Last year, Intel began talking about a new category of super-thin notebook computers called the ultrabook. Here at the International Consumer Electronics Show, the company, the world’s biggest maker of computer chips, made it clear it plans to pour a lot of money and effort into turning ultrabooks into the next big computing phenomenon.
Ultrabooks are essentially an effort to bring to notebooks based on Microsoft’s Windows operating system the lightweight, thin design of Apple’s MacBook Air, a machine with the thickness of a short stack of papers. Intel knows a lot about the MacBook Air because it supplies the chips that run Apple’s product, but the company wants the much larger market of Windows-based notebooks to embrace the style of the Apple device too.
At a news conference on Monday here at the show, Intel said 75 new ultrabook designs are expected to be released in 2012. Intel executives demonstrated a few of the machines, all of which were very thin, often with eye-catching metallic cases like the MacBook Air’s. One design theme Intel pitched was the idea of a hybrid ultrabook-tablet, which has a traditional keyboard for intensive data entry and a touch screen for zooming in on photos and manipulating other software.
One of the wackier-looking designs Intel showed was a concept ultrabook it calls Nikishki. Below its keyboard, the device has a huge touchpad that runs the entire width of the machine, allowing users to switch easily to touch gestures from typing.
The touchpad is transparent so that when Nikishki is closed, you can see through the underside of the laptop. Through that window, you can view a portion of the computer’s display, which will allow you to glance at e-mails, news and calendar appointments the way many people do with their smartphones today.
Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC client group, said touch will no longer be confined to tablets and smartphones. But he said the presence of a keyboard will give ultrabooks greater versatility than those devices. “Ultrabooks with touch will be the ultimate solution,” he said.
Intel also said it was trying to create new ways of interacting with computers besides touch. The company cut a deal with Nuance to add voice recognition technology made by that company to ultrabooks.
Touch screens have been tried by Windows notebook makers in the past though, without much success. No one yet has proved that there is a meaningful market of people who want a hybrid notebook and tablet, although there are plenty of people who buy those as separate products.
Intel and its partners could have one advantage over Apple if they can bring the prices of ultrabooks down to mass market levels. Right now, most ultrabooks hover around the $999 starting price of the MacBook Air. “You will see pricing going down and down,” Mr. Eden said. “You will see ultrabooks going into mainstream price points.”
Intel is using its own cash to help accelerate the decline in ultrabook prices. Last year, it announced a $300 million ultrabook fund to subsidize the development of thinner components like displays and batteries that make ultrabooks possible.
Kevin Sellers, vice president for advertising and digital marketing at Intel, said the company would also pour an undisclosed amount of money into marketing the ultrabook category to create more consumer awareness of the devices. He said an ultrabook advertising campaign will start later this year, representing one of Intel’s most significant ever.
“It’s going to be very epic, very cinematic,” he said.
Here’s how a typical press interview with Steve Jobs used to go in the early 2000s. You wouldn’t be immediately ushered into his presence; you would be passed from PR person to PR person, corridor to corridor, waiting at each step, until you reached the inner sanctum.
You would often pass a fellow journalist on his way out, looking white as a sheet and shaking his head like he’d gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. You would mentally prepare your questions about the latest Apple product, knowing that Steve would bat them away like flies and say what he wanted to say.
And then there you were, with the man himself: black turtleneck, jeans, white trainers, spiky salt-and-pepper stubble, and those no-nonsense eyes that could look straight into your soul. You’d sputter out a question while he sipped from a bottle of Odwalla. Perhaps he would deign to answer politely, or perhaps he would interrupt: “that’s a stupid question. That’s not what we should be talking about.”
If you could survive twenty minutes of this without cracking, his demeanor would soften. If you were lucky, then just for a moment the mask would slip, and Steve would break into a broad smile. It was a grin that acknowledged the silliness of this interview game — and that you both loved playing your roles in it.
As a technology writer for Time magazine in the 1990s and 2000s, I went through this routine a dozen times. It’s easy to forget, but back then an Apple product launch was not a huge deal. The company was seen as struggling, a distant second to Microsoft, even years after Jobs had retaken the helm. I had to fight for a single page on the launch of the iPod in 2001, for instance, at a time when the headlines were all about war and terror.
But Jobs was always compelling. He was the news. His enormous passion for a product was unrivaled in any industry, before or since. As long as I could convey him on the page, Steve as he really was, Apple stories were an easy sell for my editors.
The Urgency of the Future
The more stories I did, the friendlier Steve got. He started calling me at home with story ideas and off-the-record information. He asked me to interview him on a video that would be broadcast at a Warner Music conference; this was when he was still trying to persuade the record labels to let him sell songs within iTunes.
I figured this meant we should start with a few softball questions about music in general, but Steve interrupted and got straight to the pitch: 99-cent MP3s would save the music industry. Of course, he was absolutely right, and of course, he got his way.
Here was a man who knew precisely what the future looked like, and had no patience for anyone or anything who got in the way. Not a second was to be wasted. The vision was too important. This is what he meant in that famous Stanford commencement speech: “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
Making Airplanes In the Sun
But there was a whimsical side to him, too. Once Steve tried to pitch me a story on the architecture of Pixar’s headquarters. It wasn’t new; he was just eager to show it off, and hounded me until I agreed to take a tour with him. We must have sat down in every room in the building, Steve grinning like a proud parent the whole time. I patiently explained why it probably wasn’t going to be in the magazine (this was before modern Web journalism and its infinite capacity for stories).
It didn’t faze him one bit. In his mind, it was a worthy story, and that was all that mattered. For Steve Jobs, every day was like Christmas morning, and nothing could shake that feeling.
My most enduring memory of him speaks to that fact too. It was a Saturday afternoon in Palo Alto, and I was having lunch with a friend in an Italian restaurant. Suddenly, Steve came in and ordered takeout. He was wearing a T-shirt and cut-off jeans, just another happy suburban dad.
He took his food and left, and as he walked down that beautiful leafy street, he stretched out his arms like an airplane — like he was flying into the sunshine.
For all the times I’ve seen him at the height of his powers on stage, and for all the sweat-inducing interviews, that is how I will remember Steve Jobs — completely confident and carefree, being just who he wanted to be, flying straight into the future.
The first thing to say about about Google’s new “online magazine” Think Quarterly is that it’s not a consumer magazine. It’s a marketing booklet sent to about 1,500 of its partners in the UK.
Google’s Think Quarterly magazine
The quarterly magazine is designed by creative agency The Church of London. It features no advertising and is free to view.
Yes, most of the content is produced by Google staffers – alongside contributions from the Guardian’s Simon Rogers, and others. But Google is no more a media company today than it was yesterday.
Update: Google nips any media notion in the bud. A spokesman says: “Like most companies we regularly communicate with our business customers via email newsletters, updates on our official blogs, and printed materials. This short book about data was sent to 1,500 of our UK partners and advertisers.
“There are only a limited number of copies, and they aren’t for sale or designed for anyone other than our partners – but anyone who’s interested can visit the companion website at www.thinkquarterly.co.uk.”
Matt Brittin, Google’s managing director in the UK and Ireland, wrote in Think Quarterly’s first issue:
“At Google, we often think that speed is the forgotten ‘killer application’ – the ingredient that can differentiate winners from the rest. We know that the faster we deliver results, the more useful people find our service.
“But in a world of accelerating change, we all need time to reflect. Think Quarterly is a breathing space in a busy world. It’s a place to take time out and consider what’s happening and why it matters.
“Our first issue is dedicated to data – amongst a morass of information, how can you find the magic metrics that will help transform your business? We hope that you find inspiration, insights, and more, in Think Quarterly.”
Google’s Think Quarterly magazine
Think Quarterly’s launch is timely. Earlier this week, the New York Times’ David Carr drew some salient points about the business Google and other Silicon Valley high-fliers are drifting towards.
He asked: “What company derives 96% of its revenue from advertising, has a video platform that is currently negotiating with the National Basketball Association, a movie studio and various celebrities, and is developing a subscription service that would be plug-and-play for publishers and consumers the world over. Time Warner? News Corporation? Viacom?”
The answer, of course, is Google. Carr adds: “Up and down its ranks, Google executives will tell you without fail that Google is not a media company, that its organises and manages content, but stays away from producing it.
“It’s an article of faith at the internet giant. But it’s also beginning to show strain as Google moves into new territory.”
The personal web publishing boom has led to an information explosion. It’s a data free-for-all, and it’s just beginning. Andrew Blau is a researcher and the co-president of Global Business Network in San Fransisco. Blau has foretold the changes in media distribution and content creation. Now he’s watching this new, historic emergence of first-person publishing.
Today, publishing tools have been set free, Blau says. Cost, ownership, and barriers to entry are all gone, almost overnight. “The ability to amplify one’s voice, to amplify that beyond the reach of what we have had, reflects a change of course in human history.” He pointed to the difficultly of sorting through the riot of voices online. What that chaos needed was curation — a way to get value out of the information flood. But the role of the curator has been a contentious one, and not everyone has been on board with the concept.
Who Gets Heard?
All big changes have unintended consequences. Blau says that the old problem — limited access to the tools to amplify speech — has been fixed by the Internet. It used to be that making and moving information was so expensive that the question of who was going to get permission to speak was a central social and political issue. But now speech is more democratic.
That development, not surprisingly, creates a new problem. “The problem is who gets heard,” Blau says. “The real issue that remains is access to an audience. Because that’s hard. Access to technology has become trivially easy for most people in the industrialized world, and increasingly easy for people in the emerging economies around the world.”
Blau is right: Speech is easy. Being heard is hard and getting even harder. Computers can’t distinguish between data and ideas or between human intellect and aggregated text and links. This lack of aesthetic intelligence in a storm of data changes the game.
Are Content Aggregators Vampires?
Okay, let’s get this part out in the open: Creators don’t like coloring inside the lines. They’re fueled by a passion to make original work. But there’s a reason why painters don’t rent a storefront, hire a staff clad in black clothing, and throw endless cocktail parties with white wine and fancy hors d’oeuvres. That’s called a gallery, and a gallery owner is a curator. These are the people who enjoy the process of choosing what to hang, how to price it, and how to make sure painters have enough income to pay the rent and buy more paint and canvas. Hopefully.
The web doesn’t work that way. At least not yet. The folks who run the online galleries — the curators — aren’t asking permission or giving a revenue share, which means that content creators need to get comfortable with the idea that in the new world of the link economy, curating and creating aren’t mutually exclusive. Exhibit A:Seth Godin. He is one of the web’s best-known marketing wizards. He’s a speaker, author, website owner and entrepreneur. And he says that content creators can’t ignore curation any longer.
“We don’t have an information shortage; we have an attention shortage,” Godin said. “There’s always someone who’s going to supply you with information that you’re going to curate. The Guggenheim doesn’t have a shortage of art. They don’t pay you to hang paintings for a show — in fact you have to pay for the insurance. Why? Because the Guggenheim is doing a service to the person who’s in the museum and the artist who’s being displayed.”
As Godin sees it, power is shifting from content makers to content curators: “If we live in a world where information drives what we do, the information we get becomes the most important thing. The person who chooses that information has power.”
This change is leaving folks who used to control distribution with less power to dictate terms. One of those folks is Mark Cuban. Cuban is a content creator. Or, more accurately, he owns assets that create branded content. He owns the Dallas Mavericks. He owns Magnolia Pictures. He owns HDNet. And he’s got a stake in a whole bunch of other stuff.
“The content aggregators are vampires!” said the always colorful Cuban. “Don’t let them suck your blood.” Cuban points to sites like Google News and The Huffington Post as the most aggressive content criminals. He tends to see no value in folks who gather, organize, summarize, or republish. He only finds value in content creation: “Vampires take but don’t give anything back.”
Not surprisingly, Godin wrinkles his nose at Cuban’s vampire metaphor. Simply put, he says it’s all wrong. “When a vampire sucks your blood, you make new blood,” Godin says. “The thing about information is that information is more valuable when people know it. There’s an exception for business information and super-timely information, but in all other cases, ideas that spread win. I’m not talking about plagiarism; I’m talking about the difference between obscurity and piracy. If the taking is so whole that the original is worth nothing … that’s a problem.”
Robert Scoble also disagreed with Cuban’s horror-movie metaphor. “That’s ridiculous. Cuban is fun to argue with, but it’s ridiculous. I mean come on, The New York Times is an aggregator of a thousand people’s work. More than that if you include letters to the editor, opinions, and guest posts and contracted posts and contracted articles. The New York Times has been doing aggregation for a hundred years. To say that’s a vampire is just totally ridiculous.”
The Billion Dollar Opportunity
Scoble has declared curation as the next “billion dollar” opportunity and wonders aloud as to whether he should “create or curate” as tech news breaks in Silicon Valley. Scoble says a curator is “an information chemist. He or she mixes atoms together in a way to build an info-molecule. Then adds value to that molecule.”
“I used to drink from the real-time fire hose, because on the social web, everything was about real time,” says Brian Solis, author of Engage. “Then I realized over the years that it’s actually more about right time than real time. In fact, when information comes through, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the right time to engage, capture it, and share it. I’m more successful now creating a list of information, relevant information, and then repackaging, repurposing, and broadcasting that information at the right time.”
Getting people to pay attention to you — by following, friending, linking, or otherwise engaging — will have real economic value, says communications consultant and author Chris Brogan. “Attention is a currency, just like many others. We understand time and money as two interchangeable things. But attention is just as much something that needs to be arbitraged and disconnected from a 1:1 value. Said another way, ‘Attention costs me time and time is worth money, so attention by extension is worth money.’ ”
Data will be created with staggering speed, and systems will need to evolve to find, gather, and package data so that you can get what you need, when you need it, in coherent and useful bundles.
Curation taps the vast, agile, engaged human power of the web. It finds signal in the noise. And it’s most certainly going to unleash a new army of web editors armed with emerging curation tools.
Whenever you bring up the idea that the cycle of innovation must, at some point, come to an end, you inevitably evoke the memory of Charles Duell. For the uninitiated, Duell was the commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in 1899 supposedly said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
We can all have a good laugh at Duell’s expense now (even though he may never have actually said that), but perhaps we shouldn’t. After all, isn’t Duell’s sentiment generally true in a lot of cases? For instance, have cars really changed that much since the ’50s? Sure, they’re more fuel efficient and they now have OnStar systems and USB ports, but they’re still basically the same — four tires that you operate with a steering wheel. They still (mostly) run on gas. They’ve been perfected, but are they fundamentally different?
Or take toasters. Is the toaster you could buy in 1971 really all that different from today’s? For all I know, toaster technology may have advanced dramatically since then, but as a consumer, there’s really not much difference. It took a minute or so to make toast 40 years ago, and it still does today.
So why do we expect social media to be any different? Simple. It’s because we have just come off a big spurt of growth and the natural inclination is to assume that’s going to continue forever. That’s just human nature. And that’s why this year’s South by Southwest conference is a bit of a comedown. Back in 2007, SXSW was the launching pad for Twitter. In 2009, it was Foursquare. This year? Nada.
But we’re not just having an off year. We’re at a new, more boring stage in the development cycle.
Such thinking runs counter to the ethos of social media, I realize, but consider that social media has really only been around in its current form since 2005 or so. The real innovation that spurred the social media movement is microblogging. Before Facebook added status updates, fewer people were blogging and responding to blogs. Every innovation since then has basically been a refinement, including:
Twitter: a network devoted exclusively to microblogging
Foursquare: mobile microblogging with information about your location
GetGlue: microblogging about TV programs
Instagram: visual microblogging
If the latter is the big innovation of SXSW this year, I can hypothosize that micro video blogging will rule in 2012, but this is more tweaking than anything brand new. (While 12seconds.tv ultimately failed in its micro video blogging endeavors, perhaps it was ahead of its time.)
Perhaps you object to this on the grounds that tech is somehow immune to the toaster innovation phenomenon. But what about personal computing? The industry took a quantum leap in 1984 when Apple introduced the Macintosh, but, seriously, how different is your Mac or PC today? Yes, the graphics are a lot better and it’s a hell of a lot faster, but there hasn’t been another innovation quite at the same scale as the graphical user interface. The iPhone was also a big jump for mobile in 2007, but all the smartphones since then have basically run with the idea of a touchscreen and mobile apps. The iPad? It’s nothing new: Tablet PCs have been around for 20 years. Apple just basically introduced a larger version of the iPhone. The iPad is very well designed of course, but, in the end, the device’s success is a feat of marketing.
So where does this leave us? Maybe with a more realistic sense of where social media is going. Yes, it’s going to be even more prevalent in 10 years. Yes, there will no doubt be lots of cool new technologies that bring microblogging to new arenas, but you’re not going to see another Twitter or Facebook. Maybe everything that could be invented hasn’t, but, in social media, all the important things have.
Apple’s new Smart Cover for the iPad 2 is one of the most interesting protective cases yet, not because of the clever magnet design, but rather the aggressive business strategy behind it.
The iPad 2 is 33 percent thinner than the original iPad; a significant design difference. That means first-generation iPad cases won’t fit on the new iPad. And when the iPad 2 ships March 11, Apple, the only company that’s had direct access to the iPad 2, will be the only vendor selling a case made to fit the product just right.
That gives Apple a few weeks to rake in juicy profits with the $40-$70 Smart Cover before third-party case manufacturers whip up other variations of protective accessories for the iPad 2. Keep in mind the most sales for a product typically come on launch day, plus Apple retail stores carefully select which third-party cases they display on shelves. With the Smart Cover, Apple can potentially create a temporary pseudo-monopoly on protective cases for the iPad 2, bringing in millions of dollars in profits to pad hardware sales.
This isn’t the first time Apple has enjoyed a head start on accessories. Apple shipped its own “Bumper” cases for the iPhone 4 (which probably didn’t work out so well because of Antennagate and the free case program), and Apple also sold cases for the original iPad when it launched.
Still, the Smart Cover is Apple’s hardest push in the accessories game yet. The marketing behind it is intense. Apple devoted an entire webpage and video just for the Smart Cover, embellished with some truly over-the-top ad copy: “A magnetic attraction.” “An on-again, off-again relationship.” “A cover that’s smart. And bright.” “That’s not just smart. It’s genius.”
To be fair, it’s a well-designed cover, and the ability to prop up the iPad at an angle makes it easier to type on a touchscreen. But it’s a plastic cover with a magnet on it, people.
Steve Jobs even noted that the case is made of polyurethane, “which is used to make spacesuits.” Polyurethane is also used to make some condoms, baby toys, carpet underlayment and mattress filling, facts which Jobs neglected to mention.
Jokes aside, Apple’s accessory strategy might point to a change in its hardware evolution.
In the past, Apple only gave major makeovers to Macintosh computers every three or four years; the smaller upgrades in between would be incremental improvements in chip speeds and other small features. The iPhone also didn’t get a hardware revamp until the iPhone 4.
So it’s peculiar that the iPad 2’s design is so different, just one year after the first iPad. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal claims the iPhone 5 will have a “different form factor” than the iPhone 4. Maybe we’ll see more rapid hardware design changes occurring in Apple’s mobile products, partly motivated by Apple’s desire to compete in the accessories game.
That’s wishful thinking, as it would make each Apple announcement a bit more exciting, so long as you’re not an avid upgrader who always buys a case.
Hop into this Ego Compact Semi Submarine, and without any extensive training you can be on your way to exploring the deep blue sea in no time.
Why is this called a semi-submarine? The entire boat is not submerged, but it’s more like a pontoon boat with a transparent waterproof compartment hanging from its middle.
That means James Cameron is not going to be using one of these subs for that deep-water shoot for his Avatarsequel, but it’s still suitable for giving you an eye-popping view of the undersea world. Think of it as more akin to snorkeling than scuba diving.
The little boat cruises along at a leisurely sightseeing pace that’s unspecified by its maker, which will only say that its batteries will last eight hours at cruising speed or four hours at top speed.
It’s built by South Korean company Raonhaje, which plans to sell fleets of these Ego Semi-Submarines to resorts, and single units to individuals and yacht owners. The company offers to build custom moorings for the craft, as well as hoists for yachts.
We’re thinking super-safe leisure subs like these would be a huge hit at a resort, especially seaside marinas near coral reefs, with their colorful and bustling underwater wildlife. Just think, even people who can’t swim can enjoy the spectacular view.