The One Killer Feature Apple TV Needs Is Still Missing


From my Forbes blog:

As the new Apple TV video streamer debuts today, it is still missing the one key feature it needs to become a must-have device: TV programs and movies all its own.

The new version of Apple’s not-quite-a-hobby-anymore looks to be a major improvement over the existing hockey puck. It has a new remote control with a touchpad that will make Apple TV good for gaming, as well as voice control using Siri and an app store so other developers of games, video apps, and more can offer additional reasons to buy the device.

But most important, according to various reports, one most recently in Variety, Apple is currently exploring anew how it might boost Apple TV’s prospects by entering the growing fray in original video programming. Earlier, there were persistent reports that Apple would offer a Internet-based bundle of existing TV programming. But it’s believed that rights issues and a reluctance by programmers and networks to endanger their cash cows have stalled that service. “Original programming is the only solution to Apple’s biggest problem in the video world–that is, that nobody wants to sell Apple content rights,” says Forrester analyst James McQuivey.

Either way, it’s clear that Apple has designs on its own bundle of programming, especially programming no one else has, to drive more interest in all its devices. And now Apple TV may loom more important in that effort than it has so far. A stronger Apple move into television and online video is long overdue, but instead of the television set many people had expected for years, it appears that for now Apple TV is the horse the company plans to continue riding.

The challenge for Apple is that its rivals have galloped ahead of Apple TV, which hasn’t changed much in three years. … Given Apple TV’s solid but unspectacular base, original programming would offer the last piece that help recharge it into the home hub that Apple appears to want it to become. …

Read the complete post.

Billions Of Online Ads Are About To Die A Well-Deserved Death

From my Forbes blog:

Businesses that run annoying ads on your smartphone and laptop are about to get a rude awakening.

Not only are online ad blockers quickly gaining in popularity, now two very big companies will soon offer us new ways to avoid in-your-face video and animated ads, pop-ups, and other intrusive ads that plague our online existence.

Today, Sept. 1, Google will start blocking ads that use Adobe’s Flash software, employed widely by video advertisers, in its Chrome browser. And as early as next week, Apple is expected to release its new mobile operating software for iPhones and iPads that will allow the installation of apps that keep ads from appearing in its Safari Web browser.

These developments suggest a new era in which you’ll finally be able to zap annoying ads like those in the video above. For a variety of reasons, it’s unlikely that ad blocking alone will cause advertisers and publishers a big problem. But the fact that the two biggest forces in mobile phones are both cracking down on annoying ads means the online ad business is about to change in a big way. …

Read the rest of the post.

Behind The Would-Be Siri Killer Facebook M, A Battle Over AI’s Future

Facebook M

Facebook M

From my Forbes blog:

Facebook’s test release today of a digital assistant inside its Messenger app is a shot across the bow of the Internet’s biggest companies: Apple, Google, Microsoft, and It’s also the latest salvo in a high-stakes battle over the ways artificial intelligence should transform the way we live and work.

Facebook M is intended to allow users of Facebook Messenger to pose any query or service request in natural language and get a personalized answer immediately. The key wrinkle that sets it apart from Apple’s Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft Cortana is that there’s a team of human “trainers” who will step in when the machines aren’t quite up to the challenge.

So far, it’s only available to a few hundred people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and its timing and scope are unclear. But judging from a brief post by VP of Messaging Products David Marcus, Facebook M is clearly a major bid in a quickening battle to be the virtual assistant of choice, taking on not only Siri, Google Now, and Cortana, but also a raft of upstarts such as Luka, Magic, and Operator.

And in the mobile age, virtual assistants could prove to be the key product that will define which companies dominate the next decade of online services, just as search was for the past decade. “Whoever creates the intelligent assistant will be the first place people go to find things, buy things, and everything else,” former AI researcher Tim Tuttle, CEO of the voice interface firm Expect Labs, said last week.

But what’s even more interesting in the bigger picture is how Facebook M plays into a longstanding, fundamental battle over how artificial intelligence should be employed–one that has recently come into sharper focus. … The upshot: Until and unless AI gets so good that machines can anticipate what we want, people will remain a key component of truly intelligent online services.

Read the entire post.

With Android Pay, Google Closes Gap With Apple In Mobile Payments

From my blog:

Apple vaulted ahead of Google in mobile payments last September when it announced Apple Pay, its long-awaited entry into mobile payments. By comparison, the three-year-old Google Wallet looked tired and limited.

Now, Apple’s head start has nearly vanished. Today at its I/O conference in San Francisco for software developers, Google introduced Android Pay, a successor to Google Wallet that, when it launches this summer, will come close to matching Apple Pay for making payments via smartphones easy in stores and inside apps.

They won’t quite be identical. Apple Pay’s security system is somewhat different, and Android phones won’t have fingerprint identification like Apple’s until the new version of Android comes out this summer, and even then only on phones that have fingerprint I.D. capability. But they’ll be close enough that consumers should be comfortable using either one in largely the same way–and at the very same 700,000 store locations that have the right checkout terminals.

That’s a big step forward for Google’s mobile payment ambitions. A competitive mobile wallet is key for the search giant because the ability to pay with a couple taps on a smartphone will grease the e-commerce skids for app developers and marketers alike.

If you’re tuning into the mobile payments business recently, you might wonder if Google is simply copying Apple. Actually, it’s more the other way around. …

Read the entire post.

Did Apple Flub The Timing Of The Apple Watch?


From my Forbes blog:

The Apple Watch reviews are already in, and the verdict is pretty consistent: Apple’s long-awaited smartwatch looks great, but it’s slow, the interface is a little confusing, and too many of the apps are half-baked.

The decidedly mixed reviews are unusual for Apple, even for an entirely new product. I know there were people who panned the iPod and the iPhone when they were first released, but they were clearly idiots. This time, I’m not so sure.

In fact, the rather obvious and oft-mentioned negatives suggest that if another company had produced this smartwatch—impossible, since it doesn’t work unless you have an iPhone 5 or 6—the reviews would have been even more negative. Even the technorati seem unimpressed.

The muted enthusiasm—in some cases outright advice not to buy the current version—raises a central question: Did the company launch the Apple Watch, which will be available for pre-order Friday ahead of deliveries starting April 24, too soon? True, almost all the Apple Watch models were sold out within 30 minutes on Friday morning preordering, though as one story rightly puts it, “it is not clear whether this is due to relatively high demand or low production.” There were many reports in recent weeks about limited supplies, either because of manufacturing issues or because Apple was purposely limiting production.

Apple is sometimes criticized for being late to the party on some products, only to prove after it quickly kills most of the competition that its timing was actually perfect. A few people point out that the Apple Watch is also too late because other smartwatches and wearables from Samsung, Motorola, Fitbit and many others are already out. But a number of signs point to the opposite and very un-Apple-like problem: It’s too early.

Read the reasons why in the full post.

Apple Pay Has Finally Arrived! Great – But Here Are 7 Reasons It Won’t Be A Slam-Dunk Success


From my Forbes blog:

Judging from most of the coverage of  Apple Pay, the mobile wallet that launches Monday, you’d think Apple has already revolutionized the $4 trillion U.S. payments market before anyone has even used it in the wild.

It does look pretty slick, at least based on Apple’s own demonstration at the Sept. 9 event where it also debuted two iPhone 6 models and the Apple Watch. All that’s required to buy a burger and fries at McDonald’s or a tank of gas at Chevron, Apple CEO Tim Cook promised, is to hold an iPhone near a wireless reader at the checkout counter and press a thumb on the home button to activate Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor. In under 10 seconds, you’re out the door.

That would be a stark contrast to today, when using a mobile wallet from Google, PayPal, and others requires unlocking a phone, typing in a number, checking into a store, and various other steps–including waiting to see if it even works and trying another time or two when it doesn’t. Many merchants don’t even have checkout people who can tell you how it works. In several attempts in the past week or so, I went two for four: Google Wallet worked at Peet’s and Walgreen’s, though only after a couple of attempts, PayPal didn’t work at a local cafe where it was supposed to, and CVS didn’t work with either one. Even the clerk there didn’t know how the reader at the checkout counter worked.

But based on research into rival wallets and interviews with merchants, payment tech firms, and payments experts, it’s apparent that Apple Pay is far from a guaranteed success–at least if you judge success on what Apple CEO Tim Cook promised last month: “Apple Pay will forever change the way all of us buy things.” Here’s why there’s good reason to view Apple Pay with skepticism:

* You can’t use Apple Pay unless you buy an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. Apple uses a method to send data from a phone to a checkout reader called Near Field Communication, which is used in some 220,000 retail locations already for other wallets and new credit cards that use a chip to store information. Previous iPhone models didn’t have NFC, so you can’t use them (except for iPhone 5 models along with an Apple Watch, but not until next year). So not only is Apple Pay limited to iPhone users, it’s limited only to iPhone 6 buyers, who number at least 10 million so far and perhaps double that by the end of December.

That may well be enough to jumpstart Apple Pay usage and finally make the long-awaited mobile wallet a reality–for iPhone users. But no store will want to turn away users of Android or other phones who see the iPhone owner in front of them in line whisk through with a tap. “Merchants won’t want the PR hit of discriminating against Android users,” says Richard Crone, CEO of payments advisory firm Crone Consulting, who notes that there have been 50 million downloads of branded merchant apps and 90 million active banking app installs. “This will cause them to get religion quick around their own mobile wallet.”

* Cash and credit cards just aren’t that hard to use. Everyone takes cash, and most places of any size accept credit cards. Credit cards also survive getting wet or hot or sat on much better than phones. As payments expert Bill Maurer, dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of California at Irvine, said in my Apple Pay story, “All of these mobile wallets are looking for a problem to solve.” …

Read on for more challenges facing Apple Pay.

Why So Many People Are Mourning The Passing Of Doug Engelbart

From my Forbes blog:

Much of the latest generation of tech startups, and probably two generations before that, must wonder what’s with all the eloquent eulogies about Doug Engelbart, who died July 2 at age 88. He’s often called the father of the computer mouse, but he introduced the world to so much more that it’s hard to believe the innovations came from the mind of one man (thought it must be said, since he was a seminal proponent of computer-driven collaboration, that many colleagues added their own thinking and engineering to his vision).

Technologies that we still use today–videoconferencing, bitmapped displays, screen windowing, real-time text editing, hypertext that prefigured the World Wide Web, and, of course, the mouse–all were shown at what’s known as “the mother of all demos” at a computer conference in San Francisco in 1968. Steve Jobs, whose Apple Computer would refine and popularize many, but not all, of these technologies, was still a 13-year-old student at Cupertino Junior High.

I was fortunate enough to cross Engelbart’s path at least a couple of times, most recently at an event at Stanford University in late 2008 commemorating the 40th anniversary of that demo. The 1968 video of the demo still gives me tingles for the amazing breadth of technologies he and his colleagues marshaled at a time when computing was still done with punch cards fed into room-sized computers. If you haven’t seen it already, spend a piece of your holiday weekend checking it out.

But I was also blessed to have had a chance to interview him in person in 2003 for a story I wrote about my search for the next big thing in technology. I drove across the Dumbarton Bridge in the southern San Francisco Bay to Logitech, the maker of computer mice and other peripherals that provided him with an office. He seemed a little out of place at a company bustling with people a third his age.

Speaking softly but still with an urgent energy, Engelbart was generous with his time. As he sketched his latest thinking on his longtime quest to augment intelligence and speed up innovation of all kinds, I was alternately entranced and a little confused. I simply couldn’t get my arms around his “bootstrapping” vision of how to turbocharge innovation and raise our collective intelligence. I could tell he was a little frustrated not only with my struggles to understand, but also with what he viewed as the limited scope of innovation in latter-day Silicon Valley that he felt would benefit greatly from his ideas.

At some point, he sensed that my attention was flagging from the cognitive overload and decided to wind down the interview, though he offered with his unfailing politeness to follow up with me later as I continued my quest. I still regret not managing to get his thoughts into the story.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t quite grok the fullness of his vision, and he never got much support to turn it into something with widespread practicality. As a close friend of his, futurist Paul Saffo, told me after I interviewed Engelbart and confessed I didn’t quite get what he was saying, it’s a curse to be 50 years ahead of your time. Whether that’s tragic, as Tom Foremski believes, I’m not sure. Engelbart certainly got the credit he deserved, at least later in his life, if not the riches that so many people who piggybacked on his ideas did.

We need more people like Engelbart who can stretch their minds beyond the here and now, who are brave enough to keep pushing even when they’re not understood. The upside of his overreaching is that perhaps we’ve still only scratched the surface of what Engelbart envisioned. I won’t be surprised if decades after his death, innovations that leverage his thinking will be continuing to transform the world.