS. One that boots instantly, uses less memory and has characteristics that are moving the market away from the processor wild device, heavy or non portable devices to thin downed devices.

Last week, Apple took that step on the laptop. While reading the press release on the new Apple notebook, I was intrigued by a few key changes that Apple has made. Instant on, solid state disk and their new app store are very ‘iOS’ or mobile like functions – and this move is significant. Perhaps the desktop OS isn’t dead, it is simply gearing up for a big change, where success requires a transformation – driven by mobility.

3.  The Application Store:  One of the most important changes is the availability of applications. Walk into a local Best Buy, notice that the PC aisle is getting smaller?

With internet speeds that make downloading a file almost instant, why buy packaged software? But it remains a fragmented experience. There is no app store for the desktop, there is no system of ranking. And of course, in this clutter that is the internet – Apple sees opportunity and charges forward with another transformation. They are about to launch an app store for the laptop (the desktop will surely follow):

Macs will soon have an online application store, similar to the one for the iPhone and iPad, Jobs said today at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. New computers also will take better advantage of multitouch gestures on track pads, mimicking Apple’s mobile iOS software. The app store will open within 90 days, and Lion will be released in the summer of 2011.

 With tons of Android tablets on the way in the coming 3 months, Android growing 10X and taking 50% share in the US market, and a change in the way we use our devices (mobility being the key), I would suggest that change is afoot ….

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