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.

Buying an iPhone 4S?

Yesterday, the most valuable company in the world (by market value) introduced their latest product. Leading up to the announcement of the new iPhone, the traditional media and blogosphere were rife with rumors, spanning the gamut from the new iPhone only being available on Sprint to very solid rumors that effectively got it right. Who cares?

The real question is whether or not it makes sense for you to buy one.

For me, the answer is easy: yes, it makes sense. The devices I use are never fast enough for all I try to do with them, and I am using my voice more and more to interact with my phone, so I am looking forward to having the new Siri assistant so that I can use my phone more consistently and safely without looking at it. With Siri, I will be able to hear and reply to text messages, compose emails, change meetings, and more by conversing with my phone. I'm looking forward to that.

Plus, my daughter had her iPhone 3G stolen this summer and has been waiting for a trickle-down iPhone since then.

For you? It may not be as clear.

Here are the criteria I would recommend you use to decide:

  • If you cannot purchase it with a contract, I'd consider waiting
  • If you do not make heavy use of smartphone features like email, web browsing, camera, and apps, the iPhone 4S is likely overkill for you
  • If you make heavy use of Internet data, the iPhone 4S will be a benefit, but only if you are an AT&T subscriber
  • If you're a heavy user of a camera and either want better quality on your phone or would like to leave your camera home most of the time, the iPhone 4S will be great for you

So, what do you think? Is the iPhone 4S in your future? Hit the comments or Facebook with your thoughts.

I'll let you know more about what I think after I have had an iPhone 4S for a few days.

The iPad 2 Cometh

Last week I contacted a local Apple store for the third time since the launch of the iPad 2. "I don't suppose," I began as I reached the store's business desk, "You have an iPad 2s?" After she asked what I was seeking (a 64GB AT&T version), she told me that she didn't have what I wanted, although they did have some iPad 2s (primarily Verizon and WiFi-only, it seems). She also asked if she could put my business into their system. I answered in the affirmative and let it go, figuring I'd keep my eyes open and maybe check back in a few weeks.

That all changed the next day.

I received a call from the Apple Store in the morning asking for my credit card information. During that call, her colleague asked, "When can you come get your iPad 2?"

"What???!"

20 minutes later, I walked out of the store with my new black iPad 2 64GB AT&T, a tan leather Smart Cover, and a few accessories. I've been using it since I sync'd it so it would have all of my apps, incuuding the WordPress app I'm using to write this post.

While I will review the iPad 2 in an upcoming post, right now I'll just say this: Mark Sigal is right. With the benefits of the Apple Stores and Apple's profit margin, it will be extremely difficult for Motorola or Samsung to make inroads into the Apple market.

...and that's a very big deal.

Business Growth in a Mobile World

The world is changing--again--and the good news is that the pendulum has swung back in favor of local, high-value businesses. This is exciting! It was the mid-1990s in Boulder, Colorado. I was a young, idealistic business owner with a passion for growing businesses. At the time, there was a lot I didn't know about helping businesses understand the reasons for doing what they needed to do, but I didn't lack in energy or conviction!

One time, I remember trying to convince the manager of an executive suite that one of the best things he could do to build his business would be adding Internet access in the offices. I gave him a reasonable proposal, and showed him that the prices would be reasonable and the benefits significant.

...but he didn't get it. "No one cares about Internet access," he told me. "They just want office space and a phone."

They went out of business.

A few months later, I had another conversation with a business owner explaining the value of using the Internet for communicating with customers and prospects. I talked about building a web site and how she could use it to build her business. Again, she didn't see the value and allowed others to take her business over the next few years. At the time, only visionaries could see the value in the Internet and the web. Today, we take it for granted.

We are at another juncture. It's like the early days of the web all over again. Sometimes, I get those same reactions, but the visionaries get it.

What am I talking about?

The shift in how people find you and your business. How they look for products and services. And what that means about how you find your prospects and show them your value. The world is now mobile. Virtually everyone always has their phone with them. Many of those phones have access to the Internet and mapping applications. And millions of them have the ability to install applications.

All of these are opportunities for you. You can differentiate your business, build relationships, engage with your customers, and win against the faceless giants in the marketplace.

It's a great time to be in business.

The strategy is straight-forward and the elements are extensions of what you already know to do: use your website to communicate, have a blog, use web video, podcast if it makes sense, be "mobile friendly," be social, and use apps strategically.

I'll go through each of these in upcoming posts. I also have made space in my schedule for a few free consultations for business leaders who are eager to grow their business at this tipping point in time. For a free half-hour consultation with me about your business and accomplishing the growth you're seeking, go to my business growth page right now and sign up before the slots are gone.

The Price of "Open"

There is a war among geeks and the tech press over "open." The Google Android system is "open" while the Apple iOS ecosystem is "closed." Underlying the conversation is the assumption that "open" is good and "closed" is bad, but is that really the case? This week during the Black Hat security conference, mobile security firm Lookout delivered their analysis of an Android wallpaper app that takes your data was downloaded by millions. Unfortunately, it sends personal information to a user in China and no one knows why.

Given that I have been a standards proponent since the early '80s and a staunch support of open source systems (OSS) since before the term was coined, I understand the value of open standards and open source. However, most people primarily care first about getting stuff done or enjoying their entertainment, not how open the systems are. If this wasn't the case, Microsoft Windows would not be the dominant desktop worldwide.

Furthermore, people prefer that their systems work, that they not introduce threats, and that they don't get in the way.

I have come to realize that there are environments that are especially well-suited to the vast majority of people, and they are those that are fully-integrated systems that are open enough to interact with current and emerging standards in the marketplace. They are not those that allow the user too much freedom, require too much technical skill, or demand more attention be given to the tools than to getting stuff done.

Those are the strengths and weaknesses today, and those are also the reasons why Apple is still on the rise, Google is in second-place, and Microsoft is huffing, puffing, and sweating trying to keep up.

Follow-up: After review, Google has decided that the app is actually OK. There was quite a bit published about this in the technology press, but the points made in this article still hold: There are big differences between open and closed, and you'll need to make your own choices about what the best value is given your experience and expertise and what you want to apply to the environment.

iPhone, Android, or Blackberry?

I wrote the following a couple of weeks ago, shortly after buying my iPhone 4. I decided to wait based on some of the initial reports of issues with the iPhone 4. Following the Apple Press Conference today, I've realized that I let the press's typical bad-news advertising-driven reporting skew my thinking. The following remains the truth, and if you are a business person trying to read through the hype, here's what you need to know:

Which Phone for You?

With everyone interested in the battle of the smartphones, Nielsen released their smartphone analysis. The analysis shows steady growth of smartphones when compared to the overall mobile phone market, with 23% of users carrying smartphones in 1Q10, a 2% increase from 4Q09.

Perhaps more interesting, both RIM's Blackberry market share and Microsoft's various Windows Mobile systems lost 2% market share, and Apple's iPhone and the variety of Google's Android phones picked up 2% each (to 28% and 9%, respectively).

As interesting as numbers geeks might find this, what is the real implication for those trying to make a decision about a smartphone?

Here's the easy version:

  1. An iPhone is the choice if you are looking for a full-featured handset.
  2. If you do not like Apple, or since the iPhone is saddled with AT&T in the US and you will not (or can not) use their network, choose an Android phone.
  3. If you only want to use your smartphone for phone calls and email, a Blackberry may be your best choice. I'd still choose an iPhone for you, though.

...and that's really your answer in a nutshell.

It's hard for most people to remember what phones were like in the first half of 2007 when most of the analysts were talking about how Apple was finally going to make a poor choice and fail as they entered the overcrowded smartphone market. Instead, the iPhone completely changed the face of mobile phones--and the mobile Internet--forever.

As Apple introduces the iPhone 4, they are once again creating a challenge for their competitors. The quality and precision of the device itself sets a new standard for how your phone should feel in your hand. Doing so will make every other phone feel cheap in comparison.

This is simply brilliantly competitive.

In continuing to push for their "intersection of technology and liberal arts" as CEO Steve Jobs has mentioned in two separate keynotes, they are developing technology that is far more natural than its competitors. The fact that Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer said during this year's D8 conference that the iPad is "just another PC" shows just how limited the vision of most technology companies is.

So, unless you hate AT&T--or Apple--the iPhone is your best smartphone choice today.

Files, Files Everywhere!

As I have expanded my usage of multiple systems, from the iPhone to a Mac Pro, my first focus was making sure that whenever I needed files, I could find them. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions for this challenge, and, as usual, I've picked the simplest, most elegant solution, Dropbox. I did try other systems like Apple's iDisk and SugarSync's namesake system, but problems in using either of them in terms of performance and reliability have me avoiding them. Since I decided not to use them, I'll not spend time on describing them, but in outlining my use of Dropbox, you'll see why I like the simplicity better.

Dropbox is free to use as you get started, with a starting Dropbox storage of 2GB. First, you download the Dropbox installer to your Mac or PC. After you install it, you will see a new Dropbox folder in your home directory (on a Mac) or a My Dropbox folder inside your My Documents folder (in Windows). To begin to manage a file or folder using Dropbox, simply drag it and drop it onto Dropbox.

...and that's when the magic begins!

When you drop the file or folder there, Dropbox syncs it with the cloud version of your Dropbox folder. Then, if you've installed Dropbox on other devices, those devices sync with the cloud. This means that everything in your Dropbox shows up exactly the same on all of your systems. This is true whether your systems are Mac, Linux, Windows, an iPhone/iPad, or even a mobile device with a web browser, since the cloud Dropbox is available from any browser anywhere.

As a result, I have migrated all of my active files into Dropbox. The only files that are not in Dropbox are those that are in an archive somewhere. This means that all of my systems always have the latest copy of my files available wherever I am. I even use Dropbox to sync settings between computers so that, for example, my 1password and TextExpander shortcuts are the same everywhere.

I'll mention one additional function of Dropbox in this entry: You can use it to share files and folders with others. This has come in very handy when I am working on projects with others or just want to give them access to a big file. It's easier than using a file sharing service or trying to get it to them by email: I drag the file into a shared folder or into my Public folder in Dropbox and simply right click, copy the link to the clipboard, and email that link off to them.

Check out Dropbox to make it easier to manage your files and keep your life in order between your multiple devices and let me know how it goes.