A Modest Proposal – Apple Should Buy the US Post Office

The recent iMaps fiasco has taught the world that Apple has some serious catch up to do in the world of maps. There is a bit of a chicken and the egg issue, the more people using the iMaps app, the more data Apple can collect and make iMaps a better app. Instead of waiting for this to happen, Apple should speed up the process and buy the US Post office.

The USPS operates over 210,000 vehicles and is the largest vehicle fleet in the world. The vast majority of these vehicles are out driving the world every day. If Apple buys the US post office, they could transform these vehicles into data gathering machines. Throw in a GPS and bring the data to Apple and their mapping team to quickly scale and improve iMaps. Next step, throw a camera in the car, ala the Google Car, and get a constantly refreshing street view mode. Google's Street View cars have driven 5 million miles since hitting the road. The US Post office drives 1.25 BILLION miles a year. Apple for the win! Next up, throw some more sensors onto the cars. For example, weather sensors could capture very local and real time weather data and create the next great Apple app, iWeather.

Putting sensors onto the USPS fleet is not a new idea, the USPS has even proposed doing this. However, it is a slow moving process, with privacy concerns often being cited. Apple buying the USPS and transforming it to the iPost Office helps alleviate these concerns. By moving the USPS from an old stodgy business to a tech company, privacy concerns quickly disappear. As consumers, we are used to letting the Goggles, Facebooks and Apples of the world collect information about us to make their services more awesome for us.

Next up, it becomes an advertising niche for Apple. The USPS handled over 170 billion items in 2010. Each one of these becomes an advertising opportunity! Just like Google can put a little advertising onto most of the web pages we visit, iPost Office can put a little ad onto each of the 170 billion mail deliveries they do a year and have a brand new revenue stream.

Next along the road, Apple can start competing with Amazon. It quickly acquires 30,000 retail locations that it can use to distribute physical goods. Instead of consumers having to wait a few days for the delivery of something from Amazon, or even two days for those customers paying for an Amazon Prime Membership, the iPost Office could deliver things purchased that day! The iPost Office even delivers on Saturdays, putting Amazon at a competitive disadvantage for those customers whom always battle cheap price vs. instant gratification.

The best part about iPost Office is that everything Apple does is cool. Hipsters would start flocking back to their mailboxes. Apple could create stamps of Apple luminaries like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Jonathan Ive (post redesign of course!). You can quickly imagine people buying these stamps and sending physical letters in the mail again. This could lead to a renaissance of letter writing! Imagine a world where instead of The Letters of John Cheever we could have the Collected Letters of John Grueber.

Okay, so the above is all a little bit Jonathan Swiftian, but a partnership between the US Post Office and Apple could go a long way to solving the financial issues at the US Post Offices and Apple's iMaps issue. Of course, in the US iMaps tends to be in much better shape, so throw in a similar partnership with DHL for good measure. Apple could quickly gather data and help resolve their mapping issues. Win-win.


Xbox Phone

Last week saw a lot of rumors running around that Microsoft would be releasing their own Windows Phone next year. WPCentral, BGR and The Verge had "trusted" sources confirm the release of a Windows Phone next year (2013). Even Forbes got into the mix saying it would be a good idea.

There are a lot of ways this would be difficult for Microsoft. They do not have distribution with the carriers, and that takes work. They have also burnt some bridges along the way ("Remember the Kin" I think is a Verizon rallying cry). They have also invested a lot in their relationship with Nokia.

If they are REALLY looking to get into the mobile phone business, they would just buy Nokia. Microsoft makes money from nearly every Android device sold and Nokia makes money on every iPhone sold. Having your competitors help pay for your developers as you try to take market share is fun. There is also a ton of Intellectual Property that Nokia brings to the mobile space that Microsoft can realize benefit from. Their mapping technology is one of the top two (if not top) in the industry. They also have excellent native apps that Microsoft could leverage natively for all of their phones. Moving away from a Nokia partnership could set Microsoft back, especially if the relationship changes in a way that they lose their mapping technology.

Lots of the speculation is that Microsoft would be making an unlocked device that they could sell directly to consumers, ala the Google approach with Nexus. I don't think that is going to happen. What I think is going to happen is that Microsoft is going to make a portable Xbox based on Windows Phone. Let's call it the XBox Surface.

What do we know.

New Xbox Next year - Microsoft is rumored to be releasing a new version of the XBox next year. There is also rumors/confirmation that the new Xbox will be based on the same core as Windows 8. You can be pretty sure that the new Xbox will be launching later next year, in time for the Holiday season. Both of the previous version of the XBoxes launched in November.

Windows Phone - The upcoming release of Windows Phone 8 is also reworked to be based on the Windows 8 OS. With all of the secrecy it is hard to say, but it SEEMS that Microsoft has not totally baked this through. Next year, you can expect it to be more fully integrated. Also, Microsoft traditionally updates their OS in October/November time frame.

Windows 8.Next - Microsoft has stated they would like to get into quicker rev cycles for both Office and Windows. The Windows RT side of the OS seems like this would be readily doable. We can assume that this would happen about a year after the release, which gets us into September/October

One OS To Rule Them All - A good deal of Microsoft's success comes from the ability to make developers productive and create apps. Recently, Microsoft has been promoting a "Shared Windows Core". This makes it easier for developers to create applications once and deploy to Windows 8 or Windows Phone, and one assumes Xbox.Next. While this is coming along, it doesn't feel like it is totally completed. I think it will be MUCH closer to fully baked next year.

So what do we have... Rumors that Microsoft is building a Windows Phone Surface type device, a new version of the XBox and the assumption of new Windows Phone and Windows releases next fall. I think you throw this all into a blender, and Microsoft will not be releasing a Surface Phone, but a handheld Xbox based phone.

The Xbox Surface would be based on the next version of Windows Phone 8, which I believe will be tightly integrated with the next Xbox. It will allow developers to much more easily create applications for both the next Xbox as well as the phone. Obviously you will not play Halo 5 on the phone, but you could maybe have a lighter graphic version of the FPS as well as augmented second screen for play if you wanted. Think the next version of Microsoft's SmartGlass on steroids, which will be more close to what Nintendo is doing with the WII U.

Microsoft has had tremendous success with the Xbox in the consumer space. It is a brand consumers trust. They do not have a competitor to Sony's PSP line. It is well past time they create one. With the upcoming release of the new Xbox it is my guess you will see one and it will be based on Windows Phone. And hey, if your new Xbox portable gaming device makes phone calls, well that is just a bonus.

And just like that, Microsoft has a path to gain traction in the phone space.


Windows 8 Dev Camp

I work at Skyline Technologies, which is a Wisconsin based consulting company. One way that we really differentiate ourselves in the consulting space is our associate focus. We are always looking for interesting ways to get our teams together, engage with one another and learn from the smart people we have in our organization.

An example of this... our management team had an awesome idea. Let's get everyone together and learn how to write Windows 8 apps. They then said let's make it more awesome, let's get everyone that writes Windows 8 apps a Windows Surface RT when they ship. This last weekend (9/15/12 - 9/16/12), we had close to 50 associates show up at our Appleton office to sling code for two days. It was awesome.

Windows 8 Dev Camp

We developed six different applications, three on the HTML/Javascript stack and three on the C#/XAML stack. We had several of our associates who have already created applications, including clearTREND, which has been recognized by Microsoft for its innovative UX. We were able to have those associates help out our six development teams whenever people hit roadblocks.

The best part about the Dev Camps, Give Camps and Community projects we do, is the opportunity to work and hang out with one another. I am constantly amazed by how smart and engaged the people I work with are. Despite spending a weekend full of 12+ hours days working (with a little beer drinking and football watching thrown in for good measure), we all left energized and excited.


Great people and great apps make for a great weekend.


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John Ptacek I'm John Ptacek, a software developer for Skyline Technologies. This blog is my contains my content and opinionss, which are not those of my employer.

Currently, I am reading Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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