Intimate Symbiosis – the Apple Watch

A recent Time magazine essay on the Apple Watch said, “The Apple Watch represents a redrawing of the map that locates technology in one place and our bodies in another…  The Apple Watch signals the advent of of an “always-on Internet”, an Internet that can not be put away. We are used to dabbling just our fingertips in the Internet, but the Apple Watch doesn’t stop there. It tracks your movements. It listens to your heartbeat. It puts your whole body on-line”.

What we saw this week at Apple’s big announcement is the ushering of a new era via its Apple Watch. Our watches have been dumb, it just shows time. Now it is going to be much more. Even Apple made sure of the accuracy of time – within milliseconds, something the other smart watch products never emphasized on. Also, notice the absent of i in the Apple Watch, a significance of post-Jobs creation of a beautiful product by a whole team headed by Johny Ive, the chief designer.

From a business point of view, it is sheer genius. Given the flat growth of Apple iPhones, the Watch requires the presence of the iPhone as a pre-requisite. Given that it supports iPhone5, right away, there are 200 million users of iPhone loyalists to embrace the Apple Watch plus the new buyers of iPhone6 family. The user interface is full of clever innovations. Notice the “digital crown”, the small sensor-filled nub on the side of the watch to scroll the screen, zoom-in and zoom-out and navigate home. The screen is not grid-like, but shows small circles of apps available. Also Siri, the voice-activated digital assistant will be handy.

The Apple Watch has a rich feature set. It makes calls like a phone. It handles text messages and emails, though because of the tiny screen reading is a lot easier than writing. Users can send one another small drawings that animate and then disintegrate after a few seconds. They can also send their heartbeats to each other. Double tapping on the screen sends a gentle nudge to a nearby friend, like a light tap on the wrist. In practice it’s silly, ephemeral and lovely. Besides supporting the usual iPhone and iPad apps: weather, stocks, passbook, photos, maps, calendar (you have to have a link to nearby iPhone for GPS and Internet connectivity). Crucially it supports Apple’s new wireless payment system, a major play on its own right.

But how much of personal stuff we want to broadcast? Yes, it’s intimate, a word used frequently by Tim Cook. But it brings new challenges of exposing our behavior online.

The Time essay concluded, “Once you are O.K. with wearing technology, the only way forward is inward: the next product launch after the Apple Watch would logically be the iMplant. If Apple succeeds in legitimizing wearables as a category, it will have established the founding node in a network that could spread throughout our bodies, with Apple setting the standards. Then we’ll really have to decide how much control we want – and what we’re prepared to give up for it.”

Big Day at Apple – Sept 9, 2014

Today, Apple made significant announcements at the historic Flint Center in Cupertino, where exactly 30 years ago, the brand new Apple McIntosh was introduced by Steve Jobs. It is worthwhile to see the entire event (almost 1.5 hours, culminated by the band U2 playing on stage and releasing a new album on iTune for free download).

Three key announcements were made: the new iPhone6 and iPhone6Plus, Apple Pay, and Apple Watch.

The new iPhone6 and 6Plus offer bigger screen sizes, as expected, with a new chip plus new iOS8 software. Screen size went from 4 inch (iPhone5) to 4.7″ and 5.5″. Displays are sharper and the camera is much more powerful. Enhanced video, longer battery life,  and many additional features make this quite a move forward. The processor is almost 50x faster than the original iPhone, whereas the graphics performance is 84x faster. Clearly the computer game business will be attractive for the iPhone6Plus. The phones are thinner and better rounded. Being the largest revenue product, Apple clearly has worked hard at these improvements.

Apple enters the digital payment market for the first time using its new product Apple Pay. A special secure chip is introduced here along with NFC (Near Field Communication), only in iPhone6 and 6Plus. Credit cards will be stored securely, and future purchases can be done by just bringing the iPhone close to a payment device – incredibly easier than sliding the plastic today   (a technology that is five decades old and prone to theft and fraud). Many stores have signed up already – McDonalds, Panera Bread, Whole foods, Starwood Hotels (even room doors can be unlocked by iPhone), Target, Disney, etc. The much discussed concept of a digital wallet seems viable now using Apple Pay.

The Apple Watch is an incredible product that brings a lot of new innovations. Given the small real estate of this watch, Apple has introduced a circular side button for easy movement of contents. This will provide many many functions, from messaging, to calendar alerts, email, twitter feeds, Facebook friends, maps, Siri, and more. The most attractive feature will be health-related – steps taken, calories burnt, miles walked, heart rate, etc. Health and fitness wearables such as Fitbit and Nike band, have been far more limited compared to what Apple has packed into the Watch. This will set the bar for others to imitate, much like what the iPhone did initially.

Today’s event certainly proved the incredible innovation power of Apple!

The NoSQLNow conference in San Jose this week

I attended the NoSQLNow conference this week at the San Jose Convention Center. The organizers claimed there were 800 attendees, clearly much higher than last couple of years. Given the number of sessions, exhibits, speakers and attendees, the interest on newer data management products and solutions (aka Big Data) has been growing fast.

I spoke at a session titled, “Are NoSQL databases ready for the enterprise? Examples of MongoDB deployment” which was well attended. I also participated in a panel on “enterprise adoption of cloud”. My co-panelists were from Oracle and NeoDB. The conference opening session was given by one of the co-hosts, Dan McCreary and he spoke about the state of NoSQL. He mentioned that a total of $2.4B have been invested in NoSQL DB companies over last couple of years- MongoDB ($231M), CouchBase ($116M), Aerospike ($22M), Basho ($32.5M), Datastax ($83.7M), Clustrix ($59.3M), FoundationDB ($22.3M), etc. Even big player like Intel has invested in Cloudera. 

Here are some new trends in the NoSQL world:

  • Hadoop is starting to move from batch to real time and streaming
  • Real time systems are adding Hadoop integration points
  • Storm (twitter) and Spark are addressing data streaming
  • Spark/Scala is popular on multiple systems
  • MongoDB is the big leader in NoSQL operational systems based on document data model, followed by Datastax and CouchBase

The market pressures, according to Dan point to:

  • Big Data & Predictive analytics
  • Internet of Things (time series data and log files)
  • Security for highly regulated areas like finance/banking, healthcare, and the government
  • streaming data
  • keeping the operational cost low (bye bye to license fees)
  • High Availability (move away from master-slave to clusters of peer to peer networks)

There are other trends like old-school Map-Reduce programming is being taken over by Spark. JSON data formats are gaining in popularity for agile development, but there is no standardization of JSON query language. On the other hand, XQuery 3.1 is supporting both XML and JSON formats. There is new emphasis on agile transformation, as data storage is no longer the issue. The question is how non-programmers can transform data to various useful formats.  The acronym ETL will be replaced by ETTTTTTT… (extract, store in data lake, and transform in many ways).

Other keynotes included Oracle’s head of database development, Andy Mendelson, who showed Oracle’s 3 areas under “big data” – Oracle DBMS & Exadata, Oracle Hadoop, and Oracle NoSQL (formerly BerkeleyDB), all with one interface called Oracle Big Data SQL. SQL seems to make a comeback as an interface to several products such as Cloudera Impala.

Amazon presented their Dynamo DB, built for the cloud with fast and predictable performance. They claim seamless scalability and easy admin. Amazon’s motto has always been, “build services, not software”. Amazon.com uses DynamoDB to minimize opex.

I presented many examples of enterprises deploying MongoDB to build “systems of engagement” on top of “systems of record” ( a concept Geoff Moore of Crossing the Chasm fame has been talking lately). There is great momentum of MongoDB deployment at enterprises because of agile development (flexible data model and high coding velocity), fast scalability and high availability using shards and replicas, and the open source culture.

Fast Data vs. Big Data

Back when we were doing DB2 at IBM, there was an important older product called IMS which brought significant revenue. With another database product coming (based on relational technology), IBM did not want any cannibalization of the existing revenue stream. Hence we coined the phrase “dual database strategy” to justify the need for both DBMS products. In a similar vain, several vendors are concocting all kinds of terms and strategies to justify newer products under the banner of Big Data.

One such phrase is Fast Data. We all know the 3V’s associated with the term Big Data – volume, velocity and variety. It is the middle V (velocity) that says data is not static, but is changing fast, like stock market data, satellite feeds, even sensor data coming from smart meters or an aircraft engine. The question always has been how to deal with such type of changing data (as opposed to static data typical in most enterprise systems of record).

Recently I was listening to a talk by IBM and VoltDB where VoltDB tried to justify the world of “Fast Data” as co-existing with “Big Data” which is narrowed to static data warehouse or “data lake” as IBM calls it. Again, they have chosen to pigeonhole Big Data into the world of HDFS, Netezza, Impala, and batch Map-Reduce. This way, they justify the phrase Fast Data as representing operational data that is changing fast. They call VoltDB as  “the fast, operational database” implying every other database solution as slow. Incumbents like IBM, Oracle, and SAP have introduced in-memory options for speed and even NoSQL databases can process very fast reads on distributed clusters.

VoltDB folks also tried to show how the two worlds (Fast Data and their version of Big Data) will coexist. The Fast Data side will ingest and interact on streams of inbound data, do real time data analysis and export to the data warehouse. They bragged about the performance benchmark of 1m tps on a 3-node cluster scaling to 2.4m on a 12-node system running in the SoftLayer cloud (owned by IBM). They also said that this solution is much faster than Amazon’s AWS cloud. The comparison is not apple-to-apple as the SoftLayer deployment is on bare metal compared to the AWS stack of software.

I wish they call this simply – real-time data analytics, as it is mostly read type transactions and not confuse with update-heavy workloads. We will wait and see how enterprises adopt this VoltDB-SoftLayer solution in addition to their existing OLTP solutions.

Online Marketplace and Flipkart

I listened to Professor Ramesh Johari of Stanford University last night talking about the dynamics of online markets. He spent 18 months at a company called oDesk (now part of eLance, online marketplace for freelance workers) and tried several models to understand what creates successful online markets. Besides complex matching algorithms and collaborative filtering, there are other interesting factors such as human behavior that can affect such markets. Let us look at what is happening in emerging markets like India.

Yesterday, Flipkart, an Indian e-commerce site for commercial goods got an infusion of $1B from investors from Russia, South Africa, USA, Singapore, and India. The two founders came from Amazon and no wonder they are following the same model- start with books, then open your fulfillment engine to other merchants and charge a fee. Flipkart is the fast rising e-commerce site in India and its founders just joined the billion dollar club on paper based on the latest valuation at $7B. India’s e-commerce market is currently at $13B, poised to grow to $76B by 2021, according to Technopak. Out of this total market, travel sector is 70% and type of goods sold through the likes of Flipkart and Amazon yields $1.6B. By comparison, e-commerce sales in China will likely surpass $180B this year!

Speaking about Amazon, Jeff Bezos just announced that he will invest $2B  in India, via five more warehouses (doubling to half a million square feet), same day delivery, and aggressive marketing. In a statement this morning he said, “With this additional investment of $2 billion, our team can continue to think big, innovate, and raise the bar for customers in India. At current scale and growth rates, India is on track to be our fastest country ever to a billion dollars in gross sales.” Amazon makes its money in India by charging third-party suppliers to use its website to sell 17 million different products including books, electronics and clothing.

The government is considering allowing foreign retailers to sell directly to customers. It recently took a step in that direction by allowing retailers to sell online products manufactured in India. Amazon and Flipkart are also joined by Snapdeal, another e-commerce site backed by eBay and Jabong (fashion designer). The new prime minister Mr. Modi wants to open up rural markets to such brand names for easy access without building physical stores. It will also enable growth for small town stores as front end to such goods.

Alibaba’s success in China is also an example for other such emerging markets. The founders of Flipkart dream of a $100B valuation for their company some day. But as Ramesh Johari pointed out yesterday, what is illusive is the secret formula for success and many unknown factors. Earlier this week, Lyft (online taxi service like Uber) users got highly frustrated when they could not get cars fast enough and trashed the company in social media.

Online markets are hot for sure and Flipkart will see some real competition from Amazon and eBay.

Facebook valued higher than IBM?

Yesterday Facebook with its stock soaring to new heights, exceeded IBM in terms of market value. This morning, it’s slightly less (IBM at $194B vs Facebook at $193B). However Facebook is higher than Oracle’s value and is the third largest company in the valley after Apple and Google. For enterprise software folks like me, this is very hard to explain. Value of what? – the photographs, likes and connected friends?

Market value is the total number stocks multiplied by the stock price. Sometimes, it can be a huge multiple of the current revenue – as is the case for Facebook. It’s projected annual revenue for this year at $12B is minuscule compared to IBM’s $100B in 2013. Facebook is 10 years old with 7000 employees compared to IBM’s age at 103 with more than 400,000 employees. The market value indicates the “projected” growth of a company and a higher demand of its stock increases the value. Sustainability is another issue.

Facebook reported stellar performance earlier this week, exceeding the analyst’s projection. It’s mobile advertising revenue was impressive, compared to zero two years ago. This pushed the stock to almost $76, twice the price of its IPO at $38 and four times the low of $18 at one time. Mark Zuckerberg is worth almost $33B at the ripe age of 31, adding a whopping $1.6B yesterday to his net worth.

I guess social networking is a huge force. With 1.2 billion users, Facebook owns a great treasure called the “social graph” of a huge population. Advertisers would bet all their money to reach such an audience. This year, the net spend on mobile advertising would exceed that of TV and print media spending. Every time, you use Facebook, it keeps track of you and your connections, plus photographs, links, timeline, etc. There are privacy issues being debated.

Facebook is growing very fast in countries like India and Brazil. No wonder Sheryl Sandberg visited India last month and met the new prime minister Mr. Modi to discuss how Facebook can be used for better governance in the largest democracy of the world. Incidentally, IBM’s largest number of employees now are in India, bigger than the US. 

It is still hard to digest the fact that Facebook is almost equal to IBM’s value!

The new IBM-Apple partnership

We live in interesting times for sure. Who would have thought ten years ago that IBM and Apple would become partners? Here is the announcement as reported in eWeek

Apple and IBM surprised many on July 15, announcing a global partnership that will see the companies attempt to “transform enterprise mobility.” The announcement, punctuated with comments from Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, served notice of the companies’ intentions to make Apple smartphones, tablets and mobile services pre-eminent in the enterprise, replacing the BlackBerry devices and security services that long held the dominant position in that market. The partnership only confirms what Apple has been doing for years with its smartphones, tablets and even its notebook and desktop PCs, moving deeper into enterprises. The company has been touting its success in the corporate world, saying that many of the top companies in the world are now using its iPhones and iPads. In the IBM announcement, Apple’s Cook said that the company’s iPhones and iPads are now running in more than 98 percent of the Fortune 500 and 92 percent of the Global 500. Both Apple and IBM expect those figures to grow with this new partnership.

What is in it for Apple? Apple has been trying for years to shed the idea that its products only appeal to consumers. The company has brought proprietary app development and remote device management to iOS devices and continues to offer stats on enterprise integration. With the IBM deal, however, Apple is making something abundantly clear: It cares deeply about the corporate world and it wants to do all it can to be a success in that market. 

What is in it for IBM? For IBM, the Apple partnership is a software play. IBM said in its own press release that it plans to make applications that are designed for enterprise customers, but come with a wide array of features that simply aren’t available right now in the mobile market. That could provide IBM (and Apple) with a leg up in the enterprise. While IBM could have extended the partnership to OS X and perhaps made Apple a bit happier as it tries getting that platform into the enterprise, Big Blue said in its statement that the agreement applies only to iOS. That means that iPhones and iPads will play a central role in this agreement, and Macs and iPods running iOS will be left out. 

Developing mobile Apps together? Although IBM plans to chart the course for software in this partnership, the companies are actually going to come together on development. IBM said that both Apple and its own developers will collaborate to leverage iOS as much as possible and get every last bit out of the technology built into iPhones and iPads. That’s a core component in this: IBM has lofty goals, and it can only be successful if it can fully harness the power of iOS and Apple hardware. 

Leveraging Big Data: Big data and analytics will be a core focus of this effort, IBM said. The apps—over 100, in total—will look at how to get companies to insert their massive amounts of data into iOS devices, analyze it and make actionable decisions. Mobile devices have traditionally been viewed as too underpowered to handle big data. IBM sees it differently.

Playing in the IBM Cloud: Although IBM is building apps for on-premise use, the company said that it will also offer all of the solutions it’s developing on its Bluemix development platform. Customers will need to head over to the IBM Cloud Marketplace and then download the apps they desire. IBM said it will also try to find other ways to leverage the cloud. 

IBM, a reseller of iPhone & iPad? IBM is essentially becoming another outlet for Apple to sell its iPhones and iPads. The companies have agreed to have IBM sell iPhones and iPads to enterprise customers that come with desired applications already on them. That should make it easier for corporate customers to join the mobile fray and for Apple to improve its already-strong enterprise integration. 

There you go folks! This new partnership appears like a big winner for Apple as it expands its already-dominant market for iPhone/iPad into the enterprise. IBM is betting on the mobile apps on iOS to make its cloud and big data initiatives more appealing.

Gone are the days in 1984 when Apple ran that advertisement during the introduction of the Mac, portraying IBM as the big bad evil force. With IBM’s PC business sold to Lenovo few years back, IBM is into software and services business (includes cloud infrastructure service).

Yes, these are interesting times!