Almost Perfect

I’m sitting at my kitchen table here in Colorado with the beautiful sunny fall day shining in through the windows typing on an iPad Pro 12.9” which I picked up at the Apple Store this morning. I have owned many iPads over the years, starting with the very first and including the last 2 12.9” iPad Pro models with the Apple Pencil. They have all been very useful, and dramatically reduced the amount of time I spent on my Macs because I could do so much of my work on them. I got the Smart Keyboard for my gen 2 iPad Pro 12.9”, and liked using it a lot, and I used the Apple Pencil a fair amount, too. 

But... 

There were still a few annoyances. The device was just a little bigger than I wanted it to be. The Pencil was great in use, but that silly cap was always a concern (I did not lose mine, though), and charging it was inconvenient (and I did find it without a charge a few times). The keyboard had only one angle, and it worked well for table use, but not so well for my lap, especially on planes. And in landscape, the home button was an anomaly. 

All of these went away with this new iPad Pro. So, I sit here with the keyboard using the more angled position, the Pencil is snapped to the top, and the white background of this text looks brilliant due to the True Tone. 

I’m hooked. I think this is likely to be my primary device for a while. 

Even if I am a fanboi. At least according to Audree, my Apple Business consultant. It was ‘cause I was wearing my WWDC Levi’s jacket. She’s right. But not for the reason you might think. I’ll write more about that soon. 

The Morality of Blocking Ads

Whether sitting at my kitchen table last week checking the latest news or viewing my Twitter or Facebook feeds on the run, the conflict over iOS 9's new ad blocking capability has created as much controversy as the Pope's message being in conflict with both the political right and the political left. Why?

I've read a number of useful insights into the ranging from Seth Godin's long-term perspective on caring for customers first to Dennis Seller's report of its impact on publishers and the advertising perspective of Randall Rothenberg.

However, as an analyst with a focus on root causes and the purpose of business, it's clear the none of these actually go far enough to get to the bottom of the real issue: value.

Fundamentally, advertising is a communication medium from the provider of a product or service to the prospective consumer of that product or service. So, for example, Apple wants to sell you a new iPhone, so it creates an advertisement to communicate to you so you will purchase it. The communication may take virtually any form, from the promise of a better life to the description of various iPhone features, but its goal is always to get you to buy.

So, how do they get that message to you?

They use middlemen who have your attention for other reasons. Perhaps a medium you use to enjoy entertainment, like TV, or maybe a blog you read for education. Since those media have your attention, they sell it to advertisers to support their production of more content. There are other middlemen, of course, including those who create and produce the ads, those who do the work necessary to deliver the ads on whatever media, and so on, but ultimately, that's the picture: a producer buying access to consumers to convince them to buy.

The problem is, the exchange happens between all the other players without the permission of the consumers. Your permission is assumed. It's the price you pay for consuming the content, and the various providers believe that you know this and are conscious of the arrangements. Ironically, the prevalence of the advertising means that consumers learn to tune it out and avoid it. We buy a DVR that allows them to skip over commercials, we change the radio station when a commercial comes on, and, yes, we install and use ad blockers for our web browsers on iOS.

There are times we don't, however. The Super Bowl, for example, has become a showcase for advertising. Super Bowl ads are ranked and discussed for weeks both leading up to the event and following it. They have created massive demand for brands, and web sites have crumbled under the crush of interest they generate.

But, these times are rare. We become jaded. It gets harder and harder to get our attention. So, the ads get more and more intrusive. Remember those animate GIF ads? How do you like hover ads (the ones that block the page so you have to look at them before you can read whatever you came to read)? More and more obtrusive, more and more expensive to experience.

So, we get ad blockers.

Now, some advertisers and the ad networks are working on options to get around blockers and the consumer choice they represent. What does that say about the entitlement they feel towards the time and attention of those they target with the ads? Exactly.

What about those who earn their livings by the ad revenue they receive and who are damaged by the loss of your attention?

The solution is simple, but hard: it takes a shift in paradigm, but the time has come. Change the way you think about ads, whether you buy them, create them, deliver them, host them, or consume them! Create value, and find ways to effectively "pay" consumer for their attention. If you have something to share with me that matters to me, I'll pay attention. If what you want to show me is something that has no value for me (like the mortgage ads I see any time my ad blocker is off!), it's a waste for both of us. Figure out a way to stop doing it!

Advertisers complain about the poor return on their online advertising investment. Here is why they have the issue: the ads are ugly, inconsiderate, obtrusive, and irrelevant. In a world where time is the most value commodity most people have, this is insulting. Stop doing it!

I understand that this means more work than has traditionally been done in advertising, except by the most advanced and creative teams. It's time to follow their lead.

To publishers who make their living from advertising: Don't blame Apple or those building the best-selling apps. You brought this on yourself.

For those who are primarily consumers, I have a challenge for you, too: don't expect great content to be free. It costs time, energy, talent, and effort to produce, and just because you can get it for free doesn't mean you should. Artists deserve compensation for their work, whether it's a news report, a painting, or a song. Compensate them for the benefit you get. It's the right thing to do, and it feels good to do it!

I Was Wrong About the iPhone 6

Last Wednesday, I was sitting in an AT&T store with my amazing daughter Rachel. She was finally replacing her iPhone 4S with a used iPhone 6. Mine.

So, I swapped my iPhone 6 for my son's old iPhone 5 as we did a family round-robin of phones in anticipation of the iPhone 6S release this Friday and the new iPhone Upgrade Program.

Last September, before I had my iPhone 6, I tweeted that I thought both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus might be too big for me. When I got the iPhone 6, I was frustrated by the pockets it wouldn't fit and how conspicuous my phone had become. I looked forward to what I hoped would be a return to the smaller form factor by Apple in a future update.

Not any more.

When I pull the iPhone 5 out of my pocket, I realize that I miss the additional size of the iPhone 6. I miss the extra text, the extra row of icons, and even the way it feels in my hand. I've adjusted. I seldom one-hand the phone like I used to do with my iPhone 5S, but when I need to, the new swiping keyboards (like Swype, my favorite for the iPhone and SwiftKey, my favorite for my iPad) make it possible.

In short, the new size works for me. I still think the Plus is too big for me; I like to be able to put my phone in a pocket, and although the 6/6S is large in a pocket, it's still possible. The 6 Plus isn't (for me).

What's your experience?

App of the Week: TripIt

This week, we take a bit of a shift away from productivity apps primarily on devices and move to a system for travel that has changed my experience. As a frequent traveler (I've averaged more than 100,000 miles of air travel each year for the past decade), every trip has a combination of information that is critical to make the travel aspect of the trip as uneventful as possible. TripIt has changed my experience by remembering all of the details, keeping them in one place, and placing them into my systems in ways that are very helpful. TripIt is a combination of a web site and an app that collect itinerary information, transform it into trips, and then allow for distribution to other systems like calendars. As a result, it has become the centerpiece of my travel logistics and relieved me of the burden of tracking the details.

How?

Well, first, TripIt captures all of my itineraries. It does this when I send them to plans@tripit.com or by checking my Google email account for me and finding itineraries there. It processes plane, train, automobile (rental), hotel, and other reservations, parsing the details out of the itineraries and building out "Trips" that contain the overlapping information. For example, for me a typical trip includes a round trip on an airplane, a rental car, and a hotel for the week. All of these are bundled into a "Trip" in the TripIt app, and I can view each item independently or as a group. This provides me very fast access to the "next" element of my trip (picking up the rental car or getting the hotel location, for example).

I also have TripIt add this information to a calendar, and I subscribe to that calendar within my calendar apps. This means that I know precisely how long a flight is scheduled to last, and it gets blocked for me without me having to do anything else.

As a result, I haven't lost a rental car confirmation number, forgotten which of the hotels with similar names I've booked, or been too surprised by how long a flight lasts.

What do you think of TripIt?

App of the Week: Glympse

So far, App of the Week has been about various productivity apps that keep enable us to use all of our devices to engage with our content and data anywhere. This week, though, I'm going to let you in on a cool little app that helps me with the burning question, "When will you be home?": Glympse. Glympse is one of those apps that I find very useful and cool. It's a pretty simple app, with the simple idea that you may want to share your location and estimated arrival time with others. When you do, they can track your progress on a map in the app or on the Glympse web site. It's as simple as that!

I like using it when I am meeting someone, when our schedules are tight, or when I just want them to know when to expect me with high accuracy.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

App of the Week: Day One

It's the end of the year. It's the beginning of the year. It's a time of peace and goodwill. It's a time to look back. It's a time to look forward. I'm sitting in a hotel room along the beach in Hollywood, Florida. My plans for the day have changed, and I thought of you and the goals for the year. It occurred to me that you could gain much by writing down your thoughts more than you do, and so I thought of Day One, my primary journaling app.

Day One is a gorgeous journaling app made for the Mac and the iPhone and iPad (via a universal app). It's a great way to begin to collect your thoughts and experiences, with deep functions to grow as you find yourself writing more and collecting more of your life into it. Much of what you might want to remember is automatically recorded by Day One, such as the location of the post, the weather when you posted, and date and time. As a result, you can view the timeline of your entries or a map, and review what you were thinking, what you experienced, where and when.

This combination can create many insights as you review your year, look forward to the next, set your goals, and consider what's possible.

I also like that I can write in Drafts and then use an action to enter those thoughts into Day One. I'm not always sure when I start writing in Drafts what I will want to do with the thought once it's more complete!

So, here's my thought for you today: what would your life be if you began to write more, record more, review more, and be more intentional about what's next?

It's just a thought. But, it has the power to change your future.

App of the Week: OmniFocus

I'm sitting here in my office prepping this blog post on a snowy Colorado afternoon. As I looked down the list of apps I've created for this series, I got to thinking about the one that would really help as we turn the corner to a new year. That one is OmniFocus, available separately for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Before I get into the details of the app, understand that I buy into the Getting Things Done (GTD) philosophy of productivity:

  1. Capture: Get everything out of your head and into a trusted system,
  2. Clarify: Process what it means,
  3. Organize: Put it where it belongs and where you'll see it when you can do it,
  4. Reflect: Review frequently, and
  5. Engage: Do what there is to do.

This set of simple steps is very difficult to actually do consistently. There is so much demand on our time these days, with the ubiquitous Internet, always-on communications, and ever-faster pace of innovation and work. Yet, it is the only way I have discovered to know what is "on my list," what is "off my list," what is "waiting for something or someone outside my direct control," and so on. It doesn't mean you'll get everything done. It does mean that you'll get more of the most important things done.

So, what about OmniFocus?

While there are a number of "to do list" apps, some of which are less costly (including some which are free), OmniFocus is the one I've chosen to use consistently because it allows me to best set up my life in alignment with GTD.

While OmniGroup describes OmniFocus on their web site, I approach it differently. Specifically, I look at how it enables each of the steps of GTD:

  1. The OmniFocus Inbox is the capture point. Whenever I come up with a new idea or an item appears that I need to address, I put it into the Inbox. That's my capture spot. I even put emails into the Inbox if they represent an action I need to take. This means there is only one place for my actions. OmniFocus does a good job of providing links back to the mail items, so I can file them in my Archive at the time I capture them.
  2. I review the Inbox during breaks in my day, and ask the GTD questions about each item. Based on what the item is, I take the appropriate action, whether addressing it right then, putting it as an action step into a project, or otherwise filing it. These are the Clarify and Organize steps.
  3. I perform a Weekly Review, checking all of the "still to do" items in OmniFocus and adjusting them as appropriate.
  4. I use Contexts (the various locations, tools, and energy levels of my life) to look at only those things that I can do at a particular time. For example, when I'm on a plane, I don't usually purchase Internet access. So, if a task requires Internet access, there is no need for me to see it during a flight. Thus, my "In-flight" context doesn't include those items.

Using OmniFocus I am able to maintain my sanity. I capture items before I forget them, I have one place where I look for actions to do, and I keep the available actions as clean as possible.

How do you get things done?

App of the Week: 1Password

So far today, I've logged into a dozen or so accounts on the Internet. I've logged in from my iPhone, my iPad, and my Macs. I've done some shopping, commented on some blog posts, reviewed RSS feeds, and more. Every one of the accounts has a complex password made up of a random set of numbers, letters, and punctuation. As an expert in cybersecurity, it'd be pretty embarrassing to have my accounts cracked. So, I'm careful. And the most useful tool in my arsenal is 1Password. When you do log into your accounts, how do you do it? Do you use one password for multiple accounts? Are your passwords easy for you to remember? How can you be sure they won't be easily guessed?

While there are a number of strategies for coming up with strong passwords, like this one from xkcd:

there are alternatives in the form of applications like 1Password that simplify the entire process, and given the large set of accounts we all typically have, I highly recommend it.

1Password is one of a set of applications called "password vaults" or "password managers." These applications provide a number of functions related to passwords and related sensitive information like credit cards, including encryption, generation, storage, and retrieval. From my perspective, having a password manager is a critical step in protecting yourself online.

1Password Workflow

1Password provides a broader range of functions than I use every day, and some that I don't use at all, but it is an application that I use multiple times every day on each of my devices. Here's the general workflow:

  • When I visit a new web site and create an account, I use the 1Password icon in my browser to generate a new password. 1Password prompts me for my 1Password master password to unlock the application, then allows me to generate a password with whatever characteristics I prefer. I typically use passwords that are as long as the site will accept, and as complex as it will accept, including upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, and numerals. 1Password will automatically fill in the password as I'm creating the account. 
  • When I submit the new account information, 1Password remembers the new account, including the username and password. It prompts me to store that information into the 1Password database. 
  • The next time I visit the site, I use the 1Password icon to fill my username and password.

The result of this workflow is the following:

  1. I only have to remember one password (hence the name!): the password to unlock 1Password.
  2. The password for the sites are on all of my devices, synced all the time.
  3. All of the passwords are use are long random strings of characters that are for all practical purposes impossible to guess or brute-force crack.

1Password offers a number of methods to keep your database synced across all of your devices, including Dropbox and iCloud. They also offer applications on iOS, OS X, and Windows.

I count 1Password as one of my essential applications, and you should, too.

App of the Week: Special Prices at AppSanta

Every once in a while, independent developers offer their apps at a special price. This holiday season, AppSanta is once again offering a number of favorite apps at discounts up to 80%. Drafts 4 is one of them, as are other apps I'll be covering in the future such as Terminology, Gneo, TextExpander Touch, Clear, Launch Center Pro, Manual, Calendars 5, and perhaps more. Check it out!

I'll post this week's App of the Week by tomorrow.

(Note: this is not a sales pitch, nor do I receive anything for pointing you to AppSanta; I just thought you might find the discounts useful.)

App of the Week: Evernote

So far, the App of the Week series has looked at two apps that represent the ends of a spectrum from long-term storage of your core content with Dropbox to short-term content collection with Drafts. This week, we're going to look at a category-creating app that bridges the spectrum: Evernote. Evernote includes a web browser interface, PC and Mac Apps, an iOS app, and more. There is also an entire ecosystem of apps that has built up around the core Evernote capabilities that are also worth exploring if you add Evernote to your workflow.

So, why would you use Evernote?

Originally created as a simple note-taking application to sync notes across all your devices, Evernote has evolved into an entire ecosystem of physical and virtual information capturing products. The Evernote Marketplace offers products as diverse as a high-quality stylus and scanner to unique carry bags and device stands. Evernote has also recently added specific features to provide for collaboration using Evernote, including Evernote chat.

However nice those aspects are, they are not why I use Evernote. I use Evernote to capture both text and images that will be archived so that I can search for them later. Everything you store in Evernote is indexed for searching, including images with text, making it easy to later find a quick note that you wrote, a receipt that you filed in it, notes that were on a whiteboard, or anything else. You can also tag items to add an additional set of searchable terms.

Image Text Search

When you upload images to Evernote, the Evernote servers go to work and run OCR (optical character recognition) on them and index the terms that the OCR finds within the image. This is how you can take a photo of a whiteboard and later find that photo by using terms that were on the board. This has saved my bacon more than once.

Workflow

Typically, on my mobile devices I use Drafts to capture text and my camera to capture images, then import them into Evernote. Other times, I'll open the Evernote app directly and use the text editor and image capture that's native in the app. I put the captures into Evernote Notebooks based on the area of my life for which they are useful (for example, I have notebooks for Personal, Speaking, and Writing in addition to notebooks for my clients and other technical and operational aspects of my work life). This allows me to narrow searches, as well as browse historical notes quickly and in context.

I capture notes like coupons, travel certificates from airlines and hotels, receipts from purchases and government sites, and gift ideas for friends and family. I also use Evernote to have notes available in multiple environments, like sharing between PCs I use for specific customers and all of my devices.

Summary

In short, to capture ideas, notes, and other temporal information for archival and retrieval, Evernote is a slam-dunk.

App of the Week: Drafts

Last week, we looked at Dropbox, a way to centralize your content so that you can access it from any device, anywhere, at any time. This week, I'm going to take you to the other end of the spectrum: Drafts, a universal iOS app for quickly capturing text you can then send to virtually any app or content store. The iPhone and iPad versions are optimized for use on each device type, and I use them extensively. The first thing to know about Drafts is that it launches instantaneously and gives you a blank canvas for writing so that you can capture your thoughts without delay:

As you can see, it gives you a simple white canvas, with a few buttons along the top for looking at your stack of Drafts, adding a new Draft, and taking actions. There's also a character and word count, together with an information button when there is something to know about the current draft.

Above the keyboard, there are also some new keyboard functions, including undo and redo, moving the sprite one character at a time, and various Markdown keys for headers, emphasis, and links. That list also scrolls, unveiling a few more options for a tab a special characters:

With this simple interface (and your choice of keyboard), it is easy to launch and quickly capture whatever is on your mind, from notes to journal entries to bits of code or anything else that you want to get out of your brain and into bits on your device.

Once you've got your text into Drafts, however, the magic really begins. Drafts is designed to be a catch-all for content and allows you to send the text virtually anywhere. Touching the icon in the upper right corner opens your Actions, providing you ways of sending the text to other apps, the clipboard, and more:

With this approach, you have one place to capture your text, and then you are able to send it to one or more other locations whenever and however you'd like.

Drafts keeps an infinite virtual stack of your Drafts, as well, and touching the icon in the upper left will show you your list:

You can flag items in the list, archive them, delete them, or simply keep the list running in case you ever want access to the items later.

I find Drafts invaluable, and it is one of the four apps on my iPhone task bar and is also one of the five on my iPad task bar. Take a look, and let me know what you think in the comments or by email or Facebook message.

App of the Week: Dropbox

Yes, I'm aware that Dropbox is less of an app than it is an online storage system, but that's precisely the point I made in my first post: the ability to transparently store your data in a way that is accessible everywhere changes every workflow. Dropbox was the first widely-available system that provided ubiquitous access to your files anywhere, and it does so completely transparently: from your perspective, your files are in a folder and sub-folders on your various devices. They are in the same place on every device. I have Dropbox on my Macs, my client PC, my iPhone and my iPad. My files are always at hand. The set-up is straight forward. Go to Dropbox, set up an account, be sure to use 2-factor authentication, and download the app for your Mac or PC, and install it. When you do, it will create a Dropbox folder in your home directory. Anything you put into it -- including both folders and files -- will sync to the Dropbox in the cloud, and sync to any other devices tied to the same account.

If you carry mobile devices, download Dropbox to them, as well. Now, your files are available anywhere you have any of your devices.

Dropbox Differences on Mobile Devices

By default, Dropbox on a Mac or PC syncs every file and folder on the device to and from the cloud. By default, Dropbox on a mobile device syncs none of the files and folders, but provides access to them through an Internet connection. Dropbox provides ways of changing this behavior, but the functions are different in the two environments, and you will have to decide how you want to interact with files and how much storage you want to set aside for them.

PC and Mac

Dropbox syncs your entire Dropbox to your PC and Mac, setting up a complete replica of the cloud version of Dropbox on your system. Given that most computer systems have sufficient disk space, this makes sense. However, there may be files or folders that are more archival or otherwise do not need to be always on your computer. If so, you can use Dropbox's "Selective Sync" feature (within the Account section of Preferences) to remove some folders and/or files from those that are always on the computer. Note that you can still access those folders using a web browser to Dropbox.com, but they will not be on the computer as local files, and won't be available when they computer isn't on the Internet. All other files will be available when you're offline, and will sync with the Dropbox cloud when you get back online. Dropbox handles conflicts smoothly, and uses icons and messages to communicate about the sync status.

Mobile Devices

On mobile devices, Dropbox works exactly the opposite: no files or folders are stored on the device by default. Instead, all interaction is by using an Internet connection through the Dropbox app. If you want a file to be locally cached (so that you can read it while on a plane, for instance), mark it as a "Favorite" by touching the star. This will cache the file on your device and also put the file into the Favorites section of the app.

Integration

More and more apps on iOS (and Android) interact directly with Dropbox, providing for workflows that store files in Dropbox that are edited or otherwise used by other apps. One common use, for example, is as a drop location for email attachments, both sending and receiving. You can even use a browser to download or upload files at any time from any where, including a friend's computer.

Workflow

I use Dropbox to store all of my files and data that isn't dedicated to one particular app on one device. I even store some of those in it. The fundamental advantage for me is that I have all of my files on multiple systems (my Macbook Pro, my Mac Pro, and even my client PC) so that I can recover the files if anything ever happens to Dropbox. And Dropbox has the files if anything happens to my devices.

So, as a result of this foundational characteristic, Dropbox is the first app/system in this series.

Don't forget to let me know in the comments or my email your thoughts on apps or workflows you'd like to see included.

 

Let's go!

Apps of the Week

Apps of the Week

Today, while flying over my beloved Rocky Mountain on the way to Phoenix to support my son Gabe as he competes in the Western Region Oireachtas Irish dance competition, this theme occured to me. As I have thought about the wide variety of topics on which I have written over the years, it became clear to me that one of the reasons that my posts have been so bursty is that I, as many before me, have wondered what I have to say that would be of the most interest. Over on the RedSeal blog, I post frequently on topics of cybersecurity and related networking challenges. However, especially when I wrote a column for InfoWorld, it was clear that there were topics that resonate and which people find helpful. 

Given the shift in applications over the past few years, it seems there is an interest in the systems and applications I use to do the work I do, both in my home office and as I travel to support clients around the world. So, beginning with the next post in the Technology section of the blog, I'll share with you the apps I use, how I use them, and why I like them. 

Purpose 

I could, of course, do this for any number of reasons, including that I'm being paid to do so. Let me start by saying that I am not. While I have acted as a beta tester for a number of the applications I'll be describing, most are simply those I have found by trial and error to be useful and effective for my work. You'll have to decide if they fit your needs and wants, and I'll do my best to help you with that process. Also, if you have questions about particular workflows, types of apps, others that I have tried but don't use, and so on, please ask.  

Also, perhaps through this process you and I will have an opportunity to influence some of the existing and emerging applications, and that seems like a reasonable purpose, as well. 

Most of all, it is my deepest desire to see you able to do your best art, whether it's writing a book, building software or hardware, teaching, or expressing yourself in any other way. If my insights into the applications you can use to make that work more effective is helpful, I will be delighted. 

Platform

The vast majority of my work is done on an Apple device. I use an iPad and iPhone (which run iOS), a MacBook Pro Retina, and an old 2008 Mac Pro (which run OS X) for my personal work. There are times when clients require me to use a Windows system, so there are some Windows applications that I use to shortcut and otherwise help me do good work in that environment, but for Windows applications (or Android, for that matter), my insights will be quite limited.

Perspective

There are a number of ways to view applications, the data on which they operate, and the systems and devices involved in the process. I have a very specific view that colors virtually everything I do: data is central and applications manipulate it. Applications are windows into and tools to manipulate data that is stored independently, accessible from any device anywhere. The ubiquitous Internet means that your data is available almost everywhere, and applications caching means that you can always have a copy of your data that will sync up when you are back online. As a result, my application choices and preferences are biased towards those that combine these fundamental concepts:

  1. availability across all my devices or cooperative interaction with an app on the other devices. For example, there are times when the same app isn't available on OS X and iOS, but there are apps that interact with the data compatibly, but in ways that take advantage of the particular characteristics of the different environments (touch versus keyboard interactivity, for example).
  2. caching. I am on airplanes and international destinations where use of cellular data is quite costly frequently enough that I must be able to cache data on my devices to continue to use it even when I'm offline. As I type this post, for example, I'm at 34,000' into Desk, I am not connected to the Internet. I'll post it when I get to my hotel, losing nothing in the process.
  3. cooperation. Apps that cooperate with other apps that I use help me more than those which are isolationist.
  4. nothing's perfect. I am always looking for apps to align more closely with the way I think, my preferences, and my workflow. Sometimes, I'll have 3 or 4 apps I'm using for the same thing, experimenting to determine which one fits best.

I think that's about it. Let me know if there are applications, workflows, or other related areas that pose as challenges or create questions for you. I'll do my best to address them either in a post or with a direct response.

Let's go!

The Lies of Net Neutrality

(Update: taxes, too; click through for just the update.) I was just taking a few minutes to check my newsfeed a few mornings ago, enjoying the final days of autumn before the polar blast that came to Colorado this week when I started reading them: the polarized, ignorant perspectives on the misnomer of "Net Neutrality."

On the one side, there are apparent ignorant politicians making comments both pro and con. They oversimplify the issue, and make it seem obvious to their own constituents that their view is right. The fact is, however, that neither "side" is right about this issue. As is typical when politicians attempt to stick their controlling efforts into science and technology, they damage the good with the bad and crush the possible benefits to the United States.

So, if you really want to understand the issues and the way that this should play out, read on. If you'd rather just pick a side and go into pitched battle, feel free. Just leave me out of it.

How the Internet Works

If you're an IP engineer, you can skip this part. If not, take a moment to understand some of the basics about how the Internet actually moves all that data around. It'll help you understand the rest of what's important about how the network gets managed and what is allowed and what's not.

Although it may seem like your downloading web page, video, or music is one continuous stream of ones and zeros, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, every last bit of data flowing across the Internet is broken into chunks called packets. These packets are typically a bit less than 1500 byte long, and it takes many of them to constitute a single uni-directional communication. These packets do not necessarily take the same path from the source to the destination, each individual packet being individually routed by the hardware and software that makes up the Internet. As a result, they may not arrive in the right order, some may be lost, and others may be corrupted. The receiving system works with the sender to reconstitute the original data, and you often see this as buffering, as that reconstituted data is collected for playback sufficient enough so you don't see any interruptions.

It is critically important to understand this aspect of the Internet before considering how you want to govern it and what rules you insist on creating. Let me explain why next:

How Different Data Needs Different Internets

There are a number of types of data used commonly on the Internet, and hundreds more that most people never experience. Focusing on just the common ones, consider these:

  1. Interactive voice and video. These data require near real-time delivery and controlled streaming. Large gaps between packets received will cause freezing and other issues with the interaction, effectively making the communication unusable. We have all had voice and video over the Internet freeze or fail, and this is why.
  2. Streaming voice and video. These data require the controlled streaming of interactive voice and video, but can be buffered or otherwise can make up for some of the vagaries of an unreliable network. As long as the stream of packets continues to arrive at a predictable rate, the results are good, since it's not interactive. However, if the packets are throttled, have errors, or get dropped, the experience is poor. Most of us have had the experience of Netflix or iTunes dropping back in quality due to poor network performance.
  3. Bulk data. These data do not have time or delivery constraints, and include most web data, email, downloads, and the like. This data can have packets with issues, but the ultimate goal is simply to get all of them to the destination within a reasonable timeframe so that the file will be available for use, regardless of whether it's rendered on a browser screen, played on an mp3 player, synced to a Dropbox folder, or read on the screen.

You should now see that these three types of data place different requirements on the network, and should be treated differently when bandwidth is at a premium. And therein lies the issues with so-called Network Neutrality. Data isn't neutral, so a neutral network will actually create a worse experience for the users of the network than will a network that is well-engineered to prefer the right kinds of data.

This means that networks should be engineered to prefer data packets in the order I listed above, and to use interleaving of lower-class packets with higher-class packets when bandwidth allows. So, for example, if I am on an HD video call and it's using 90% of my available bandwidth, my network should only use that remaining 10% to deliver any of the type 2 and type 3 traffic. If it uses any more, my interactive video experience will suffer. In other words, the network should prefer (there's that word that is so vilified in these discussions) the interactive video packets over the bulk and non-interactive video packets.

Impact on Net Neutrality Planning

Please note that nothing here indicates a desire to see "pay to play" kinds of arrangements in the industry. However, it is common for providers to charge for access to their bandwidth. When I want greater bandwidth, I have to pay more. If I want a guaranteed bandwidth availability, I'll pay more than a best effort bandwidth of the same amount. What I mean is that a 50Mbps download for consumers is usually best effort, and happens when the overall network is relatively uncongested. If I want 50Mbps regardless of the state of the rest of the network, I need to buy dedicated bandwidth, which costs considerably more (and is typically only sold to businesses).

If I sell data delivery to my customers, and that delivery requires a certain bandwidth, I typically buy that bandwidth from two or more Internet Service Providers (ISPs). And I have to pay for the bandwidth as either best effort or dedicated. This is the way packet delivery has worked over the Internet and between content providers and their ISPs since the Internet went commercial in the early 1990s. This arrangement is appropriate, it seems to me.

Furthermore, ISPs should not be restricted from shaping data in order to deliver better service to customers, as I outlined in the story of the 3 data types. They should be able to prefer interactive packets over streaming packets, and both of those over bulk packets.

This is not to say that content providers should be held hostage based on the type of data they are delivering. That should be up to the consumer, and the content providers should simply purchase dedicated bandwidth and be able to use all they purchase, filling it with any of the types of traffic their provider will deliver. Consumers should receive the service to which they subscribe from any provider of that service, delivered with the quality possible given appropriate preferences. But, providers need to be able to shape traffic or they will be forced to over-provision, passing the bill along to consumers.

The United States Compared with The Rest of the World

All of this said, do not buy into the myth that the US has the best Internet access in the world. In fact, it's abysmal. Wikipedia has an article summarizing a damning Akamai survey of Internet capabilities worldwide. South Korea (the leader) has services more than 100x faster than the average speed in the US, for $20/month. So, providers in the US need to do a much better job of delivering bandwidth for the fees that consumers pay.

What does this mean for so-called Net Neutrality? You decide. Now you understand some of the engineering complexities underneath the typical political bluster. At least you can decide if any of the politicians and pundits have a clue what they're talking about.

Update: Taxes, Too

Today, FCC Commissioner Mike O'Reilly said that, “Consumers of these services would face an immediate increase in their Internet bills” during a seminar held by the non-partisan Free State Foundation according to this article. This is an example of the repercussions of choices that involve a government maze of regulations, fees, taxes, and legalities that are unforeseen. Such is the case with the siplmistic idea of "net neutrality" that doesn't take into account the implications of government regulation as a telecommunications technology.

Cloudy With a Chance of...

Decades ago, while running a network in a small office building in California, a senior manager asked if he could cut the staff since the network didn't seem to need a lot of support. I reminded him that an invisible network meant that people could just do their jobs without any friction from the network slowing them down or making their job more difficult. Last week, I read this from Benedict Evans via John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

Digesting WWDC: Cloudy

Benedict Evans:

So edit a photo and the edits are on all your devices, run out of room and your photos stay on the cloud but all but the previews are cleared off your phone, tap a phone number on a web page on your Mac and your phone dials it. But none of this says ‘CLOUD™’ and none of it is done in a web browser. Web browsers are for web pages, not for apps. Hence one could suggest that Apple loves the cloud, just not the web (or, not URLs). This is obviously a contrast with Google, which has pretty much the opposite approach. For Google, devices are dumb glass and the intelligence is in the cloud, but for Apple the cloud is just dumb storage and the device is the place for intelligence.

http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2014/6/4/digesting-wwdc-cloudy

http://daringfireball.net

This aligns very well with my earlier comments on what Apple is doing with iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. The point is simply this: most people aren't enamoured with technology. Many who were at first delighted to have something as "cool" as an iPhone or Android device are now just using them. They are simply tools for living in the modern world. The next frontier for technologists is removing the barriers that devices and their interfaces create to doing what we want to do. The idea that what's important is speeds, icons, and other superficial elements is completely wrong. Just as with human relationships, physical attributes may initially attract, but in a relatively short time, it becomes the deeper aspects that matter.

The more technology companies get technology out of the way, the more successful they will become.

By the way, that manager was a smart guy. He relented. And I didn't have to break the network to remind him how important it was.

Getting It

To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that. Steve Jobs

When I read that quote on Quoth Steve today, I thought about this series on Apple's recent announcements and the ongoing discovery that many in the industry are communicating as the Apple WWDC continues this week. It underscores a key differentiator between Apple and most of the rest of the technology industry. In doing so, it also illustrates why so many in the technology press are fundamentally confused about both why Apple does what it does and why people buy Apple products.

Back when Japanese cars first began to gain a real foothold in the US, there was a similar dichotomy: Japanese cars had virtually no "options," while US cars were effectively custom built for each customer from an extensive list of options. Since I grew up in Michigan, the capital of the car industry in the US, I remember the derisive laughter about the limited options, the lack of this or that feature, and the expectation that the Japanese manufacturers would have to abandon the US or offer a better Chinese menu.

In retrospect, all of those observations and expectations were completely wrong. It turns out that the consumers appreciated the simplicity of getting a car without having to decide what to get on it -- and without having to wait for it to be built to their specifications. In fact, I lost out on a Pontiac Trans Am when my order turned out to have a very limited edition engine and the dealer decided he could get more for it from someone else, even though I had ordered it and waited for months.

1986 Trans Am

Today in technology, we have a similar situation: Apple is working on design in a way that Jobs thought about it. Most companies don't. Most put in a faster processor, more memory, more pixels, and expect those changes to compel purchases. Even customization is touted as a primary desire for consumers when that's not the case for many who just want to purchase a system that is ready to go, isn't bloated with a lot of distracting extras, and is designed in a way that allows it to disappear with use.

How do you want the products you purchase to be designed?

Invisible Technology

As is often the case, immediately after I posted my thoughts about Apple's announcements yesterday (The Next Technology Shift), a number of my friends reached out (especially on Facebook) to point out that other companies and technologies had similar features (like Android, Microsoft Surface 3, and so on). Because they did, I fear that I wasn't as clear about the major shift as I could be, but I also became aware that it is a paradigm shift, and as such will require explanation and expansion. One aspect of my perspective that isn't universal and is often misunderstood is that I am primarily a futurist. I am looking at where we are headed as a society and how technology can help us to become more human and to experience greater joy in life. Although I have spent most of my working years as a technologist, I have not done so from my love of technology. I have done so from my love of people and my desire to see them benefit personally and corporately from what it can do for them.

It is from that paradigm that I approach the recent Apple announcements.

Before I say any more, let me be clear: nothing Apple announced is entirely new. Most has parallels elsewhere on the technology landscape. However, that fact is entirely meaningless from the perspective of what these announcements mean for individuals, for corporations, and for the software development community. The importance of the announcement boils down to the facts that Apple is doing it and combining the technologies and devices together into a single, unified, simple offering. It is those facts which will change the world.

Over the next few days I will unpack the elements of the announcement from this perspective.

The Next Technology Shift

Apple's WWDC announcement usher in a new era of integrated mobile and desktop computing poised to change the way people interact with their technology. Again.

On Monday, Apple announced the new versions of their two operating systems: OS X 10.10 Yosemite for Macs and iOS 8 for iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch). There were a number of interesting components to the upgrades, and I have installed Yosemite on one of my Macs to begin testing and exploring a bit, but the real shift is in the integration of the two worlds. While this is only a first step, consider two aspects of the new awareness:

  • Your Mac will know when your iOS device is near, and will allow you to transparently continue on one something you started on the other. Start an email on your iPhone, finish it on your Mac. Start writing a document on your Mac, finish while on the go on your iPad.
  • Your Mac becomes an extension of your iPhone, allowing you to make and receive phone calls and text messages (SMS) directly on your Mac via your iPhone, even if it's charging elsewhere in the house (I'll leave mine up in my bedroom where it gets decent cellular signal!).

Now, add to that updates to iOS like:

  • Family sharing, allowing up to 6 family members to share purchases, location, and iCloud data like reminders and calendars simply and transparently,
  • Health, to integrate all of the great health monitoring and management that is now available,
  • HomeKit, allowing developers to create integrated apps and hardware for keeping your house safe and automated to do what you want it to do.

When I look at this set of new capabilities, I see an incredible opportunity for Apple as a company, and those who align squarely with these new initiative and build hardware and software that aligns to it, and even for individuals to navigate a new career.

Apple introduced an entirely new programming languages called Swift that is designed with mobility, touch, and common development of iOS and Mac apps as core architectural points.

If technology is your business or career, pay attention and strongly consider a shift in how you're doing what you're doing.

If you are a user of technology, be prepared to shift away from thinking about your various devices as individual points of interaction to a world where they are each simply windows into your information that have different characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses.

Apple Just Changed Publishing

It is very rare indeed when I disagree with Seth Godin. He is a brilliant man, a best-selling author, and an insightful coach for the emerging economy, but he's missed it on the latest announcement from Apple. I don't blame him. It's easy to do with all the changes that are bouncing around like a Heisenberg Uncertainty experiment. Today, in a useful post on his Domino Project blog, he says that Apple did not just make publishing easier with their announcement of the iBooks Author application. He rightfully notes that the iBooks Author application is about authoring books, not publishing them, and there's a difference between printing and publishing. All true.

However, the iBookstore itself is a new way to publish. In much the same way that iTunes changed publishing first for music and then for movies and TV. And the iOS App Store and then the Mac App Store changed the economics and dynamics of software publishing, so will the iBookstore change the dynamics of book publishing. The iBook Author app is the disintermediation of book creation and the iBookstore is the creation of a publishing platform designed for social discovery and long-tail economics.

Unfortunately, I think that Seth falls into a bit of myopia here due to his experience with and success in both using publishers and creating a brilliant new publisher in his Domino Project. He sounds like some of the doomsayers in the early days of iOS apps.

Publishing will never be the same. Neither will making and selling music or making and selling other creative works. Seth knows this. Perhaps the world changed publishing and Apple is simply building tools for the ride. Regardless, anyone can now create and publish a book. Selling it requires building a tribe, just like it always did, but now you get to do it on your own.

So Many Miss the Point

With the passing of Steve Jobs this week juxtaposed against the announcement and release of the new iPhone 4S, the technology media have been atwitter with their views of Apple's success or failure to continue their recent successes. In reading a wide range of such writing, it strikes me that most miss the point entirely. The reason is ironically the same reason that Apple is so successful: it's really difficult to understand people and what they want. Over the past few years I have spent substantial time studying direct response marketing (such as the marketing done by companies who take out those one-page ads for subglasses or the Internet marketing that offers you a free report for handing over your email address). One of the primary tenants of direct response marketing is this: it doesn't matter what you want or what you think about those who make up your market. All the matters is what they actually want. Figure that out and you'll be successful. In fact, your success will be in direct proportion to the accuracy of your understanding. Most technology writers and those who live their lives consumed with technology miss entirely the preferences of the vast majority of people. That's why Apple is successful. It's also why I have migrated exclusively to Apple products.

The bottom line: most people just want stuff that works. They don't want to customize it more than putting their own wallpaper on the screen. They don't want to hack into it or understand how it works. They want to use it, get their activities done, and keep living their lives.

Apple products do this really well. In fact, Siri---the new Apple iPhone 4S's mechanism for voice interaction---is the opposite of what most geeks say is needed: it will create less interaction with the screen rather than more.

Today, John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote an article specifically about the iPhone 4S and everything the pundits are saying Apple got wrong. I agree 100% with what he says. I expect the iPhone 4S to be the most popular iPhone ever much to the shock of those who think the screen needs to be bigger or that it needs to have a replaceable battery or LTE networking.

It doesn't. It's a great upgrade. I'll have mine in a week and will be sure to let you know what I think after I've had some time with it.

What do you think?