There will never be another

The world has lost one of its best.

It was almost as if I was in some strange parallel universe, when I saw a shot of Steve Jobs appear on my TV this morning. I was just about to leave for work, but I stayed. I saw the caption and I could not believe it. It was almost as if the news was trying to dupe us; it was having us on.

I froze on the spot, and watched the short report that followed. It just all seemed so unreal.

Steve Jobs will be sorely missed. As I walked in to work, I passed the office manager, and we made small talk while the news droned on from a TV in the background. I looked at the TV, then asked him, “Have you heard?” I was mildly offended when he seemed nonplussed. Why? Because Steve Jobs changed the world, I told him.

Aside from the revolutionary technology that Mr Jobs and Apple created, he was a character. He was a self-confessed square peg in a round hole, and watching him every year, defying convention and normality with every product launch, he gave courage to those of us who have ever felt alienated for believing in something new; something real. Steve Jobs was a role model for all of us who have ever stood up and said, or wanted to say, “This is the world, and this is how I see it.”

In his iPad review, Stephen Fry concluded that its best feature is that it is a joy to use. It’s a product that despite all of the complex techno-wizardry contained within, still manages to bring joy to its users for just using it. Of course, there were many criticisms of the iPad when it launched. There were those who said there was no place in the market for it, and there were those who complained it was flimsy and underpowered for what it presented itself as. Still, the iPad seems to have done quite well for itself, and carved out its own niche in the market, inspiring a slew of other tablets from a number of manufacturers. What remains, is that Steve was there first. He was the one who said, “Hey, let’s try it this way,” and while we were hesitant at first, we got it. We understood, and it was beautiful.

Steve Jobs represented to us what it means to think outside of the box. It’s difficult to think that he’ll no longer be around, pushing boundaries, kicking ass, and taking names. He was the first great who made the technology world sit up and listen. While he will not be the last, there will never be another Steve Jobs, and he will be missed greatly.

To end on a somewhat saccharine note (or not), it’s our responsibility now to make sure the spirit of Steve lives on. That no matter how many people tell us we’re crazy, or just plain wrong, or full of bad, unworkable ideas, we will not take no for an answer. We’ll keep kicking at boundaries, and changing things for the better. That’s on us.

Thank you so much, Steve. You will be missed.

In Memoriam - Steve Jobs (by @gapingvoid)

Stay hungry, stay foolish.
Steve Jobs -1955-2011


Apple iAd: Apple enters the advertising fray with iPhone OS 4

I know I’m (relatively) late to the party, but I’ve just sat down and watched Apple’s iPhone OS 4 keynote. There were some really nice features mentioned, such as multitasking, increased security functionality, and their new game platform. One thing that didn’t so much surprise me, but shock me, was Jobs’ message that Apple is entering the advertising world with the latest iteration of their iPhone OS, with iAd.

In case you haven’t seen the keynote, Apple iAd will allow ads on the iPhone to essentially be ‘better’. Steve Jobs argues about these new Apple iAds being an excellent mix of interactivity and emotion. It sounds like Jobs wants to daub all the ads on the handset with his renowned Apple magic. During the keynote, he demonstrated three such ‘iAds’, which people from Apple had mocked up themselves. As expected, they were each very swish, very nice, and very ‘Apple’-looking. The first was a Toy Story 3 ad, which Jobs says is apparently a great movie. The ad, when accessed from within another app, launches itself in a page that pops up. The ad offers various noise-making gimmicks, also offering the latest trailers and videos related with the film. It also allows you to see nearby cinemas where you can catch the film, through a nice Google Maps crossover. In addition to this, lets you buy a Toy Story app directly out of the ad, without visiting the App Store, which is one of the features the new OS provides. The second ad shown, a Nike ad, similarly let you view videos, and also provides access to Nike iD, where I believe it’ll allow you to purchase branded clothing right out of the ad, again. The last ad was for Target, and made specifically for their back-to-school sale, letting you create your own ‘dorm room’, and again, purchase homewares directly from the ad itself.

It’s a nice idea, and the demoed ads did look very nice, and hey, they looked fun, but iAd raised some major questions. Firstly, Jobs revealed that Apple will sell and host all of these ads, and when they are deployed, will keep 40% of profits made from them, and give 60% of the revenues generated back to the app developer. This seems as if it will turn Apple into something of an ad agency itself, which is troublesome. What do Apple (themselves) know about advertising, and what implications will this have for ad agencies? Sure, it will may create more business for them, crafting this new breed of immersive iAds. However, since Apple will be entirely in charge of distribution, will they be able to ensure that relevant ads get sent to the right consumers, or indeed that iAds will be placed in the correct apps? This is not always clear-cut (will they know to place diaper ads in beer-related apps?), and takes a level of market research that I don’t think Apple will be able to carry out.

Jobs doesn’t discuss how the iAd system will work, but I assume that when a developer chooses to include iAds in their app, Apple simply displays ads from their ad database inside the app in question. However, what implications does this have for existing, developer-made ads in apps? Sure, some current ads are shameless punts for a little extra money, but some developers rely on their own ads to advertise their other products on the App Store. Will Apple still allow these home-made ads to exist, or coexist alongside iAds, or will they simply assert themselves as the only advertising option as far as the iPhone is concerned?

The scale of the iAds shown is also troublesome. Jobs wants to create immersive, engaging, and emotional ads. The scale of the ads showcased at the keynote is mindblowing, however. Jobs states that currently, the average iPhone user spends 30 minutes ‘inside’ apps. I think with the time taken to explore these new iAds, that figure might (if we’re being optimistic) skyrocket, as every app with ads paves the way to a new iAd experience. Will people actually bother to spend time in these new iAd worlds, though? The iAds showcased were almost like apps in themselves, and I think Apple needs to be very careful about this. Time is always of the essence, and would people bother to spend their ‘app-time’ looking at ads, instead of actually doing what they initially set out to achieve? The current click-through rates of ads must currently be abysmal; Jobs says so himself that current iPhone apps are terrible. Suffice to say, getting people to look at iAds will be hard, especially without the necessary insight for proper placement.

I think Apple also need to consider the expectations created by the medium. People don’t really expect to be inundated with sprawling ads from their smartphone, and might not explore them, as a result. It seems that Apple want to change the world, again, and who knows? They might. If they can get enough unique ad content, then this could really take off. Then again, there’s always the chance that people might shun them, and refuse to accept that their phone, which is generally something very personal, is suddenly a broadcast medium for advertising.

In his keynote, Jobs says that he wants iAds to be interactive, yet capture the ’emotion’ of a TV ad. Jobs seems to be overlooking the fact that an iPhone is not a TV. Apple need to be very careful of how they propagate iAds, if they plan on invading personal space, especially so with messages that may be irrelevant.

I’m not sure if Apple can pull this off, but I certainly think we need to wait and see how this pans out.

Apple: Changing the world?

We’ve all heard about, and possibly seen the iPad by now. For those who haven’t, I’ll just say it’s an upscaled iPod Touch/iPhone, which physically resembles a huge iPhone, while retaining its slim and light form factor. As Steve Jobs said, in his keynote unveiling yesterday, it’s meant to fill the gap between an iPhone, and a Mac. That’s pretty much all it is, and I must say, I’m impressed, and can’t wait to get my hands on one, when I have the necessary funds. What I was more impressed with, though, is Apple’s pricing decisions when it comes to the physical product, its software, and any relevant 3G contracts, if you so wish to opt for a 3G model, for on-the-move internet access.

The iPad is set to start at $499, which is really quite affordable, considering that one, it’s an Apple product, two, it’s new, and Apple know they can make a lot of money from their early adopters, and three, from looking at the cost of the iPhone when it first came out. Jobs justifies this ‘low’ price point by stressing that he wants the iPad to be in as many homes, and hands, as possible. This seems like a noble aim, especially when considering that 3G functionality doesn’t dramatically increase the price of the device (+$130 extra). Things get a little stranger when you look at the way Apple have priced their 3G contracts. Again, they’ve chosen to go with AT&T in the US, but data contracts for these devices are only going to cost $14.99 for a 250MB monthly allowance, or $29.99 for an unlimited monthly allowance. Madness!

One of the good, or bad things (depending on how you look at it) about doing a business degree is that you become more aware, to a great degree, of the cost of things. That’s cost of goods, and profit margins, and the like. How can AT&T afford such contracts? Admittedly, there’s going to be no video or audio upstream (assuming that Apple stick by their guns on the Skype issue; that is, only allowing use of Skype with a WiFi connection), but with the expansion of the iTunes store, and, of course, the added ease of use the iPad lends to the YouTube app, it’s understandable that Apple are still going to see a great deal of usage-heavy 3G downloads on the iPad. I assume that there’s some maximum limit for their ‘unlimited’ data package, but this kind of aggressive pricing suggests that Apple intend to make money on the number of contracts they sell, and not the individual contracts themselves.

Something that also surprised me was Apple’s new suite of iWork programs: Numbers, Pages and Keynote. Microsoft charge a fortune for even the most basic student version of Microsoft Office, which i Apple have seen as something of a window, seemingly. The iWork software has been retooled to make the most of the iPad’s touch functionality, and I must admit that it looks extremely slick, and very easy to use. What’s more, Jobs announced yesterday that Apple are going to release said programs onto the App Store, for $9.99 for each app. Now, this is dangerous. Apple are trying here to invade Microsoft’s territory, and start chipping away at its huge Office user base. Office is purely popular because its software works with anything, as most people use Office to produce things. Its only major downfall, as with most Microsoft software, is ridiculous pricing. Now, there are shady ways to get around this, but not many people are aware of how piracy works, and how to pirate said products. I think Apple are aiming at these types of customers. You’ve got to take into account that someone with a grasp of how technology, and indeed the App Store works, could cotton on to how to source products like Microsoft Office illegally. Sure, there’s a discrepancy in ability between being able to utilise things such as the App Store, and knowing how to pirate software, but piracy is becoming increasingly easy, in some cases. Certainly, there are raised levels of awareness regarding piracy itself, what with the media’s tendency to harp on about it. Who knows. Perhaps this media attention has lead to some discovering piracy altogether. Apple’s pricing strategy is risky, but it’s definitely one to watch, I’d say.

Whether or not Apple’s strategies lead to increased penetration of the iPad and its component services are uncertain. We’ll just have to wait and see. However, it seems most noble an aim for Apple to attempt to get as many people to adopt their iPads as possible. While this isn’t as noble as it could be, ($499 is still a lot of money) it’s something of a refreshing change from Apple, who have been known to price high, certainly with new products.

It’s something of a different story when you look at the mixed reception the iPad has received. I’d personally love to have one, as it constitutes an e-book reader, digital photo frame, and tablet computer. Others, however, pass it off as nothing more than an over-glorified iPhone. Perhaps, then, this low price point is necessary to persuade these great many ‘ummers and arrers’ to take the plunge, and opt for an iPad. Who knows, they might even enjoy it.

I was originally going to title this post as, ‘Apple: Power to the people?’ It seems, though, that at the end of the day, business is still business. What originally seems noble, is actually a clever marketing decision. Sigh.

Let’s look at the plus side of things, however. Apple’s aggressive pricing of their iWork software might lead for Microsoft to change their pricing structures. While it’s silly to suggest that they’d change their set routines drastically, Apple’s work here might start to effect some kind of change in the Microsoft dominated office software ecosystem. Also, releasing these applications on the App Store is something to be marvelled at. Sure, digital software versions are not uncommon, but this, coupled with the one-touch-buying and ease of use the App Store allows, could mean big things, possibly revolutionising the ways we think about buying software.

I’m curious. What do other people think?