Monday, August 25, 2008

Which way, America?

There's frequently a song running through my head. Today it's Which Way America, written by David Bliss Allen and performed by the Kingston Trio and Up With People.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

what hath Apple wrought?

When beginning the iPhone project, Apple realized they'd be better off adapting their great operating system, Mac OS X, than starting from scratch.

The iPhone has now been out for over a year and iPhone OS 2.1 is being prepared for release. It may not yet be a mature system in the sense that it won't continue to change in major ways, but it's at least stabilized, shaped to fit the device and environment it must serve.

While it shares a lot with Mac OS X, it's a distinct system, the design of which has been driven by the combination of a touch UI in place of a keyboard and mouse and limited resources otherwise.*

Given those design parameters have more in common with the wide range of devices which are apt to come tumbling off the drawing board soon than do traditional desktop and laptop computers, one has to wonder to what the iPhone OS might itself be adapted. The hard work of paring down Mac OS X to fit into a small footprint has already been done; it's a superb starting point for further development, and if it needs elaboration, there's a great, compatible code-base in Mac OS X to draw from.

In the end there may be a family of OSes, all using essentially the same kernel and core components, but residing in very different devices, as well as running on an array of different processor architectures. As did the iPhone, each of these devices will bring new pressures to bear on the design of the OS, but, as applicable, all will reap the benefits. It's a strategy that promises not just new and interesting gadgets, but further refinement of what is already a great operating system.

* It's maybe worth noting that the iPhone is no slouch as a computer. It's Flash memory is comparable in size to the disk drives in early iMacs (but faster), and it's processing power and RAM compare favorably with those machines.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Apple's glass ceiling

Imagine a world in which Apple enjoys 90% market share, while clinging to its hardware-centric PC business model.

It can't happen, of course. If Microsoft constituted a monopoly for supplying the operating system and much of the application software for the vast majority of PCs sold, while only dabbling in PC hardware itself, how much more so would Apple constitute a monopoly if it controlled both hardware and software for a similarly large percentage of the market.

(Actually, Microsoft's still huge market share continues to constitute a technical monopoly, despite viable alternatives, since it can still put the screws to others by refusing to supply or maintain its software for their systems, and can still undermine standards efforts by developing and promoting its own incompatible, proprietary versions — but that's a topic for another time.)

The plain fact is, Apple's going to have to alter its PC business model long before Mac OS X reaches 90% market share, simply because there are too many people who stand to lose too much, who'll cry foul too loudly if Apple should ever even approach that degree of market dominance.

Apple is already trying out alternatives, of course, for example with the iTunes Store and the marketing of iPhone applications, and I expect to see more such experimentation. Moreover, there's a long way to go before PC market dominance is something Apple should have to be even remotely concerned about; they could double their present market share, and double it again, and double it yet again, and still have no cause for concern.

On the other hand, dominance of certain other markets is much closer to being a reality, and it may not be all that long before charges of monopolistic practices start to stick. That kind of PR Apple doesn't need.

I don't have any magic answers. It's a tough nut to crack. There are good reasons why Apple behaves as it does, and there's going to be risk involved no matter which way they choose to go. I just hope they don't wait for some court to force their hand.

oh come on, it's an AD!

I have to wonder whether the author of this criticism of Apple advertising has seen one of HP's ads for their new TouchSmart PCs.

Since when are advertisements expected to be rigorously realistic?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

if she were alive today

If she were alive today, tomorrow would be JonBenet Ramsey's eighteenth birthday.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

for as long as it takes

Joining MacDailyNews in saying “May Steve Ballmer run Microsoft for as long as it takes.”

Friday, August 01, 2008

curiouser and curiouser

Another rumor, this one coming from DigiTimes, not the most credible of sources, has it that NVIDIA is getting out of the chipset business.

If you have to know what's really happening RIGHT NOW, I'd suggest it's time to take a chill pill.

For the moment, those of us not in the know will have to make due with possibilities, and there's plenty of those to go around.

In keeping with the moment, allow me to suggest a possibility even I consider improbable, that Apple might be buying NVIDIA.

NVIDIA's market cap is sitting just a hair above $6 Billion, or about a third of Apple's cash on hand, so there's no question of Apple being able to afford the purchase, which would likely be mainly a stock deal in any case. What is in question is whether it would be seen, within Apple, as an appropriate expenditure that got them something they really needed, and whether NVIDIA would be amenable to the deal.

One problem with this scenario is that it's much too large to account for the relatively minor hit to gross margins Apple's CFO mentioned in a recent conference call, and for the most part already accounted for, so let's scale back the speculation to consider the possibility that Apple might be buying just the part of NVIDIA that produced their recently-introduced single-chip chipsets, and the associated intellectual property.

If, as DigiTimes suggests, other manufacturers were uninterested in NVIDIA's technology, this would leave Apple with an exclusive on a jumpstart towards again producing their own chipsets, providing both an opportunity to differentiate their machines from systems using Intel's off-the-shelf solutions and an additional impediment to those who would undermine their hardware based business model by selling Mac-compatibles.

True? Doubtful, but it's the sort of high stakes deal that just might be true. The "$23 million related to stock-based compensation expense" (Seeking Alpha) Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer mentioned as contributing to the drop in gross margins in the current (September) quarter *might* be about packages put together to help retain engineering staff in the unit acquired from NVIDIA. Far fetched? Yeah, a little, but not so much so that it couldn't be right.