Wild Guess: Mac OS X Lion will “run on” iPads with iOS5

So, 10.7 turns out to have true multiuser support — as in it turns your Mac into a time-shared system. And it has Mac OS X Server’s functionality built-in. And it has a bunch of convenient file-sharing functionality tailored to iOS users (iPad users in particular).

Hmm. What’s something that Apple does that none of the Android crowd (HTC, Samsung, LG, etc.) do that would provide huge synergy with iOS products? Apple makes Macs. (Note that while Google certainly knows a lot about servers, Google’s one major foray into the consumer OS market is the “browser as OS” — not something that will naturally extend to a time-shared home-server.)

Right now, the best remote-controlled media device in our house is a Mac Pro (with Netflix and Hulu). Why? Because we can use any iOS or Mac OS X device in the house to screen share it (VNC for non-Apple folks) and we never lose them (as of this moment, one of our two TiVo remotes is missing and we just found our Roku remote after losing track of it for nearly a year — and TiVo support among third-party remotes sucks, while Roku support is non-existent). There are many really nice screen-sharing clients for iOS, some special purpose (such as TouchPad) and others general-purpose (such as my current favorite, Remoter, currently on sale for $0.99 — and no I am not getting paid anything to link to either product).

Just yesterday I was trying to set a new profile picture in Facebook using my iPad in the living room and I realized that Facebook’s cropping UI isn’t usable on a touch-screen. So I logged onto the Mac upstairs and made the change from my iPad in a couple of minutes. It was a little clumsy — the Mac is running at 1920×1080 so there’s a fair bit of pinching involved, and I had to figure out how “click and drag” works on my screen sharing app (since it was the first time I’d needed it). But screen sharing onto a machine with a much larger display is always fiddly.

So, suppose this kind of thing gets built into iOS5 at a deeper level. Now, your iPad is, among its many virtues, a Mac OS X tablet running at native resolution. (But but but… scream the Linux/Android fans, we can VNC onto Ubuntu… yeah.)

Oh, out of curiosity, I wonder how well the new OSX gestures and UI elements work when used entirely by screen sharing from a touch-based device?

This also dovetails nicely with rumored improvements to MobileMe and making the “back to my mac” feature from MobileMe free. (Oh yeah, and I guess you can use Flash conveniently on your iPad if you really want to.)

But wait, there’s more!

What might a future device that supports iOS and Mac OS X device look like (or to put it another way, what does OS X look like when it becomes “legacy”)? Two different login shells on the same OS core. Now you can boot up your Macbook Touch (MacPad? TouchBook?) and launch into iOS by default. Or you can log into OSX by default. Either way, you can get to “the other side” either by “fast switching” or by “screen sharing”.

So in summary, perhaps what 10.7 is really about, from a UI perspective, isn’t copying iOS UI elements back to Mac OS X for its own sake so much as making 10.7 offer deep usability from touch-based devices so that you can enjoy OS X while logged into your Mac from your iPad 2.

iPhone Nano, NoWin, and Other Stories

Apple is, according to Bloomberg, working on an iPhone that’s one-third smaller than th current model (one half, according to WSJ) that will sell without contract for $200 (or presumably with ridiculous incentives, such as buy one get one free, with a contract). The question is, if this is true, how does it not create fragmentation in iOS land?

The answer is pretty simple. It could be an iPod Touch with a microphone and a cell phone radio. In other words, an iPod Touch that can make phone calls and use WiFi but which does not have a 3G modem. For bonus points it could easily be thinner than an iPhone 4 and smaller without sacrificing screen size (which is how to avoid fragmentation).

Of course Apple could just sell a tiny 3GS (or even a tiny iPhone 4). Especially if the iPhone 5 has some kind of ridiculously compelling advantage over the iPhone 4/3GS (remember that most iPhone 4 users will not upgrade this year) — e.g. twice the CPU and GPU and RAM, all of which is totally plausible.

Post Script: if Apple starts selling unsubsidized $200 iPhones comparable to a 3GS or 4, they can turn the US cell phone market (where almost everyone upgrades every two years and is locked to carriers) into the European market (where everyone upgrades constantly and few are locked to vendors). Assuming they can maintain decent margins, this could be a huge play and get Apple where it always wants to be — selling great products to end users.

P.P.S: the NY Times has debunked these rumors. (But if Apple is planning on releasing said phones just before Christmas then the NY Times could be right without the WSJ and others being entirely wrong.)

NoWin

My first, second, third, and I think fourth cell phones were Nokias. The first was a behemoth that barely fit in a jacket pocket, could last for maybe six hours on standby but drastically less if you actually made calls with it, and had no features beyond storing contacts (and making phone calls) and potentially allowing a 4800 bps modem to be attached (a factor in choosing it which I never took advantage of). I remember envying my friends’ Ericssons for their minuscule size and superior audio quality, but deciding I had the better deal after trying to make sense of their menus.

It’s a testament to how good Nokia’s original menu system was that it survived so many years and generations of phones essentially unchanged without Nokia going out of business, but you can only sleep at the wheel for so long. (And we don’t know how long yet — a year from now Nokia will still have serious market share and may be shipping Android phones for all we know.)

My last cell phone was a Motorola RAZR*. Nice hardware (although its case was made of pieces whose color and finish didn’t match). It’s a testament to just how incompetent the cell phone handset industry that a product with such an awful menu system could dominate the market for two or three years. My RAZR offered “3G”, apps (written in Java), email, a web browser, and video. It only failed to be a “smart” phone because it lacked a qwerty keyboard. Oh, and all the features sucked. It was a decent phone though.

* The iPhone is, of course, not a phone but a pocket computer with a mediocre phone built in.

I think the NoWin alliance makes sense for Nokia if, and only if, it leaves Nokia free to switch to other options in a reasonable time frame and Nokia is exploring them right now. There’s no question that WP7 at least potentially offers a far superior end-user experience than Android. (Android phones and tablets still aren’t as fluid as lower-powered iOS devices — expecting Google to fix it Real Soon Now is as stupid as expecting Adobe to fix Acrobat. If they could have, they would have.)

In a sense, WP7s “failure” in the market thus far probably plays in favor of Nokia’s decision. If WP8 (say) rocks, it will help differentiate Nokia in ways Android never would or could have even if Nokia could somehow ship Android phones in a timely manner.

(And if getting the latest version of Android running on a new cell phone is so easy, how come the handset makers most invested in Android seem to have so much trouble doing it?)

I’m guessing Nokia had three obvious alternatives — MeeGo, Android, and WP7. (Their best alternative was buying Palm before HP got to it. Oops. Didn’t think we had a problem back then.) The question was, which will get us back in the game fastest with a good enough product? My guess is that Nokia hadn’t even really figured out how to get Android working on some of their existing handsets. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple has Android working on iPhone hardware and iOS working on Android hardware.) If Nokia could flip a switch and start shipping Android handsets in three months, say, they’d probably have gone that way.

I’m guessing the equation went like this — if we go Android we need to build or retrain a team to do the transition and in twelve months we’re a second tier Android vendor… Maybe. If everything works perfectly. If we go Microsoft… Oh wow MS just demoed WP7 working on five of our handsets, WTF? They said they’d do all the heavy lifting.

(As an aside, this is exactly how NeXT did an end-run around the stalled Apple-BeOS deal.)

In short, I’m guessing the reason Nokia went with Microsoft is that Microsoft basically offered to do the software part for them (that’s the “billions” Nokia gets from the deal). Nokia can retrain its existing software people or simply fire them, doesn’t matter, they’re not on the critical path. The key thing Microsoft offered that Android did not is Google’s classic failing and Microsoft’s classic strength — tech support.

Google offered a product, Microsoft offered a solution.

Pay peanuts. Get monkeys.

Yesterday on AppleInsider, Daniel Erin Dilger shows that at least some of Android’s explosive growth is actually from Chinese forks of Android that aren’t part of the Android ecosystem (e.g. aren’t compatible with Android apps) and don’t benefit Google (e.g. don’t channel user search and maps through Google services).

Dilger, whose pro-Apple sentiments make John Gruber, say, seem like Paul Thurrott or perhaps Richard Stallman, tends to be very diligent in his research (and, like some of us, he has a long memory). His article makes three major points and backs them up well:

  • OMS is not Android.
  • Tapas is not Android.
  • Google’s handset market share includes large contributions from platforms that simply aren’t Android and don’t benefit Google.

Of the main Android vendors known here in the US (Samsung, LG, HTC, and Motorola), only HTC (coming off a very low base) has seen significant unit growth from 2009 to 2010 (Motorola and LG have actually gone backwards, and Samsung has gained sales but lost market share). The astronomical growth attributed to Android comes from handset makers in the “Other” category.

“Other” turns out to mostly comprise cell phones made in China for the Chinese market using OMS and Tapas, which are derived from Android but not interoperable and not tied to Google services. Dilger puts it thus: “Calling Tapas a version of Android is like calling Baidu a version of Google or Youku a version of YouTube.” This is perhaps a bit unfair — you could probably install vanill Android on one of these phones if you wanted to. It would probably be more similar to suggest that Chrome is a version of Safari.

It follows that Android’s alleged growth is basically fictional. The most charitable conclusion is that a minimum of 400,000 Android handset sales are in fact OMS/Tapas sales.

From looking over people’s shoulders here — and you may recall that I talked to the UPS driver who delivered my iPad and it seems like the Apple produce consumption rates here in Tuscaloosa AL seem to be a reasonable placeholder for the US as a whole — I see nearly as many Androids as iPhones in use.

Stat Counter Mobile Browser Share (late January 2011)
Stat Counter Mobile Browser Share (January 2011)

Now, bear in mind that these are raw, unweighted scores and that the vast majority of Stat Counter’s numbers come from US servers. The figures for China show UCWEB way out in front, having taken share away from Nokia (distant second) with iPhone (third) and Android (fourth) slowly climbing. The iPod touch figures in the above chart are interesting — I’m not sure if they include iPads or not. It looks like Opera got a sudden uptick for some reason which came at the cost of iPhone and iPod Touch, but that these have rebounded. I’m guessing we’re seeing some weird kind of sample bias.

Here’s the main takeaway point: Android’s share has gone from 4.5% to around 14.2% in a year. But supposedly 6-8x as many Android devices have been sold (and the existing installed base was small), so where are all these phones? The fact that Android mobile browser share has grown so much (without the help of China, where measured Android usage is still tiny) suggests that Dilger is reading too much into the Chinese component of “other”. On the other hand, if a huge proportion of Android cell phones were sold in the last twelve months, why has Android market share less than tripled?

I suggest that there’s a huge unmeasured factor here: the number of Android cell phones returned or exchanged. How many Android users are on their third or fourth phones? Given the rate of release of new Android models and the ability of consumers to return phones, pay a restocking fee, and get a brand new phone, I would suspect that a lot of phones get bought, activated, and then exchanged for a new phone. This is probably compounded by the fact that most Android phones are presented in Best Buy, etc., as inert plastic bricks. The end-user doesn’t find out how clunky the phone is until he/she has had it a day or two. I’d played with several iPhones for a couple of hours before I decided to buy.

Samsung and Microsoft tout “units shipped”.

Google touts “activations”.

You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. (I believe that’s from Guy Kawasaki.)