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.

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?

All Clouds are Not Created Equal

After I read about another Google customer losing all of his Google data when Google decided to delete (or at least suspend) his account, I got to thinking about all of the times that Google has made a mistake and deleted user accounts or deleted email for Gmail users, I thought about how the different approaches of the key players in the emerging world require you to make some choices, some of which may be untenable. So, I thought I'd lay them out in clearer form than you will get from the hard-core technical blogs or the companies themselves. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this year (WWDC 2011), Steve Jobs and the Apple executive team introduced iOS 5 and iCloud. During his iCloud introduction, Jobs said this: "We are going to demote the PC to just be a device. We are going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud." This is Apple's philosophy: the iCloud is the sync-master for  your digital life. It provides the axle to your devices that are the spokes. However (and this is a vital distinction!), your digital content lives on your devices when you are using it. The iCloud, then, is the master copy, but Apple expects you to have copies on one or more of your devices.

This is in sharp contrast to Google. In Google's world, the cloud is the only place where your data resides. You'll use your browsers (on your PC, your tablet, or your phone) to access, manipulate, create, and use your content. You may even cache some of it locally for performance reasons (for example, caching the first part of a video so you can watch it without "stutters"). However, the content is in the cloud and your devices are simply windows into it from Google's perspective.

...and then there's Microsoft. They want to get in on "this cloud thing," too, but they really aren't sure how to do it. Their business is Windows and Office, so how can they use the cloud and keep those lines humming? What they are doing now is having the cloud be a glorified backup service with some of the capabilities of their apps. The best experience, however, is to use their native apps on a PC and hook them into the cloud for backup and collaboration. This means that Microsoft Office 365 is a different perspective than iCloud (which is personal) and Google (which is all about the data being in the cloud only). It's effectively a hybrid of the two.

Regardless, you will want to make a choice based on these distinctions, because to the cloud you will go, one way or the other.

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.

Windows Backup Made Easy

One of the aspects of Apple's Leopard update to OS X that was so attractive to so many was Time Machine, the transparent yet effective backup system. I recommend Leopard upgrades to my clients that use Macs simply for the value that Time Machine provides. But, backup of Windows machines has been notoriously challenging, and virtually impossible for the typical PC owner. Enter Clickfree, who announce their new Clickfree Traveler and DVD Transformer today. The Traveler is a credit card-sized device with a 64GB capacity. Like all Clickfree devices, simply plugging it into a Windows computer causes the application to run and to back up the selected files. The combination of size and simplicity makes the system usable for any PC owner at home, at work, or on the road.

The DVD Transformer similarly provides one-step backup to the writable DVD or CD drive in your computer without the challenges of typical burning software. Plug the device into your PC's USB port, stick a writable disk into the drive, and it goes to work. You can span disks, and both backup and restore are straight-forward.

Over the next few days I'll have a more in-depth review, but if you have a Windows PC and haven't come up with a clean, consistent, and simple way to back up your files, the Clickfree devices are definitely worth a look.

Religion on an Airplane?

I'm sitting here at 38,000 feet somewhere over the central US, thinking about religions. But not the religions you may think I mean. Instead, technology religions. I have been involved in various forms of technology for many years, going back to the first time I programmed a machine with patch cords when I was in 4th grade. I have heard much of the preaching over the years, too, first from geeks, but more recently from the man on the street.

For example, as I settled into my seat here on my flight home, the young women next to me turned after hanging up her cell phone and ask, "I see you're using an Apple iPhone... do you use an Apple computer, too?" After I told her that I did now after many years of using a Windows PC, she told me that she was thinking about getting one.

"I am really thinking about it," she said, "But, I'm in the legal field..." and her voice trailed off. That's when I told her that a Mac can run Windows, and is able to run anything you might want. What you are unable to run on a Mac should no longer stop you from getting one.

Although there may be other reasons.

What I've noticed, though, is that people react to my use of an iPhone and a Mac. They often have a very emotional response, and make all kinds of assumptions about me: "Oh, you're an Apple guy," they'll say. Or, like the new Microsoft commercials, they'll say, "I'm not cool enough to have a Mac."

Thinking like this has no place in business. While entertaining at a cocktail party or questionably effective in an advertisement, there's no reason to waste any time with it as you try to work out what's best for you. For that, you want to look at what you want to do with your technology and find the most effective option.

This takes the religion out of the conversation and makes the choices much clearer.

After talking a bit about what it was like to use their current computers for their work, we talked about her options. I listened to her needs, and let her know my reasons for using a Mac for everything after years of being a Windows expert. I also told her why I often recommending them to my clients. Since I can (and do) run Windows on my Macs for things that will only run there, it's not a limitation. And since the Mac has been far more reliable and secure than Windows was for me, I haven't had any downtime due to a hung system, a virus, or any other malware.

Of course, I don't make the same recommendations for everyone.

She has asked me to work with her firm to get her the right computers, and software. I'll also help her make the changes she'll want to make. I'll work with her just as I've worked with dozens of other companies and business leaders to put the right technology to work for them.

It's kind of like that with social media. Is it something that can help you and your business?

Almost certainly!

But which and how? Those are the questions. And the answers depend on you, your business, your strategy for leads, customers, and engagement with them.

Because social media are so new, I've been asked to help business leaders understand it. It's NOT hard to understand, but you DO want to understand it before you make any of the mistakes made with social media every day.

Go to this special page for more information on how you can quickly get going with social media in a way that will help you and your buisness.

To YOUR success, Stephen Hultquist Your Geek Whisperer™

PS There's even more to social media and its benefits than you realize. I'll show you at this new page.

PPS For information about that amazing photo of the airplane in the Hudson, look here: There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick... on Twitpic

Twitter the Business Way

Recently, a few friends ganged up on me and asked me to coach them in using Twitter, the latest Web site to gather media attention. It turns out that you can use it as part of your business strategy, but there are a number of challenges along the way. So, I put together a coaching program. Here's the intro video:

Using Twitter, Facebook, and social networking for your business. Build relationships, increase sales, manage costs, increase profits. All by learning how to use these additional tools for your existing business.

You can learn more about this from the coaching page itself. I'd love to have you in the group!

Another External Disk Solution

As I wrote in my last post, I had a very frustrating experience trying to use a Cavalry external disk enclosure for expanded storage on my Mac Pro. I still needed the space, though, so had to go back to the drawing board. My next step was to look for an alternative. I did some additional research, and learned the eternal SATA (eSATA) disks come in two different types of enclosures: those that use eSATA Port Multiplier technology to connect multiple disks to a single cable and those that have one cable per disk connection. During my research, I learned that Port Multiplication reduces the throughput for data transfer from the disk to the system, so I elected to purchase the Icy Dock MB561S-4S Serial ATA 3.5-Inch Multi-Bay eSATA Hard Drive Enclosure. I combined the enclosure with four Western Digital Caviar Black 1 TB Bulk/OEM Hard Drive 3.5 Inch, 32 MB Cache, 7200 RPM SATA II WD1001FALS, and a Tempo 4CH Sata II PCIe Controller Ext E4P Multiplier.

In that list you see one of the downsides: I had to put the system together myself, instead of simply buying one packaged product. Too bad.

But, it worked well. Immediately after I installed the Tempo card and booted the system, I was able to configure the disks using the software RAID on the Mac Pro. I have run the enclosure now for over a month, and it has run very well. One thing that you'll want to know is that eSATA (unlike Firewire, USB, and even internal SATA) does not provide for a power-saving mode, so the disks will not spin down. The fan on the IcyDock will always spin, as well, adding noise to your environment. You will want to keep this in mind while making your own decision.

At this point, I have enough space to store and protect my media files and other data that had been clogging my smaller and slower disks. I can recommend this configuration as a solid option for those looking to expand their storage capacity.

The Cavalry... Didn't Rescue Me

You may remember that I recently wrote a review about the Cavalry CADA-SA4 4TB external RAID hard drive solution that included the eSATA RAID card in the package. After contacting the US support team, sending in the unit under RMA, and receiving it back, the problems persisted. The grey screen of death on a Mac is a rare event, and this hardware managed to do it consistently. Out it came and back to Amazon it went!

I admit to being very disappointed. I was looking forward to having an external drive array that would enable me to have sufficient space with protected disk. At this point, I had to go back to the drawing board... and I'll review the results in my next entry.