Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

Steve Ballmer’s math on Apple innovation doesn’t add up

May 5th, 2014

In the videos from his talk at Oxford’s Said Business School, Ballmer said that most tech companies fail (like restaurants I guess), and that the genius companies are “one-trick ponies,” which invent a business worth billons. For Microsoft, Ballmer counted 2.5 tricks: 1) the modern PC platform, which comprises Windows software along with the Office software platform; 2) the Windows Server platform (he described this as Microsoft in the datacenter); and finally, just a half a trick for Redmond’s Xbox gaming system.

Ballmer granted that Apple had accomplished two tricks: Macintosh, by which he must also include the popularizing of the first widely available GUI OS; and the iOS mobile computing platform, which spans iPod, iPhone (smartphones) and now iPad (tablet computing).

His math of Apple innovation appears lacking to this longtime Mac user. Let me add a few more of his “tricks” to the list:

The Apple II platform. Ballmer appears to believe that personal computing began with the launch of the IBM PC, which was Microsoft’s big start. Of course, the Apple II platform was one of the first great hardware and software platforms. Most tech industry watchers don’t know or recall that the Apple II was Cupertino’s cash cow for years following the release of the Macintosh, into the late 1980s. Production of the last Apple II model didn’t happen until 1993! I remember using the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc, in the early 1980s when I worked in an academic library.

Desktop publishing. It was Apple that in 1985 shipped the first readily available, networked laser printer, the LaserWriter. This printer, along with its Adobe Postscript interpreter technology, the Macintosh (with its support for PostScript and standard AppleTalk networking) and Aldus PageMaker layout application, provided the foundation of an entire industry, from service bureaus to computer graphics.

We take it for granted nowadays, the networked inkjet or laser printer in home or office. It started with the LaserWriter.

The Apple Store. There was a time when all computer makers sold in the channel and even had branded storefronts. But it’s all retail history now. In the 1990s, Apple pioneered the store-within-a-store concept and in 2001 opened its first retail store. Now the company runs a network of 424 stores in 16 countries that provide sales, support, product demonstrations, consumer education, and more. Now, the stores are starting a focus on supporting small businesses. Of course, the industry predicted that this retail move would be a complete disaster.

The first store was developed much like a project. I wrote about it in a post.

I was once told a tale about the design of the first Apple Store back in 2001. A full-sized mockup of the store was built inside a warehouse in Santa Clara, Calif., where all of the shelves and counters and other store elements were put on coasters. Every morning, Steve Jobs would walk into the warehouse and move things around. Maybe again in the afternoon. This continued until everything was in its proper spot.

There could be others: The transition to Mac OS X, as an example. What about the iTunes Store? Yes, it’s the vital service side of iOS, but it’s more than that, since it spans Macs and Windows and Apple TV platforms.

At the same time, I wonder if Ballmer isn/t selling Microsoft a bit short. I might add Microsoft BASIC and Visual Studio as a developer tools “trick.” But given the mixed and often-confused messages from Microsoft over the past decade, it must be easy for him to skip over such “little” tricks.


Apple software engineer details development of original iPhone

March 26th, 2014

Christie tells the tale of how an ultimatum from late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs pushed the engineer and his team to create what would become the first iPhone, the WSJ reports.

According to Christie, his team had been working on a “software vision” for the handheld when Jobs gave him two weeks to come up with something before the project was assigned to another group. What the engineering team developed would later become iPhone OS and ultimately the current iOS.

Along with “swipe to unlock,” touch-based inputs and gestures, Christie’s team created what can be considered the blueprint for modern smartphone operating systems.

At least some of the ideas came from Christie’s work with the Newton PDA team, which the engineer was part of after joining Apple in 1996. The engineer was offered the chance to work on the iPhone project in 2004 by former executive Scott Forstall, who at the time said Apple was developing a phone/media player hybrid with touch capabilities.

After months of highly secret work on “project purple,” including bi-weekly meetings with Jobs himself, Christie and his “shockingly small” team came up with a solution worthy of approval. The idea had to be pitched first to Jobs, then to Apple board director Bill Campbell and finally to Jony Ive.

Jobs became increasingly excited about the iPhone’s software possibilities, Christie said, and began to add his own narrative with each successive presentation.

“His excitement for it was boundless,” said Christie.

The article goes on to detail the steps all employees working on the project had to take to keep the device secret. Jobs reportedly told work could only be done in a secluded area of an employee’s house and all images of the phone had to be encrypted.

The story comes ahead of the scheduled start date for Apple’s second California patent trial against Samsung. Much of the litigation revolves around software patents Christie himself had at least some hand in creating.


Apple hits snags in ‘iWatch’ production, loses director of iPod software to Nest

January 8th, 2014

A new report published on Tuesday details the long and arduous road Apple’s supposed iWatch is moving down as it moves from idea to consumer product, including fresh information regarding an iPod software director’s departure to Nest Labs.

Apple has run into a number of challenges in bringing the so-called “iWatch” to market, reports The Information, though most appear to be in line with any new product launch. The publication provides a number of interesting tidbits, including the attrition of former Apple iPod software director and current Nest employee Bryan James, who reportedly worked on the project.

Now Vice President of New Product Engineering at Nest Labs, James was previously a director for Apple’s iPod software team, a position he held for over seven years. It is unclear what role James played in iWatch development, but sources claim the software engineer was involved with various wearable programs, including an Apple-made offering that would have allowed iPod nano users to wear the device as a wristwatch.

James is also listed on a number of Apple patents, most of which relate to user interface designs and backend technology. Specifically, The Information points to a property “associated with a watch-like device” that also lists Nest cofounder Matt Rogers as an inventor, but AppleInsider could not find the document in question.

The pair of names show up together only once in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database. Apple’s U.S. Patent No. 8,380,507 covers voice activated features in a portable device that could theoretically be used in an iWatch, though no mention of “watches” or “wearables” is made.

With a supposedly growing team dedicated to the iWatch project, James may not have been a key player, but his background is interesting nonetheless. As of February 2013, Apple was claimed to have a 100-person team working on the initiative, but has been “aggressively hiring” additional personnel in the intervening months.

Some of those hires are rumored to have backgrounds in the medical field, suggesting the as-yet-unannounced wearable may incorporate bio sensors and other “quantified self” technology.

The Information also reiterates prior reports regarding Apple’s production struggles thus far, including issues with screen technology. To this point, the publication cites people familiar with the project as saying Apple considered moving to a different display implementation late last year due to battery issues with older designs.

While quite possibly a foregone conclusion, the publication looks ahead to how the iWatch will perform in the coming tide of wearable devices. At this year’s CES, a veritable crush of wearables has been announced, many from big-name tech companies like LG and Intel.

It remains to be seen if the market will take to the new form factor devices initially made popular by wristbands from Nike, Jawbone and Fitbit, among others. As with previous CES events, Apple seems to once again be the elephant in the room that isn’t even there.


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