What’s really missing from the iPad.

There is, of course, endless speculation about what the iPad should have had, and why it will be an abject failure because of [your favorite feature]‘s absence. “Video camera” seems to be the #1 cited omission. No doubt videoconferencing via iPad would be nice, but hey, I don’t even know that many people that video chat, so I’m not sure how something used by so few people could be considered essential.

There’s one feature omission that everyone seems to have forgotten about: multi-user.

Without multi-user capability, whose bookmarks are going to be in Safari, mine, or my wife’s? Whose usernames and passwords will get saved? Whose schedule will be in the calendar app? Contacts in the Address Book? You get the idea. Without multi-user, most of the built-in apps will be, by necessity, useless, filled with data that’s not yours.

The good news is that multi-user requires just a software upgrade; maybe we’ll see it when iPhone 4.0 comes along. Until then, my iPad will be used about 50% less than it should be.

It’ll be trivially easy for Twitter to make money. Or not.

From the September 24, 2009 New York Times, in an article about Twitter raising money, and their ability to generate revenue:

“It would be trivially easy for them to turn on a revenue source today,” said Steve Broback, founder of the Parnassus Group, which runs conferences on Twitter and other business topics. “I don’t see that they are in a big hurry to start generating revenues, mostly because they want to minimize any sort of negative effect on their community.”

So in fact, what Mr. Broback is saying is that it would not be trivially easy for Twitter to turn on a revenue source today.

Just wanted to clarify that.

You should buy a Mac

A lot of people ask me about what kind of computer to buy. Unless you have to have a PC, a Mac is the way to go, for the following reasons:

  • You don’t have to worry about viruses, nor install virus software. (At least until someone figures out how to write an effective Mac virus, which hasn’t happened yet.)
  • Macs don’t come with a hundred useless pieces of software pre-installed on them. Nor useless stickers on the outside.
  • The Mac applications for managing photos, music, and movies, are all the best of their kind.
  • The automated backup system, Time Machine, is fantastic, and anyone who’s storing their photos and movies on a computer needs to be concerned about backup.
  • Apple hardware tends to be better designed. And since everything comes from one manufacturer, it works better together.
  • Integration with the iPhone and iPods is better and more seamless.
  • If you’re near an Apple Store, the support and assistance you receive at the Genius Bars is amazing.

Macs are more expensive than typical PCs, but for all of the reasons listed above, I believe the total cost of ownership to be lower. And they’re definitely more fun to use.

That said, Macs aren’t perfect. Mac reliability is good, but not excellent. You get a year warranty on a Mac purchase; during that year, you can decide to purchase a two year extension, called AppleCare, typically for around $300. If it’s a Mac that you rely on, I recommend it. If it’s a Mac that isn’t “mission critical” and you can afford to be without it when it’s down, it isn’t as important that you get the extended warranty. Especially if you’ve been making backups, which Macs do automatically if you have a second hard drive. But even then, the extended warranty isn’t a terrible idea. (The only clear-cut case where I wouldn’t get the warranty is if I didn’t expect to own the computer for three years.)

To give you some background: I have AppleCare on my work laptop because I can’t afford to be without it long. Plus, it would cost $2500 to replace, so the $350 warranty is a drop in the bucket. On my wife’s laptop (which cost $1100), we don’t have AppleCare. If her laptop died, that would be unfortunate, but 1) she can afford to be without a computer for a few days, and 2) we’re keeping it constantly backed up, so even if we had to buy a new computer, it would be easy to restore it. Extended warranties are always difficult decisions…

If you’re going to be keeping anything important on your Mac (your music and photos count as important items), I highly recommend getting an external drive that can act as your Time Machine backup drive. The $200 or less that it should cost you is completely worth it in the case that your computer’s main drive fails. (In the best case, that can take hours to fix; in the worst–and most common–case, you’ll lose all of your data. You don’t want that to happen.) At a minimum, your Time Machine drive should be at least as big as your internal drive; 2 to 3x larger is better, but not required.

The iPhone’s “Killer App.” (Boy, do I hate that term.)

John Gruber linked to a Paul Thurrott post this morning about the apparently delusional Windows Mobile team (prediction: Microsoft will buy RIM within 24 months). What caught my attention, however, was Thurrott’s assertion that the iPhone App Store is “arguably the biggest innovation of the iPhone.” We saw a similar sentiment expressed earlier in the week at USA Today.

No doubt the App Store is great, but I can’t say that any app I’ve purchased is truly important to me. NetNewsWire comes the closest, but still, the iPhone’s “killer app” (god, do I hate that overused term) is its usability. Nothing else comes close. I don’t know anyone that has purchased an iPhone because of the App Store; I know perhaps a hundred people that have purchased one because of its usability. (With Apple aggressively marketing iPhone games, perhaps this will change in the future; regardless, it hasn’t happened yet.)

The other mis-read of the iPhone’s success comes down in the comments, where several people assert that the iPhone is “consumer-targeted,” with the implication that if the Windows Mobile team had simply trained its sights on that “niche” market, of course they’d have something as usable as the iPhone. There are exactly two things wrong with that assertion.

The first is that the Windows Mobile team would know how to develop a consumer product. Here’s something people don’t get: developing consumer software is harder than developing enterprise software. If you’re developing enterprise software, you make money every time the customer calls you with a question. If you’re developing consumer software, you lose money when they call you. That simple fact turns the product development equation on its head: you have to make a product that completely explains itself to people who don’t want to read a manual or take a training class. That Apple developed a smart phone that my mother can use is something that the Windows Mobile team could not have pulled off.

The second is that the iPhone is, in fact, “consumer-targeted.” It’s not: it’s “user-targeted.” Not the same thing. The Windows Mobile team will likely never admit this to itself because it’s easier to accept their fate if they think that they and Apple are aiming at different targets. But iPhone 1.0 wasn’t a product unsuitable for the enterprise by design; iPhone 1.0 was unsuitable for the enterprise simply because a couple of features were left out. That those features have now been added (and that another feature–a keyboard–I suspect will be added in the future) betray the idea that the iPhone is merely “consumer-targeted,” something that will be abundantly clear when iPhone beats Windows Mobile–and probably RIM, too–in that market.

Digital Rights Management sucks…except for the alternative

Is it possible for both sides—content producers and consumers—to lose the DRM war? Because they both deserve to.

The content producers—record labels, especially—make it so hard not to hate them. Digital distribution is exposing the fact that they add almost no value to the music publishing process they’ve been shepherding for the past fifty years. But what’s worse are the people who insist that DRM is unfailingly evil, neglecting the fact that it’s an attempt to solve a completely legitimate problem, i.e., people stealing content. The biggest complaint you hear from this camp is that DRM systems “treat everyone like a criminal.” My locked front door treats everyone like a criminal. Do you find that offensive? You shouldn’t. And at least when it comes to copying digital content, everyone is a criminal. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t pirated music or software at some point, and this includes my parents. Doesn’t that at least justify the need for DRM, if not with the sometimes draconian restrictions that can be tied to it?

Ultimately, I think the solution to many of these problems—especially with video, which needs a rental component in order to work the way people want—is a very permissive, lenient DRM. I frequently got into a debate with the other founder of Zero G Software on the subject of software piracy: my point was that our product, a software application, shouldn’t be any harder to pirate than our competitor’s product. If someone’s going to pirate one of our products, I want it to be ours. At least then we’d have a shot at getting some upgrade and tech support dollars, in addition to increased mindshare. I never won this argument—our DRM was always a lot stricter than theirs—but the argument still sounds valid to me. It would be nice if the music producers felt the same.