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.
It’s an easy trap to fall into: to be so distracted by goings-on in what have traditionally been the world’s largest pay TV and online video markets that we miss what’s going on in the rest of the world.
Case in point is India. Five to ten years ago, it was easy to dismiss India as a yet-to-emerge market for pay TV. There was a vague assumption that IP video might succeed over mobile, but not anytime soon. And because per-subscriber revenue is so low, the conventional wisdom among infrastructure providers was that India wasn’t particularly worth their attention anyway.
Fast forward to the present day: India’s TV and online video industries are super-active, white-hot. Last summer, Hong Kong-based Media Partners Asia estimated that pay TV in India would grow at a 11% per year through 2018, driven by rising ARPU.
Just during the first calendar quarter of 2015 alone:
- India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued operating licenses to 11 TV operators between November 2014 and January 2015, and then another 11 between January and early March. In that short period, it represents about 15 percent of the total number of operators in the country (153 total, as of March 10)
- Operators are adding new TV channels at a rapid pace. Tata Sky announced that its move to MPEG-4 is making room for 20 new channels. The same operator launched 4K set-top boxes early in 2015.
- Outside media companies see India as a new market opportunity for their programming. Turner announced the launch of its Toonami channel with five operators in February. Online video provider Hungama.com is adding Disney and Marvel content.
- New online video providers are also coming on the scene. Viral Fever launched on online movie service, while Culture Machine, which distributes content over YouTube, raised US18M to fund its network of 400 India-based media brands and independent content providers.
- Graphic India raised about U$3M from the Asian investment arm of Chernin Media, which is also noteworthy because Chernin has a content partnership with AT&T (my guess is that this could help fuel a future AT&T ‘International’ content offering in the US).
- New operators and broadcasters are also raising money: One operator, Ortel Communications, raised INR1.75B (about US$28M) in March. India-based Zee Media is offering 108M shares in its IPO, and is launching its &TV service in the UK in combination with the trivia app QuizUP on April 6.
- New video advertising networks are coming on the scene, with launches by Komli Media and Seventynine, which offers an in-app advertising platform and advertising SDK for mobile video.
And of course, infrastructure providers are striking while the iron is hot:
- Verimatrix announced a video security win with Vuclip, a mobile VOD service available in India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East
- Ericsson, Cisco, and Elemental Technologies all announced operator wins for their 4K-capable video encoding platforms
- Cisco also announced a win for its Videoscape multiscreen service delivery platform, with DTT operator Videocon 2dh.
- Companies like Micromax are introducing Android-based 4K/UHD TVs in India, although consumer uptake for 4K in India is likely to be sluggish.
- Amagi is winning deals with video content providers for its Cloudport cloud-based online video system
- Technicolor is considering making video technology acquisitions in the country.
- Home-grown infrastructure providers are emerging. New Delhi-based Chrome Data has announced an anti-piracy service to fight cable signal theft. Multivert India has partnered with Video Propulsion to offer low-cost headend equipment.
In short, the entire video industry ecosystem is thriving there.
If nothing else, this situation has prompted me adjust my perception as to which pay TV market might be the biggest one right now. If not from a revenue perspective, then at least in terms of opportunity and potential.
This article owes a major tip of the hat to NexTV India.
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?
The report provides a thorough examination and analysis of the TV Service Delivery Platform (TV SDP) category, and of the SDP offerings available to pay-TV operators from 17 different suppliers. It provides a comprehensive resource for operators that are evaluating new TV service platforms, as well as for those seeking to understand the latest capabilities through which they can enhance their existing offerings or take them multiscreen.
If you own an Apple device and are ‘environmentally conscious,’ an October 16 story in Wired entitled Greenwashing the Retina MacBook Pro may be of interest to you. Essentially, the article says that despite this computer’s certification as an EPEAT Gold device, the spirit of the certification is questionable. One reason for concern is that Apple markets itself as a ‘green’ company, and yet it no longer registers its devices with EPEAT.
Environmental concerns may be a bit abstract for most consumers, but this erosion of Apple’s ‘green’ ethos reflects some apparent changes in design philosophy within Apple that have an impact on all Apple users. It points to a philosophy of planned obsolescence and disposability, which Apple’s service and product life-cycle practices serve to reinforce.
Apple’s current generations of mobile phones and media players are sealed and not designed for disassembly or maintenance by their users. As the EPEAT situation shows, Apple has extended this design philosophy to the latest Retina MacBook Pros. As a result, most Apple hardware products are no longer ‘user upgradeable.’ This lowers the cost of manufacturing, and provides incentive (coercion?) for consumers to buy an AppleCare service agreement. So it’s all good for Apple.
But it’s not good for consumers. Let me give you an example of the impact on this philosophy on an Apple user: me.
I bought a fourth-generation iPod Touch – new – in 2011 and had it until a few months ago. After owning the device for about 14 months – just a couple of months beyond the basic product warranty period – it suddenly stopped working. The reason was that the battery had expanded, forcing the case open; and making the touch interface useless. Since I hadn’t bought an AppleCare extended warranty (Why? I don’t know), it would have cost so much to repair the device that repair made little sense. Apple applied its salvage value to my purchase of a new iPod. In effect, this cost me more than $300 – between the cost of the original device and the replacement.
AppleCare for laptop computers runs out at the end of Year 3. Users have three choices at the end of that period: 1) buy a third-party warranty, 2) take the risk and fly without a service agreement, or, 3) sell or trade in your machine for a newer model – revenue-assurance for Apple.
This hardware situation is bad enough, but also, each subsequent release of MacOS X won’t run on devices that are more than a few years old, or at best, renders software that’s more than a few releases old obsolete. The net effect is that Apple has quietly and incrementally created a new kind of “lock-in,” and worse, has become less pro-active in telling anyone about it. I’m concerned that my second-generation iPad will eventually follow this pattern as well.
It’s not that Apple hasn’t created lock-in situations before, but in the past, Apple has been much more open with its customers and partners than it is now. Some Apple history shows how.
In the early 1990s, Apple went from Motorola 68000-family microprocessor chips to Motorola/IBM PowerPC chips, which prompted developers and users to upgrade their software across the board or be left behind. I worked for an Apple software developer (Aldus, which was acquired by Adobe) in the 1990s and can attest that the changeover was well orchestrated. Apple did a good job selling this change as being a good thing.
In 2001, Apple released MacOS X (Mac OS Ten), a fundamental change to the Mac operating system. MacOS X was a consolidation of several technologies that were developed by Apple and NeXT (a Steve Jobs company that Mr. Jobs sold back to Apple) over the course of the 1990s. Again, Apple wisely built a bridge from old to new by maintaining a way for users to run earlier versions of MacOS for several years.
In 2006, Apple released its first Intel-based computers, replacing the Motorola/IBM PowerPC. Yet again, Apple bridged the old and the new; this time by providing PowerPC emulation on the Intel processor platform for several years, until 2010.
But sometime between then and now, it seems that something has changed within Apple, and it’s having a direct impact on users. I don’t like what I see, and I hope that the good ship Apple will make some course corrections.
Apple has become (on and off) the most valuable company in the world, and is hugely profitable. It has achieved this status in no small part through the loyalty of its customers, many of whom stuck with Apple through some painful times. I was an Apple dealer before some of the readers of this blog were alive – starting in 1981 – and I have owned Apple products since 1984.
I am of the opinion that Apple owes us something in return for this loyalty. By providing easy-to-use products that fit (and in some cases, have created) the modern digital lifestyle, Apple does go a long way to keep up its end of this bargain. But Apple has go the rest of the way – as it once did – by returning to its earlier and more consumer-friendly practices relating to software obsolescence, hardware accessibility, and environmentalism.
Apple can certainly afford to do so.
This is the first of two posts about the 2012 International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam. As an analyst, I’m just as interested in the macro-level trends as I am the individual vendors and products. So let’s look at a couple of those trends. If OTT and 3D television were the big news a couple of years ago, then this year it was multi-screen TV…
The new tvstrategies report TV Software 2012: Choosing TV Middleware and Applications During a Time of Dramatic Industry Change, by Steven Hawley, is now available.
273 pages. $3,995.00. This report classifies TV software into four categories and compares the offerings of more than 25 suppliers across more than 100 individual feature criteria. It also contains three detailed TV service provider case studies. The report compares the TV service models of pay TV, ‘OTT’ video, connected consumer electronics (CE) devices and device-ecosystems. It details the consumer drivers, feature-enabling technologies and trends relevant to operators launching services in this new age of multi-screen, multi-device, Internet-enabled TV services. It also provides conclusions and recommendations designed to help operators see the greater context within which they are making their software acquisition decisions.