Shuffling up the iPod line
Wednesday, Sep 28, 2011
Last month some folks were speculating that the iPod touch would be on the chopping block, a rumor I disagreed with in my post, "Cancel the iPod touch? Lunacy." Now, folks are suggesting that the iPod shuffle and the iPod classic may be on the chopping block. This would leave the iPods nano and touch as the only iPod devices, adjacent to the iPhone and iPad. Ditching the Classic makes a lot of sense. The last torchbearer of the original iPod's form factor only exists today because its use of a hard drive enables it to store 160GB of media, 2.5x as much as the 64GB Touch, at just over half the price. With the release of iCloud and Music Match, 160GB is no longer needed. Those deep tracks can be downloaded to your device on demand, so as long as you have wifi or a mobile connection you'll have your whole catalog. Eliminating the Shuffle is where things get dicey. It's not an iOS device and it doesn't pretend to be, unlike the Nano who's multitouch UI seems like iOS though it's completely different under the hood. Getting rid of the Shuffle would clean up the product line, but would leave a huge hole in the bottom end. The Shuffle costs $49 but the Nano starts at $149, and $149 is just too high a price for an entry-level music player with no video capability or mobile connectivity. The 16GB Nano is only $30 less than a new Kindle Fire tablet. Could the Shuffle be eliminated next week? Yes. But only if the price of the Nano was lowered a great deal. I would guess that $79 would be the sweet spot, though Apple may keep the price as high as $99. Pricing the Nano at $79 would represent a 47% cut from the current price, but the manufacturing and material costs for a Nano continue to drop, and this would probably still represent a healthy profit margin, while keep Apple's market share at the low end of the product space. If they drop the Classic, I wouldn't expect them to mention it during next week's presentation. If they drop the Shuffle and move the Nano farther down the line, they might mention that. The more interesting question to me is, what is the long term future of the iPod and iPhone? The nano is squarely an iPod, the Touch is an iOS device arbitrarily called an iPod, while the iPhone is not. There's no arguing that the iPod touch is more iPhone than Nano, so at some point the iPod brand needs to either consume, or be consumed by, the iOS brand. But that's probably a strategy for another time. A time which, at the minimum, the nano-class device is a true iOS machine.
Kindle Fire: It's not about the tablet
Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011
As I write this it's Tuesday evening. Tomorrow morning Amazon's going to unveil the much-anticipated Kindle Fire, and most of the tech blogs are writing their previews from the 'tablet war' standpoint. Reportedly built on Android, the Fire is being compared to other Android tablets out there as well as the iPad, but tomorrow's grand reveal won't primarily be the hardware but rather the new channel Amazon has created for delivering and consuming a wide variety of content. Tomorrow Amazon will present its new business model as a digital media ecosystem with both subscription plans and a-la-cart content. The Kindle Fire is an important piece to the puzzle, but it isn't the star of the show. Take a look at how Amazon's primary navigation has changed in just the last 12 months: The top of this nab is some of the most valuable teal estate on the web. Books, Amazon's bread and butter, have gone from the top slot to #8. It's not unusual for the top slot or two to be used as a promo to raise awareness of a new product category, but not the top seven. Taking a closer look, the list is clearly divided into 'digital' and 'physical' sections. Going forward, this distinction will be much more important, as the Kindle Fire is a device intended to be the portal for accessing every item in the 'digital' list. Consider how each item on the list would apply to a 7" media tablet: Now that's a 'portal'.
  • Unlimited Instant Videos - Netflix replacement, streamed to the tablet (or other device).
  • MP3 & Cloud Player - iPod, iTunes Cloud replacement. Store music on the device, or play from the cloud.
  • Amazon Cloud Drive - Dropbox replacement. View, edit and print some media types, send others.
  • Kindle - Expect this to be renamed to 'Kindle Books' tomorrow.
  • Appstore for Android and Digital Games & Software - Expect these to combine into an app store for the Kindle, with a distinctly separate app store for mainstream Android devices. Expect many Android titles to overlap, but the Kindle App Store will be more heavily curated to assure a more quality experience.
  • Audible Audiobooks - Round out the offering by letting you listen to books on the tablet.
While other Android-based tablets try to sell users on the hardware and the OS, Kindle Fire's form factor and OS will just be aspects of the experience. The greater point is that this is Amazon, in the palm of your hand. The latest estimates are that Amazon may sell the Kindle Fire for $149-199. While I wouldn't be surprised at that price point, I expect we'll also see a contract deal folded in with Amazon Prime. Imagine a free Kindle Fire with a 3-year commitment to Amazon Prime, or a $99 Kindle Fire with the purchase of a 1-year subscription to Prime. Personally, I'm even more excited about the potential keyboard-less e-ink Kindle, since I can justify having that and an iPad, but not an iPad and a Fire, and I expect we'll see some creative Amazon Prime promotional tie-ins at the e-ink Kindle level as well. After all, if the trend continues, Amazon should start giving Kindles for free by this Fall.
How Not to Recruit
Friday, Sep 23, 2011
Shortly after leaving Facebook last year, I got approached by a number of companies looking for a director of product or user experience. Joining up with another outfit right away was the last thing on my mind but this startup was being led by an old co-worker of mine, was well-funded, and was working on something I was interested in. Moreover, they'd been looking for the right design lead for a long time, and one of the founders confided in me:
We've spent almost a full year sitting around here asking ourselves "what can we do to attract someone like Kevin Fox?" Seriously.
I told them I was very flattered, but wasn't looking for a new gig, but would be happy to come in to the office and give them feedback on what they've got. Their product was ambitious (and in much need of UX help), but I had my own ideas of what I wanted to be doing and this wasn't something I was interested in jumping in to. They explained that they had a very generous referral program and they asked me if there was anyone else I knew who would be a strong candidate. I gave them two names of people who I knew were happy with their current jobs but who's skill sets and design sensibilities would be a good fit for the project. I didn't think much more about the company until about 6 weeks later when one of the people I referred, let's call them 'John Smith', IMs me:
So I've been talking with [startup]. They told me they've spent several months sitting around asking themselves, "What can we do to attract someone like [John Smith]. Seriously." It was really flattering.
Who knows how many times they used the line, and maybe they meant it every time, but suddenly I felt like the company was a sharp well-dressed guy hitting on everyone in the bar, telling each person in sequence how they're the prettiest girl in the room. Ick.
Preview: This Year's iPhones
Wednesday, Sep 21, 2011
Apple's rapidly heading toward the announcement of the next generation of iPhone, with the smart money riding on an October 4th announcement. As has become tradition, I've stirred together the various rumors out there with my own educated guesses and cooked up my predictions for what we'll be seeing from Apple in the iOS realm next month. As always, this is a work of speculation and does in no way represent leaked or privileged information. I never ask my friends at Apple about what they're working on, and I'm certain they wouldn't tell me anything if I did. So what will we see coming out of Tim Cook's pocket a week from Tuesday? The iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, and an update to the iPod Touch.

iPhone 4s

This will be the entry-level iPhone. Unlike the current low-price iPhone 3Gs, this time around Apple won't simply discount last year's model and call it the budget option. Android has seen huge adoption in the last 18 months and, thanks to having many competing OEMS, Android phones come in a wide range of price points. It's no longer reasonable to tell budget-minded customers to buy a phone that's over two years old, (which the iPhone 4 would be before the subsequent iPhone product cycle) so even though the iPhone 4s will be a refresh of the current iPhone 4, it will differ in a few important ways:
  • CDMA+GSM - Simplifying the product line, the 4s will come in one flavor world-wide. Now that the universal chipset has matured, the premium for supporting both standards has dropped a great deal, and comes with the benefit of simplifying supply chains.
  • A5 Processor - With nearly double the processing power of the iPhone 4's A4 processor, adding an A5 to the iPhone 4s would mean every iOS device Apple sells will be running on the same chip (AppleTV notwithstanding). It's vital that both the high and low-end iPhones run the same processor because developers need to be optimizing for as few platforms as possible. One of the iPhone's key advantages over Android is that the user can expect an optimized level of performance when running an application. Android developers have a much harder time creating a seamless experience when they don't know if they'll be running on a powerhouse processor or a weakling, with dedicated graphics hardware or without. If the iPhone 4s kept the A4 processor while the higher end iPhone 5 had a processor that was twice as fast, we would inevitably see developers including some processor-intensive features that would be 'iPhone 5 only'. This is antithetical to the Apple's design philosophy, and though there will always be older devices that eventually show their age, Apple's not going to simultaneously sell a 'fast phone' and a 'slow phone' now that they've widened the development cycle to iterate both lines in tandem.
  • Same storage options - Flash memory is expensive, and iCloud should reduce memory needs enough that 16/32 gig options won't be any kind of hardship.
  • Not much else different - By keeping changes to a minimum, Apple's keeping development costs low, and most of the processes and parts developed for the iPhone 4's fabrication will continue to be used cheaply, now that the expense of designing them has been amortized away with last year's iPhone 4 sales. The same logic has recently been applied at Boeing, where after much deliberation they decided to re-engine the venerable 737 rather than design a replacement plane from scratch. Re-engining only costs 15% of the R&D that a clean sheet redesign would cost, freeing up expense and resources. Airplanes are different than smartphones (hmm… carbon fiber iPhone…) but the general principle still applies. If Apple is going to start making two levels of phones that it iterates in tandem, only one can be a significant redesign.
This paves the way for development of a new front-runner…

iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 will be positioned as a 'no compromises' device, with a higher price tag in order to give premium components to people willing to pay for them. So what's in an iPhone 5? Let's see:
  • The new iPhone 4s stuff - An A5 processor is a given, and CDMA+GSM very likely.
  • Sleeker, brushed aluminum form factor - Think of the Macbook Air's design aesthetic applied to an iPhone. An aluminum back, flat in the middle and rounded/tapered at the sides similarly to the iPad 2. I wouldn't be surprised if the back uses the same milled aluminum process used for unibody Macs. Like the original iPhone and 3G iPads, a portion of the back will not be metal to accommodate internal antenna reception. I'm guessing it's at the top of the phone, but it's anyone's guess. It's conceivable they found a way to provide reception through the front glass, leaving the back a solid piece of aluminum, but that's pure speculation.
  • A larger screen with the same number of pixels - The leaked parts and rumors are too strong to conclude anything other than that the iPhone 5 will have a larger screen with a very thin bezel on the sides. The screen can get 18% larger while staying above 300 DPI, retaining its 'Retina Display' designation by Apple's own metric. It won't be that big, but it will be noticeably bigger, both in absolute terms and relative to the phone. The phone will likely be a bit wider to accommodate the display, which may mean they can opt for a flatter, wider battery to keep the phone thinner than the iPhone 4. The display will absolutely be the standard 960x640 pixels.
  • 8MP camera in the back - Widely rumored, and seems highly likely.
  • FaceTime HD camera in the front - Current front-facing cameras are still 640x480, just like the old iSight cameras in MacBooks, iMacs and Cinema Displays. This year Apple started upgrading the iSight cameras to FaceTime HD cameras, which bump the resolution up to 720p (1280x720). I wouldn't be too surprised if they opted to put such a camera in to the iPhone 5, considering it's the flagship device for FaceTime.
Lest we forget…

iPod Touch

While some have speculated that the Touch may fade away, being replaced by a contract-free iPhone 4, I sincerely doubt this is the case. The iPod Touch is much thinner, cheaper to manufacture, and, let's face it, sturdier than the iPhone 4. A lot more parents would give a Touch to their kids than an iPhone 4, because it fits better in their hands and it knows how to take a spill without cracking. I think we'll see a bump in the Touch, but nothing breathtaking. Something like this:
  • The iPhone 4's rear-facing camera - The iPod Touch's current camera is an embarrassment. Low resolution, low quality, a clear compromise to fit into the Touch's extremely slim case. My guess is that either the last 18 months have brought down the size of a quality 5MP camera, or Apple will make the Touch just thick enough to accommodate it.
  • Retina Display - Probably. It already has one. My bad.
  • WiFi+3G model - Operating in exactly the same way as the iPad 3G, an iPod Touch WiFi+3G would be sold without contracts, with negotiated cheap monthly packages from the major carriers. It's not a phone, but 3G would let you rely on the Touch as a primary internet device when out and about.

Loose ends

There are still a few open questions:
  • NFC chips - Only a few Android phones currently have NFC chips to support a true digital wallet, but with their faster product cycles and the huge resources Google is putting into the Google Wallet initiative, you can bet that most Android phones sold in 2012 will have NFC built in. NFC as a payment method is already very popular in Europe and Asia, and I find it hard to believe that Apple would go until late 2012 (or early 2013) before they start offering an iPhone that supports NFC. Considering that Apple has bragged about having one of the largest credit card payment databases in the world, they're clearly very interested in this space. If they do introduce devices with NFC chips this time around, I would guess it will be in both the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4s, but not the Touch.
  • LTE - I'm going to have to go with a big 'no' on LTE this year. LTE is still only available in limited areas, and Android phones that support it have abysmal battery life while using it. Also, download speed has rarely been a real-world problem for iPhone users, certainly not a big enough issue to cut into battery life, an issue that Apple puts a heavy priority on.
  • Release date - Friday, October 14th. The sooner the better, and 10 days is just about as short as Apple can stand between the beginning of an iPhone press cycle and the peak of fervor that's so important for a successful launch. And as Apple has shown, they like to launch on a Friday, when people can spend the weekend waiting in lines.

One more thing...

What will it be? Possibly nothing. Definitely not the iPad 3. Certainly much of the presentation will be the public release of iOS 5 and iCloud. There's a good chance there's a new app or two that will be rolled in to iOS 5 at the last minute. I'll be watching along with the rest of you in a couple weeks, but I feel pretty comfortable with these predictions. More so than usual.
Apple launches $10K charitable matching program
Thursday, Sep 08, 2011
Today Apple announced to its US employees that it will match their charitable donations, up to $10,000 per employee, per year. I've never seen a company match more than $3,000 before. Nice.
Fixing Yahoo! with one weird trick.
Tuesday, Sep 06, 2011
Hire a CEO who has experience building consumer web properties. Someone who has experience working with engineers and product designers and is eager to do so. Someone who's claim to fame isn't schmoozing, swearing, or otherwise leading a company in a different industry. Take a look at the companies where your talented engineers, product managers, VPs and designers have gone, and consider that maybe those guys know what they're doing. You might find a leader from within one of those companies. Your problem is making and maintaining compelling products, not media partnerships. You'll have a better chance choosing a leader who knows more about that stuff than making movies or CAD software. Update: Yahoo!'s interim CEO, Tim Morse, joined the company three months ago after leaving Altera, a company that makes programmable logic devices.
Cancel the iPod Touch? Lunacy.
Wednesday, Aug 31, 2011
John Gruber and VintageZen think it would be a good idea to cancel the iPod Touch, replacing it with a contract-free $200-300 iPhone. I think this is crazy. Yes it's nice to have a simpler product lineup, but that's the only plus here. They argue that it would help Apple's smartphone market share numbers to sell an unlocked device that many buyers would never actually buy a data plan for, but Apple doesn't care about analysts arbitrary market share numbers and even if they did, a device without a calling or data plan shouldn't be tallied as a smartphone in the first place, unless you want to start including Nooks and personal media players. Why is it in Apple's benefit to sell people an unlocked device that they could upgrade to a real phone by contracting with a carrier? Does anyone think Apple could negotiate a revenue share arrangement with a carrier for an unlocked phone they sell directly to the user? Maybe for a data-only device like the iPad 3G, but not a phone. The lock-in of a 2-year contract is too important to the carrier business model. So what would Apple's motivation be, when they could instead upsell the iPod Touch customer to an iPhone at a later date? There's also a zero-sum stigma about phones, in that a person only needs one of them. If a device is marketed as a cheap iPhone-that-you-don't-have-to-use-as-a-phone it still has the zero-sum taint, along with the mental inhibition of paying for a product you know you're not going to be making full use of. This floor wax / dessert topping use-case complexity nullifies any advantage gained by simplifying a product line. But the biggest reason for keeping the iPod Touch is because for someone who doesn't want an iPhone the Touch is a better, cheaper, smaller, lighter product. The iPhone 4 weighs 36% more than the Touch. It's 32% thicker, which makes a big difference in a pocket. The current iPhone 4 costs $400 more than a comparable iPod Touch, and if Apple can drop the price of a budget iPhone to the $200-300 range, you can bet they're able to lower the iPod Touch price point south of $150, opening it up to an ever larger market. No, if the product line is simplifying anywhere, it's going to be the elimination of the Shuffle in favor of the Nano. Further thought: An iPod Touch WiFi+3G, analogous to the iPad WiFi+3G, with an on-demand data plan option, would be really interesting.
Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011
Continuing his departure from Apple as smoothly as possible, today Steve Jobs relinquished the post of CEO to become Chairman of the Board and 'employee Steve'. Thank you Steve, for all you've done to change the world (and my life). I hope your influence and ideals forever endure at Apple. 
Twitter is the new soundbyte, and that's not good.
Wednesday, Aug 03, 2011
The soundbyte is probably the single most destructive factor in politics today, forcing politicians to frame positions into a single sentence, throwing nuance and insight to the wind in favor of something catchy that sounds truthy. Twitter has democratized the soundbyte to be within everyone's reach, so any representative, official or not, can make a catchy assertion of 140 characters or less and not have to worry about a follow-up question or be held responsible for any more nuance than their truthy tweet. Today's case in point? Google published a blog post lamenting the state of patent law and the aggressive nature of Apple, Microsoft and others in bidding exorbitant sums of money for patent portfolios that they would use to extract royalties from other companies including Google and their partners. Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith struck back with this tweet:
Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no.
Ooh, zing! Google's lying! End of story! 18 characters to spare! And of course the pundits (Daring Fireball for example) took it at face value and didn't dive deeper than the sheen of truthiness. So here we go, throwing down a little context. Microsoft's proposed deal was offered back in October of 2010, while several companies were bidding on the Novell patent portfolio. The patent portfolio is valuable to companies in the mobile sector for a few specific reasons:
  1. To have unrestricted license to use the inventions described in the patent.
  2. To be able to take legal action against -- or get licensing revenue from -- other companies who may be violating the patent.
  3. To use as a negotiating chip when other companies threaten to sue you for other patent violations (or anything else).
Bidding in partnership with a competitor is helpful when your goal is to have unrestricted license, or when the company you're climbing in bed with is not one that you want to either take legal action against or protect yourself from. In October 2010, Google's primary motivation was reason #3: To build a defensive portfolio against Microsoft and others. Sharing the patents with Microsoft would nullify that advantage. Isn't it possible that Google's just being paranoid, and wouldn't need a defensive patent portfolio? Let's check in with Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith again. This time it's July 5th, and Brad is elated at their success in using patent threats to extract licensing fees from a fifth Android partner:
Our Wistron deal today makes for four Android #patent license agreements in nine days. (No need to calculate pi to figure that one out.)
The Wistron deal, like those that came before it, give Wistron license to a number of Microsoft-owned patents including those acquired in the Novell auction. So in retrospect, back in October 2010 Microsoft gave Google the option to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to help acquire a patent portfolio, or to make its partners pay what will likely amount to $750 million a year in licensing fees for access to the self-same patents. But hey, why care about the whole truth when you can make something that sounds so truthy in 122 characters? By the way, Microsoft, along with Apple, last month spent another $4.5 billion dollars to grab Nortel's patent portfolio. I wonder how many tweets Brad will write gloating about their use of that portfolio to kill its competitors, when he's not too busy tweeting about how he tried to be friends first? Update 8/5: I'd like to thank John Gruber for writing a thoughtful reply to my posts this morning. I can see his viewpoint a lot more clearly in this post than I could in his earlier ones, and only have a few comments: First, that I do see a significant difference between using patents defensively vs offensively. I feel that Google thinks 'empty patents' (not all patents) shouldn't exist, and that a defensive portfolio helps nullify their effect on Google. Proactively suing competitors for violation of such patents is not what someone would do if they think such patents shouldn't be enforced. Second, Gruber states:
What I’m complaining about isn’t Google playing the game, but rather their insistent whining about their competitors only after they lost the game.
What if they're only losing the game, but that game is ongoing? Last month's $4.5b Nortel portfolio is an indication that things are only getting worse, not just for Google, but for an entire industry that's pouring money into an arms race fought within the context a patent system that nearly every party involved has admitted is antiquated and lacking. If companies whining about getting beat up in the schoolyard is what it takes to help sway public opinion on patent reform then I'm proud to have Google stand up and say they hope it gets better. Telling them to grow up, not pout, and 'play like the big boys' certainly isn't the right answer.
Larry Tesler explains the origins of the Mac's original scrolling behavior
Sunday, Jul 24, 2011
Larry Tesler, one of Macintosh's Founding Fathers, writing on the Interaction Design Association mailing list:
The original Lisa and Mac vertical scroll arrows were at the top and bottom of the vertical scroll bar, and the up-pointing arrow moved the content down. I ran a user study in the early days of Lisa development that informed that design. Most (but not all) study participants expected to position the mouse near the top of the window to bring the content hidden above the top of the window into view. One reason was that they were looking at the top of the window at the time. Another reason was that they were more likely, as their next action, to select content in the upper half of the window than in the lower half. Consequently, we made the upper member of the arrow pair move the content down. With apologies to computer architects, I'll call the majority whose expectations were met by this decision the "top-endians". The study also examined the question of which way the arrowheads should point. Half the participants thought the upper arrow should point down, the way the content was moving. Half thought it should point up, the direction from which the content was coming. If the latter is surprising to you, consider that a wind blowing air from north to south is called "northerly" in English, and that a standard PRNDL floor shift makes the driver push the stick forward to go into Reverse and backward to go into Drive. If you don't accept those analogies, note that the "elevator" in the scroll bar moves upward when the user presses the up-pointing arrow to scroll content down. Most of the product team wanted the arrows to point the way the content moved, and to point away from each other. The issue was escalated to Trip Hawkins, the VP of Lisa Product Marketing. After hearing the study results, Trip offered to go with the usability study on arrow locations if I'd be willing (which I was) to make the arrows point away from each other because it "looked right".
Be sure to click through to his full post for more insights on the evolution of scrolling, and consider how the decisions the Mac team made so long ago have permeated almost every device on the planet that supports scrolling. Changing that behavior is a huge deal, but one whose time may have come.

For another great story, check out why dialog boxes say "OK".


Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
I can be reached at .

I also have a resume.


I'm co-founder in
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I post most frequently on Twitter as @kfury and on Google Plus.


I've led design at Mozilla Labs, designed Gmail 1.0, Google Reader 2.0, FriendFeed, and a few special projects at Facebook.

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