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.

CES 2011 - Verizon's Big Splash with 4G LTE

It is 10:00am PST on Thursday, January 6, 2011, and the CES show is now open. As I mentioned in previous posts, the CES show has a gigantic focus on mobile, broadband, and portable devices. Since I have spent the past 3 months working with team members from Verizon and Ericsson developing a 4G LTE demonstration, I am looking forward to letting you in on all that Verizon is doing.

The Verizon booth shows the breadth and depth of the 4G LTE ecosystem, showing LTE-connected devices ranging from enterprise telepresence to gaming, home automation to live broadcast television, a connected OnStar car to a broad range of smartphones and tablets. The point is that high-speed wireless access is available today from Verizon nationwide, the footprint is growing, and the capabilities are imaginative and useful for virtually everyone.

In the smart home area, Verizon is showing devices that control home temperature, shades that are remotely controlled, and of course entertainment over both FiOS and LTE. Alcatel Lucent is showing augmented reality systems running over the LTE network. Panasonic is showing HD enterprise teleconferencing over LTE, and Nomad Innovations is showing their LiveEdge.tv system for broadcast media electronic news gathering.

I will get a closer look at devices both in the Verizon booth and in other booths in the area and I will let you know if I uncover anything surprising or especially innovative. But, right now, if you're in the market for wireless broadband, Verizon has to be on your list.

CES 2011 - Apple Follow the Leader?

As I have walked through the CES halls as all the exhibitors prepare for the onslaught of attendees starting tomorrow, the pre-show expectations have largely proven true. As expected, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are all the rage, and Verizon is making a big splash with the 4G LTE network roll-out. Since I am spending my time working with Verizon and Ericsson in the Verizon booth, I'll hold off on specifics until tomorrow. Suffice it to say for now that there will be a lot of high-speed mobile devices to discover and explore. I've been getting Facebook and Twitter messages with questions about what technologies people are interested in understanding, so I'll be looking especially hard for those. If you have areas of interest, be sure to let me know either with a comment here on the blog or a message on Twitter or Facebook.

My observation thus far is this, however: CES is going to be a game of "Follow the Leader," and the leader isn't even here.

That leader is Apple.

With a $300B market cap and the most innovative products in the markets it serves, Apple's leadership cannot be disputed. Here are CES, smartphones are compared to iPhones, tablets to iPads, and mobile business to Apple's iOS ecosystem.

My question is this: Where's the innovation? I'll be looking for it. Any idea where I might find it?

The Real iPhone Impact

Recently, Apple parted ways with Executive Vice President Papermaster. Antennagate was a convenient time to part ways with Papermaster. He didn't really fit in to the Apple culture. You'll see the Verizon iPhone in January, I think, with CDMA/LTE. What isn't clear is whether it will be able to be an international phone, which may also be an issue. With Qualcomm effectively custom-designing this chipset for Apple, though, it could actually potentially be CDMA/GSM/LTE, which would be VERY interesting from a marketplace impact perspective.

I view this all as great for competition. All devices are vastly improved from the state of the marketplace in 2007 (when most people had to compromise and carry a Treo, a Blackberry, or one of the abjectly awful Windows phones). I expect Apple to continue to push the envelope of capabilities for mobile devices, keeping everyone on their toes and finding ways to make devices better and better.

Why "Net Neutrality" is Wrong

In the late 1990s, I worked with an amazing group of brilliant network engineers building the InteropNet for the Interop trade shows around the world. We were always pushing the envelope, introducing next-generation technology before it was really ready. During a number of those years, we delivered real-time video traffic over the network, often using multicast methods that are still not widely used. We were always a little ahead of our time. Before I explain the details, allow me to mention one concept that is critical to understanding everything about the Internet: all transmissions across the Internet are made by packets. This means that every file or stream across the Internet is chopped into little 1400-byte chunks, each of which traverses the network independently of all the others. There is literally no relationship between the packets on the network. They are only reunited at the receiving end after they are off the network and in the device that will interpret them and deliver the result (like a video playback, email, file transfer, or any other end-to-end application).

But over the network, those packets are 100% independent of each other.

Because they are independent, they are subject to all kinds of issues. Sometimes, packets are dropped because a device is overloaded. Since packets can take different paths, they can arrive out of order or with varying time between them (called "jitter"). For many types of data transfer (like email, files, and even instant messaging), most of these things don't matter at all.

However, some traffic is very sensitive. Especially audio and video that is time-sensitive (used for applications like video calls, audio calls, live broadcast).

Back to Interop and the InteropNet... Delivery of video, even over the high-speed networks we were using, meant having to recognize the different requirements of traffic types and using the network resources in ways that accommodated those requirements. During those years, the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force, the volunteer organization responsible for the standards that allow the Internet to function) defined the Differential Services (diffserv) standards to provide network performance appropriate to the type of service required.

This is an essential concept! Networks must be able to differentiate all of those independent packets flying around the network.

The New York Times has been reporting on both the FCC comments about so-called "Net Neutrality" conversations and the rumored Google/Verizon agreement on network usage. The typical idiotic political conversation has ensued, of course.

The entire idea of "an open Internet" is foolish at best and dishonest political posturing at worse. In this situation, it's actually both. Besides, "Net Neutrality" is not possible! Not only that, it's not even desirable.

Bandwidth costs money. Equipment costs money. More bandwidth costs more. Differentiated services also cost more. We all want them to be offered by the providers so that we can have live video, reliable voice-over-IP, and additional services that we haven't even imagined, yet.

The conversation, then isn't about "neutrality," but rather about universal access to differentiated services... at an appropriate cost that will be determined by the market if we just allow it to do so. After all, nobody wins by denying access, and in a free market, those who do will lose business.

There is one group who benefits: the idiot politicians who want control.

The entire focus is wrong. Typical of the politicians playing at being engineers. It just doesn't work.

Update: The Wall Street Journal ran a bit more detail on the Google/Verizon agreement today. The comments from the so-called "Free Internet" speakers are very telling: they don't understand how the Internet actually works.

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.