Before I get into Apple’s current state, I need to bring in some context.
In 1992, when I was a young, inexperienced, 21 year old college kid, dragging through the muck of trying to get a job, but having no experience, and not being able to get experience because I didn’t have a job, Microsoft was just releasing Windows 3.1. In my hometown of Eugene, Oregon, there were a handful of Windows programmer job listings in the Register Guard – the only newspaper in town, really. Interestingly, enough, there weren’t any for UNIX programmers, and certainly nothing for Mac programmers. (Well, not quite true. There was one company looking for people to write things for the Apple II. But I won’t count that.)
I needed a job.
Microsoft had this “thing” called the Windows SDK. The “Software Developers Kit” was a collection of functions and constructs (in the C language) that allowed anyone to write any program on the Windows platform. If you had a C compiler that could compile into an executable file in Windows, you could write anything. The world was your oyster. And the best thing – The SDK was effectively free.
I practically memorized Charles Petzold’s “Programming Windows 3.1”. I could talk about WinMain, WndProc, message pumps, invalidated rectangles (poor, poor rectangles), and could use all of these things to write some amazing programs.
Over the years, the SDK bloated. Yes, I meant to say that. It got too big; too many functions, too many extensions to existing functions. But, it was still powerful. It was the most powerful development kit on the planet! In fact, it was so powerful, that it defined my career for nearly a decade.
The cry from Microsoft was “Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers!” If you haven’t seen Steve Ballmer bouncing across the stage as the ultimate evangelist for the Microsoft development platform, you won’t understand. This was a special time in history.
And developers came.
Windows would not have the empire that it does if developers hadn’t come out of the woodworks to program, innovate, and push the operating system to its limits. Jokes abound about there only being one program ever written, “Sample.C” that was then debugged to come up with Microsoft Word, or Excel, or even Bob.
In the late ‘90s, however, something changed. Jonathan Schwartz came up with JAVA, and Windows programming lost its lustrous shine. Write Once, Run Anywhere became the cry of the developer. Microsoft and Sun Microsystems (who owned JAVA) entered a holy war. Each company suing each other. I was at Microsoft when all of this was taking place, and I was there for the announcement of our General Manager, “JAVA is a great language…that we don’t use.” I was teaching Windows Programming at the University of Washington Extension program at the time, night classes, and found myself preparing a JAVA curriculum. The bottom dropped out of the Windows classes, and JAVA took off. The decline was dramatic. In a two year period, Microsoft lost academia.
“There’s too much background needed to start Windows programming. You have to write 160 lines of code before your program will even run.”
“There aren’t enough Windows computers in the labs.”
“I can’t run my Windows programs on the web.”
“Why do I need a local machine when the Web is becoming the new platform.”
“Students have free programming tools with Java and Eclipse, and can run things on Linux easier than on Windows.”
Microsoft solidly had the professional developers inside existing companies, but had lost the “non-professional” developer…the hobbyists…the script-kiddies. Windows programming, and the Windows SDK were no longer recognized as innovative, agile, open, etc.
Now, it’s 2010. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of companies worldwide that continue to write Windows programs. They continue to use the Windows SDK or the .NET framework. However, the company that currently rules in the consumer product space is Apple. Consumer products….MP3 players, cell phones, etc., generally don’t run Windows. Even if they did, they don’t work with the Windows SDK.
A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the release of the iPhone 4. The hardware is pretty. But, what really gets me going is the operating system, iOS 4. It’s the same OS on the iPod Touch, the iPad, and now the iPhone 4. Write once, run several places. The programming model is virtually the same for each device. (There are special considerations for display aspect ratios, etc.) And the cry is out for developers, developers, developers, developers. The iPhone has 28% of the mobile market. The Windows phone….um…does not. (Please, understand, I have an HTC Tilt II from AT&T, and I love it.)
The development tools are “almost” free. There is an annual fee for people to actually upload apps that they have written to iTunes (the sole distribution vehicle…which I will blog about in another topic), and it generally does require a Mac.
Needless to say, what I see is Apple pulling the same thing Microsoft did.
And just like Microsoft, Apple will win.
This is getting a lot closer to my view of a perfect mobile device. I have to say it. Apple knocked this one out of the park. He also showed the new camera features that are awfully close to being the Flip killer.
However, this is just step one…..the next thing is iOS 4. Steve Jobs is taking a lesson from the Steve Ballmer school of “winning”. DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS!!!!!
iOS 4 changes the game completely.
I’m tired of this question? Can we just move on to the next one?
What’s the Best Mobile Device?
That’s the wrong question. Let’s start by challenging the assumption. What does “better” mean? Try this: “What problem am I trying to solve?”
How many of you were struck by that last one? It’s neat? I don’t have an iPad, but I have answered every single one of these elements over the last two years. Likely, the iPad is next.
So, one day, I looked at my cell phone and realized that with Windows Mobile running, Office Mobile, and so on, I had everything I needed that my laptop would normally provide. However, I didn’t have a keyboard. A friend at work pointed me to a company called Celio and their product RedFly (~$200). RedFly is a dumb terminal, about the size of a netbook, no operating system (really), a bluetooth connection and a screen. Installing a small client on the cell phone allows you to turn on the RedFly, and duplicate the phone screen on the RedFly screen. The phone is the computer.
Anyone see the problem? I’m still carrying two devices.
So, along comes the netbook. Once again, a friend of mine at work got a Dell Inspiron Mini-9. I saw him taking notes in a meeting and thought, that’s pretty neat! I grabbed one. (~$400) Well, the netbook, at least the Intel ATOM processor in this beast is slow…and I’m still carrying my phone. Two devices. (Now, I will say that the netbook is nice for taking notes, but you can’t do much more. It’s even pretty lame for e-mail. And the keyboard is too small.)
Are you noticing a pattern? Every device that I wanted/needed has a keyboard. I type.
So, along comes the iPhone. The iPhone is getting much, much closer to a usable portable computer. It’s an excellent device. (Except that I currently work at the WRONG company for getting a corporate stipend every month for using one.) But, when it first came out, it was more expensive than the netbook, and wouldn’t connect well to an enterprise network. It’s a consumer device and unashamedly so. It’s value is in the old Microsoft model (GASP!) that developers can write any application for it. I see those heads nodding. What’s the motto? Say it after me….”There’s an App for That.” THAT is BRILLIANT…but not a new idea. Go Apple!
Now, the iPad. I’ve done a lot of travelling recently, and the iPad is the new ubiquitous travel toy. And every flight I’m on, I see the same things. How do I hold the tablet, so I can watch my movie? They balance precariously at an angle on the tray, against the front seat, until the person in front reclines, and the tablet crashes down. People will switch the pad back and forth between hands, resting their elbows for a minute, looking for someone to help ease the lactic acid in their muscles, like Moses holding his rod up above his head during the battle with the Amalekites, when two young men came and held his arms up for him. (Look it up.) Or, they lay the tablet flat, and bend their necks like Snoopy pretending to be a vulture. Don’t get me wrong. The iPad is a beautiful device….gorgeous! The device is near perfect until one tries to type on it. They struggle with turning the device sideways to use the onscreen keyboard, that suddenly covers the entire real-estate of the screen. There’s more space on my HTC TiltII than on the screen of an iPad when the keyboard is up. (Maybe hyperbole, but it’s true.)
Then, we land, and the first thing out of their pocket is? What’s that? That’s right, a cell phone. Oh, it’s not always an iPhone, although that’s more ubiquitous than the iPad. It’s often a Blackberry, or a Samsung BlackJack II. (I used to have BJII….what a horrible, horrible phone.) Anyway, two devices.
Now, when I travel, I have a Barnes and Noble Nook. I love it. Why? I love the non-backlit screen, and the incredible battery life. I’d get that with a Sony e-reader, or an Amazon Kindle, I know that. But the iPad is still a backlit screen, not yet ready for an e-reader. Can’t stare at a backlit screen for too long. Bad for your eyes. I carry a Zune (120GB) for my music. I also carry my cell phone.
Okay, I need to conclude this.
The best mobile device is one that doesn’t yet exist. But it’s coming. I can’t say when. Ultimately, the iPhone is approaching it. It will be a device that can act as a computer, an entertainment player (video and music), an e-reader, and will easily attach to a real keyboard for times when a keyboard is needed. It will attach to a large screen when needed, without changing resolution. It will be high-def. It will have a camera (still and video). It will be a phone. AND, it will fit in my shirt pocket.
What’s your favorite mobile device? What do you think? Will we ever have a single device that covers it all?
I am now receiving enough interest from friends and colleagues around the world who want to know what I prognosticate about the future and current events in high technology. For instance, is mobile dead? What is the cloud, and why does it matter? Does it matter? Is print advertising dead? How is social media affecting our views on privacy and even individuality?
This blog is my vent.
It does not in any way reflect on my current or future employers. (Although, I will, by nature, have to discuss technologies, and so on.) It is strictly my opinion.
Hopefully, all of you will jump in, ask questions, promote civil conversation, and maybe even change my opinionated mind.
Looking forward to the adventure!