Mar 062012
 

In anticipation of Apple announcing the third version of its iPad this week, everyone bucking for a pageview is speculating – or regurgitating someone else’s speculation – about the device. The latest is that the device will be called the iPad HD. The source is a big one: ZDNet, so it has an air of credibility to it. At the risk of eating a giant turd, I’m calling bullshit.

First there’s the source. For those of you with short memories, ZDNet is a member of the Apple reporting axis of evil that has been shitting on Apple since 1991. If ZD wasn’t forced to kiss the ring like the rest of the tech press, I have no doubt I’d be reading about the 10th anniversary of Apple’s bankruptcy banged out on the World Domination Edition of Windows XP 15. And if I were Apple (muhhaha), I’d take particular joy in leaking something credible-sounding to ZD for the express purpose of not doing it.

Which leads me to my second point: the HD suffix is stupid. Windshield wipers these days come with HD branding. It’s one notch above “Extreme” on the scale of retarded marketing buzzwords. Apple doesn’t co-opt other peoples’ douchy branding apparatuses; it makes other peoples’ douchy branding apparatuses. And what are you going to call the next one? The HD 2? You may as well have Motorola name your fucking product. But leaking HD makes the perfect plant for stooges like ZDNet. “Extreme” may have drawn a buck-toothed “Hey wait a minute” from a suspicious editor, but HD plays into most peoples’ stupid mainstream notions for naming products, so it’s almost perfect.

Which can only mean that I’ll be taking this all back via Twitter about 20 minutes into the keynote.

Update: From what I can piece together, the “exclusive” actually comes from CNET, not ZDNet. So substitute “Don Reisinger” for “Mary Jo Foley” and you basically have the same site.

Update 2: Amazing what 6 oz. of common sense can accomplish. iPad HD my ass. Nice scoop, guys! I do find naming the device “The New iPad” is a bit strange, though. Probably because Tim Cook is a religious reader of TMA and made a last-minute decision to pull “HD” from the name based on my post. That’s probably what happened.

Mar 022012
 

Apple will announce its third iPad on March 7, but there’s also been a good amount of chatter about the possibility of a new AppleTV to compliment Apple’s iPadHD (hint: Not the name of the device. Trust me.). The most often-reported feature of this new device is a faster processor, a low-cost version of the A5 called the A5X. The bump would allow 1080p content to be displayed, whereas Apple’s current set-top cube only supports 720p. I don’t think this alone justifies the introduction of new hardware, however.

When you think about how Apple versions its products, they fall into 2 rough categories: the iPhone/iPad and their “desktop” offerings, or, if you like “iOS” and “OS X” devices. iOS devices get roughly annual refreshes and OS X device refresh frequencies run about the same (200 – 300 days, with the exception of the languishing Mac Pro). When Apple releases an iOS device, it comes with one or two “killer features” that differentiate it from its predecessor. In the case of the iPad 3, it will be a “Retina” screen, a faster processor and possibly the incorporation of Siri. The iPhone 4S had Siri, a faster processor and a much better camera. OS X updates are typically more subdued: a bump in processor speed, pre-installed RAM and HDD/SSD’s at the same price point (or less). The AppleTV is on a “tweener” cycle: the last one was released in September 2010, the original in January of 2007. With a new Apple TV, you’d expect a couple of new features that would justify the upgrade. With apologies to HDTV enthusiasts, an improved processor and the ability to display 1080p content by itself does not rise to what Apple has traditionally considered worthy of a new model. In my mind, that leaves three options for what we’ll see, if anything, related to the AppleTV on March 7: hardware, software and content (or perhaps some combination of the 3).

Hardware

In addition to a faster processor, I think the options for the AppleTV’s hardware are rather limited, especially if we assume the device is going to keep the same form factor (which I think is likely, given how “leaky” the supply chain is with anything related to Apple’s hardware – witness the myriad iPad 3 photos leading up to its release). Siri is a distant possibility, but I’m not convinced that Siri is something Apple will ever port to its set-top box (put that in same bucket as my dissing the likelihood of an Apple Television). I think options like FaceTime, DVR functionality, motion control or any of the other possibilities floated in the blogosphere are pipe dreams.

Software

AppleTV 5.0 could introduce any number of UI changes, as well as the introduction of new services based on new partnerships. A major software update, available to all ATV 2 owners, could be enough to float the release of a more limited hardware update, sort of like how iOS 3 was co-released with the iPhone 3GS.

Content

The New York Post reported that Apple has been hounding content providers for partnerships for a new streaming television service. Although the source isn’t Wall Street Journal-level, it’s safe to assume Apple has been in ongoing negotiations with providers even before the debut original AppleTV. Currently, Apple’s marquis partners have limited to Netflix, a partner everyone and their brother has on their devices, including every “Smart TV”. Sure there are other fringe services like MLB and Vimeo also available, but I’d rate Apple’s current partner quality a C-; GoogleTV, Roku and just about everyone else has access to a wider swath of non-iTunes content than Apple does. I don’t think the addition of a Hulu Plus or HBO Go will make new hardware more likely. If additional access to content is what floats a new AppleTV, it’ll have to be a major deal involving multiple partners. Otherwise, it won’t share the stage with the iPad 3.

My prediction is that Apple is much more likely to announce something that can be applied to all its current AppleTVs in the way of software and/or partnerships than it is to announce new hardware, but some combination of the three is possible.

Update: Well, it looks like I was probably wrong about what justifies a hardware update. The new AppleTV has a faster processor that allows 1080p content – and it looks like that’s about it. I haven’t seen much on the updated UI, but hopefully it’s something that can be updated on existing ATV2’s. Win some/lose some.

Update 2: From the illustrious MG Siegler, via Twitter: “Old Apple TV does get new UI update. But it will be limited to 720p still”. And the update is being referred to as “5.0”, so at least I got the version down.

Feb 232012
 

Well that didn’t take long. Scrappy upstart Proview sure talked a good game, but when it came time to enter the ring in Shanghai with an iPad injunction on the line, we all knew what was going to happen.

Owned: Chinese government edition

Of course, Proview insists that this isn’t the end of the story, as the reason given for the denial of the injunction is that Apple’s appeal of the original Guangdong provincial high court decision – the one that got the iPad pulled in some Chinese cities – is pending. Staring down the barrel of bankruptcy, Proview is now willing to settle for a mere $400 million for the iPad trademark, as opposed to the reported $3 billion they were originally seeking. By the time the company’s creditors pull the plug on this fiasco, I have a feeling they’ll settle for a couple of Apple t-shirts.

Oct 042011
 

It’s an hour before the iPhone event being held on the Apple Campus, so I thought I’d throw up a few predictions, none of which will be shocking to anyone – except for some people making stupid predictions:

iPhone 5 and/or iPhone 4S

I see 2 scenarios playing out. Either there will be 2 discrete products announced – a new iPhone and a minimally-repackaged (if at all repackaged) iPhone4, or an augmented iPhone 4, which for the sake of web convention I’ll call the 4S. If there are two, there will have to be ample differentiation between them. I have a hard time believing Apple will release a new model specifically to address the low-end market unless it is the previous-gen model. In other words, I don’t expect to see a markedly improved iPhone 4 in addition to the iPhone 5.

Of all that I’ve heard the iPhone 5 could have, I think the most likely major hardware features will include the iPad’s A5 processor, a better camera and a slightly larger display, edge-to-edge. I also think the integrated voice assistant we’ve been hearing so much about is also probable. Things I don’t think it will have: an NFC chip and a vastly redesigned chassis aka the “teardrop” design.

If only one phone is released a la the improved iPhone 4 model, I think it will be disappointing. I expect there to be 2 models.

I’ve also heard rumblings about Steve Jobs being there. I’m not going to say it won’t happen, but I’ll tell you why I think it’s a bad idea. This is Tim Cook’s ship now. Any time given to Steve Jobs is going to make this about Steve Jobs, which I would argue it shouldn’t be. Despite retarded proclamations of pundits everywhere, Apple’s always been about the products.

So strap yourself into your favorite Liveblog and let the newness of Apple’s kit wash over you.

Sep 282011
 

To understand why I think Amazon’s Fire will absolutely crush the Android tablet market, it helps to look at what both Google and Amazon bring to the tablet market.

The premise for Google’s Android started as a means of milking mobile device users for ad revenue. It was accomplished by knocking off Apple’s superior interface using stolen code from Java. The ends justified the means. With tablets, Google mistook the artificial market dominance it was handed by Apple’s exclusivity with AT&T – and competing carriers’ and manufacturers’ desperation – for success. They looked at the iPad and thought they could apply the same model to tablets. But with no exclusive carrier relationship to exploit, no desperate carriers and no subsidies, Android tablets have been a running joke.

Compare this with Amazon’s approach to making a tablet: the end is a more logical product of the means. Amazon took things it does well – books, movies and cloud computing – and used only as much hardware as they needed to deliver it at a jaw-dropping price. They took pains not to characterize the Fire as “an Android tablet” and it’s not meant to compete with the iPad, regardless of how badly the pathetic tech press wants to characterize it that way.

Deciding between a high-end Android tablet and an iPad? You’ll going make the same decision that made punchlines out of the XOOM, Galaxy Tab 10.1, Streak, PlayBook and TouchPad. Deciding between a Fire and an iPad? Sure, there might be some people who will purchase a Fire, but Apple’s device is much more than a storefront for media – it’s the app powerhouse that the Fire could never be, not just because of the limitations of the Android market itself, but the hardware driving the Fire experience restricts it.  Deciding between a Fire and a XOOM? I would argue that its superior integration with what Amazon does well combined with being “just enough” of an Android tablet and its absurdly low price will capture 9/10 of the people looking to buy a tablet that doesn’t have an Apple inscribed on the back.

Jul 252011
 

Handicapping Apple products is now considered to be a national past time. Unfortunately for the overwhelming percentage of prognosticators, they don’t know how badly they suck at it. Because a new wave of asinine Apple product rumors roll in every new moon, it’s tough to dissipate the stink from the last one before the next is upon us. As much as I’d like to think tech bloggers and analysts are that stupid, it’s far more likely that the culprits are playing loyal enthusiasts (and the freetards who hate them) as part of the quest for the almighty pageview.

As someone utterly immune to and sometimes inspired to respond to such ridiculousness, I’ve decided to call out some of the latest rumors casting stinklines across the interwebs and drag them into the light of logic – well, my logic anyway – in the hopes that you, dear reader, will find the moronitude of said rumors to be self-evident.

A New iPhone to Address the Pre-Paid Market

Because I’m a U.S. consumer and purchase my phones with a fat brick of a contract that brings the up-front cost down, I’m not sensitive to the fact that most other countries don’t operate that way. The truth is that the pre-paid smartphone market is both growing – because more mobile phone purchases are smartphone purchases – and largely unexploited. This would appear to be an opportunity for someone like Apple to significantly grow their global market share – you know, that number that means a lot to Android users – by producing a lower-cost version of the iPhone.

The thing is: Apple already makes a lower-cost version of its current smartphone. Every generation of iPhone provides a buying opportunity for prior generation hardware. As of now, you can get an iPhone 3GS for around $450. That price will likely go down when the iPhone 5 is announced. So it’s entirely possible that Apple will make the 3GS more widely available as a cheaper alternative for the pre-paid phone crowd. But there are also some problems with thinking the 3GS is going to be Apple’s global pre-paid phone. First, it assumes that Apple will continue to produce them in mass quantities. It also assumes they’d be willing to drop the price of the phones below $300 or so. Both of those strike me as cutting into the possibility of it happening significantly, but I think the most biggest detriment to the argument is that the 3GS will be 2 generations removed from currency, which I don’t think would reflect well on the Apple brand. So why not the possibility of Apple releasing a “stripped down” version of the iPhone with – or about the same time as – the iPhone 5? No friggin’ way.

For this to be the case, there has to be failure on one of two axes that make successful Apple products: price and features. A”stripped down” version of the iPhone 5 is what? The iPhone 4? If that’s the case, there’s no way Apple offers it for below $300. Does it share the form factor of the iPhone 5 without some killer feature? It’d have to do without a shitload of killer features to bring the cost below $300, at which point it’d again reflect poorly on the brand.

Earth to pundits: Apple makes healthy margins on excellent hardware vertically integrated with a superior platform. While I’m sure the pre-paid market is a goldmine for some companies who can subsist on razor-thin margins, Apple is not – nor do they want to be – that company.  And speaking of non-margins…

The Apple-branded television

I honestly can’t understand the resilience of this one, but it’s an absolute zombie (a plodding Romero zombie, not the wicked-fast Return of the Living Dead kind). I tried taking apart an enthusiastic analyst; I even tried smug allegory. Apparently there are those who still believe in it, so I’m going to boil my objection down simply: what advantage does Apple gain by having a TV with an apple on it versus any TV hooked up to an AppleTV? Margin? If Apple releases a 42″ TV at an Apple margin, the cost of a Vizio + an AppleTV is guaranteed to be hundreds less. So what does Apple do then? Discontinue the set-top box? Not likely. For pundits who don’t “get it”, Apple’s success in studio and broadcast media is and will continue to consist of 9 parts media, 1 part hardware. The value of the hardware has already been captured in a set-top box; further integration would only add a cost barrier while decreasing consumer choice. The only way to add value to the proposition is to add content, which is where Apple will focus, but not by…

Purchasing Hulu

I’m inclined to think this one sprang from a collision of the “Google is rumored to be talking to someone, so Apple must be talking to them too” and the evergreen “Apple has so much cash; they have to spend it on something” streams. Aside from Apple already hosting a bunch of Hulu’s content, Apple already has a model for a streaming media relationships. Look at what Apple did to Netflix on the AppleTV. They managed to keep all of their content, but Netflix didn’t even get their splash screen on the AppleTV interface. That’s the kind of relationship Apple will have with Hulu, if it even has one. Personally, I don’t think Apple’s interest in a catalogue consisting of 90% decades-old TV shows and movies I’ve never heard of is that high.

Update: Macworld’s Dan Moren wrote an article on why Hulu would be an attractive partner for Apple. Even though I agree with very little of it, it does present the most compelling argument I’ve seen on the issue. The best part: Macworlder Chris Breen takes his coworker’s argument apart in the comments section.

So there’s the view from my comfortable naysayer’s perch about things I feel have little to no chance of happening despite the increasing number of articles appearing to the contrary. Comment are open to those who think I’ve grown too pessimistic about Apple’s ambitions (as well as to those pointing out my poor spelling and/or diction).

Apr 282011
 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Google’s Android OS for mobile devices will doom Apple’s iOS soon. Witness the impending savage brutality:

The analyst’s conclusion: Android will overtake iOS by July of this year. Looks pretty obvious from this graph, right? Not really.

1. Where did you people learn statistics?

Wanna hear something awesome? I will be a millionaire by the the time I retire and I have the statistics to prove it. You see: I found $100 bill on the street today. If you assume that I will find $100 on the street every day for *cough* *ahem* *cough* years, and allow for compounding at a modest interest rate, I will be a millionaire around 65. Screw the IRA!

Distimo used the February-March 2011 month-to-month data to project the June numbers. I know this because they say so in their write-up. Taking month-to-month growth of an app ecosystem and extending a line from it is as meaningless an exercise as taking any 2 short-term data points and extending a trend line from the segment formed. And speaking of drawing…

2. Where did you people learn to draw?

Maybe it’s me, but do you see the line come off a little “flat” for iOS in March and get a little goosed for Android around mid April? You guys know something we don’t? Wanna let us in on it?

3. Try looking up “ringtones” in the Android Market.

Wanna guess how many of these apps are conduits for pirated, copyright/trademark-violating properties? If you guessed “a shit-ton”, you’d be correct. People used to joke about how many fart apps were in the App Store. The Android Market wishes it had apps as valuable as the worst fart app ever put up. Distimo does note that Android now has more free apps than the App Store. Nothing screams “make money here!” to app developers as effectively as having more stuff not worth paying for in your market.

4. So I guess the iPad doesn’t count now?

We’re comparing OS markets, but we’re leaving out devices that make up part of the market ecosystem. I guess if you want a graph that fits well in landscape orientation, you have to cut some corners. Like not drawing our lines straight. Or making that ziggy line on the y-axis between 50,000 and 100,000 on a graph that spans 0 to 400,000. Hallmarks of a company that should be taken seriously.

If you’re banking on Android overtaking iOS in the near future, you’d feel a lot better if you sought out analysis that actually makes sense, as opposed to getting it from another no-name firm with zero track record looking to make a quick buck by using shitty statistics poorly.

Apr 202011
 

So TMA was heading into this afternoon’s Apple earnings call with a little bit of – ¿cómo se dice? – swagger?  How did the predictions stack up against the experts?

-Actuals courtesy of Apple’s investor page (I’m noticing some small discrepencies between it and the numbers presented on the call)

-“Consensus” averages courtesy of the good men and women at the Fortune Apple 2.0 blog

Not bad, eh? Probably should have deduced the iPod numbers, but then again, no one else did. The biggest eye-popper, however, is the iPad column – what the hell is happening there? Even the partially-evolved “professionals” couldn’t lowball it enough. Apple’s supply chain’s got some ‘splainin’ to do!

In closing, TMA presents an open letter to the firms currently making up the “professional” consensus:

Dear J.P. Morgan, Oppenheimer, Deutche Bank, Piper Jeffray, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, et. al:

If you are interested in the services of an independent analyst who doesn’t make your firms look like a bunch of complete tools when making predictions about the financial performance of Apple, Inc., I will be entertaining offers, starting at $750,000 annually (plus benefits). I can guarantee you that I will embarrass you no less than the people passing for analysts at your firms do now.

As they say on eBay, bid with confidence!

Sincerely,

TMA

Apr 192011
 

One of TMA’s favorite posts involves swooping in after Apple has kicked the crap out of analysts’ estimates for earnings and pointing out how little financial firms know about the company. There’s also usually a shot about their performance being symptomatic of the country’s financial collapse as well as some vague ponzi scheme references. Good times.

But it’s also kind of unfair, right? I mean – shouldn’t I be exposed to some of the scrutiny I inflict upon others? That’s debatable, but because I’m resistant to most forms of shaming, I’m going to give this prediction thing a shot. Based on the metrics listed in Fortune’s Apple 2.0 poll categories, TMA humbly submits his predictions for Apple’s performance:

So TMA responds to the weary analysts’ cry of “Fill yer hands!”. The “TMA” row on Fortune’s Q3 prediction spreadsheet is all but assured.

Apr 132011
 

A long time ago, a small Cupertino company discovered that the more elements of the computer (and later the consumer electronics) experience they controlled, the more people would be willing to pay for the fruits of their labor. They developed their own computer, smartphone, media player and TV set-top box operating systems, designed the boxes they came in, strongly controlled the components that made them up, and dominated their purchasing experience. The company enjoyed decades of nosebleed-margins, accolades from followers, envy from producers of lesser goods, best-in-class reviews and were the darlings of customer satisfaction surveys across the land. Their products were held up as examples of what technology could be.

One day, the company decided to get into the television manufacturing market, a low-margin commodity good that had dozens of major brand competitors that had been in the market for decades. The Cupertino company already made a modestly-successful and arguably best-in-class TV set-top box that allowed viewers to rent, purchase or stream media. Some of their would-be competitors were already working with another major tech company on an operating system that provided similar, but inferior capabilities. Others manufacturers had their own deployment of integrated “apps” from providers of video and music streaming services – both paid and free. Despite all this, the logic of “we have a buttload of cash from doing all things that aren’t this successfully – what else are we going to spend it on?” proved too compelling for their normally shrewd and trend-leading CEO, so they plowed headlong into one of the most established markets in consumer electronics, second only to radio.

One of the paragraphs in this story make sense. One of them is the analyst’s equivalent of petroleum jelly and a JCPenny catalogue lingerie section.

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