Although 2016 was generally a good year for technology, I do have a few bones to pick about Apple. Hence, my first annual 2016 Apple ‘What were they thinking?’ blog post.
My “Baker’s” Top Ten list:
1) New MacBook Pro: The Touch Bar, which is the signature feature of the higher-end models. It’s dim and difficult to see, even under lesser indoor room illumination; and there’s no way to adjust its brightness manually.
2) New MacBook Pro: No real-world connectivity except for WiFi, BlueTooth and two or four USB-C ports. Meaning that you need adapters for Ethernet, external display or projectors, and no SD memory card slot, which are useful (required) in Enterprise market,
3) New MacBook Pro: No Magsafe connector, so now, after a ten year hiatus, people can again bring their machines crashing to the floor when they trip over the power cord,
4) New MacBook Pro: Does not incorporate the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor. People buy this machine for a 4-5 year lifecycle, and part of that is to buy the latest possible processor. The only reason I can think of, for why Apple opted for a previous-generation processor, was to boost 2016 revenue for the MacBook Pro line,
5) New MacBook Pro: No optical (CD/DVD-R) drive. Even though these have been missing on the MacBook Pro for a few years, I’m not real happy about having to use an external DVD/CD drive to back up my machine onto physical media, which I still do every so often,
6) iPhone 7: No headphone jack, end of story. Hope that Apple keeps the 6s around for a while longer,
7) iOS: Apple conditions users to use the button in the upper right to go “back” – except for voicemail, where the UI in that position is for changing your voicemail greeting,
8) iOS: Why does Apple insist on hiding elements of the UI that are useful, like the Search box and the ‘Back’ arrow in the browser?
9) iOS: Users have to shift to the alternate keyboard for the @, which is only the most used character on the Internet. Really?
10) iOS: Apple ‘expires’ old versions of iOS too quickly, even when the new ones are known buggy. Yes, you can download older OS versions, but as soon as the installer program pings Apple, the installation process is halted.
And just like a “Baker’s Dozen,” where you get 13 for the price of 12, here’s the rest of my Baker’s Ten:
11) Software stability: iOS 10.2 broke several of my apps. iOS 10.2 also apparently shuts down some iPhone models when the battery level reaches 30%. iOS 9 was problematic too.
12) Technical support: Neither an AppleCare phone support rep nor any of the Genius Bar staff in my local Apple store could confirm whether a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter could be used to connect and migrate my software and content from my old Mac to the new one – and told me to use WiFi. I had to buy the Ethernet adapter and try – thankfully it worked fine.
I waited for a long time before buying a new MacBook Pro, hoping for better. But given the first five items in my list, I went ahead and bought a 2015 model instead, which still has at least the first three. The 2015 model is sufficient for my purposes, has fast solid state storage, the screen is beautiful, and it has the connectivity I need (with the exception of the optical drive)
After Steve Jobs returned to the company 20 years ago and Apple had its long series of successes with the iMac, iPod, and all the other iDevices, it hurts to think that the post-Jobs Apple has again lost its way.
Just as was the case pre-Jobs’ return, Apple again has many Mac models on the showroom floor, with little to differentiate many of them. Who remembers the Mac Performa, Quadra, Centris, LC, Macintosh II, and Classic, which were all available at the same time. Bewildering. Much like the current MacBook line-up. Too many models, and many of them don’t quite fit.
Apple announced a new MacBook computer this week, during a press event that also provided the release date and pricing details for the upcoming Apple Watch. Everyone seemed to agree that the MacBook is a beautiful thing.
But why this machine?
I wish I could be more delicate, but the MacBook impresses me as being a totally unnecessary product. It might be a good ‘casual user’ machine: sufficient for accessing the Web, watching (cat) videos and for short emails perhaps? But so is the iPad. It might be a good “Office” machine: good for making presentations, writing, working on budgets. But so is the MacBook Air, which is less expensive and much more powerful. Instead, Apple seems to have aimed it at the less expensive Chromebook Pixel.
This was a major lost opportunity for Apple. It could have been the one form-factor that Apple is missing – the one that would have addressed the three things that the Microsoft Surface has over the iPad. The MacBook could have had a full computer operating system (as opposed to iOS), the ability to remove the keyboard portion so it could function as a tablet, and a port for file transfer and peripherals. These could have made the MacBook an instant hit. Instead, it has a mobile processor and people are already complaining about the keyboard.
I also immediately imagined a folder-like leather cover that would go behind the screen portion and under the keyboard portion. With the screen removed, the part of the cover that went behind the screen would simply fold down over the keyboard to protect it.
My first impression of the Apple Watch is that its not something that was designed for the ages. Luxury watches are designed as heirlooms and have century-long life expectancies, not 18-months.
Apple could still pull off a coup for $10,000-to-$17,000 Apple Watch Edition buyers if its Applecare extended warranty were to consist of replacing the electronics every couple of years. That would also reinforce the notion of Apple as a luxury brand. Or, instead of doing it under Applecare, just do it for free. The electronics probably cost less than $100 under mass production – the BOM (bill of materials) cost is probably much lower than a smartphone. iPhone 5S’ BOM was $199. It would be a pretty small percentage of the price.
But are they jewelry?
If Apple intended the new MacBook to be “jewelry,” it’s too big for a lady to carry in her pocketbook. And as for the Apple Watch. I imagine that it will sell, but not in Version 1.0. Too big. One of the appeals of the FitBit is its size and light weight. Once Apple manages to skinny down the electronics, then yes maybe.
Today’s Net Neutrality declaration by the FCC is unquestionably the most important telecommunications policy decision thus far in the 21st century. In recent weeks, it had become increasingly clear that this would be the FCC’s direction.
There had been doubts, given FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s previous associations in the telecommunications industry. From 1976 to 1984, he was President of the NCTA and from 1992 to 2004, he was President & CEO of the CTIA, which lobby for the cable and cellular industries, respectively. Both groups oppose Net Neutrality today.
In addition to the Chairman, the FCC is governed by four other Commissioners. The FCC’s majority reflects the political party of the President, so therefore, Mr Wheeler and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel are Democrats. They voted ‘Aye.’ Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly are Republicans, and voted ‘No.’
Chairman Wheeler summarized the ruling in his statement
“We asked the public to weigh in, and they responded like never before. We heard from startups and world-leading tech companies. We heard from ISPs, large and small. We heard from public-interest groups and public-policy think tanks. We heard from Members of Congress, and, yes, the President. Most important, we heard from nearly 4 million Americans who overwhelmingly spoke up in favor of preserving a free and open Internet.
“Building on (a) strong legal foundation, the Open Internet Order will:
- Ban Paid Prioritization: “Fast lanes” will not divide the Internet into “haves” and “have-nots.”
- Ban Blocking: Consumers must get what they pay for – unfettered access to any lawful content on the Internet.
- Ban Throttling: Degrading access to legal content and services can have the same effect as blocking and will not be permitted.
“These enforceable, bright-line rules assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.
“The Order also includes a general conduct rule that can be used to stop new and novel threats to the Internet.”
What the opposing Commissioners had to say
Those who watched the FCC proceedings online, as I did, were given a real treat. After Mr Wheeler’s opening statement, the Commissioners took turns to make statements of their own. Given today’s antagonistic political environment, the primary role of the two opposing Commissioners was to misrepresent the outcome and use scare tactic positioning as they expressed their disagreement with the decision. I must admit that they are very good at what they do.
For example, Commissioner Pai made several points in his statement:
- (Paraphrasing) “The Internet will be taxed.” And he went on to talk about the Universal Service fee *** on your phone bill, and how a new line item will show up on phone bills for the Internet. In reality, “the Order DOES NOT require broadband providers to contribute to the Universal Service Fund under Section 254. The Order will not impose, suggest or authorize any new taxes or fees – there will be no automatic Universal Service fees applied and the congressional moratorium on Internet taxation applies to broadband.”
- “The Internet will be slower and prices will be higher.” Large carriers attempt to justify their claim about slower speeds by saying that Net Neutrality would be a disincentive for them to invest in their networks. So AT&T or Verizon would actually give Comcast or a future DISH Network wireless broadband service an opening to take market share away from them?
- “Nothing in this order will promote competition… If you liked Ma Bell monopoly in the 20th century, you’ll love this in the 21st.” Actually, today’s ruling is very clear (see above) that there will be no preferential treatment for access or interconnection. Creating a level playing field that anyone can enter; a sound foundation for competition.
*** It should be noted that the Universal Service fee helped give telephony to rural areas in the 1930s, and in a very real sense, helped incubate IPTV among rural operators a decade ago.
Commissioner Pai used words like “takeover,” “sham proposal,” and “special interests” to position the Net Neutrality decision exactly inside-out from what it really is. He also claimed that the government didn’t create the Internet, hoping that listeners may have forgotten that the Internet was ‘invented’ by DARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency within the US Department of Defense, a government agency), and a community of government-funded academic institutions.
The other opposing Commissioner, Mr. O’Reilly, also pulled no punches, calling the Net Neutrality decision an “unlawful power grab.” Then Mr O’Reilly went on about how Title II is all about price regulation and taxation. So the truth comes out: taxation is bad. Net Neutrality should be opposed because it is a new tax, and that “this is back door rate setting authority.” Despite explicit statements in the ruling that it is not.
But read the FCC’s order, read the statements of each of the FCC Commissioners, and then decide for yourself.
Fear ruled the weeks leading to this decision
These comments by the minority Commissioners simply reflected the meme that had been running unchecked in the wild.
In the days and weeks leading up to this FCC decision, the opposition played on anti-Obama sentiments with ridiculous propositions like “Barack Obama is shutting down the Internet,” and insulting statements that Tom Wheeler is “simply Obamas’s (colorful language for the word ‘tool’) on this.” US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) insisted “Net Neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet.”
One commenter went so far as to say that (I’m paraphrasing and can’t remember the source) ‘..only four million people submitted comments to the FCC, out of more than 300 million Americans,’ implying that the 4 million were meaningless.
What the Net Neutrality decision really means
Today’s ruling put an end to the notion that “open access” to the Internet was to be a function of lesser or greater means. It’s that simple.
I have no doubt that some of my friends and colleagues stand as opposed to Net Neutrality as I stand in favor. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But as opposing parties begin to notice that Net Neutrality has opened market opportunities to them that otherwise would not have been available, they will thank the FCC.
The other FCC decision on this day
The Net Neutrality discussion overshadowed another important ruling that was announced the same day: that the FCC granted petitions from two community broadband providers in North Carolina and Tennessee, to expand broadband services into neighboring unserved and underserved communities. The opposition was from incumbent service providers.
Microsoft launched Windows 10 this week, the first Post-Steve-Ballmer Windows “dot-oh” release. My first impression was positive, followed by “meh” followed by tentatively positive, followed by caveat all-of-em.
My initial positive impression was because Microsoft has proactively moved past the disasterous and unusable Windows 8 – so far past it that it skipped Windows 9 (or perhaps 8.1 was really 9).
The “meh” was that Microsoft has jumped into the VR and immersive UI game with HoloLens, but it’s pretty late in the game. I’m not convinced that the Oculus Rift, for example, will go anywhere other than with gamers and professionals that need walk-throughs, such as engineers and architects. Maybe high-end realtors. And I don’t think Microsoft has broken any new ground, other than to embed it into a mainstream OS. Another ‘meh’ is that although Microsoft is acknowledging that the client software needs to be common across a multi-device ecosystem, again, both MacOS and Linux were designed to enable multiple software form-factors, tailored for different devices.
It’s getting better
My impression returned tentatively to positive with features such as Continuum, and Surface Hub‘s integration with Skype to enable IP conferencing. But Continuum looks more like catch-up with Apple’s Continuity, and WebRTC enables customized video-enabled applications in any Web browser without plug-ins. For now, the best part of Windows 10 that average users will appreciate the most is the fact that it will be a free upgrade for users with Windows 7 and above, for the first year after release. It’s a smart move, and will go a long way toward re-building customer good will. But it won’t be free for new users, as MacOS X is; since Microsoft’s hardware business does not subsidize its OS as Apple’s does.
Despite my seemingly not-quite-impressed attitude, I did come away from this Microsoft milestone feeling more optimistic about Microsoft. They have a lot of catching up to do, but they seem to be no longer mired in 1980s (Read: Steve Ballmer) thinking. They are finally acknowledging the realities of today’s information technology, software, and mobile industry. It’s a far cry from when Ballmer mocked smashing an iPhone on stage (when, instead, he should have bought one for each of their engineers – which would have been less costly than buying Nokia’s handset business and laying off all those people last year).
But have they really changed?
But it remains to be seen, whether or not Microsoft’s competitive practices have changed. Microsoft has been actively hostile to Apple users for more than 30 years. Even though Excel came first for the Mac, Microsoft has long crippled the advanced functionality of Office for the Mac (Word and Excel in particular). Microsoft has never offered the Visio flow charting tool or the Access database for the Mac, and it discontinued Microsoft Project for the Mac when the Mac was still beige. Word? Crashes all the time, even with basic copy/cut and paste operations (Both Office and my Mac are current: Versions 14.4.7 and 10.10.1 respectively). Saving a new Excel file: “The file path you entered is too long. The file path cannot exceed 255 characters. Enter a shorter file name or select a shorter file path, and then try saving the file again.” Even though I can bury the file twelve layers deep and it will open just fine. Come on, guys. MS-DOS legacy limitations? Faked ones no less? Most users don’t even remember DOS or even know what it was.
But Microsoft isn’t the only company that attends to business selectively. Apple wants you in their ecosystem – to buy hardware and content through them. Google wants ad impressions – it’s the only reason that Android and Glass and everything else they do exists. Some of you might say “Gee, Amazon is great because you can get Kindle apps for iOS and Android” but remember their mission and their recent ventures in hardware: Fire phone, Fire TV and Echo, to intrude just enough to sell you something else, and then position it as a convenience.
Users should quit complaining
Rather than complaining, what do we do about it? Simple: take control. Here’s my five step program:
- Be willing to live outside of a vendor’s ecosystem when you have to. Use your own domain, rather than Gmail. Use a third-party cloud like Backblaze for backups, or Dropbox for file transfer, instead of iCloud.
- Text via your mobile carrier, not via Gmail etc. You’ll still receive the message.
- Visit commerce sites using a browser (mobile or computer) instead of a seller’s dedicated app.
- Turn off things like advertising, access to location, and (in Google Earth for instance) access to your contacts. This is easy in iOS settings, although sadly, Android’s settings usually don’t allow this – so…
- Read the developer’s terms before downloading, to give yourself the option to opt out before opting in. Know how to disable the stealth software that some vendors install on your computer (“You opted in to our terms, so we can”)
Every decade has seen generational advances in technology. The 1980s were the decade of enterprise communications and the local area network. The World Wide Web became a consumer phenomenon during the 1990s. In the 2000s, it was IPTV, which has led to today’s multiscreen delivery. Each of these saw a greater number of enabling technologies and stakeholders in the mix than the one before. Now it appears that we’re in the decade of the Connected Car, and if you’ll excuse the term, there is a convergence across more technologies and stakeholders this time than ever.
For communications service providers, the Connected Car breaks down into three broad areas of opportunity. The first is ‘connected infotainment,’ which is access to consumer-facing content and entertainment services using 3G or 4G broadband radio access. In addition to music in the front seat and video in the back seat for the kids, other features that fall within this category include location-oriented services, with content and traffic data used for mapping, route-finding, search and recommendation for points of interest, and to know weather conditions at a destination. Then there’s device presence, which can help drivers locate family members and help others see whether a person (or vehicle) is available over the network, or not. Some vehicles embed applications that enable the user to see a paired mobile phone’s directory and call logs on the in-dash display, and access dialing, messaging and email by voice command, turning the car into another device on the family’s mobile plan.
The second area is telematics, which represents the communications interface between the vehicle and services from outside world. These can be consumer-facing services and content as above, to report and track a stolen vehicle, or report conditions to the manufacturer or other business stakeholders. This can be vehicle-centric service content, for roadside assistance, concierge services, emergency calling, or the conveyance of vehicle status content for remote diagnostics. Enterprise applications include vehicle monitoring for fleet management, monitoring of vehicle speed to provide proof that the driver qualifies for safe driver insurance. It can also be software updates, for consumer-facing apps or for the vehicle itself.
The third area is founded upon the relationships between a vehicle and its surroundings. Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications will enable another broad range of applications. Although this is a much longer-range opportunity than the ones above, efforts are already underway by governments, regulators and technology suppliers to enable intelligent metropolitan transportation systems, to help coordinate traffic based on traffic density, traffic signals and environmental conditions; and even enable toll payment collection.
Another communication-related area is driver assistance, which, for now, is largely confined to the vehicle. Cameras, ultrasonic, or radar sensors mounted on or within the car become the sensory system of the car. Applications include the adaptation of speed to traffic, parking assistance, collision avoidance, lane departure warnings, blind-spot detection, and autonomous driving. Many car makers are in the process of developing and introducing assisted driving use-cases in production vehicles. Autonomous vehicles will need outside connectivity for telematics, V2V, and V2I applications.
Now let’s compare the convergence of TV with the Connected Car. While TVs and connected vehicles must both line up an ecosystem that consists of connectivity, content delivery, a consumer device, a user experience, applications, user management, and security, the Connected Car is a much more purpose-driven and situationally sensitive environment, with little room for error.
While the TV delivery ecosystem is complicated, TV is a relatively forgiving pastime. Sure, we can get annoyed when a TV channel macroblocks just as a home run ball sails over the fence; or just as the winning goal is made deep into stoppage time (and isn’t that what the instant replay is all about?). But the TV experience has no equivalent to avoiding a collision or having to dismiss an incoming phone call while in a stressful driving situation. Those aren’t just annoying, they can be life-threatening.
The moral of this story is that the Connected Car is one of the next great opportunities for mobile communications providers. It’s both a target-rich and highly challenging environment. Quality of service, efficient software and effective integration will be key considerations. Continuity of experience will be of the utmost importance, as the vehicle moves from one location to another and then another, to ensure that content delivery is accurate and uninterrupted – especially when the data is mission critical.
Aereo, the Barry Diller startup that was delivering local over-the-air TV programming to online and mobile app users, has been deemed illegal by the United States Supreme Court. The Court’s majority opinion was that Aereo is similar to cable TV, and is therefore subject to the same copyright obligations. We should have seen it coming: Chief Justice John Roberts had earlier said that Aereo’s entire model was to circumvent copyright law.
- TV broadcast networks
- Local TV stations owned and operated by the TV broadcast networks
- Local independent broadcast stations
- Consumers, who now lose the option to access local programming online unless they subscribe to an operator, or receive programming over the air
- Aereo, which would have to pay retransmission fees and presumably pass the cost on to consumers, be shut down, or devise some other work-around that keeps it in service
Aereo rents dedicated over-the-air TV antennas to each end user, and converts the live TV signal from each antenna to IP video for unicast (which, Aereo argued, constitutes ‘private performance’ that is not subject to copyright rules). Aereo also hosts a cloud-DVR service that stores recorded programming for later unicast access by subscribers.
If Aereo had won this case, the power of content owner to charge retransmission fees would have diminished, reducing pressure on operators to raise prices to the consumer. Aereo would have continued its expansion toward national coverage. With this decision, retransmission fees are likely to increase, supplementing existing revenue streams from TV advertising.
Aereo’s loss also opens the door for Dyle.tv, a joint venture of NBC, Fox, Pearl Mobile DTV and Ion; which currently offers over-the-air receivers to mobile device owners. Dyle’s Web site states that the company intends to offer “…encrypted broadcasts … to authenticated MVPD (pay TV) subscribers through a variety of apps, possibly those developed by TV networks, stations or cable/satellite companies.”
Online TV certainly isn’t going away. Earlier this month, Leightman Research Group said that almost half of U.S. households already subscribe to an online premium video service, such as Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime. The TV networks simply want to boost revenue by participating in the same opportunity. Adding to what they already make from advertising.
Also, the range of available TV programming continues to expand on all the major streaming video device platforms. No question that the content world sees online video as a viable channel of distribution. It just has to be on its terms, and subject to copyright law (agree or not about the Aereo decision).
My older son (28) doesn’t watch much TV (on a TV) unless he’s visiting his parents. Otherwise, it’s online, occasionally. More likely, he’s on Reddit, which is usually more fun and interesting. A few years ago, when he was visiting, I was working late and I noticed an unread email out of the corner of my eye: a DMCA “Strike One” notice from Comcast.
It was almost 2am but the light was still on in his room. I asked him if he was torrenting or downloading something – yes he was…
I showed him the email (notice the time-stamp – someone was up late in Philadelphia doing deep packet inspection!) and asked him to desist. How embarrassing it would be, if my industry friends found out that I was harboring pirates!
Fast forward to the present day. My son and I were out for a hike together over the weekend, and the subject came up again: “Oh, it’s a joke, dad. Everyone gets these notices!” Given the beautiful scenery around us, I didn’t really have the energy to engage in that conversation but I again reinforced that it wasn’t the right thing to do. “Paying for premium content” remains the policy in my household.
Today, an email popped in: “Dad, if you ever have any conversations with people about pirating media or content, this link may be relevant” (click through, then scroll down. Language alert – sorry).
The cartoon has a point. The kid has a point. There are lessons here. Why can’t our industry see past its vested interests? Isn’t there a happy medium? What do you think?
To grind my own axe, my other pet peeve is the one below. Sometimes these happen within an hour or two of the initial posting, and it’s even more aggravating when you’ve been directed there by an ad. Why can’t the content owner be more thoughtful?
Over the weekend, AT&T announced its intentions to acquire satellite TV operator DirecTV. Should the deal pass regulatory muster and go through, it will create an operator with about 26 million pay TV subscribers, plus 17 million broadband subs, 11 million phone subscribers and 100 million wireless customers. As a merged entity, AT&T becomes a national pay TV provider, with immediate access to TV subscribers outside its fixed-line (U-verse) territory. That’s just in North America. DirecTV has about 18 million TV subs in Latin America as well. All told, this would make AT&T the largest pay TV provider in the US (and in the Western Hemisphere).
Of course, DirecTV is a high-value target for content reasons as well: particularly its exclusivity for NFL Sunday Ticket. Some major AT&T suppliers must also be taking notice. For one, AT&T has based its TV service on Microsoft Mediaroom, which Ericsson bought last year. DirecTV uses NDS TV security and middleware, and NDS is now owned by Cisco. So, two TV infrastructure leaders that also both happen to be incumbent network suppliers to AT&T.
But there’s also a bigger picture: while a combined Comcast-TWC results in a triple-play provider, DirecTV adds to AT&T’s existing quad-play advantage. Without offerings that compete against AT&T wireless and DirecTV, Comcast will remain a local carrier within its own cable TV service territory; even with Time Warner Cable. To serve any devices – mobile or fixed – outside of its territory, Comcast will remain an OTT player. (Note: TWC is partnered with Verizon Wireless – but it’s anyone’s guess as to how Verizon might treat ‘foreign’ video providers over its mobile network in the future).
The expiration of Net Neutrality was certainly a strategic consideration for both AT&T and Comcast. One of AT&T’s terms in the proposed DirecTV acquisition is to place a three-year expiration date on its commitment to the FCC’s current version of Net Neutrality. This is interesting, given that DirecTV is a satellite operator with no Internet access network of its own. My own guess is that this is really a pre-emptive move to keep Comcast from having (or making Comcast pay for) equal access to AT&T mobile subscribers; for video delivered to smartphones, tablets or the Connected Car.
And Comcast doesn’t really have an answer to that. Even if Comcast were to let its own Net Neutrality commitment expire in 2018 (which is the year specified in the terms for its NBC Universal acquisition), that will only be within Comcast’s own network. Comcast would have little power over mobile carriers which, by then, will be perfectly able to parachute right into the thick of Comcast territory, to deliver high quality pay TV over LTE mobile access. This places Comcast at the ultimate disadvantage, even with TWC, because it can’t do the same in a U-verse territory. All the more reason to keep Net Neutrality principles in place.
By missing out on DirecTV now, and by not bidding for Sprint last year, Comcast missed two strategic opportunities to reach subscribers that don’t depend on fixed lines, at a time when mobility arguably represents the biggest single opportunity in telecom. Not quite so much to see here after all.
But the competition will really get interesting when DISH finally launches a national LTE service, using all that spectrum that they’ve acquired in recent years. Or, even more interesting if DISH were to acquire T-Mobile as well.
On March 31, the FCC declared that local TV broadcasters can no longer enter into joint advertising sales agreements (JSAs) in which one station sells 15% of advertising time (or more) for another station in the same area. Joint ad sales agreements are common: Comcast’s Spotlight subsidiary has had them with AT&T and Verizon, which of course are pay TV competitors – and these parties see opportunities to scale their advertising efforts at a lower overall cost by partnering.
The spirit of this new FCC JSA ruling is intended to promote localism and diversity, and keep individual media companies from controlling an inordinate amount of power in any given local market.
But buried about half-way into the JSA announcement was another more important announcement: that the FCC has initiated the 2014 Quadrennail Review of Media Ownership. Since the 1990s and particularly over the last decade, the percentage of broadcast and newspaper media markets served by any one company has been a contentious issue. As it stands now, no single company can own more than one TV station in a single market – or in the largest markets, no more than two; as long as one of them is not a top-four station.
But neither the new JSA ruling, nor the current set of media ownership rules, have much bite to them: they can be skirted through waivers. If the FCC really wanted to address what many perceive to be inordinate power among local media outlets, it could address the ownership limits that were proposed but never fully adopted from the 2010 review cycle, in the 2014 Media Ownership review cycle.
This past week, Apple announced CarPlay, a rebranding of its iOS in the Car initiative that was announced at its June 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference. My own answer to the question I pose in the title above is at the end of this article.
Having been around the IP video and IPTV world for almost a decade and a half, I can recall how many times the IPTV plane was on the runway and seemed poised for takeoff. I remember writing an article in January of 2002 for Cable & Satellite International, titled “TV over Copper: Is 2002 the year?” With 20:20 hindsight, no it wasn’t.
By then, a lot of Telcos had already launched TV-over-DSL services to paying subscribers, going back to Canada’s Aliant and Kingston Interactive Television in the UK in the late 1990s, followed by Livingston (TX) Telephone and the UK’s Video Networks Ltd (and other pioneering independent operators) by the end of 2000. By 2005, there were hundreds.
The real turning point was when the large incumbent Telcos were able to reach scale. In the US, it was when AT&T and Verizon began to deploy their respective U-Verse TV and FiOS TV services at the end of 2005. In France, it was France Telecom’s MaLigne TV, along with a group of broadband competitors offering hybrid IP-satellite TV. In Hong Kong, PCCW’s Now TV had reached 750,000 by the end of 2006, and was the world’s largest IPTV provider for several years. In 2009, PCCW hit a million subscribers and had about 1/3 of the Hong Kong pay TV market.
My 2002 article was all about the transition to IP from Asynchronous Transfer Mode. In other words, it was about the network. But a lot of other tumblers had to fall into place before the real potential of IPTV could be unlocked: set-top boxes, middleware, MPEG encoding, standardized network architectures, content security, best practices for video quality assurance, and much more; not to mention the content itself. Each time one of the tumblers clicked, we all thought we were on our way.
It’s tempting for people watching the auto industry’s steady progress to fall into the same trap. After all, Apple is in this now, so the Connected Car category must be mature. But that’s still far from true. Consider some of the early adopters. One was Ford’s Sync, based on Microsoft Windows Automotive Embedded technology. The conventional wisdom in 2009 being that Microsoft, of course, was going to own the Connected Car (just as they “owned” IPTV between about 2005 and 2010, which was arguable because AT&T was by far the largest single customer. Most of the others were small and some never deployed).
But Microsoft followed success with surrender and exited the IPTV space in 2013 by selling its Mediaroom unit to Ericsson, which will certainly transition the 45 or so Telcos using that platform over to something a little more Ericsson in nature, in the long run. So it’s natural to question Microsoft’s situation with Ford, given that Ford has recently been in the news with both Google and Apple.
On the heels of Apple’s CarPlay announcement, 9to5 Mac ran an article that asked “Will CarPlay impact your next car purchase?” And consumers weighed in with some obvious comments “Most cars already have a touch screen, so (why not buy one that integrates) with my main device.” and “Will Apple … have updates?,” “I’m sure there are safety concerns,” and “All I need on the dash is heater/AC and an AM/FM radio…” One technology-informed responder said “…(because) it relies on Blackberry’s QNX underpinnings … I can just schlep down to Best Buy… and pick the car stereo of my choice, as long as it uses QNX.”
Each of the concerns make valid points: compatibility, usability, relevance, not going out of date. It’s also not hard to envision the average car buyer wanting to choose the mobile OS that they already live with, just as they do for exterior paint and interior upholstry.
QNX happens to enable the virtualization of client operating systems, so a single QNX-based IVI system can conceivably host iOS, Android and Windows Embedded for Automotive. Linux-based operating systems like QNX or GENIVI (or even techology initiatives like MirrorLink) can enable auto OEMs and aftermarket suppliers to create an OS-neutral environment. But none of the car companies offer anything close to that yet to consumers, and automotive product lifecycles are (ahem) a lot longer than software lifecycles.
Another piece of the ecosystem is wide area connectivity. The Connected Car has been a strategic initiative for a number of major Telcos in Europe, Asia and the US, which has made it one for their network suppliers as well. iPhone reseller AT&T has a compelling vision for the Connected Car, and already enables application developers to leverage APIs into services that include U-verse TV, smart home, location awareness, mobile messaging, and mobile payments.
This January, AT&T announced its AT&T Drive connected car developer platform during its Global Developer Summit in Las Vegas, which coincides with CES. Soon afterward, AT&T opened its AT&T Drive Studio at its Atlanta GA Developer Foundry facility. AT&T also partners with GM (which is embedding 4G LTE capability in all its cars by the end of this model year, and is sure to help address the need for in-vehicle software updates).
So, will CarPlay really be the catalyst to bring the Connected Car into the mainstream? In a word, no. A significant step, maybe: along with Siri Eyes Free, which is available in some Chevy vehicles, it may represent a mainstreaming point for the in-vehicle user experience. But the Connected Car is an ecosystem and the possibility that AT&T, GM and Apple might be working alongside one another toward the same goals (even if not together), is a show of category maturity.
Once again, just as it was with IPTV a decade ago, a lot of tumblers must click into place, and no single party is in control of all the tumblers, except arguably the car companies, which are the most conservative actors in the entire initiative.
Note: Steve Hawley will be conducting a conference session on the Connected Car at the 2014 TV Connect conference in London, which takes place from March 18 to March 20.