Thursday, August 28, 2008

A World Without Microsoft and Apple

Sometimes I really feel like I'm slow to pick up on things, but then suddenly it hits me and strategies other companies have been working on make complete sense. I mean, I always thought the strategy was a good idea, but I typically didn't see the undeniable compelling reason for the strategy... until later. Today it revolves around the World Wide Web.

The web is an amazing thing. Yes, it's amazing because of all the user generated content, the copious amounts of tutorials, the ability to buy something from the other side of the world and much more. However, the most amazing part is that they're all built off the same language: HTML. Unlike current operating systems, everyone uses the same language when programming a website. Sure, sites get to HTML differently, but in the end it's all displayed exactly the same. That's amazing!

Thanks to this standard, this means is that if you create a product that can display HTML, you can display web content. That's why there's Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari, Opera and many more browsers. However, we're also starting to see browsers on other systems as well, like our cells phones, Unix and our gaming consoles.

This means that you don't need Windows or OSX to view web sites.

Furthermore, as bandwidth becomes faster and web programming becomes more advanced, we'll be able to do more and more within our browser. We can already do everything Microsoft Office offers (though not as feature rich... yet) and even Adobe has aPhotoshop capable website now. Eventually, we'll be able to do 90% of we normally do on our computer within a browser, and then the device we use won't matter.

Furthermore, the browser itself might become antiquated for something more robust. Widgets are already starting to blur the browser line and I'm willing to be that something else will come along which will act as the tipping point for the death of our Microsoft-Apple Duopoly.

So as the web becomes more advanced, I fully expect to see competing operating systems that only offer a browser. I expect Microsoft and Apple to specialize in high-end programs while people do regular activities on a myriad of other devices andOS's. For consumers this is awesome.

This is why the strategies of these companies suddenly makes sense:

Microsoft wants to establish itself on the Internet. They realize that the value isn't in the browser, as I just showed, but in what people view through the browser. Now, I don't think Microsoft is executing their strategy very well, but I like where they're headed.

Apple is trying to establish their operating system on other devices with iPhone and AppleTV. They've also created MobileMe which is an attempt to bridge the gap between their operating system and the web. I think they'll do a good job establishing an ecosystem for media, but beyond that I'm not sure.

Google realizes that they are rooted in the web and are trying like mad to create similar applications found on desktops. They want to be that driver of change in the hopes of neither Microsoft or Apple catching up. This is partly why Google is making Android - they want to show people that it's about the applications and they can be operating system agnostic.

Of course, then there's XML which is an open-standards way of saving data. Imagine this: I can view my data (say, email) on any web page that will accept my data (Gmail,mobileMe, MSN , etc.). Then the competition will be for browsers that perform the best and websites that let me work with my data the best. I should be able to flow freely between browsers, websites and devices without any change in my data.

Obviously, current website owners, and operating system owners, don't want this to happen because there's value in hooking customers in. Of course, this raises an even more fundamental question: Who does the data belong to anyways? Gosh, this sure sounds like the same question the music industry is facing...

What I do know, is that the web is enabling standards to be set which will enable data to be shared freely. This will promote innovation to improve web applications because they can't lock customers in, but instead must genuinely offer a better product consistently. As applications get better our dependency on Microsoft and Apple based applications will decrease. Good-bye Duopoly.

For consumers this is the best outcome. For businesses, it's probably scarier because it's not as easy, but it'll be good for them too.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Internet of Things

The latest tech concept I've heard is being coined as "An Internet of Things". The basic idea is that items in our lives will, in some way, become connected to the Internet. The items will share and store information via the Internet. It's actually a very exciting idea. So, let me give a couple of examples to help explain the idea.

Your TV
An obvious item to be connected to the Internet is your TV. Yahoo is currently working on an idea to bring widgets to your TV. So you'll be able to watch your favorite show while a news feed, weather, clock, and stock ticker are across the bottom. That's a cool idea.

Let's take this to the next level. When you see a commercial you like (those of you who haven't discovered DVR yet), you can click a button to have an email sent to you to print off a coupon or simply serve as a reminder for the commercial you saw.

Oh yeah, and a browser is mandatory.

This could all be achieved though a set-top-box, but eventually these should just be built into the TV, allowing me to do the following at a minimum: Watch and DVR TV. Download movies, TV shows, pictures, music from anywhere. Display widgets, photo feeds from anything with an RSS feed. See who else is watching TV and share items with them. Basically, combine the TV with Xbox Live and AppleTV. I'm waiting.

Your Car
I believe this is already starting to become connected to the Internet, but just imagine the possibilities. For starters, there should be a website you can visit which displays data your car has been sending to a server in the cloud. It provides you with statistics such as: how far you drove, when you drove, average trip length (time and distance), what the weather was at the time, etc. You could learn when you like to drive, under what conditions and so on. Let's take it a step further.

When you fill up with gas, the amount you paid, how much gas you got and what your mileage is should be sent to the server. You could then view stats around gas costs and use. When your miles/gal drop below a certain threshold (you get to set it, not just the manufacturer) you get an email saying it's time for a check up.

Furthermore, other diagnostic information should be sent to the server: Tire pressure, spark plug timing, etc. You could set an alert to send you an email to get your oil changed every 3,000 miles (or whatever interval you set), and you should get a txt message on your phone so you'll get it when you're in the car, when you actually need it.

How cool would it also be to connect your car's GPS to the Internet? Lost your car? Use your phone to locate where your car is. Also, be able to view on a heat map where you travel the most. If you have a smartphone, write a quick review of a store you visited, which will be paired with your location.

So, imagine you take a trip from Michigan to California. You could write a review at each Harley-Davidson dealership you stop at. Friends could subscribe to your trip and follow you. They'll know where you're located, where you're shopping and sleeping. They could leave comments (maybe?) on an automatically generated blog of your trip (to be set as a widget on their TV). Then, if they ever decide to take a similar trip they know to ask you and could potentially view your stats of the trip too. You too could analyze your trip on a myraid of statistics. Beautiful.

Even More
Another great device that makes sense to connect to the Internet is your refridgerator for your shopping list. Here is where RFID tags can come in handy to identify what food your missing. To a limited extent your washing machine and lights could also benefit. What else makes sense to you?

Soon, some of these concepts will start to be a reality, which is pretty cool. Though, this does introduce a new concept/problem to be covered at another time. It's the idea that to enable greater personalization requires greater transparency, or less privacy.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Quick Video from the Jordan River

A friend of mine spent a couple weeks in Israel. He traveled all around and even got to play some basketball while there. He's posted many videos, but this one really struck me and I wanted to share it. So... Here it is.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Red Lights Without a Phone

So the other day I left my phone at my apartment. Jessi had a conference call and my phone was the only one that could conference all five in (yeah, iPhones rock, but you knew that already). Anyways, because of this I had to drive without it.

While driving, I noticed the red lights were extra long. Gosh, they were taking forever to change! Then I realized that I've actually gotten into the habit of checking my phone while stopped. I figure I'm not moving and I get bored easily. I read a few emails, twitter, check on blogs or do whatever.

I guess I didn't realize how pervasive this phone has become in my life. Honestly though, I'm not sure if I should be concerned or excited. On one hand, I'm able to be more productive and do small things I normally wouldn't take time to do. On the other hand, I'm constantly plugged in and distracting myself (even though I'm stopped). What do you think? Is this a good or bad thing?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Vertical Storage

So I ran my idea about one surface for all activities by Jessi and... well let's just say we came up with a compromise. Now I've got another idea. Let me know what you think.

I got this idea from airplanes and the way they handle storage. Their main problem is a lack of space and I'd argue most people have that same problem. So... how about this:

What if storage was built into the ceiling and floor? You press a button and a shelf comes out of the ceiling or pops up out of the floor. This way, you won't need to have shelves up against the wall - effectively creating more space. Yes, your house might be a little taller, but it's so much easier to build up than expand sideways.

I don't think I'd make the shelving hydraulic, but instead use counter weights - mini elevators if you will. I'm also not sure how many I'd have. You could, theoretically, have then all over the house, but maybe in the middle of the room would be best (because you'd put other stuff near the wall). Maybe I should go watch Back to the Future II again to get more ideas...

PS. For you worriers out there, I'm not blogging while on my honeymoon. When I write, I tend to write a few at a time (I can't control it). So I schedule them to go live at later intervals. This one happens to make sense in the middle of our honeymoon.