Content and services

Death of TV: Part LXV: The end of the beginning

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/07/2014 - 12:33

This is my sixty-fifth article about the death of TV, and I see now that we are at the end of the beginning. Why? ABC News recently began broadcasting a news channel on Apple TV, which is significant in its own right, but ABC has just announced that they are now including local news from Boston, Honolulu, and Albuquerque on that channel. One of the two things that keeps most people tied to their hideously antiquated cable and satellite subscriptions is access to local news (the other is live sports). With this new access to local news via the Apple/ABC partnership, it is going to be easier than ever for households to ditch the over-priced "TV" subscriptions.

The Cloud: Pay a fortune and own nothing

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:06

More and more "stuff" is moving to the cloud. Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and Amazon are just four of the biggest companies that are trying to get us to put everything in the cloud so we can pay a monthly fee to get to our "stuff." The problem with this is that from a customer perspective, the "cloud" does not scale up well from a pricing perspective.

In the "old days," by which I mean about three years ago, you made a one time purchase of a desktop or laptop computer, cobbled together some kind of local network for your business or home, and if you were really smart, bought one or two extra hard drives for backups and file sharing. A relatively substantial capital expenditure, but you had no recurring costs to use and to store you data and files.

Enter the cloud: You still get to buy a bunch of computers, laptops, and smartphones, but now you pay every month to use your own data. The revenue already being generated by cloud services is staggering, and will continue to grow for a while. But uncontrolled growth is, in the biological world, cancer. It eventually kills you...or in this case, wrecks your budget. All these $5, $10, and $20 per month cloud services add up. Small businesses that have to pay for cloud services on a per seat basis (or some other incremental use charges) can quickly max out their limited IT budgets.

The cloud is immensely useful, and like anyone else, I like being able to access my "stuff" wherever I am in the world. But it comes with a price, and one day the market growth is going to fall of a cliff. When that happens, expect many cloud services to go belly up--for anything in the cloud, you should be able to answer this question: "What happens if your cloud provider disappears?"

LEO Fitness Intelligence: More evidence that personal health management is about to explode

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/08/2014 - 10:32

This IndieGogo campaign has passed it goal to produce LEO, which is a wearable health monitoring device that gives you real time and stored data on your smartphone. Devices like this one are about to transform exercise and sports, with instant feedback on your workouts and exercise routines, including muscle activity, fatigue, heart rate, lactic acid, hydration, calories burned, and more.

Health apps: The next frontier

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/08/2014 - 08:20

More details continue to leak out about Apple's next release of the iPhone/iPad operations system (iOS 8). Apparently, the Health app will be able to use late model iPhone motion sensors to monitor the number of steps you take. This sounds simple, but today, if you want to do that, you have to buy a separate device to do that, and many of those electronic devices have awkward interfaces. You can buy a simple mechanical pedometer for a few dollars, but that analog device cannot provide the automated monitoring and tracking of your activity over time.

Apple, I think, is onto something big. Recall that the iPod was not the first music player by any measure. Dozens of awkwardly designed, low capacity, hard to use MP3 players were on the market when the iPod was announced. What Apple did was to create a device that was so easy to use that everyone wanted one. And that's where I think Apple is headed with its focus on health monitoring. It's going to make tracking your physical activity and your health data (e.g. respiration, heart rate, etc) so easy that everyone will want an Apple device.

As always, I worry about the privacy issues. Some or all of your private health data will end up in a cloud somewhere, making it accessible to third parties, insurance companies, the government, or hackers (or all of those entities). Time will tell if the health benefits will outweigh the negatives, but I look forward to having more health information under my direct control, instead of having to pay a health clinic for that information.

Death of TV: Part LXIV: ABC debuts on Apple TV

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/25/2014 - 07:17

And so it continues. While Comcast and Time Warner engage in the drowning man death hug, the content owners are finally beginning to read the writing on the wall. ABC is launching a channel on Apple TV, with live video, hourly news updates, and a variety of local content from some of the biggest urban markets in the country (e.g. WABC New York, WLS Chicago, KGO San Francisco...). All is proceeding as I envisioned years ago....cable TV's elbow is barely breathing, and the heart of cable TV may not even have a pulse. When the cable TV giants go down, and they will go down, they will go down hard.

The emerging revolution in health care....by Apple

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/20/2014 - 08:34

Some time this fall, Apple is likely to announce what has been called the "iWatch," although that may or may not actually be its name. There have probably been more rumors promulgated about this supposed product than any other Apple product ever. The latest rumor is that the watch will have "more than ten sensors," including a heart rate sensor and other health and fitness monitoring devices.

If the watch comes with even five sensors, it will trigger an massive change in health care, as patients and doctors will, for the first time, have inexpensive access to real time health and medical data that was previously only available in hospital rooms and the ICU. And even hospital monitoring equipment does not have what will be available via the iWatch--simple to understand and simple to interpret health information that is available both to the patient and the doctor.

Apple is poised to upend another industry and create a massive new market area providing software and related devices, just as it did with the music business.

Along with all the innovation, we will have huge issues with data privacy, as all this data will be stored in many places (computers, phones, tablets, the cloud, doctor offices, hospitals) with massive potential for security breaches. And insurance companies will be anxious to use the data to adjust health insurance rates, although there is the possibility that having excellent real time health data may, for some, push rates down rather than up.

Broadband is disrupting home security market

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/05/2014 - 16:17

This IndieGoGo project is just one of numerous home security systems that are disrupting the market. Companies like ADT have dominated it for decades, using old-fashioned telephone land lines to monitor in-home door, window, and fire sensors. But always-on broadband and Internet connectivity make it possible to do more with less, and a host of start-ups are slowly eating away at the over-priced big security firms.

Will Apple's HealthKit revolutionize health?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/03/2014 - 08:12

In San Francisco yesterday, Apple Computer announced that it was bringing both a new app ("Health") and a new developer interface for that app ("HealthKit") to the iPhone and the iPad. The app will give users a single place to store and track a wide variety of health-related information, including fitness activity, lab results, medications, and vital signs. The app is less important than the developer interface to the app, which will allow healthcare providers and healthcare services to push a wide variety of data into a single place, giving the user a single, integrated look at the state of their health.

While there have been much prognostication that Apple has "run out of steam" and has no innovation left in the company, this health-focused software takes the company in a whole new direction. The software Apple is releasing has the potential to make dramatic changes in the way health care is provided and the way we use and access health-related information. And most importantly, better information under our own control is likely to help contain health care costs over the long term.

But there is always a cost. Concentrating all this information in one place raises privacy and security issues, but I'd rather have all this information under my control than in a vast government database. Having said this, Apple will be storing all this information in iCloud for us. There is no free lunch here.....the convenience and information on one hand, the risk of mis-use on the other.

"U-verse stinks"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/24/2014 - 13:08

"U-verse stinks." That's not me, that's Netflix, according an article from Lightwave. Here's the interesting quote from Netflix:


"The surprising news is that AT&T fiber-based U-verse has lower performance than many DSL ISPs, such as Frontier, CenturyLink & Windstream..."

This was in a letter from the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, to stockholders. While this little spat between AT&T and Netflix is amusing, it highlights the vast divide between incumbent attitudes about what constitutes good service and what the customers of those incumbents regard as good service. The incumbents believe that good service is whatever they decide they want to give their monopoly-captive customers, while the customers think good service is being able to use Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix without constant stuttering, re-buffering, and stalling out.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I was recently in a community that told me no one wants to live there anymore because of poor Internet service from the incumbent phone and cable companies. It's created an economic development crisis, because senior business managers that are being brought by existing companies in the town are choosing to live hours south of the community. And to make things worse, those same existing businesses are saying they can't expand and add jobs because their business Internet service won't support expansion.

Communities are at a crossroads: You can let the incumbent providers decide your economic development growth potential, or you can take control of your future and make some basic investments in competitive broadband infrastructure.

Death of TV: Part LXIII: Amazon announces Amazon Fire TV

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 09:27

Amazon announced yesterday their "Fire TV" product, which is a $99 Internet to TV box that follows in the footsteps of Apple TV, Roku boxes, and Google Chromecast. All of these products connect directly to a late model TV and give you easy access to a wide variety of Internet-based content. The Amazon Fire offers Netflix, Hulu, NBA, AOL, Showtime, iHeart radio, Amazon Prime shows and movies, and Pandora, among other offerings. The box also gives you access to Amazon cloud storage for your own pictures and videos.

In terms of competing boxes, the Fire TV probably comes closest to the Apple TV box, which offers direct access to the iTunes store (movies, TV, music) and Apple's iCloud personal storage service.

I remain kind of ho-hum about all these devices, because I can access all the same stuff right on my computer at home, and simply watch the content on a large screen monitor. I have a hard time getting excited about a box that duplicates what I already have. But these boxes can deliver higher quality video, and if you have a large screen TV that you want to use for entertainment, these boxes deliver a lot of value. I dumped my cable subscription years ago, but even with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu subscriptions, I just don't watch much TV...perhaps a couple of hours a week at most.

I see two significant things with this announcement. First, Amazon continues to deliver incredible value to its customers, and this box really ties together their other services like Prime video and cloud storage. This puts pressure on Apple, Google, and Microsoft to offer more and better products--always a very good thing. Second, it is getting easier and easier to cut the cable/satellite TV subscription. Comcast seems to have finally begun to agree with me that the old cable TV model is about dead, and is more focused on delivering improved Internet access to its customers. But a monopoly is a monopoly, and even if you save money in the short term by dumping your TV subscription, expect the cable companies to keep increasing their fees for Internet...because they can.

Comcast wants to buy Time Warner

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 10:39

Comcast and Time Warner have agreed to merge, with Comcast buying Time Warner. Although this merger has to be approved by Federal regulators, the article suggests that since the two companies don't have overlapping territories, it may well be approved.

The merger would combine Comcast's 22 million subscribers with Time Warner's 11 million subs, and Comcast has said it would sell off 3 million subscribers to keep the new company below 30 million customers. Supposedly that is some threshold that determines if the company will have too big an influence on the market.

This smells of desperation to me. Cable TV is dead, dead, dead, with Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix and Hulu killing off cable and satellite TV. I was in a rural community for a week recently. There were three complaints:

  • The lack of bandwidth is killing our Main Street businesses.
  • No one can work from home because the bandwidth available is too limited.
  • We are having a hard time attracting families because services like Netflix and Hulu are unusuable, and the kids are revolting.

    Aside from the fact that copper-based coaxial cable is grossly inferior to fiber, the cable companies simply can't provide business class symmetric services over their "entertainment" networks in any sort of consistent way, and they know it. So they are going to merge to give them market clout on the content side, and they are going to continue to try to buy laws at the state level, like they just tried in Kansas.

    In less than ten years, most American homes will have fiber. It is as inevitable as flush toilets, which were once considered a luxury. And when the dust settles, the communities that introduced competition by creating shared digital road systems are going to be doing much better economically.

  • The Internet is making us anxious

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 10:40

    A new study suggests that being "connected" all the time takes a toll on our psyche. An experiment with hundreds of college students suggests that some cellphone users experience high levels of anxiety and lower academic performance because they cannot put the phone down.

    I see this in some meetings, where younger people are obsessively playing with their phones while most folks over forty are more engaged in the meeting and paying more attention to what is actually happening in the room.

    Death of TV: Part LXII: Video uses half of Internet bandwidth

    Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/13/2013 - 08:29

    A new report illustrates just how dire the situation is for the cable companies; Netflix and YouTube use half of all the bandwidth on the Internet. Cable TV is brain dead, but the body is still on life support. There is no future in cable, and satellite will be the next to go as more fiber is deployed into areas unserved by cable. This is not a matter of "if" anymore, it's all about the "when." I think it is safe to say that most of the country will have fiber connections by 2025.

    Death of TV: Part LXI: Some interesting data about IPTV

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/30/2013 - 13:32

    This new study shows Internet use has entered most households in the U.S., with 78% online. And 92% of those households have some kind of broadband...typically "little broadband" from DSL or cable providers. The most interesting statistic is that growth in households dropping traditional TV has increased about 13% in the past two years, from 8% of household to 9% of households. If that percentage does not increase (which seems unlikely), in ten years, OTT and other IP-TV services will have about half the market. If the rate of change increases to around 20% or 25% per year, the draws near much more quickly for the cable TV companies.

    Who will win the OTT battle?

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/30/2013 - 07:44

    Apple and Roku are dominating the IP set top box market, with Apple owning 56% of this still small market segment. I'm not convinced that Apple or Roku will ultimately end up with a major portion of this market, as the total number of households that have converted to OTT is still very small. Rapid market growth in the next several years could let a yet unidentified firm capture a big portion of this. As Blackberry has demonstrated so aptly, having a big marketshare early does not automatically lead to market dominance.

    But I've been saying for years that traditional cable TV, and to a lesser extent, satellite TV, is dead, dead, dead. It is an antiquated business model predicated on sixty year old coax technology. And satellite TV uses the same business model over a similarly bandwidth-constrained medium.

    But Apple certainly has an early lead, and Google's Chromecast seems to be off to a slow start, but Google can play the long game. And startups like SimulTV may tear off an interesting piece of the market because they have changed the interaction model completely. If companies like SimulTV can master the content license problems, a lot of people will use their services.

    Death of TV: Part LX: The death of TV and radio

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/26/2013 - 07:23

    We're watching the death of traditional "TV" and traditional "radio" in slow motion. The networks are going to be the big losers. At one time, they provided a useful service as an intermediary between content producers and watchers/listeners, but today, the content owners can cut out the middleman completely. I just heard an ad from a radio commentator who was promoting her iPhone app. It is free, and allows you to listen to her radio show live from your iPhone, but also automatically downloads the podcast version so you can listen to it later....no radio "channel" required.

    The idea that network owners like Comcast can somehow force their customer base to use their network by buying and owning content like NBC is really mis-guided, as there are so many other content options out there.

    Once again, the old adage is true: "The Internet regards censorship (or control) as damage and routes around it." Comcast's control of NBC looks like damage to Internet users, and alternates routes to content will and are forming.

    Death of TV: Part XXXIX:70% of those under 35 are using online video

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/05/2013 - 13:18

    This short article from Fiber to the Home Council pretty much tells you everything you need to know about why communities need Gigabit broadband. In a survey of 2000 households in North America, 70% of those under 35 years of age are using over the top (OTT) video services like Netflix and Hulu, just two of the rapidly proliferating companies providing OTT video.

    Even more interesting is that the survey shows the average broadband household has at least FIVE Internet connected devices...and so you have to design the network to support the possibility that all five devices are having video streamed to them at the same time.

    Finally, half of the group under 35 have never bought any traditional package of cable/satellite TV.

    Repeat and rinse as often as necessary...

    TV is dead.
    TV is dead.
    TV is dead.
    TV is dead....you get the idea.

    Creative Destruction: The end of the cash register

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/08/2013 - 09:22

    The Square Stand converts an iPad into a full-featured cash register and credit card scanner. The cash register business started dying in the eighties, and I've been to the site of the National Cash Register company in Dayton, Ohio. The massive complex that built cash registers for most of the twentieth century is mostly gone. Where huge warehouses and assembly lines stood, the University of Dayton marching band (the Pride of Dayton) now rehearses their half time routines. And the last NCR building is now a classroom complex for the University of Dayton.

    We so often hear about the jobs lost through "automation" and "computers," but the news media usually fails to point out all the new businesses being created. Apple is now a major supplier of "cash registers," along with companies like Square. NCR failed to adapt, and the free market rewarded the companies that did change and adjust to new technology with growth and new jobs. The "record" business, including CDs, is nearly dead, but the "iPod" business has spawned thousands of new businesses and hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

    The Kindle review

    Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/27/2013 - 08:55

    My kids gave me a Kindle a year ago for Father's Day. It was not a gadget I had lusted after, and it was a bit of a surprise. It's the cheapest one, with ads. After using it for a year, you'd have to fight me to take it away from me.

    What I really like is the ability to walk around with twenty or thirty books in my reading queue, without the weight or the bulk. I've always been a voracious reader, and the Kindle lets me stack up what I want to read at less cost and with much greater convenience. My one gripe is not really about the Kindle itself, but that the airlines won't let us use it (or any other small device) during take off and landing. That is the one big advantage retained by paper books.

    I'm skeptical about the whole interference thing. Somebody is pulling our legs on this, as I read these hair-raising reports that the plane's instruments all went haywire but stopped when the person in row 4 turned off their iPhone. Meanwhile, the airlines have replaced many pounds of paper flight documents that the pilots always had to lug around with iPads. Huh? Are our planes really so fragile that the tiny amount of RF energy emitted by a phone or a Kindle can cause a plane to crash? Really? Really?

    Laptops are another matter, and there is a different safety issue with them, as they are heavy enough to become a missile if there was severe turbulence or a sudden stop during take off or landing. But it peeves me that I can't read with my Kindle during a large part of many short flights.

    Google+ fixes and misses

    Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/21/2013 - 13:06

    Google+ was recently updated with an improved interface, but this article points out that Google+ still has a big problem with the way it handles your identify. Currently, Google ties your Google+ account to a single Google email account, which is not the way most of the other big social network sites do it--they typically let you assign a primary email account, have secondary accounts, and don't force you to sign in or use your email address as your userid.

    As Facebook has slowly ruined what little interface consistency it had, I'd really like to see Google+ become a viable alternative, particularly for business use--Facebook is wretched in that regard. But Google+ still has some growing up to do.

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