Posted tagged ‘iPhone’

The power of design

April 29, 2011

Welcome to the wedding-free zone…

Two news items yesterday told an interesting story. The Guardian newspaper (and others) reported that, for the first time in many years, the IT company Apple reported higher revenues and profits than Microsoft, thereby bringing to an end an era in which, at first, Apple was thought to be dying and Microsoft was thought to be so dominant that its power eclipsed that of many countries. Now Microsoft is stagnating, while Apple is the company that appears to be unable to do anything wrong in business terms.

Also yesterday, there were reports all over the world of customers queuing in extraordinary numbers to buy the newly released white iPhone 4. In Hong Kong all available supplies had been sold within hours. The extraordinary aspect of this news item is that the white iPhone does absolutely nothing that its non-white counterpart (which has been on sale for nearly a year) cannot do – and yet hordes of people, many of whom already own the iPhone 4, are buying it; and are doing so despite that fact that insiders believe the iPhone 5 will be launched later this year.

In fact, it is likely that many iPhone customers are standing in line not because the handset is technologically superior to what is offered by the competition, but because of its aesthetic appeal. It just looks good. It feels right. And according to this report, some customers believe it makes them appear younger and more attractive. Apparently.

So what’s all this then? Is this the world gone mad, sacrificing substance to superficiality? No, I don’t think so. Design and appearance matter to humans, on the whole. We appreciate art; we are influenced by style and fashion. Commercial design that engages these instincts, as Apple has been so good at showing, triggers something that goes beyond appreciation of technological discovery. When the two are combined, however, the result is powerful. Apple’s rise and rise has been due to the way in which Steve Jobs and his team have understood this and harnessed its potential. It is an interesting story.

I’ll bet that when the in-crowd in Westminster Abbey switch their phones to silent, a majority will be handling iPhones. Oh wait, I wasn’t going to mention that.

Motherhood and Apple pie

January 18, 2011

I have mentioned previously that, in technology terms, I am an Apple man. I have two Apple Macintosh desktop computers and one laptop; I have an iPhone; I have an iPad; I have two iPods; I have an Apple TV. At times in my long life I have used PCs, and I am proficient in the use of Windows, but I am always glad to get back to my Apple stuff.

But part of the Apple culture I subscribe to was formed in days of, if not adversity, then at least underdog status. First it was the hegemony of ‘IBM-compatible’ computers (a term the younger generation will never even have heard of), then of MS-DOS (which was the dawn of Microsoft), then of Windows. While these systems controlled 90 per cent or thereabouts of personal computing, it was fun to be part of the alternative Apple culture. Or at least, it was fun until Steve Jobs left Apple and its products started to look like the faceless IBM/Microsoft competition. Those were the days that I moved over for a while to Windows, made more fun by the fact that my computers were home-made by my Faculty’s then technology officer.

But Jobs returned to Apple, the Truth was re-discovered and made more Perfect still, and everything in my house went back to Purity and Good Design. Then came the iPod and the iPhone and the iPad, and all this is even more perfect than anything before. Indeed, the iPad is probably signalling the New Age of electronic enlightenment. But something is not the same. We are not the oppressed minority, we are not the under-dogs. Apple has become the largest global technology company, it almost totally controls online music sales. It does not have the dominant market share in either smartphones or computers, but it has the recognised leading product in each. Out-manoeuvered for so long by Microsoft, Apple is now thought by some analysts to be getting ready to take over its old rival. The future is Apple.

Or is it? The question mark in the story hovers over Steve Jobs himself. Here is the man who, without a doubt, gives Apple its identity, its style, its ability to fuse technology with design and culture. And he is ill. Yesterday he announced, again, that he is taking leave from the company to deal with health issues. How dependent is the world’s Apple future on this one man? Or has he now instilled in the company a sense of design and destiny that will survive him if he were to retire?

Indeed, the question is this: is computing success the product of better technology, or is it a cultural matter? I must do a bit of research on this. On my iPad of course.

Photo #15: the wheel keeps turning

December 2, 2010

I am continuing to experiment with photographs taken and edited on my iPhone. This photo features the new big wheel that has become a feature of the Dublin skyline.

iPhoneography

November 23, 2010

You may not have known this, but one of the fastest growing new art forms is the taking and editing/manipulation of photographs on an iPhone; i.e. using the phone’s camera to take pictures and then edit them with software on the device. There are websites devoted to the topic, such as this one (from which the title of this post is taken).

As some readers here know, I am a committed (but amateur) photographer, and also having an iPhone I have experimented with this genre. Below is a photo taken in Castletown House, Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Googling

September 4, 2010

Exactly 12 years ago today, the company Google was formed by two Stanford University students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. A dozen years on, and their little enterprise is everywhere, having entered the language and provided people the world over with indispensable search tools – a kind of map for modern life that we all need in order to get where we are going. In the late 1990s there were several respected search engines (remember Infoseek or Altavista, anyone?), but within a very short space of time they had all pretty much disappeared.

And of course, a company as large as Google, and with so little apparent competition, must also be looked at closely to see what it is doing. Since you and I use Google entirely free of charge, you might wonder what creates all that shareholder value. And once you start looking at it that way, the commercial essence of Google is not based on providing searches, but rather being an advertising agency. All over every Google page you look at it subtle advertising, some of it based on the electronic analysis of what you are searching and what you are writing. And Google is also engaged in a competition with Apple, as its Android operating system for mobile devices goes head-to-head with the iPhone.

Google has an academic background, and from an academic perspective it has become a vital tool: its search function, Google Scholar, the digitisation of books – all of this has placed Google at the heart of the academic experience.

Alongside the useful, even vital, functionality Google has, its size is on the other hand vaguely scary, and its near monopoly status in searches should perhaps be a little troubling. Though I like what it offers, I also make sure that, at least every so often, I use the competitors who offer something reasonably good also: Yahoo, or Bing, for example. Keeping Google to a reasonable scale is a way of ensuring that it also stays useful.

Apple, Google, Microsoft and all that – fighting the technology wars?

June 14, 2010

People sometimes like to see the development of technology not just in terms of what works best, or even what looks best, but also in terms of dramatic (and maybe romantic) struggles between various forces of good and evil. The received wisdom about computing, for example, has been that the more boring but commercially smart Microsoft defeated the more exciting and noble but commercially out-gunned Apple, establishing the dominance of Windows-driven PCs in the process. Steve Jobs was driven into exile in Elba (or maybe it was NeXT).

But hey, Jobs escaped and gathered his troops – or maybe I mean he created the iPod and then the iPhone – and before you could blink Apple had become a super-company defeating the purveyors of uniformity. And now with the iPad Apple may even be re-defining the concept of computing, and the whole idea of the PC (and with it its previously all-pervasive operating system) may be on its way out. Steve Jobs may be about to become the master of all he surveys.

Or hang on a minute, do I hear the distant sounds of battle, is Jobs heading towards his Waterloo? And who will be the winner there? Could it be Google with its Android operating system for mobile devices? Could it be that the Jobs restoration was only temporary, that history is about to repeat itself, and that the hardware-with-propietory-software model that Apple employes could lose out once again to the more flexible but also more boring model, this time offered by Google?

That, at any rate, is what some of the technology commentators are now beginning to suggest, as in this Newsweek article. Others agree that the battle is imminent, but may be less sure as to who is going to win it. For myself, I rather doubt the compelling force of the analysis. Apple’s position in the market now is very different from what it was in the late 1980s in personal computers. While Android-run devices may indeed be proliferating, their standing in public awareness does not match that of Apple. The iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad have re-defined not just technological preferences but a whole fashion sense. I doubt that this is going to go away. The power of design and fashion within consumer technology is much greater now than it was then, and Apple has mastered this more than any other company.

Apple may not have everything to itself – surely a good thing – but I don’t see it losing another technology war. At least not yet.

What kind of smartphone are you?

April 27, 2010

Technology rules not just what we do these days, but who we are. The gadget you take out of your pocket or briefcase when making a phone call, or when taking notes at a meeting, or when checking the score in the latest football game, will tell everyone exactly what kind of person you are.

An interesting perspective on this was considered yesterday in BBC2’s Newsnight programme. Their economics editor Paul Mason looked at the impact of social networking on the British general election; but as part of that he pointed out that social networking was now largely conducted on mobile devices, and for many that meant Apple’s iPhone. Politicians on the other hand were still largely Blackberry users, and this meant that the nature of their mobile device use was fundamentally different from that of the politically engaged general public, who were more likely to be iPhone junkies. Blackberrys, he suggested, were modelled on the idea of distribution of command and instruction, whereas iPhones were based on interactive opinion building and information sharing.

And so what does all this mean? It seems that who we are is now increasingly connected with the technology we use. The gadgets become extensions of ourselves and we become extensions of them; they are part of our intuition rather than just instruments of utility. Companies that ‘get’ that, as Apple undoubtedly does, will dominate in the future. And people who ‘get’ that will be the dominant political forces. And right now in the UK, there is at least a chance that the mood of this election will have been fashioned by Twitter, Facebook and the iPhone. Interesting.

‘Gadget Man’ and his outlook on 2010

January 6, 2010

When I started this blog some 18 months ago, my more ambitious hope was that I would be recognised as a leading commentator on academic matters and on the growth of the knowledge society; and maybe as someone with something to say on arts and culture; and an astute political analyst – that sort of thing. So have my dreams come true? I don’t know, really. A couple of weeks ago I was introduced at an event as ‘an important blogger, with a special emphasis on technology and gadgets.’ Oh yes? Well perhaps that was correct, because this week I got an email from what the TV broadcasters like to call ‘a member of the public’ (how do you acquire membership?), which addressed me as ‘the key European expert on the Amazon Kindle’, in which capacity he was asking me for advice.

It is indeed true that my three or four posts on the Amazon Kindle have gathered more readers (from a global readership) than anything else I have written. But an expert? I own two Kindles, and am about to order another (see below), and indeed developed a workaround for using it in Ireland before Amazon was ready to let me do that – but an expert?

Oh well, maybe for the purposes of this post at least I shall throw away my intellectual, academic, artistic and political pretensions and present myself solely as a gadget enthusiast; indeed maybe that’s where my career should take me…

And 2010 looks like it will be a bumper year for gadget freaks. After all the gloom and depression of 2009, it seems like tech companies are anticipating that we will want to burst out of the recession this year and trade up in our gadget portfolios. First out of the gate is Google with its Nexus One smartphone, based on its own Android operating system. This has been anticipated for a while, and will attract some attention in part because everything that Google does is observed widely, but in part also because it will be analysed for its potential as an ‘iPhone killer’. In fact look at any of the reviews, and inevitably it is all about how the Nexus One compares with Apple’s market leader. I haven’t directly seen or held one of the Google gadgets – and indeed Irish customers will have to wait a little – but my prediction is that, lacking some of the iPhone’s versatility and the sheer volume of the applications available for it, it will not kill off Apple’s market dominance or indeed get anywhere close to doing so; but competition is always good.

Apple in turn is expected to announce a multi-media touch screen tablet computer, incorporating an e-book reader and possibly television capability, early in the year. No further information is available at this point, but you can expect a sleek, design-conscious versatile gadget. But that too will not be without competition, as Microsoft and HP are combining to launch their own tablet computer, and may in fact beat Apple to it. And in the meantime Amazon will provide the Kindle DX (which has a larger screen than the original Kindle) for customers outside the United States; and of course I have one on order.

In the meantime more traditional technology will decline. Nearly 26 years ago I bought my first CD player and, with it, my first CD, and the beauty and versatility of this technology just amazed me. And who would have thought that this innovation would be so short-lived, because right now the CD is in free-fall decline, as music downloads (lawful and unlawful) take over. And now we can observe how the music industry, and indeed musical artists, are scrambling to salvage some sort of business model from the resulting situation.

But there is one other gadget I have just acquired that I find exceptionally satisfying, but in this case in an extremely retro sort of way. I have splashed out and bought a Montblanc ballpoint pen. So I can say if you’re tired of new technology and want something quite special in a more traditional range, these pens are awesome. I can’t see them disappearing from the market, no matter what the tech companies do. And when I put my Montblanc just next to my Apple Macintosh PowerBook laptop, it creates a particularly pleasing image. Something old, something new.

Apple reflections

June 24, 2009

Today’s UK Guardian newspaper carried an article on Steve Jobs and Apple, reflecting on the driven nature of the company’s CEO. There are of course many people in Apple Inc, and indeed many whose contribution to the company’s fortunes and the quality of its products has been vital. But few companies are so closely identified with their CEO as this one is, and reports on his health and outlook on life have an immediate impact on its share price and on the confidence of its customers. Right now the talk is on whether he has recovered from his illness and is ready to return to the company.

As some readers of this blog will know, everything you read here is written and managed on Apple equipment. Right now I am sitting at my iMac; a few hours ago I was considering readers’ comments and publishing them, and responding to some of them, on my iPhone. Shortly I shall be taking my dog on a final late night walk, and while I do so I shall be listening to a particular podcast on a science policy theme on my iPod. I am wholly committed to Apple, and shudder when occasionally I find myself having to handle the equipment of other companies. And yet, if I am honest, there is nothing that this iMac does that could not be done equally well on, say, a Dell, or even a computer that someone could assemble for me in their garage from parts bought in any computer shop. And recently I gave an HP netbook as a present to a family member, and in trying it out beforehand was impressed with its features. But there is something in the Apple range that keeps me loyal, even if I could not always explain what that something is.

Some of it is the design. I loved the original Apple Macintosh in the mid-1980s. But in the Jobs-less era from the late 1980s and into the 1990s I grew disenchanted; the various LCs and Performas or whatever the models were called still had the neat Apple operating system, but the machines looked like any old IBM-compatible box, and I just lost interest and bought a PC. Only when Jobs returned and with him the unique style did I also restore the Apple brand to my home and office.

Perhaps the ‘something’ that makes me an Apple man is this: when all is said and done, Apple is more a concept than a piece of technology. What you buy into is the feel of the equipment and the philosophy of the community that has gathered around it. Not for nothing is Apple the company that popularised the desktop icon (yes, I know – it was developed by Xerox, but Apple brought it to your office). The whole Apple concept is iconic, awash with symbolism and ritual.

I may be jumping a little far now, but there is something of interest here for any modern organisation, including a university. DCU’s mission, for example, is strongly linked with a sense of identity, and with the idea that it doesn’t just offer a suite of educational programmes and research projects, but a particular concept of what we are in our time and our place. And I suspect that our success somewhat depends on our being able to convey this distinctive image, both to ourselves and to others. That isn’t a trivial or superficial thing: identity and community are everything, and I would like to think that access to DCU is also access to a particular outward-looking community.

I wish Steve Jobs well, and hope he returns to Apple at the end of the month, refreshed and invigorated. I’ll be watching.

Apple without Jobs? Is this conceivable?

January 15, 2009

For Apple fans, a heart-stopping moment: there are reports this morning that Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, is taking ‘leave of absence’ while he receives treatment for his fairly mysterious illness, described initially as a ‘hormone imbalance’ and now as ‘something more complex’. Predictable, Apple shares have dropped in value, and the internet is alive with rumour and speculation. The first thing to say, I think, is that I wish Steve Jobs well and hope he has a very speedy recovery. I hope he resumes the reins of Apple in the summer as promised.

As is being observed everywhere, this is not the first such leave of absence. In fact, he went on ‘leave’ for 12 years in 1985, and then in 2005 when he was being treated for pancreatic cancer. During his long absence from the mid 1980s the company went through a series of CEOs, designs and plans, and while I don’t claim to be absolutely typical of its market, I left the Apple world behind by the early 1990s when its computer products had lost the innovative edge technically and, aesthetically, began to resemble ‘ordinary’ PCs more and more. And not long after Steve’s return, I returned also, restoring the Macintosh on my desktop and accumulating iPods and iPhones.

Steve Jobs is not a technological wizard, but he is a total genius when it comes to identifying market demand and wrapping the technology in design that sets trends. He is the face and the voice and the music of Apple. Whatever happens to him right now, there will be a time when he is gone, and Apple will need to demonstrate that it can still find the magic without him. Maybe this leave of absence is a good testing ground for that.

For the moment, however, I wish Steve a full and speedy recovery, and a return to Apple in robust health.