b1-66er 1, alternate futures 0

tiger woods not only made the cut in his first post-"scandal" masters, he made the top 5; giving me my first successful prediction here in the vitrine.

god it's great to be right; and all you sporting "experts" at NPR can kiss my ass.

kids in space

the space plan, announced by the obama administration today, will put
people on mars in the mid 2030's. (he also killed our return to the
moon, which is absolutely RIGHT.)

if that plan goes off -and there are a million ways for it not to (not
to mention that obama is no kennedy and terrorists aren't racing the US
to mars)- the command pilot has probably already been born and is a
couple of years old now. you don't know his/her name yet, but you

the immediate moral: be nice to little kids if you wanna be pals with
the next spaceman.


Eating the Red Tablet

Above all else, the Silicon Valley focuses on technology.  There are only two speeds in this part of the world: fast and faster.  There's also extreme, and often warped, focus on the companies that do business here -- especially Google and Apple.

Today's release of Apple's iPad marks a true red-letter event.  I haven't seen this many people worked up over a software or hardware release since the original iMac (that was Steve Jobs's first "true" computer on his return to Apple).  People, especially the Apple zealots, are insane; I mean frothing at the mouth-and-rolling-their-eyes-and-drink-no-water crazy.

It's too late to give these "people" the proper dose of Rabies Immune Globulin -- not that they would have taken it anyway -- but my prediction is there's a much harsher fate awaiting the faithful: the chilling bite of a failed gizmo.

I have an usual and unique connection to this product.  In 1993 I was the Human Interface Evangelist at Apple, replacing (the heavy-over-hyped and self-qualified) Bruce Tognazzini.  One of the products under my wing was a thing called the PenMac.

The PenMac was a tablet computer with a stylus -- designed to be a super-portable-tuck-it-under-your-arm device that would run a robust subset of System 7.

As an evangelist, I pulled a move that I've never heard of, before or since -- I started a movement inside the company to kill the product before it was released.  Evangelists are supposed to support and hype products, not kill them; but I felt then the way I still do today -- I can only support a product I can believe in.  My technological word -especially when I had the backing of Apple and was writing for InfoWorld- carried a lot of weight.  It was important to me to not lie to the public.

The reason I helped to kill the PenMac was simply this: I felt there was no market. There was no discernible reason, need or market gap that the device could fill or satisfy.

Things are a little different now, but not a lot.

In the iPad's camp you have some pretty strong positive points that didn't exist in 1993:
  • The Internet as a whole
  • ITunes and associated content
  • Portable book content (ala Kindle)
  • And to a lesser extent the iPod and iTouch (giving a wider population familiarity with Apple products, producing what wags call the "halo effect")
The biggest competitor to the iPad, without question, is the portable computer -- and at the iPad introductory $500 price point, especially the Netbook.

And it's right here that we have a problem.

Now, Steve Jobs doesn't come from my don't-hype-what-you-don't-believe-in school-of-thought.  He'll gladly, and quickly, promote anything that might further the fortunes of the companies he is most heavily involved with (Disney and Apple) -- all the while holding a fairly heavy disdain of the world population as a whole.  Never forget, this is the man who: called color on computer screens "overrated" when he released the original Macintosh, ran a PC for months after re-joining Apple, and when asked at the most recent shareholders' meeting what kept him up at night said, "Shareholders' meetings."

Steve will tell you that Netbooks are worthless and overrated.  He'll also tell you that the iPad is better than the Kindle.

What Steve won't tell you is that Apple can't compete in the Netbook market because once you strip away everything else, Apple wouldn't have a price-competitive product.  He can't tell you want it's like to own a Kindle -- because he doesn't use one.  He also won't tell you exactly how you should carry your iPad if you already have an iPhone and an iPod.

The iPad has a few obvious problems: no multi-tasking, captive applications (meaning you have to pay the Apple price), no Flash support (Jobs will rail on Adobe about Flash, but the truth of the matter is Apple fell asleep at the wheel relative to display -- if they'd been paying attention, Apple would have the standard, not Adobe), no USB, no keyboard.

Apple fanboys, being what they are, will be quick to either dismiss many of these complaints or throw out the ever-constant, "that will happen in the future."  (This is so pervasive that my pal Bo3b believes that when you buy Apple you are always buying the future, never the present.)

There are some other problems endemic to tablets:

  • Touch screen is a bad idea.  For some reason, people in the 21st century haven't yet figured out that you don't want to be touching the item that you are also supposed to be viewing.  You end up not only needing to be sure your screen stays in touch registration, but also looking through the grunge, smears and scratches that develop as you use it.
  • Tablets in general, and especially the iPad all but demand that you use them two-handed (some gestures require two-hands on the iPad), but in a mobile environment, often times that's the very last thing you want to do.  For this example, don't think "different," think "riding on a bus."
  • Typing on a screen is absurd with no feedback.  Sure you can get a keyboard, but if you do, you have to carry that and a dongle along.  And when you do that you start moving further and further away from "portable."
  • Although I haven't handled one yet, I'm fairly certain they'll be easily dropped.  (In fact, I would venture that 100 people have already dropped their iPads today).
  • With the exception of the Kindle, there aren't any screens on the market that are easily visible in broad daylight.  Think "standing on a street corner."  The iPad could be, but I'll bet you it's not.
And don't forget the US economy is still perceived as hurting ... and when that's true, people don't spend money.  Ignore what the out-of-work sociopaths try and tell you out here -- the Valley economy is, even in the worst of times, healthy (Sunnyvale housing prices -- the very epicenter of the Silicon Valley -- rose 30% in the last year).  That, in combination with the inflated salaries of the area, gives people the inability to see that $500+ is a lot of money for a "toy."  People here will pay it without blinking, but when you live in an area where that number may equal the price of your rent payment, the story is different.

Mix this all together, spill it out, and I say right here, right now, the iPad will be a loser.  In the same way that the way Macintosh actually changed computing was to put mice on all Windows machines, I think the best Apple can do here is get people to pay attention to other/cheaper tablets.

It'll sell remarkably well out-the-gate.  Apple always gets more rapid early adoption than other companies (and the press never mentions that.)  But when it fails, Apple will do exactly as David Nagel said in the corporate communications meeting all those years ago, "We'll declare victory, stop manufacture and move on to the next thing."

There is one very important thing to note here, though.  I know a lot of people in the Silicon Valley, ranging from Chairmen of the Board of billion dollar corporations to QA bottom feeders.  Of all these people, the guy I know who has the absolute best understanding of portable computing is Fat Paulie.  He knows more about this stuff than you and I combined (and is so deeply embedded in this world that there's a gold Sumsung cell bearing his name).  And Paulie claims this iPad is a winner.  It will be so huge that it will actually define a whole new category of computing.

In closing I wanted to capture an email Bo3b sent to me about this last night.


The media is of course awash with iPad mania today.  The curious thing to me is that everyone is assuming this is a raging success before it's even shipped.

5 million in a heartbeat?  I see an analyst predict 2 million to 6 million in the first year.

I see the Times wanting $17/month simply for access to their news. I see these apps doubled in price.  I see the venture fund that doubled in size in order to push for more iPad apps. I see people writing that this is the savior of books, news, and magazine publishing.

This is all very curious to me, for an unknown product in an unknown niche. People are assuming that anything Apple creates is a winner, no if ands or buts.

I just can't see it.  A $500 toy that is good for web browsing does not seem to fit into the success category of either an iPod or an iPhone- where it's clear that everyone could use them.


4/5 addendum:
i learned yesterday that you can't print from an ipad.  if true, this automatically, and nearly completely, kills the market for senior citizens ... they view computers in an "older" way and really like to print.


{side notes:
  • with the exception of steve jobs, all the people listed here used to run mac OS, but now run windows.
  • i own stock in both apple and intel.
  • this article was written on a $300 asus netbook in a round table pizza parlor -- i wouldn't have been able to do it on an ipad.}