Microsoft, Google, Apple Part 2: The Question of Screensize.

Posted: January 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

In the last post, Part I, the idea of digital ecosystems was explored with a closing question about where we are headed with these three ever-growing empires.

I believe the answer lies in analyzing the issue of screensize.

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In the past year and particularly during the last few months, there has been great attention spent on Netbooks.  This new sub-category of computing devices fills the gap inbetween the cellular phone and the laptop.  Being larger than a cellphone with a fully functional keyboard, it allows a user experience much nearer to the laptop.  However being on average 50% – 75% smaller than a standard laptop means it offers even more mobility and is a better fit for those that demand constant computing capabilities that can keep up with their active lifestyles.

Indeed, some have begun to openly wonder whether the Netbook will eventually replace the Laptop.  The reason for the rise of the netbook now can be attributed to two primary developments: 1) Better microprocessors made specifically for mobile computing and 2) The coming of age for Solid State Memory.  With microprocessors such as Intel’s Atom, the priority is continued reduction in size, while maximizing energy efficiency while still offering a competent processing speed. The major reason for the viability of the Netbook is the rapid price reductions of Solid State Memory.  It has been falling in dollars/GB for several years now, but in the past 2 years has only just begun to break the thresholds of being affordable enough to be used in mass commercial products.  Apple’s MacBook Air was one of the first major mainstream computer products to set a vision for what SSDs can do, even if the price tag was (and still is) reserved for the rich and famous.  Netbooks are only the next iteration of SSD usage in mass computing.  While still more expensive than original Hard Disk Drives, SSD are far more durable to drops, extreme temperature, make no sound, and are more lightweight and compact.  A perfect combination for mobile computing.

The netbooks also have a much lower price tag than laptops and desktops too.  The reason is not because its significantly slower than the other two computing options, but because it has less memory capacity.  There are two drives for having less memory: 1) To lower price of the product to an attractive level that will make it a competing alternative to the laptop and 2) Because people are increasingly needing less and less memory on their computing devices.  Price is obvious, but people using less memory may be intriguing to some.

With Facebook, YouTube, Google Docs, iWork.com, Picasa, Flickr, LastFM and SalesForce.com to name a few, it is plain to see that storing things online is becoming the norm and not an anomaly.  When a person finds that their life is increasingly online and all their content is stored online, the computing device’s priorities shift to processing speed and connectivity.  In-device memory merely facilitates the uploading of information onto the net.

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With this in mind, and the commercial success of the netbook this year, it isn’t surprising to see Apple planning a large, 7 – 9 inch screen iPod touch.  And there you have it. The emergence of the mini tablet PC.  Each new generation of computer strives to be lighter, faster, more connectivity, thinner, convenient, and offers a superior user interface more efficiently translate your requests.

Essentially, the computer will evolve into a simple, light-weight access panel to the internet with primarily upload capabilities.

We’re already starting to see it happen with iPhone/iPod Touch, the mini tablet PC, the regular tablet PC, the new iMacs that have done away with computer towers, and large LCD and Plasma flat-screen TVs.

As more and more functionality and our lives moves online, the need for varied formats of the computer will decrease.  Eventually the only choice consumers will have to make is what size screen they’ll like.

It is a question of screensize.

Large screens for home, mid-sized screens for mobile work and when carrying a bag, small screens for ultra mobility when carrying a bag is not desired.

Going back to the three present digital ecosystems being offered by Microsoft, Google and Apple, which one will prevail if computers evolve the way its been described above? Microsoft’s present business model of selling installation-based software isn’t going to be compatible with an online, browser-based world that is more concerned with upload than download.  Google’s model of offering completely free access to its online products and charging advertisers for revenue seems to fit better with a world with thinner, lightweight computers.  We just witnessed an extraordinary event where two developers grafted Google’s Android platform onto one of the new Netbooks.  This could be the first steps of many Google may take in securing its leadership in the next generation of computers.  Apple’s closed-system software-hardware bundle still has a fair chance of succeeding if Apple can guarantee it continues to introduce the next must-have computing device that takes everyone one step closer to a thinner, more light-weight computing world.  I hear iWork.com, Apple’s answer to Google Docs will be subscription-based.  If Apple can keep its momentum it just might be able to lure enough people and lock them into Apple’s ecosystem to charge them all subscription fees.

It seems that if computers continue to get thinner and lighter, then for the longevity of this development (say the next 5-10 years), Google and Apple have very bright futures while Microsoft has a tough battle ahead.

But if we review the question of screensize again, an astute entrepreneur may take the idea of screensize one step further and ask: “why would we need to continue requiring consumers to carry a screen with them wherever they go? Why can’t we provide screens for them wherever they are. so they don’t have to carry screens anymore?”

Then the question no longer is about screensize, but about moving screens from 2D to 3D.  Enter surface computing.  All the surfaces, wherever you are, are screens for you to access your information, upload your information, and communicate.  The tables, walls, clothes, all surfaces will become computing access points for the digital ecosystem.

minority-reportIf thinner, more lightweight 2D computers/screens is the 5-10 year mid-term horizon, then surface computing is the 15-20 year long-term horizon.

And guess who’s been leading the way for surface computing?  Bill Gates and Microsoft.

See a video demo of Microsoft’s Surface Computing


Microsoft, Google, Apple Part 1: Digital Ecosystems

Posted: January 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

I think its fairly clear the direction we’re all headed. The movers & shakers of our generation, whether we love them or hate them, are busy at work creating competing information/media/communication ecosystems for us to live in.

Want to access the internet? Microsoft has IE running off Windows, Apple has Safari running off Mac OSX and Google has Chrome which, for now, is just running off Windows but will eventually run off of everything.

How about doing work? Google Docs are 24/7 networked up-time, Microsoft Office has a lot more bells and whistles but you pay a pretty penny for this stand-alone product.  And Apple’s iWork is just prettier.

Big on entertainment? Apple’s iTunes has cornered the music market and offers some of the best webcasts, games & apps in a sweet GUI.  Add to that Apple TV and all these goodies can be accessed not just on your computer but in your livingroom too. Microsoft’s Xbox attacks the entertainment question from the gaming angle, but with MMO and SecondLife-like Avatar capability now the norm, interactive communication is a readily available function available on your bigscreen tv.  Xbox’s next iteration will see Blu-Ray player capabilities, and its cooperation with Netflicks brings a mountain of new content.  Google has YouTube.  And as it inks more syndication agreements for YouTube content, it spreads its net wider.  Even now, record labels and broadcast networks are sweetening to the YouTube platform as ad revenues start coming in.  YouTube has become today what MTV was for the MTV generation.

Microsoft’s MSN Messenger vs. Apple’s iChat vs. Google’s Gtalk.

Microsoft’s Hotmail vs. Apple’s Mail vs. Google’s Gmail.

Microsoft’s MSN Live Spaces vs. Apple’s iLife vs. Google’s Blogger.

With Apple’s domination of mobile music with iPod and pioneering of mobile digital communications with iPhone, the digital ecosystem continues to extend.  Microsoft is fighting an increasingly uphill battle with the Windows Mobile Platform, and its Zune, while the first in its product segment to boast Wi-Fi capabilities, far trails Apple’s iPod.  Google has gotten into the mobile game in a paradigm-shifting way with the open source Android platform a year ago. Now with the T-Mobile G1 phone, or any of the other new Android phones coming out in 2009 from Huawei, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson, Google is on its way to being a household name for mobile devices.

So catering to your whole digital life, Microsoft, Google and Apple have each created separate digital ecosystems for you to inhabit.  Whether its on your desktop, laptop, in your livingroom with your big-screen TV or out-and-about with your mobile device, these three digital giants have some product to keep you linked into their domain.

These three are building their digital ecosystems in different ways though.  Microsoft, coming from a long heritage of selling installation-based software maintains the philosophy that the device doesn’t matter, but a digital ecosystem is all about a software ecosystem.  Albeit, Microsoft has made forays into devices with the Zune and Xbox, with fair success.  In part, Microsoft has seen the success of Apple’s approach.  Apple maintains the philosophy that a digital ecosystem is derived from the complete user experience in a hardware-software bundle.  As a closed system with high standards and high focus on the User Interface both virtual and real, Apple has produced hit after hit and everyone is taking notice.  The closed system also makes Apple’s ecosystem particularly sticky with things like DRM in addition to general design appeal.  Selling these hardware-software bundles at a premium price, you’re literally ‘buying into’ Apple’s ecosystem.  Finally, Google’s philosophy is similar to Microsoft’s, in that the digital ecosystem should be primarily software, and should be run/accessed from any device regardless who made it.  Where Google differs from Microsoft is that instead of selling installation-based software like Microsoft, Google’s ecosystem is web-based with little or no download/installation required and -even more shocking- Google is offering its ecosystem for FREE. Google’s ecosystem is powered by ad dollars.

Three digital ecosystems, one selling installation software, one selling hardware-software bundles, and one offering free use of software hosted online while making money from some other guy.

Which ecosystem will we eventually find ourselves in? Is there room for more than one?

Well, its a question of screen size.

Read it here in Part II.