WhatsApp Voice Calls Aren’t a Big Deal

The newly-acquired WhatsApp plans to add voice calls to its service.

Here’s a link to an NBC News article about the new feature.

And here’s a quote:

The news that the most powerful of them was adding voice calls to its service will likely be seen as worrying for telecom operators globally, which got about $120 billion from text messaging last year, according to market researcher Ovum.

Here’s why I don’t think this move is worrying anybody.

Cell phone minutes — especially those on a smartphone — are things many haven’t had to keep track of since 2007. Ever since the modern-day smartphone came to be, voice communication has taken a hit and text/data communication has gone up.

Remember when we had a finite number of minutes, a finite number of text messages and unlimited data? Fast forward to present day, and we have unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and data caps.

Voice isn’t where the money’s at for carriers anymore. Texts aren’t raking in the bucks, either. It’s data.

The smarter our smartphones get, the more data we’ll use and the more carriers will be able to charge. WhatsApp voice calls will need data. And we’ll still need to pay for line access so our smartphones can be phones when necessary. So carriers will get their money regardless of how we use their networks, and maybe a little more.

The only thing that could possibly worry carriers is free, ubiquitous Wi-Fi, because it would allow consumers to bypass carriers entirely. Good luck getting that.

Some Thoughts on the Next Apple TV

According to the folks at 9 to 5 Mac, we could be getting a new Apple TV in the first half of this year.

From 9 to 5 Mac:

The reference is inside of an Apple TV framework related to the device’s AirPlay functionality. The mention of the next Apple TV is the highlighted “AppleTV4,1.” The current Apple TV is “AppleTV3,2? while “3,1? is the 1080P model introduced in March 2012, and 2,1 is the first iOS model introduced in September 2010.

The most current version of the Apple TV, the 2012 model, runs on a single-core Apple A5 and contains 512 MB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. In terms of processing power and memory, it comes in near the iPhone 4S or the iPad 2.

With games and apps becoming more demanding, those specs aren’t going to fly if Apple plans to do more with the Apple TV. Now’s the time to significantly update the company’s “hobby” box.

Obviously, upgraded hardware is important. I think Apple will bring the next Apple TV in line with the iPhone 5S and iPad Air. If we’re going to get apps and games — especially games that give consoles a run for their money — the next Apple TV will need more powerful guts.

Can Apple beef up the specs and still keep the price at $99? That’s the big question. I wouldn’t put it past the company to work some magic, but this could be a $149 or $199 Apple TV.

If that’s the case, we might see the current 2012 model stay at $99 for those who only want to stream music, movies and TV shows.

As for the rumor about the TV tuner — that is entirely possible. With HDMI-in, the Apple TV can act as a sort of “middle man” and pass content from a cable or satellite box through to a TV; the perk being that we interact with an Apple user interface instead of the default cable box UI.

I believe that Apple, at one time, wanted to play a bigger part in delivering live TV content. Unfortunately, it’s an enormous industry that is extremely resistant to change. The pass-through model (that is also used by the Xbox One) is probably the best we’re going to do for a while.

WWDC is coming this June, so Apple could either announce before that (say, March or April) or at the conference itself. Then we’ll see what Apple really has planned for TV.

The Twitter & Pocket Experiment

One of the things I really hated losing when Google started its Google+ push was the sharing feature inside Google Reader. Over the course of a few years, I had developed a pretty good list of users to follow, and I barely had to read my own feeds, as they were reading and sharing all of the good stuff. That feature was dropped, and it forced me to start sifting through content on my own.

Fast forward to tonight. I had been wanting to completely wipe out my Reader subscriptions and start from scratch, and I finally did it. Right around that same time, I was poking around and checking out the new features of IFTTT. When I saw I could create a trigger from a friend’s tweet that contains a link, the gears started turning. Could I potentially replace the Google Reader shared articles functionality by automatically saving links from Twitter?

So tomorrow, I kick off a one-day experiment to see how well the 1,000+ people I follow curate content. Every link tweeted out by someone I follow will be saved as a new item in my Pocket account, where I can read it on my own time without having to keep my head submerged in the Twitter stream, or go through a bunch of feeds myself. There will always be items I’m not interested in, but my biggest concern at this point is the sheer number of links that will likely accumulate. I’ll take a screenshot tomorrow. It’ll probably be frightening.

Check back tomorrow for results.

Scratching the Surface

So, the Microsoft Surface.

There are some reasons to be very excited about Microsoft’s jump into the tablet wars. There are also reasons to shelve whatever optimism you have about the product. It’s apparent that Microsoft is taking a few pages out of the Apple playbook. My beef: it isn’t taking enough of them.

Look at yesterday’s event. For the number of great products Microsoft has put out over the years, not one event has experienced the buildup and excitement that Apple generates, particularly because Microsoft never tries. For Apple, a product unveil is a well-orchestrated affair. It’s drama. It’s watching an elaborate magic trick and feeling legitimate excitement during the prestige. Microsoft launches… not so much.

But Redmond shook things up this time around. It added some mystery to the event. It intrigued. It had the tech press abuzz in a way it hasn’t been able to achieve for a long time. And when it pulled the curtain away and showed off the Surface, a lot of people liked what they saw. And, from what I’ve seen, without specs to go off of or any kind of feel for the device, it looks very nice. The Metro UI is great — I’m a fan of it on Windows Phone 7 — and the keyboard covers are nice additions.

I fear, though, the devices will suffer from the same issues that have plagued past Microsoft products, as well as other tablets that have tried to take on the iPad:

  • Inconsistent, confusing branding
  • A focus on features instead of use cases
  • No compelling reason to choose over an iPad
  • Microsoft is releasing two versions of Surface, each run by a different architecture, each packing different operating system features, and each with a different full product name. Simplicity is not Microsoft’s forte.

    One of the big missteps Android tablet manufacturers make is that they sell features instead of use cases. Look at any Apple ad. They aren’t selling the processor or RAM. They’re selling the experience. Microsoft needs to do this. I don’t think they will.

    Consumers have given two past platforms a shot to build up developer support, and have been bitten by both; the HP TouchPad was discontinued, and the BlackBerry PlayBook is dead in the water. Microsoft will now attempt to woo devs to Metro for tablets. If Microsoft can’t get developers on board, consumers won’t have many compelling reasons to pass on an iPad, or even an Android tablet.

    Microsoft channeled as much Apple as it could for its big day, but when it came time to offer up details, there weren’t many to be had. This is a place Microsoft needs to improve. Apple can build buzz and capitalize on it with quick launches. Microsoft (and Google does this too) tips its hand months in advance and releases the product after the furor has died down. By the time Surface releases, the market could be full of Android devices ready to eat its lunch, and a new iPad could be right around the corner.

    I guess we’ll see in the coming months how for-real the Surface is. I want to believe that Microsoft is putting more of an emphasis on design and hardware/software integration, but the way they’ve handled a few things so far has me feeling some déjà vu in a bad way.

    Post-WWDC Crow Eating

    So hey, guess what didn’t happen today?

    No upgrade to the Apple TV software (which is basically a special version of iOS). No Apple TV SDK for app developers. Zilch. An entire section of the 2 hour keynote presentation focused on iOS and products like the iPhone and iPad, but the Apple TV was shown just a brief moment of love — a few seconds where the new AirPlay mirroring feature in Mountain Lion was demoed.

    Does this spell the end for Apple’s rumored push into television? I don’t think so. Apple likes to put a focus on media in the fall, and that might be a great time to blow the doors open on some Apple TV changes and help move some units going into the holiday season. Or Apple could just keep teasing everyone with it. Either or.

    (Quick sidenote: Check out this article from AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka about how the Apple TV revolution might actually come in the form of AirPlay and app-mirroring — a damn good theory.)

    I’m pretty impressed with the changes coming in iOS — specifically the way Siri’s knowledge is being beefed up. As a sports fan, I’ll definitely be making use of Siri’s new ability to fill you in on scores and stats. The ability to tweet using Siri also made it into iOS 6 — a welcome addition, and one that was inexplicably left out of iOS 5. Siri also makes the jump to the 3rd generation iPad (which is the one thing I predicted correctly out of 603 words).

    On the notebook side of things, the spec bumps for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines are pretty par for the course. They usually get an annual refresh, and this was it. The next-generation MacBook Pro, though — wow. Apple went all out, and it shows in the $2199 price tag. On one hand, I know people are going to pay that, and I know the margins on the new MBP are likely huge and Apple will be just fine. But it’s a bit baffling that Apple would stick hard to a $499 iPad price point, but let the MacBook Pro’s price get out of hand.

    Mountain Lion got a significant amount of time in the spotlight, too. OS X and iOS continue to bleed together, as Messages, Notes, Reminders, Game Center, and Notification Center make their way into Apple’s desktop operating system. The ability to use AirPlay to mirror your computer’s screen to an Apple TV might be the most interesting addition, and one that Hulu might not be too pleased about.

    Overall, WWDC’s 2012 keynote brought some cool new features to both OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6, and provided some nice spec bumps to the notebook lines. I’m still not sold on the new MacBook Pro, but we’ll have to wait and see how it’s received and check back on it in a quarter or two.

    The iTV? It’s the Apple TV

    I could be proven very wrong come December, when the supposed iTV is rumored to be launching, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Apple is not entering the TV set business anytime soon.

    That’s not to say that the industry isn’t ripe for disruption; it is, but I don’t see that being the case on the hardware side of things. Television sets themselves are increasing in quality and decreasing in price rapidly, and if 3D taught us anything, it’s that the TV is one device people aren’t looking to replace as often as, say, a smartphone. Again, the sets themselves are good in terms of hardware. It’s the user interface that no one seems to be able to get right, and that’s not just the fault of TV manufacturers, but of cable and satellite set-top box manufacturers, too.

    But why should Apple get into the low-margin TV hardware business to fix that when it can sell TV owners a better experience for $99?

    The current Apple TV is plenty capable in terms of hardware; it just hasn’t had the software in place to start a revolution. The new UI upgrade that came with the March model is a step in the right direction, but there’s no arguing that, at this moment in time, the Apple TV actually offers less than competing boxes like the Roku. There are fewer content sources available by default, and there’s no system in place to add new ones.

    I think this will be rectified in a few weeks at next month’s Worldwide Developers Conference, a place where Apple regularly unveils important chances to the iOS platform that powers devices like the iPhone, iPad, and, yes, the Apple TV. Here’s what I’m expecting for the Apple TV:

    • App Store (finally)
    • Siri voice control through Siri-enabled devices like the iPhone 4S… and the 3rd generation iPad, which I believe will be blessed with Siri in the next iOS version
    • Partnership announcements with cable TV providers where the Apple TV acts as a IPTV set-top box (much like the Xbox 360 is doing with Comcast and Verizon FiOS) — the perk here being that Apple controls the user interface

    Three big upgrades and three ways for Apple to finally assert itself with the Apple TV. No more playing around. Support for applications that can finally begin to tap the potential hidden inside the Apple TV for years. Siri to give you a faster way to navigate through your content (“Play ‘Quantum of Solace,’ please”), both from the Internet and from your cable TV provider. And yes, cable. An Apple-designed interface to smoke the user interface on that Motorola box you rent from your cable provider. I hope this is the area that Steve Jobs cracked, because it’s been very bad for a very long time.

    To me, it would make sense when adding Siri integration for Apple to also put out an upgraded remote with an embedded microphone (keep in mind — the 3rd generation Apple TV has a Bluetooth chip!), but Apple could also decide to leave that as a perk for users who are part of the mobile iOS ecosystem.

    WWDC isn’t too far away (June 11), so we’ll find out fairly quickly how right or wrong I am with these predictions. I just don’t see the TV set industry as one Apple would jump into when it can insert itself into the conversation with its $99 “hobby” box, an OS upgrade, and the tireless work of its innovative developer community.

    What I’d charge if I ran Hulu

    Rumor has it that Hulu wants to squeeze more than just ad dollars out of its service.  It just so happens that I love kicking these ideas around in my head.  Put the two together and, well… here you have it.

    If I ran Hulu, I’d charge $4.99 a month to subscribe to a show with ads, $7.99 a month without ads.  You’d get the newest shows plus the entire back catalog.  And, here’s a biggie – I’d let you watch it on your TV.

    Short clips would stay as-is – the ones that go viral bring enormous amounts of attention to their respective shows.

    I’d make a free iPhone app available so that you could watch the shows you’ve subscribed to on the go.

    Now, it’s probably a longshot that you’ll see any of these moves made, at least not in the near future.  These would put Hulu head-to-head with the same cable companies that pay to carry the networks.  But if I ran Hulu, I’d worry less about maintaining the status quo.  I’d worry more about the future and I’d make sure my business was ahead of the curve, not playing catch up.

    Go for the grand slam

    I’m confused as to why startups flood into new areas with little, if anything, to add. A neat little app or web service comes out and, like clockwork, it’s immediately met by a bunch of “me too’s”.

    What’s the point?

    If you come to play with something that’s only a *little* better than what is already offered, you aren’t making a very compelling case for users to switch. Most will stay with what they’re already invested in.

    That’s why you need to go for the grand slam. If it means taking some more time to get your app out there for the world to experience, take that time. Make it something that people *want* to try out and *want* to stick with.

    It’s either that or waste your time building the next deadpooled project. The choice is yours.

    What’s next?

    With Abuzz development winding down (after a small delay), I’ve been wondering what project I’ll take on next.  This isn’t to say that Abuzz won’t be improved upon and future releases won’t come out – the app will still own some of my life.  But what will own it after that?

    I could do another iPhone app.  I have some ideas I’ve been kicking around and it doesn’t look like anyone else is doing them.  Plus, after Abuzz, I feel confident that I could manage such a project and do so more smoothly.  That route is open, but I’m currently looking in a different direction.

    I want to do something disruptive.

    Dell Support, you rock

    Dell Studio

    A terrible, terrible thing happened last night – my spacebar stopped working on my Dell Studio laptop.

    Think about it for a second.  The spacebar is one of the most crucial keys on the keyboard.  Without it, yoursentenceslooklikethis.  Bad news for someone who writes as much as I do.  I was able to plug a USB keyboard in and continue working but I really don’t feel like carrying a spare keyboard with my laptop everywhere I go.

    Here’s where Dell Support comes in.  Earlier this morning I pinged a support specialist via their online chat service and explained my spacebar issue.  He checked my Service Tag, confirmed that I was still under warranty and informed me that a replacement keyboard would arrive by Wednesday.  He then linked me to a web page with instructions on how to replace my existing keyboard (a relatively easy process).

    All of this in about ten minutes.

    With any luck, I’ll only have to use this full-sized keyboard for another day or so.  I’ll have a new one installed in my laptop by the middle of the week and, by the time Podcamp Pittsburgh 4 rolls around on Saturday, I’ll be ready to put the spacebar to work once again.

    Thanks, Dell Support.  You rock.