Networks vs. Storage -- is Life Random?
I was just driving back up to my Emeryville office from a meeting on the Penninsula and was struck by how many Apple billboards I saw promoting their Shuffle mp3 player. Instead of making me want a Shuffle, though, the repetition of their "Life is Random" marketing message got me thinking about the difficulty they face in marketing this gadget.
The good news is that it is cheap and has a great user interface. But the tagline says volumes about what Apple has to do as marketers -- not only do they have to convince you to buy their product, but they have to get you to change your behavior. This is where marketing can become beautiful or stupid (sometimes both).
Why do you have to change your behavior? With 512 MB of memory, you aren't going to carry many songs around. With no UI, you aren't going to have much of a chance to select your music, even from the songs you are able to load. So the experience you are stuck with is randomly listening to a random excerpt from your music collection.
About now longtime readers of IP Inferno are wondering, what the heck does this have to do with IP?
I believe there is an interesting conflict brewing between networks and storage. What Apple wants you to buy into with their current product offerings is a portable storage solution. But lets imagine a world (or just visit Korea) where there is ubiquitous high speed IP connectivity. If you could connect to all of your data, all of the time, why would you want to carry all of your data with you?
Here is why you wouldn't:
1) portable devices are inherently limited -- limited storage, limited display or playback, limited battery life...
2) you already carry around a cell phone, why carry a second (third...) device?
3) you want spontaneous access to all of your data -- not just what you could fit on the device,or remembered to load, or what was available the last time you synched...
People who know me are aware that I chose to become the COO of Orb Networks in part because of the emergent value of an always on IP network. But this conflict between storage and networks goes far beyond digital media (which is what Orb is focused on).
Why do I carry around a laptop full of applications, files, messages... all of my information? Because I have to -- I can't count on ubiquitous connectivity. But this is very inconvenient. My data lives on one device, not on all devices. If I add an email address to my laptop's mail application it doesn't automatically synchronize to my cell phone - etc.
As ubiquitous IP networks appear, the answer will become clear. All of my data will live in a "system of record" (Geoffrey Moore's term) and my access to it from different devices will be across the network. Sure, I will cache data locally on my PDA, laptop, cell phone... either for performance or for those few times I am outside the reach of the network. But to the extent that I can trust the network, that local storage I will need will be quite small.
So ultimately the 512 MB of Apple's Shuffle may really be all I need for listening to my music. But not because Apple convinces me to listen to a random sample of my music in a random order. Rather, it will be because while I am accessing all of my music, in an order I prefer, that 512 MB of caching space is way more than I will ever need to take into account network issues.
To the Apple marketeers I would say -- life was random for prehistoric people who had no control over their environment. Ever since, we have been using technology to take control over our environment. So I say, "no thank you" to your invitation to become a cave man again.