Thursday, March 13, 2008

AppleTV PVR - Please!

We recently bought a nice 42" LCD TV with 1080i resolution and also wanted to replace our aging VCR with new technology to record TV shows just like our old TV, except we want it in HD at the same broadcast resolution.

You know what? We couldn't find anything!

We didn't want something that creates more media to store like a DVD recorder because you lose HD capability with those and a lot of them still have analog tuners in them. Not to mention the problems I've heard with so many devices. And no Blu-ray either even though it might have great resolution - I don't want to invest in media. Period.

What we wanted was something that recorded in HD up to 1080i resolution with a digital tuner AND NO MONTHLY SUBSCRIPTION FEES! I don't want pay TiVo, Dish, or anyone else monthly fees. I can look up schedules myself and use an on-screen menu to setup the recording time. 

And I don't want something to hook up to my Macs either - I'm using it too much for other things. I'm looking for a simple appliance with no manual required from a trusted brand. No box building for me.

It has been reported <here> that Apple has filed a patent for a DVR like device. If Apple released an AppleTV that could record TV shows in HD with a 1080 widescreen HD digital tuner WITHOUT subscription fees, I would pony up plastic right now! And it wouldn't bother me if they had to add a couple more buttons to the remote to make it happen. 

Monday, February 25, 2008

Why the iPhone Won't Kill Apple

You go two steps into a mild economic slowdown with Apple predicting a softening of sales and analysts all around are crying "the sky is falling" or the iPhone will kill Apple. Sometimes I get real tired of the nonsense that people write.

First of all, unlike other consumer products such as the XBox, Apple could halt production today, sell off the remaining supply, and walk away from the iPhone and probably generate a profit, or at worst, a negligible loss. That is a great position for Apple to be in. If the iPhone were to suddenly become a disaster, it might hurt the stock short term but it wouldn't take the company down. And Apple doesn't need to dominate the market either. With the way that they have structured the iPhone transaction, they could be very profitable with only a small slice of the market.

Second, Apple has a range of options to respond to market conditions. They could drop the price to the fire sale level and dilute the iPhone brand (never happen) or simply reduce manufacturing orders for now as they gauge demand. In addition, Apple can do what it did during the last downturn - innovate. By continuing to drive value by adding features and functionality to the iPhone, they build demand for it, even if some of that demand is pent up until disposable incomes or discretionary dollars are available. One thing is certain, Apple is not acting like a company whose sales are desperately low.

Third, Apple has a host of delivery channels for the iPhone that have yet to be explored. The business market has not fully embraced it for a number of reasons that I won't go into here. But suffice to say, solving just a few of those issues could open up significant demand in the business sector without having to compromise the device. 

Apple hasn't fully explored its Best Buy relationship either which could realize significant bump in sales just from having the iPhone on display but with iTunes activation, the buying process is simplified. And there are a bunch of high street retailers that Apple could chose from to sell the iPhone.

The international market is barely tapped potential. The release of a 3G model would be a boon to the international market, which has much more density in 3G coverage than in the US. Sometimes, it's a detail like this that can move a product from being a "cool device" to a "must-have device". 

Fourth, the release of the SDK (software development kit) should provide a wealth of third party applications that provide tremendous functionality or entertainment value. While other smart phones can already do this, none have been able to do it with the panache and interface of the iPhone.

Fifth, it's the only device out there that does the music and movie stuff right. Competitive offerings typically are a hodgepodge of services and features that don't work seamlessly together. Most of these boiled down to nothing more than schemes to line the pockets of the wireless providers. Remember the $2.50 song download that could only be done on the phone, not synced from a computer, and the quality of the song was lower than the $0.99 version from iTunes? 

Because of all these things, I don't have any long term doubt about the iPhone even though there might be some short-term softness in demand. However, I think we'll all be surprised when Apple announces their next quarter's results.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Apple + Sony + Yahoo = Merger Schmerger

The blogsphere is all abuzz about Apple buying out Yahoo or Sony as potential targets to spend its warchest of $18 billion or whatever it is now.

Pure bunk I say.

I have yet to see anyone present a viable case where Apple would receive real value for any of those acquisitions. Both of these companies would endure a tremendous amount of culture clashing and probably would end up being worth less than the sum of their parts.

Don't believe me? Go to Yahoo!'s website and see if it reflects the clean minimalism that Apple loves to portray. Not even close. And it's too far away from Apple's core business to make sense. 

The same goes for Sony, although their US website is pretty clean with nice flash. But Sony's business is so diversified that I think it would choke Apple's creativity to work through the multi-layered corporate structure at Sony.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Apple's acquisitions tend to be small companies where they can integrate a product or technology seamlessly into the ecosystem that they are building. That has been Apple's strategy since Steve Jobs came back in 1997. It's more than selling a computer or iPod. It's about a total user experience that pulls the pieces together in a transparent fashion.

Witness Apple's deal with AT&T and the iPhone, then Starbucks, and then those two companies band together to provide valuable Wi-Fi across the country that increases the value proposition of owning an iPhone. It's this kind of thinking that is providing unique and valuable services to customers today as opposed to a hodge-podge of products and services that require a lot of tinkering on the customer side to get to work. And a pile of gobblely-gook to explain.

Right now, Apple can use it's flush bank account to fund research and innovation through an economic downturn, exactly what they did last time. What could the next version of OS X, the next iPhone, or the next digital device do to bring more customers to their base? 

Apple is smart to stick to their guns and buy companies that add value to their core offerings. So let's end this merger talk and continue to root for a decent Exchange client for the iPhone.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

iPhone for Business and Microsoft Exchange

I'm sitting down to catch a few rays from the tube last night and an iPhone ad comes on. Nothing unusual there. But what caught my attention was that the content being showed on the iPhone was directed at business users, not the consumer. I believe it was the "All These Years" ad but after seeing it today, somehow it looked different to me.

But in any case - I was struck at how this ad was really directed at the suits and how much of the recent iPhone developments are a perfect trifecta pointing at exactly that.

First, you have AT&T creating a new iPhone add-on service plan for corporate accounts. 

Second, the impending release of the SDK has business written all over it. In my mind, Apple would want to release the SDK with a lot of fanfare. Not fanfare in touting all the technical details but by trotting out new applications that they or third parties have developed. I'm betting that Microsoft Exchange connectivity will be one of them (and no Ethel, using IMAP is not an option for far too many users so let's not get into that argument). IBM is not hiding the fact that it's working on a Lotus Notes client for the iPhone and there have been others who are chomping at the bit to do the same.

Third, in preparation for the onslaught, Apple releases a premium model that business users with a lot of disposable income or flush expense accounts will pick up. That extra storage space is not only good for all those movie rentals from iTunes, but forms a great sandbox spot for third-party applications and user storage space to reside. It also makes a great profit generating machine when the 8 GB models are sold out and some buyers will willingly pony up an additional $100 even though they hadn't planned on doing so.

If this is truly the case, and that before the end of February we will see this kind of business connectivity, I would surmise that Apple has way underestimated it's next quarter results. No wonder the iPhone supply is considered volatile right now.

I know a lot of salespeople in the company I work for would gladly front the cash to buy their own iPhone if true Exchange capability (ok, at least email and events) were part of the package. I did without Exchange support. But I wanted to buy before the rush.

For the record, I have no insider information and everything concerning knowledge of Apple's and other entities' activities are freely available on the Internet or pure speculation on my part. I do own stocks in APPL so I prefer to be bullish. 

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Macworld - the Aftermath

Okay, so a bunch of my predictions were off. I did hit the idea of the Slim Book (now known as the MacBook Air) although rumors of that were all over the blogsphere. But my guess was right that Apple would come up with an elegant solution and game changing idea to leave optical disks behind.

And Apple certainly retooled it's AppleTV to support HD downloads like I imagined although I still wished that it had a digital tuner and could work as a DVR. I would gladly pay $299 for such a unit. But the call on iTunes HD was right on.

The rest of the hardware in terms of MacBooks and MacBook Pros fell off the wagon - no updates to those. Nor anything in regards to the hardware of the iPhone or iPods. But this is the opening gates of 2008 and there are months to go where product refreshes and updates can make a huge difference.

One thing that Apple is probably going to make a big splash over is the SDK (software development kit) for the iPhone. I'm betting with the release of the SDK, there will be a bunch of critical software releases, either by Apple or by other software developers.

The one release I'm hoping for is the ability to synchronize with Microsoft Exchange in a secure way. I think that this will have a huge impact on business purchases and could blow the next quarter out. It will probably require a whole different Mail and Calendar application because I doubt that Apple will change their Mail application and iCal. This has been their approach because Exchange in some ways, competes with Apple's own server mail offerings.

I don't know any details but I've heard rumblings that a solution is being worked on but I'm not sure if by Apple or Microsoft. And I don't know when.

Either way, I hope very soon to be pleasantly surprised.