Apple and the Cloud: A Cautionary Tale

4/6/12

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execute commands according to various conditions. Our televisions find shows we want to watch. The Web itself will match our “haves” and “wants” with those of everyone else on a planetary scale, avoiding today’s “silo” sites that try to aggregate buyers and sellers (think eBay). We will collaborate with thousands of suppliers, vendors, and contributors to build large-scale projects we can’t even dream of today.

Most of us don’t want to program our televisions, cameras, or thermostats. We can adjust settings and preferences, but only after products and services are programmable can they then become adaptable, which is where the magic happens.

Let’s look at bicycles. Like the airplanes and cars of yesteryear, our bicycles use cables to transmit information to brakes and derailleurs. A new system by Shimano, called DI2, uses wires and small battery-driven motors to do the shifting. As usual, we’re using new technology to imitate the old ways of doing things. Shimano’s shifting system gives the rider four buttons: rear derailleur up/down and front derailleur up/down. That’s familiar, but all we really need are two buttons: one to make pedaling easier and one to make pedaling harder. We should be able to program the progression from easiest to hardest and then shift up or down without having to think about which derailleur does what. The logic can be programmed into an app, the app runs on the phone sitting on our handlebars, and the phone becomes our interface to the transmission. That would be a big step, but we can do better.

The Shimano shifting system. The first thing that comes to mind: Imitate old functionality with new technology.

After we have the shifting logic in place, we can get rid of the buttons and shift by voice command. Eventually, we’ll add more data and let our bikes adapt to changing road conditions on their own. Using sensor data from cranks, pedals, wheels, road, and other bikes nearby, the phone can do the shifting and we can give it feedback, so it gets better and better at anticipating our needs. We can still give the occasional voice command before jumping out of the saddle and sprinting. As a bonus, we can keep in touch with teammates while riding or answer an important call.

Adaptability is event driven. It’s very different from the demand-driven systems we have today. If something happens in front of you, whether you’re on a bike path, driving down the freeway, or flying at 30,000 feet, the system (all participants and their equipment) adjusts. When you take a pill, don’t take a pill, hit a golf ball, reschedule an appointment, get in your car, or walk near a store that has something on your shopping list, the event triggers a response and keeps other people up to date automatically. In an event-driven world, we don’t know which apps we need, and it won’t matter. A piece of code sitting in the cloud that is perhaps almost never used is nevertheless ready to respond to something unusual, and we may only learn about this software service after we needed it. An event-driven world is designed to change as the data changes. This is an important concept, one that isn’t integrated into Apple’s developer universe.

From Smart to Dumb

Today, apps rule. App stores have more than half a million apps, and they all do more or less what our computers did 15 years ago—carry out instructions in a stand-alone environment. Many of them share data and sync to the cloud, but apps have their limitations. And our needs have changed.

Let’s look at how a pilot controls an airplane. Today, pilots still go on board carrying a briefcase full of papers that help them fly the plane. While most everything is run by computer, the paperwork is still connected to that particular flight. But now imagine this: a pilot walks up to a huge jetliner, sits down in the cockpit, takes out her iPad, and plugs the iPad into a “well” in the dashboard designed specifically for the iPad. Now the cockpit environment comes to life, showing the pilot exactly what she wants to see the way she wants to see it, with screens that can adapt and show data in context, so that if something is wrong it can get bigger and more detailed while other indicators go off to the side. Her route is already programmed in and connected to weather data, her iPad knows how rested she is, and as she flies the plane, she sees all the other planes on the route and their telemetry data. Pilot and equipment are one, able to adapt together to whatever comes at them. And the cool thing is that the iPad has all the data from every flight that pilot has ever flown, plus data for the next upcoming month’s worth of flights.

Now think about it—how necessary is the iPad in this scenario? Not very. The pilot needs a big touch-sensitive display that shows all the various data sources, programs, and other elements of the system. Add a connection to the Internet with the ability to run independently if the connection goes away, and we have the cockpit of the future. Seen from this perspective, … Next Page »

David Siegel is an author, consultant, and investor focusing on the future of technology, the Internet, and business. He has written three bestselling books about the Internet and started one of the first web design and strategy agencies, Studio Verso, which he sold to KPMG in 1999. He is an active angel investor and advisor to startups and the author of Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business. Follow @

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