Background computerization is already here

May

30

2017

, and no one notices it
Before the next WWDC, there are less than a week left, and so everyone around is trying to guess what this time will show Apple: new “poppies”, “aipads”, “smart” column running Siri, maybe new iPhones that are at least hinted at The way the company sees its future, the new Apple TV, or maybe Apple hid in the arsenal of devices that open its door to augmented reality and artificial intelligence for its customers? It would seem that WWDC has not yet begun, but there is such a degree of tension in the air that it is simply impossible not to notice it.

The Case of a Disappeared Computer

After more than a quarter century of work, first on the Wall Street Journal and then in Recode, the veteran and legend of IT journalism Walter Mossberg decided to retire and on this occasion wrote his last weekly column in which he tries to predict the future of the IT industry. His last article is called “The Vanishing Computer” and describes a kind of calm, established in the world of consumer technologies, ahead of the coming powerful storm. This storm will be a new world of “background computerization,” where computer integration will occur in every aspect of our lives, but no one will notice, because in the future, consumer experience will become more important than the gadgets themselves.

“Soon after a small slowdown, the technology carousel will accelerate as it never accelerated,” Mossberg writes. “Only this time everything will be built around the user experience and to a lesser extent around how users will acquire this experience.”

Looking back

In an amicable way, Mossberg’s article was supposed to be published back in 2005. It was then that the words below would be more relevant than ever.

“While I’m writing this, the technology world is bursting from limitless possibilities. But only a few new products are able to set new rules of the game and get to the mainstream market. No, there is definitely a kind of strange calm here, “Mossberg said in his article.

By 2005, there was an iPod on the market for 4 years, but during this time, it did not undergo any significant changes. We were essentially offered the same product, but with a constantly increasing volume of hard drive to store your music collection. As for the “poppies”, the most interesting thing was connected only with the fact that now iBooks were sold with two screen sizes, while the more expensive PowerBooks were offered in three versions, and perhaps the only “innovation” was that Each year each new model became a little faster than last year.

The evolution of iMac and PowerMac that happened during this time was equally boring and eventually ended with the expected achievement of the power limit of the PowerPC G5 processors, from which literally all juices were squeezed out. To understand how far Apple was at that time a boring company, it is enough to recall that in 2005 it supplied educational institutions with its electron-beam eMacs.

However, perhaps the most inexplicable, at least in the opinion of most techno experts, at the time was that despite the total lack of innovative ideas and the introduction of new products, Apple actually forgive, “rowed with spades.” The financial year 2004 brought the company 8.28 billion dollars, but in 2005 these figures rose sharply to 13.93 billion.

Outside of Apple

The outside world outside of Apple represented an even more boring and uninteresting place. Microsoft has for many years sculpted its Longhorn, which eventually turned out to be its own Copland from the Windows world, becoming one of the worst operating systems of all time and people, and fortunately for Microsoft itself, was soon forgotten as a terrible dream against the backdrop of a powerful onslaught of annual major updates MacOS X. In fact, with the release of XP in 2001, Microsoft did not provide a single significant update to its operating system, while macOS X during the five-year period managed to submit 5 new versions.

Outside Windows, in the company’s hardware sector, things only seemed to be better visually. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates visited CES annually, where he presented several interesting things at first glance: Microsoft TV, Windows CE devices using Mira Smart displays (later the Smart Display), several tablet computers, a SPOT clock and a couple of portable media centers. But for all these years, perhaps the most successful product was the Xbox game console, which sold even at a loss, just to protect PC gaming from a powerful attack from Sony with its PlayStation.

On the PC market with the speed of the lame racehorse, the x86 microarchitecture Intel NetBurst ran, ahead of all, on the basis of which the Pentium 4 was built. Despite the high megahertz and high heat dissipation, the specific performance of the processors in some cases was even lower than that of crystals with a lower frequency. Intel’s attempt to move from the x86 platform to more modern solutions with its new Itanium microarchitecture was also unsuccessful. Having started production in 2001, the company finished it already in 2002. By 2005, not even the outstanding AMD solutions (Athlon 64) seemed more practical and interesting. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the platform in new versions is still alive, but it is used exclusively in highly specialized tasks.

Even the brainchild of the IBM, Motorola and Apple alliance called PowerPC, created for direct competition with the x86 platform from Intel, has already fizzled out. The world of new technologies has stopped and turned into a very boring place.

But that’s interesting. All this calm was accompanied by loud announcements of new products, new functions, excessively inflated characteristics, as well as all sorts of “innovative ideas” that columnists never ceased to write. True, not a single product was sent to the end user. And what was sold, in fact it was the same old, boring PC, and, of course, cosmetically updated “ipods” and “poppies”.

Getting out of stagnation

Back in 2005, the words written by Mossberg in his most recent column would be truly prophetic. “The fact that you do not see all this new and amazing consumer equipment does not mean that techno-revolution has stuck in place. In fact, she just took a break to probe the new territories. If successful, the results can be simply incredible and perhaps even more significant than they were with the release of the first consumer computers in the late 70’s, or at the beginning of the Internet era in the 90’s, or the appearance of the first real smartphones in the middle of the zeroes. ”

Without a doubt, it was the release of the first iPhone in the mid-2000s that put an end to this stagnation. But why it was released by Apple, and not Microsoft, Intel, AMD, IBM or any other leading player in the technological world and the world of phone manufacturing in particular? Its release represents the quintessence of two invisible forces that many of those who write about technologies like to demonize. Speech, of course, is about the desire to earn and manic secrecy.

All the rest, like Apple, also tried to get out of this stagnation. But their problem was that they focused their attention on making a profit from the products of the “present”, rather than investing in the potential of the future, as did Apple.

Microsoft was actively working to turn its Longhorn into a digestible Windows Vista – a public attempt to erase Google’s search engine from the desktop of the computer. But in the end, the company acquired a new enemy, as Google hurried to purchase Android and invest in the development of an alternative browser, as a response to Microsoft’s monopoly manners. The latter is so focused on home PCs that in fact missed the point for the commercialization of the mobile market, which began to grow literally as a leap and in turn bitten off a huge piece of pie from the PC market.

At the same time, Google’s strategy for Android also evolved without much enthusiasm for the future potential of the mobile platform. Like Microsoft, the company tried to protect those businesses that it already had at that time, getting the main profit from advertising. In the end, despite the fact that the Android platform helped to divert the interest of people from the Windows Mobile platform, it essentially did not help the company to make a new profit from this change of attention.

Before the iPhone, the Android platform was completely different

Only after ten years (3rd quarter of 2016), Google’s revenues from mobile advertising began to exceed the level of world revenue from advertising for the PC platform. And unlike Apple, Google’s revenue share from hardware sales in these ten years has never become one of the key. Like Microsoft, Google remained tied to the PC market, where it did most of its revenue.

Intel was desperately looking for a replacement for its Itanium and NetBurst platforms and found this in its Israeli research and development center in the form of the Core microarchitecture, which, although it seemed new, was in fact only an improved 10-year-old P6 architecture used in the Pentium Pro, And then formed the basis of NetBurst. Again, Intel also decided to focus on the production of chips for personal computers and for a long time ignored the potential of mobile platforms.

Despite the fact that the attention of the press in 2005 was focused more on Microsoft, Google and Intel, and Apple, in turn, collected only cuffs in the form of criticism of its futile policy – it was Apple that became the company that brought the market out of Stagnation in the mid-2000s. The basis for this turn was the increase in profits from the sale of “poppies” and “ipods”, as well as smart investments in the future of mobile devices.

Of course, someone can say that Apple appeared with its iPhone on the market “like hell and snuffboxes.” But the truth is that the company went to this event systematically, for 7 years making its “poppies” and “ipods” more compact and at the same time not forgetting to constantly improve both its software and hardware developments.

The road to the future lies through the past

The iPhone’s smartphone was not the only thing Apple worked on. The company still supported its own x86 platform for macOS X (which was also derived from Steve Jobs’ NeXT developments, which were transferred to the x86 architecture back in 1993), acting as IBM’s response. However, in 2005, Apple announced the massive migration of the entire Mac line to new Intel Core processes, which promised PowerPC speed, increased energy efficiency and better “performance per watt” ratio.

But that’s interesting. Since Intel had to actually turn to the past architecture of NetBurst when developing Core, in turn, Apple had to abandon the ideas of the 64-bit architecture of PowerPC chips that had already been worked out and go back to the 32-bit world of processors, which were the first models of Intel Core chips.

Work on converting macOS for 64-bit PowerPC to work with 32-bit Intel Core also helped Apple prepare for another idea, the roots of which are also growing from the past. The fact is that in the early 90’s the company worked with the British computer manufacturer Acorn on the project to turn the ARM RISC processors into energy efficient chips for the personal laptop Newton MessagePad. Ten years later, Apple returned to mobile ARM chips and began to use them in its line of iPad. For 6 years of the existence of the iPods, the ARM architecture has evolved into a platform potentially capable of running a trimmed version of the macOS, and Apple itself has now figured out how to migrate its Mac platform to a new architecture, even less suitable for it.

To this model, “back to the future” Apple continues to return and now, however there is another time continuum, to which the company regularly addresses.

Postpone the future to convey the present

Instead of fixing the past and present of its computer business, Apple worked on what Mossberg describes as “today’s future potential”: she relied on “actual experience with less emphasis on how this experience is created.”

More precisely, Apple just took the most important application for the computer – a web browser – and began to think about how it could be used without having to use all the legacy that the Mac has. So the concept of the so-called Safari Pad was born. But instead of hitting the touch gadget on the market, which may not be accepted or understood by the world, Apple decided to “repackage” its Mac touch platform to the form factor of the phone that Jobs, with the words “widescreen iPod, phone and advanced Internet device “Introduced the world in 2007 under the laconic name of the iPhone.

The audience accepted this explanation very positively. Because it was easier for this audience to associate a new and completely unfamiliar device with the already well-proven “ipod” and a mobile phone, while perhaps not even realizing that the most valuable part of the device would be that the iPhone is essentially an advanced mobile device a computer. If Apple introduced the Safari Pad, and not what came out as the iPhone, then the world might not be able to figure out how to react to this announcement at all.

By the way, that’s why it was presented three years later – when it seemed that the iPhone and iOS formally already proved to be a very reliable device and a promising platform – the original iPad collected so much criticism and skepticism in its attitude and was nicknamed “just a big iPod Touch with the main Feature in the form of lack of Mac-functions. ”

Despite the huge success – the novelty allowed Apple to earn more money than the growing sales of the Mac, and gather a huge user base, which was four times more than the base of Mac users – in the world there are still a lot of people who consider this universal passion for the iPad a temporary phenomenon .

Even Mossberg writes in his farewell article: “The tablet market has grown like a leap, but it’s still struggling and yet unsuccessfully trying to find its place in the lives of many people.”

“Death is perhaps the best invention of life”

In 2005, Jobs spoke to students at Stanford University with a very powerful speech, where he, among other things, said the following: “Death is perhaps the best invention of life. It is the cause of change. It allows you to get rid of the old, to open the way for a new one. ”

A year earlier, Jobs himself had to feel the embrace of death on himself when he was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors then said – it remains to live from 3 to 6 months. But the will to live helped him, although not overcome, but to postpone the imminent for another 6 years. This was enough to see how sales of the iPhone overshadowed the sale of iPods and Macs, and also witnessed how the concept Safari Pad will turn into a device that in just 1 year of its existence will be able to bypass all sales tablets that have ever been released On the Windows platform.

Three years after Jobs’s death something happened that he probably would never have foreseen: the iPhones turned into a huge Safari Pad and even ate some of the iPad mini tablet sales, whose share at that time accounted for most of the profit from the lineup IPad, lined up at the peak of the popularity of tablets in 2014.

Suddenly, Apple began to sell smaller and smaller versions of its tablet and more and more models of the iPhone 6 Plus . The media did not disdain to take advantage of the situation, and headlines every now and then talked about Apple’s huge income from iPhone sales and a sharp decline in sales of iPad tablets. Can Jobs describe the actual cannibalism within his own company? Of course. After all, in the end, the big “iPhones” became the “new”, the place for which were supposed to release the “old” iPad mini. Fortunately, for Apple itself, the increased interest and sales of iPhone Plus proved to be more profitable than the interest in the iPad mini.

The biggest release since the iPad?

According to Mossberg, “the biggest software and hardware revelation since the announcement of the iPad in 2010 was the release of the voice-controlled” smart “Echo column by Amazon.”

Maybe this is the case, from the point of view of large media resources like The Verge (where, by the way, Mossberg spent his last months of work) and other fans of the digital assistant Alexa, given how much attention they paid to this event. But this is not at all the case, considering the number of gadgets sold, the income and the real impact on the world.

The Amazon Echo column, launched at the end of 2014, sold 2.4 million units by the end of 2015, and by the end of last year – 5.2 million. The company decided to find something new after the failure of its smartphone Fire Phone, which in fact was supposed to offer the same voice functions.

Following the iPhone 6, Apple also introduced a device whose functionality is built around Siri’s voice assistant. Even the great Mossberg says that Amazon Echo “admires” and “works” better than Apple Watch when executing commands based on voice control, but the status of “the biggest software and hardware revelation since the announcement of the iPad in 2010” would be more appropriate именно для Apple Watch, продажи которого только за один квартал 2015 (год выпуска) года, по данным аналитического агентства IDC, составили 3,6 миллиона единиц. А продажи за целый год оказались в четыре раза выше, чем цифры проданных колонок Amazon Echo. В феврале этого года уже сам The Verge говорил о том, что только за зимний квартал 2016 года было продано 6 миллионов Apple Watch.

Against this background, do not forget to also take into account that the average cost of Apple Watch is $ 400, while the most expensive version of the Amazon Echo column varies from $ 140 to $ 180, and the cheapest cost is $ 50. In other words, the revenue from the sale of devices that work with Alexa is much lower than the income that Apple provides its “smart” hours. And while many people do not hesitate to write off these incomes as not worthy of any attention at all. Madness. A real madness.

Background computerization

Strangely enough, Mossberg in his article, speaking of the coming world of “background computerization”, the world “in which technology itself, where computers that are in all these things, just become invisible to the majority”, did not even mention Apple Watch or AirPods anywhere .

Under the heading “Just Wait,” it heralds the arrival of “more and more distributed computing power, new sensor technologies, improved networks, smarter voice and visual recognition systems, and software that is both smarter and safer”, and later adds that “We all, perhaps, will not even notice, because these technologies will cease to stand out against the general background and, perhaps, will not even look like high-tech devices.”

But the fact is that everything described above can fairly be attributed to the same Apple Watch now. After all, they are an example of the very “disappearing computer”, which does not look like a “high-tech device.” They appeared on the market in 2015. The second worn gadget for Apple was the headphones AirPods, sold millions of copies only in the last two weeks of 2016. Apple’s background computerization devices are already so invisible that many people simply do not notice them.

You can talk a lot about how much Amazon Alexa or even Google Assistant better cope with their tasks or even more predisposed to communication than the same Siri from Apple. But in the end, all of them are cloud services that can be improved.

The base of Apple devices with support for Siri is now more than 1 billion different gadgets, including Mac computers, iOS devices, Apple Watch, AirPods watches and cars with CarPlay support. At Amazon, active users of Alexa are only a few million. Google recently reported about 100 million devices using its voice service. To argue a week before WWDC about whether Apple is somehow going to improve the functionality of Siri, it would be pointless. You can also add that Apple’s audience is global, while Amazon’s “flock” is more concentrated within the United States.

A smart future

More importantly, it’s that the developing world of background computerization, of course, is not limited to voice assistants. But Apple, unlike Amazon and Google, has not only a powerful ecosystem of devices and a development platform, the company also invests in the technology of the future, which allowed it to take the industry out of stagnation in the period that we discussed at the beginning of the article.

This is primarily about developing their own processors, working inside the “iPhones” and “iPads”. And also about the cyclic production, when high-performance chips from last year produce more energy-efficient solutions that become the hearts of products such as Apple Watch, Apple TV.

There are talks that Apple is developing a “Neural Engine”. What exactly is this – so far no one can not answer, but there is an opinion that this is a chip that can speed up the work and significantly improve the efficiency of the digital assistant (in this case we are talking about Siri) in response to voice commands. If we speak in simple language and do not go into technical details and subtleties, then perhaps we are talking about the new “brains” of Siri, which will allow it to accomplish the tasks much faster and more efficiently.

Google also has something similar. It is called the Tensor Processing Engine and is designed to speed up the machine learning process. But, unlike the Neural Engine, which is planned to be placed directly on the user’s device, the Tensor Processing Engine will be used in special data centers. In general, each company has its own approach to the solution, but I would like to believe that if anyone can open our doors to background computerization, then this will be a company that could foresee the success of Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPod, Watch and AirPods.

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