Friday, September 14, 2012

iPhone 5

by Bill Holmes

So, the iPhone 5 (actually 6 or is it really 3) is out and the reviews are all over the place.  Weed out the Apple flunkies and the Apple haters and most reviews seem to say it's what was rumored and expected.  An incremental upgrade but no real "WOW" feature or innovation.  I fully expect the iPhone 5 to be a roaring success.  I do wonder if Apple waits a full year to come out with the iPhone 6 (or 5S) will the buzz still be there?  By then Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG, Nokia and even RIM and others will have introduced dozens of new phones.  Not only that, there will be new OS's. Windows 8, a new RIM OS and probably at least an Android upgrade to 4.2 or maybe a full release to 5.0.  What new features will those phones and OS's bring us?

I'm not an Apple hater or a fan.  They make some good stuff and have brought change to our technology landscape for many years.  Not as much as they would like us to believe and often more marketing than technology but change nevertheless.  For that I an thankful.  I've used and implemented and integrated Macs into corporate environments.  Sometimes that wasn't easy.  At one point they were years ahead of Windows PC's in graphic capabilities.  I worked at a company that had many graphic artists and they loved their Macs.  I am opposed to their big brother approach to their products.  A closed, mostly proprietary, expensive approach to hardware and software.  How many non-Apple hardware products run OS X or iOS?  How many Apple hardware products run some thing other than OS X or iOS?  No fair if you have an Apple Lisa still running although that was an Apple OS also.  I am also diametrically opposed to the petty and ridiculous patent suits that Apple has spawned onto our courts.  Patent laws and the need to reform them is fodder for a separate blog.

Apple got a big head start with their iPhones and iPads.  I give them credit for kick-starting the smart phone, table and touchscreen markets.  I don't pretend to know whether it was brilliant marketing on Steve Jobs part or being in the right place with the right product at the right time.  Probably both.  Apple even came up with some of the technology that pushed the demand.  Timing is often everything, as I've mentioned before, we knew how to do touchscreen, voice recognition, GUI, WiFi and even mobile phones all the way back to the 60's and early 70's (that's 1960's).  We just didn't have the hardware and networks available to make it practical.  It's hard to think about a viable tablet computer when the only computers available filled a large environmentally controlled room.  Even the room sized computer had memory measured in kB and disk storage measured in MB (if it even had disks).   A fast network, point to point and all hard wired, was 1200 baud (kinda bps) not Mbps or even Gbps we have now.  Whatever device you are viewing this blog on has more computing power and memory than the first data centers I worked in.  Probably more storage too, positively if you use cloud storage.  Those physically huge but computing & storage challenged systems ran all the processing for big companies.  So you see even visionaries almost as smart as Steve Jobs couldn't have brought a viable iPhone or iPad to market much before the mid 2000 decade.  Some tablets were around prior to the iPad all had technical and/or price and/or marketing problems.  Apple gets credit for getting the category going. 

Here we are about five years after the first iPhone and almost three years after the first iPad.  Smartphones and tablets are now mainstream with a large user base.  That means competition.  The original iGadgets were on the front edge of the technology available to consumers and were new ideas about how to use that technology.  Now we have dozens of companies in the marketplace, each trying to grab a piece of a multi-billion dollar market.  There is no way that Apple can stay several furlongs ahead of all the competition in these categories of consumer electronics.  Sure, they can win a battle or two and even leap ahead for a few months.  They can even stave off the competition for awhile by suing them for using a rectangular container to package their product.  Remember when IBM PC's (made by IBM) were the standard, remember when Motorola and Nokia were the cellphone kings, remember when Blackberry (RIM) revolutionized the cellphone market, remember when...  

In my over 40 years of experience in the computer/technology industry every proprietary and closed hardware/software architecture has eventually failed.  Even with superior technology the companies get greedy and the costs of their products become non-competitive.  Sound familiar?  The other scenario is that the industry passes a company.  Some companies can't afford all the R&D and some skimp on it to wring out extra short-term profits.  Sometimes a punk college kid comes up with a better idea nobody at the big corporation thought of.  Sometimes it's just marketing blunders.  IBM ruled the roost for business computing for decades starting with punch cards and tabulating machines.  They had the best equipment, software and support for years but it was expensive and when bits & bites became kB's and MB's became GB's & TB's they lost their edge.  Computing became a commodity and companies were willing to buy cheaper non-proprietary equipment with less service and support built in.  There are many more examples.  IBM is still a vibrant company but it is nowhere near the same company it was 15 or 20 years ago.  It's now a service company that runs IT operations and networks.  It still sells systems but they are now UNIX, Linux and Windows servers.  Not much proprietary architecture.  Same stuff HP, Sun/Oracle, Dell and even Cisco sells.  Oh yea, HP & Sun sold proprietary systems for years too as did Univac, NCR, Burroughs and DEC. 

So my point is that Apple and their i-Universe is now sitting on top of the world raking in the profits with over-priced and over-hyped products.  Android phones and tablets have already caught and often surpassed i-Stuff.  Windows 8 and hardware hit the market in a month.  Even RIM and new Blackberry stuff is coming.  Remember too that some really geeky kids are sitting in dorm rooms and basements all around the world thinking up, building and programming new stuff 24/7.

The iPhone 5 will sell millions on hype and coolness (is that a word? cause I'm not).  Better and cheaper phones are out there.  To paraphrase a Texas saying the iPhone 5 is "All hat and very little cattle". 

How will that iPhone 6 do a year from now?  Who's the next big technology company?  IBM, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Facebook and now Apple have all had their time at the top.  Stay tuned


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