The Apple Lineup Reimagined

I have in my pocket my very first and only iPhone so far: a two-year-old iPhone 6s. Apple announces a new phone every year, and just this past September 12th, 2017, they announced the iPhone X. As in, iPhone 10.

No, that math doesn’t really work. They went from the 6s in 2015, to the 7 in 2016, to the 8 and X (as in 10) in 2017. They will be selling those models beside each other in the store, with a “regular” 8 and an 8 Plus variant to boot. In addition, they still have the old iPhone 7, iPhone SE, and as of right now, iPhone 6s for sale.

Confused? You are not alone. After the event, I was just flabbergasted at Apple’s lack of discipline. Apple’s designs have traditionally been simple. Austere. Cohesive. But their product line-up is anything but.

Steve Jobs was the reductionist, and Jonathan Ive is the dreamer. Without Steve being able to pull the reigns, however infamously tightly he may have held them, Ive and the rest of Apple is drifting into entropy.

There have been plenty of articles questioning if Apple is still innovative, but this is different. Even if they iterate on their products forever without completely disrupting the industry, they’ve let the weeds grow in their lineup. The iPad mini 4 sitting beside the iPad and iPad Pro? Why is there a now-arbitrary number there? It’s time to clean the slate. It’s time to prune the products.

My suggestion is to reduce the product lineup and stick to common naming conventions across the board.

No Numbers

There’s no reason for numbers. The Ford Mustang is iconic, and it’s not because we’re on Ford Mustang 6 right now. Yes, we’re in the 6th generation of Mustang, but did you know that? Did you care? You are probably more familiar with what matters to you. Maybe you think it is the epitome of adrenaline. It’s loud, it’s fast. Maybe what matters is that it is pure Americana on wheels. Whatever the case, you probably don’t really care what version number it wears.

Years

From now on, you have an iPhone. It’s a 2017. Or a 2016. Anything more specific than that is relegated to product numbers, which increment based on product id and date.

Most users won’t need to get more granular than the name. At the water cooler, they’ll mention the new iPhone and everyone will know what they’re talking about. It comes with 64 GB in the base model now. And now it has augmented reality.

mini

For the smaller versions of products, the cute lower-case “mini” works. Keep it, but make sure it’s consistently used. Goodbye Macbook Air, hello Macbook mini.

Product Name

Most consumers go for the middle option. The Mac. The MacBook. The iPhone. The middle-tier product in any lineup that Apple just goes by its name, unadulterated.

Pro

Apple will always appeal to those with unlimited budgets. For cost-no-object buyers, the highest-level version is the Pro. Mac Pro. MacBook Pro. iPhone Pro.

The i

The “i” means screen. The iMac, iPhone, and iPad all pull the screen to the forefront, with no keyboards or watchbands to get in the way.

That convention is fine, albeit not completely clear to the average consumer. Eventually they may want to consider moving away from the “i” convention, as in the Apple Phone and Apple Pad. However, the iPhone name is so entrenched in our culture that we’d be silly not to keep it. And we’ll let the iPad and iMac follow.

Mac

A Mac is a computer. It’s a legendary name. The Mac is the desktop, the iMac is the all-in-one with that beautiful screen, and the MacBook is the laptop.

Generic Names

Apple backed themselves in a corner with the Apple TV and Apple Watch. You can’t lop off the Apple part, or they become the lowercase version found in common vernacular. Calling it the iTV sounds like an awkward acronym, and the iWatch is just creepy. MacTV might work, but it’s not really a computer. MacWatch feels more McDonald’s than Apple, and again, not really a computer.

We’ll just keep the generic names with Apple in front of them for now. But we’re dropping the 4K in the newly announced Apple TV 4K. It’s great because it’s explicit, but Apple has never been about the underlying technology specs: they sell emotion. My mother doesn’t know what 4K means. She would know there’s a difference between an Apple TV and an Apple TV Pro, and she’d know the Pro has a sharper image and is more expensive.

Bonus: iOS and MacOS

Please just call it iOS and MacOS. Version them by number, 2017.1 and 2017.2. Why do we have iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra? No.

Conclusion

Apple, get your stuff together. We love your products but your current mix of blasé naming schemes leaves the average consumer at an arm’s length. Let’s keep things simple. You’ve got this.

Should You Contribute To The “Orlando Tech Community” Kickstarter?

In case you missed it, Wednesday at around 10:00 AM the Orlando community started buzzing with requests to contribute to The Orlando Tech Community Kickstarter. The campaign is a Hail Mary pass at the start of the season; they are looking to raise all of the funds required up-front to keep several well-known local tech-centric organizations afloat. Specifically, Orlando TechFireSpring Fund, Starter Studio, and Canvs.

And at first brush, their goal seems…lofty. Standing at a whopping $165,000, the literal shovelfuls of cash required to meet this all-or-nothing goal is daunting. And besides, where was it all going? As is Kickstarter tradition, the description of where exactly the money will go is loose. For example, the Starter Studio portion notes the money will go toward “the funding needed to use the beautiful Dr. Phillips center for demo day.” How much does that  cost? Why should I contribute money so they can use the beautiful Dr. Phillips center?

[edit: Gregg Pollack was kind enough to send me a message on Kickstarter about this. He hadn’t realized the adjective “beautiful” could be construed as lavish, so he removed that from the Kickstarter description. He also noted that the demo day event last year actually made money for the organization.]

I’m fairly critical and tend to question any organization I give to. In the checkout line at Publix, whenever they ask “Do you want to give a dollar to Whatever Fund?,” I can’t help but wonder what that fund’s impact is. How much do they pay staff? Is this just a glorified tax haven for Publix or their CEO’s friends? Do they throw lavish parties? Due to the store’s insistence at exploiting typical social contracts, I give a dollar so the cashier won’t think I’m Hitler. In the back of my mind, it irks me that I may have wasted that dollar on an ounce of caviar to be eaten by some debutante at a “charity event.”

Back to the Kickstarter page, I thought “At least these four organizations are working together.” I have no numbers to quantify this, but lately the Orlando tech scene has felt a bit stagnant and lacking cohesion. Several things have contributed to that gloomy feeling. Orlando Tech has had a lot of upheaval with the original founder Orrett Davis joining financial chat bot company Abe.ai in July. In the Orlando Devs Slack, arguments in #career-advice regarding moving to San Francisco happen like clockwork. UCF seems like a natural ally to the downtown tech scene, but it seems like their involvement is incidental at best. Same goes for the tourism industry here. I’ve met a total of two Disney employees at meetups, and I’ve attended my fair share.

When I moved from DC back to Orlando, I was pleasantly surprised to see the resources we had. This was in 2015; Orlando Tech was going strong and there were typically three startups giving talks each month. I attended the Canvs one year anniversary when they announced the second location in Winter Park. Once I was on the Orlando Devs Slack, I felt like a whole other world was opened to me. However, as time went on, I stopped going to Orlando Tech. It’s not that Orrett didn’t do a great job (he did and I think his efforts are a big part of why we have a tech “scene” at all), it’s simply that I lost interest in the subject matter. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

“I’ve been a few times [to the Orlando Tech Meetup], I like knowing what the community is up to around the area.  A few of the startups have interested me.  Most haven’t.  Few job offers here and there, but yea the general feel is ‘business business business…  numbers.  Is this working?’… I think I attended four or five through 2016. Each time I went, I felt like I was witnessing demos from a weekend hackathon, but where the devs got drunk and the designers had a cold. It was absurd to me to hear that these products were seeking investment. So maybe I’m the asshole.”

— Andrew Studnicky, Software Engineer in Orlando

It seems like in their eagerness to fund and support Orlando’s potential unicorns, an unintended consequence was that some of the very people on which those tech companies rely, the developers and designers and people in the trenches every day, felt alienated. Perhaps it was the lack of interest in slow-growth service companies, or the infiltration of get-rich-quick “idea guys,” or some other intangible that kept me from going.

However, with the kickoff of this Kickstarter, it seems like the horses are starting to pull in the same direction and I’m liking where they are going.

It feels like the start of Oceans 11, or perhaps Gone in 60 Seconds. Pressing matters has brought the old gang back together and the audience wonders if they can pull it off like the old days. Orlando Tech feels like a spiritual cornerstone of tech in Orlando, and now with a well-supported Diane Court acting as Executive Director it seems like they have their footing. I have not met Diane personally, but I have heard nothing but great things. I’m hoping she and the rest of the board can help make Orlando Tech into what it can become.

Starter Studio, along with the UCF Venture Lab, has been one of the big tech accelerators in Orlando, and it seems Gregg Pollack is back in full force manning the effort. Although he never left, lately it seems as if he’s playing a more active role in both hyping Orlando Tech and the closely aligned Starter Studio. We don’t need to worry too much about Gregg being in it for the money, thanks to his multi-million dollar exit from Code School and activism in the community. Working legalese into that transition that included keeping the Orlando office open and staff employed shows his commitment to the community here.

When I moved back here from the DC area, one of the first things I did was get a desk at Canvs. The company I now work for, Nebbia Technology, started out of Canvs and graduated from there. We now have our own downtown office, have seven employees, and turn a profit. We need more success stories like that and places like Canvs and Catalyst can be the difference between success and failure for early-stage companies. Not only do they provide cheap working space, but more importantly, foster an environment where water-cooler talk about who can help who comes naturally. Dayle Moore is the manager of Operations and Programming for Canvs, Starter Studio, and FireSpring Fund. The world is a small place, previously she worked at UCF Venture Accelerator and I met with her to talk about my now-defunct business. And who can mention Canvs without mentioning the always bubbly and helpful Shanika Marlow? As Operations and Membership Coordinator at Canvs, her job is getting and retaining Canvs members. When I finally realized it didn’t make sense to keep a desk there when I never used it, it was extremely difficult to look Shanika in the eyes and tell her I no longer needed it.

And then there’s FireSpring Fund, of which I know so little about that I can hardly comment. Suffice to say that I hope they, too, are making meaningful changes.


As you can tell from the paragraphs above, I’m not a blind cheerleader. Even acknowledging that certain organizations aren’t perfect can be social suicide, but at this point in time we have to wash our face with cold water and take a good, hard look at ourselves in the mirror. What do we stand for? Are we not a community? At the end of the day, these organizations have a solid track record. As the Orlando Tech website says, we have a $14 billion dollar tech industry here. Can we not raise $165,000 to help some of our most visible organizations that support our industry?

When we look in the mirror, what do we see? Be honest. I hope we are a community that’s willing to risk a few bucks for the good of our tech industry. That’s why I gave some money.

That, and the sweet t-shirt.

Consider chipping in to the future of tech in Orlando yourself.

 

Internet of Things vs. Ubiquitous Computing vs. Pervasive Computing

What are the differences between ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, and the Internet of Things? These terms are full of subtleties, but my simplified is simply that the Internet of Things is ubiquitous or pervasive computing in a more limited scope.

Ubiquitous and pervasive computing, which you can think of as pretty much the same thing, is the idea that computers will eventually be so small and cheap that no matter where you are computers will surround you. To get a better idea of what that world might look like, check out MIT’s Project Oxygen.

“In the future, computation will be human-centered. It will be freely available everywhere, like batteries and power sockets, or oxygen in the air we breathe.”
― MIT Project Oxygen

I’d take a small bet that you think this concept is a little absurd. Computers everywhere, like the oxygen in the air we breathe? The imagery conjured up, in my mind at least, includes silicon with heavy metals floating into our lungs. Not good.

But then again, we are not beholden to our past. I’m sure that in the 1964 when Doug Englebart famously created the prototype for the first computer mouse, even he might not have known that the world would adopt his device as one of the primary ways of interacting with computers within just a few decade’s time. In that same year, what is considered the first supercomputer appeared on the scene. The CDC 6600 had a whopping 10 MHz of CPU clock speed. To put that in perspective, it would have to be about 200 times faster to reach the speed of an average modern laptop.

The point is that the world changes. What seems insane today might be reality tomorrow. As long as human ingenuity exists, computers are still likely to get faster, smaller, and cheaper as time goes by. The death of Moore’s Law is inevitable, but with technologies like quantum computing, carbon nano-tubes, and even optical computing on the horizon, there is hope yet to keeping Moore’s Law alive in spirit by doubling the speed of computers every few years. Eventually, we may find wetware computers, or computers built from living neurons, are easy to grow and are built with environmentally-friendly and easy-to-access building blocks. The concept may be weird to us now, but in 1964 we were just getting to the end of the vacuum tube era of computing. Again, the world changes.

So why draw a distinction between IoT and Ubiquitous Computing? Aren’t they the same thing? I believe that the Internet of Things is already here, just in limited scope. We have lights that talk to thermostats that talk to the internet. The popularity of IFTTT is a decent litmus test that indicates we have enough things talking to each other than we can declare that the Internet of Things have arrived, even if the scope is not yet fully realized.

Ubiquitous computing, in contrast, means that computers are everywhere. In our walls, floors, and ceilings, in our desks and windows, in fact, they may cease to become a separate entity to be talked of at all. That’s not an internet-connected wrench, that’s just a wrench. Of course it has a computer in it, of course it talks to the internet, of course it interacts with other objects. Why wouldn’t it? Everything does. That’s just the basic nature of it, as common as paint or pigment.

That is the difference. In one reality, one that already exists, we marvel at the novelty and usefulness of our objects talking to each other. In another, more far-off reality, we take it for granted. Perhaps a small difference in writing but a huge difference in the affect on our lives. The Internet of Things is but a temporary stop on the way to ubiquitous computing.

The Future Has Never Been More Promising and Unpredictable

When I think about the future, often in the realm of technology, I tend to look specifically at computers and even more narrowly the Internet of Things (which is kind of my thing). I read Ars Technica, Tom’s Hardware, and Reddit, and I talk to other developers. Often I see the future through that narrow lens. I see the future in my individual industry coming down the pipe, and announcements seem somewhat predictable.

However, outside of my immediate area of expertise, I’m often surprised to hear about the leaps of progress other industries are making. Sometimes I will stumble on something outside my immediate area of expertise that just blows my mind. Recently, that happened when I came across this video explaining CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats).

The tl;dr is that scientists are able splice together DNA to cut out known bad stuff or put in good stuff, even in full-grown adults. It’s essentially programming living things. Wow! How have I not heard about this before? This should be front-page news!

“That’s great, Jared, but you are a programmer. What does this have to do with you?”

I’m glad you asked, even if it was a bit of a snarky remark. Immediately my mind leaps to what the possibilities are: Well, if you can copy DNA extremely accurately, and that can represent data, can we take advantage of that for storing computer data? Well, of course we can, and we already are. Microsoft and the University of Washington teamed up and stored 200 megabytes of data in the space of the tip of a pencil. The storage technology holds the promise of holding about 1 billion terabytes in a single gram. And this is just the cross-roads of DNA and data storage, there are many multidisciplinary approaches to technology that are happening (and should happen more and more, in this author’s view) across the world.

There are so many pieces of technology other than computing that are making progress faster than ever before: Agriculture, education, machinery, nanotechnology, energy, transport, mining, and healthcare. What is happening in these spaces that will affect us all in only a few years? What revolutionary tech is coming online or just about to? It’s mind-boggling.

Knowledge transfer across domains goes the other way, too. Computing improvements can affect healthcare in big ways. Take, for example, protein folding. Unfortunately, classical computers are very bad at doing this. A project called Folding@Home has helped alleviate that problem by harnessing the power of many, many computers (104,000 teraflops of computing power across the world) to figure out how proteins fold. The ultimate goal is to help cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s. Although progress has been made in studying this that would not have been made otherwise, quantum computers have shown significant promise in being able to solve problems like these at speeds that would put all of those harnessed computers to shame. That happens when you can calculate millions of possibilities at the same time, as is quantum computer’s strength. Once quantum computers become more powerful and consistent, and once we figure out better ways to program them, all of Folding@Home’s progress to date could be made in days or hours on just one quantum machine.

These types of interrelationships between technologies (in this case, protein folding and quantum computers) supercharge our advances toward the future. Nothing happens in a vacuum, so a small leap in any one technology can dramatically affect the progress of another. As the excellent In a Nutshell video above explains, imagine the impact that just one technology, the internet, has had on nearly every single piece of our lives. Right now, there are thousands of potentially game-changing technologies in the pipeline. As they come out of research facilities, there will be unimaginable ripple effects.

Worker Productivity Over Time
Chart found in afx114’s PhotoBucket, no idea who the author is. Happy to give a credit where credit is due if you know who made it.

What’s really cool is that these affects are logarithmic in nature. The better a technology gets, the better it makes other technologies. And upward and upward we go in productivity (which is just one, albeit poor, indication of progress) and other indications of progress, faster and faster. With all of the unknown unknowns and the rapid pace of change, the future has never been as unpredictable, or as exciting, or as promising, as it is right now.

Technology Is Nothing Without People

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNRjpZrbMhg

This past Saturday I made the short trek to Disney Springs with my wife, father, and his girlfriend to get some dinner and catch the holiday light show. I had seen some footage provided by Intel so I knew it was going to be good. Turns out, I was right.

To watch the sky expecting to see dark objects roaming about before the show to begin and then being wholly surprised to watch a blooming of lights appear out of nowhere and as if suspended in midair by nothing but the hopes and dreams of the onlookers below is magical. Although like any new technology, it will be normalized over time, but that moment was incredible. It was like watching the future unfold before your very eyes.

It’s the same feeling I got in 2007 when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. It was the same feeling I got when Microsoft revealed the Hololens. This is stuff that moves the bar farther forward than you even expect. And I’m not alone in that feeling.

Before I say what happened after the show, let me explain something about my father. He called me one day this year and asked for my help with his computer. It was a ten-year-old Pentium box running Windows Vista. I took a look and it was completely barren of junk ware. It was used for exactly three things: browsing the web, cutting out vinyl stickers, and editing photos using Paint Shop Pro 7. You’ve never heard of it? It came out sixteen years ago. He was having trouble accessing his favorite websites. The problem? They stopped supporting Internet Explorer 9. Although he is a genius in his own right when it comes to metal and paint as an auto body shop owner, and a naturally curious person in general, when it comes to most things with a computer he’s what you’d call pragmatic. On the adoption curve, he’s what you’d call a “late adopter.”

Walking back from the end of the Disney drone show, he was enthusiastically talking about all the possibilities of drones. I mentioned that Amazon was planning on using them at some point, and he said “Yeah! You could drive a truck out to a rural area, with drones all ready to go and they all fly out and in five minutes you’ve got two hundred packages delivered.” We talked about how they could have done it and further possibilities of the technology on our walk to dinner. With the typical Disney parental roles reversed, I drank in the look of possibility and wonder on his face.

That is the power of technology. It’s all about people, and it touches all of our lives, even those of us who don’t run out to buy the latest gadgets. We, the people who make technology, always need to keep that at the forefront of our minds. We have a responsibility to delight, to inspire, and to create good with the skills we possess.