Simple as a Service

Magritte Even though I continue to hate TypePad, I love Facebook Connect. Whenever I see the Facebook Connect logo, I smile because I know I'm two clicks away from whatever I want to do. To write this post in TypePad I need to sign in. Having recently switched to RockMash/Chrome I have not cached my user name and password and am in the familiar Yahoo death spiral of trying to guess the password before I get locked out for multiple retries.

Click on Facebook Connect however and I'm immediately presented with a requestor asking permission to authorize TypePad to do something, the details of which I really don't care about because I will be abandoning TypePad as soon we move to WordPress. So I click Yes, and here I am. This is as close to single sign on as I'm going to get anytime soon, and whenever something gets this easy in the identity space, it's time to get serious about being a consumer. Our transactions become a Trojan horse for enterprise relationship management.

Apple has already locked in a large percentage of high-value credit cards with the Appstore and Apple ID. Take the recent release of iOS 4.2, which enables multi-tasking, threaded multiplexed email accounts, VoIP push notification, and something called AirPlay. As a part time consumer, I no longer have to bounce back and forth between my corporate and Gmail accounts, a process that takes endless 4-or-5 clicks. I can bring up a map, flip over to a mail thread, etc., and that's before most apps are upgraded to take advantage of the multitasking. But this AirPlay thing is a whole next level of the Apple strategy.

It begins with Apple collecting our credit cards for free apps. A few days ago, my Comcast account barfed during an episode of House and rendered the first half unviewable. It turns out Comcast on-demand does not have a deal with Fox, and I prefer giving my 10 bucks to NetFlix rather than Hulu Plus, and .... Well, the net of it was I went out and grabbed an Apple TV knowing I could always rent the show and watch it on the iPad. A bird in the hand.

But my wife and daughters also like the show, and all of our Comcast boxes were garbled during the outage. I needed a way to "throw" the show from my MacBook Pro to the Apple TV. AirPlay. This worked out of the box, but my MacBook hard drive is filled with my single iTunes purchase (Neil Young's Le Noise) and ripped CDs. Then iOS 4.2 shipped, not just for iPad but iPhone and iPod Touch. I synched the MacBook Pro with the iPad, upgraded, and then upgraded Apple TV, all with the same Apple ID. When I have the time (and backup hard drive space) I'll do the same to the iPhone and iTouch.

Now I can pull down a show from any of the devices, routing around the media musical chairs that's being played by the networks and cable companies. It's bleeding edge and not altogether fun to deal with iTunes in the middle of most of these transactions, but I'd rather place my bet on an Apple that delivers the future albeit in various degrees of difficulty, than invest in other competitors who fundamentally don't have the leverage to move the needle. Those include Google TV at least for now.

Watching a show on my HD widescreen streaming off the Apple TV directly at a dollar a pop (about half the big networks more or less) or rented and then streamed from my iDevices is about as simple as it needs to get. Because it's simple and Apple already has my credit card, I can impulse buy from any device and toss it up on the big screen. Because it's easy, the holdout networks will move slowly but surely to support streaming, and things will get better.

Because Facebook Connect is simple, I will choose services that support it. Because I sign into RockMouth via Facebook, I'm already in the system. As Facebook Messages gets traction, it will act as an accelerant for Facebook Connect credentials, automatically registering multiple types of messaging traffic inside the credentials gateway. Those apps, and platforms, that work well with Facebook Connect, will be like AirPlay, letting you throw signal from screen to screen as context shifts.

Right now the only other platform I might be vulnerable to is XBox Kinect. And the only other problem I have is that signing into TypePad via FB Connect makes this post completely invisible to me if I sign in the old fashioned name/password way. And interestingly, the checkbox to Tweet share this post has been replaced with a Facebook icon instead. Thanks TypePad. There's a Manage accounts link, but it forces me to save my work before giving me an option to add Twitter as a share option. Setting these simple networks up takes time and patience, but once configured, we've locked ourselves in but good.

My colleague John Taschek argues that software is bad in the age of the Cloud. But the more I get embedded in these transactional workflows the more hardware bound services are abstracted away to the Cloud. Apple's unbundling of Find your iPhone service from the MobileMe pay wall in iOS 4.2 suggests how this will go, with your Apple ID marshalling your credentials across the suite of devices as services are upgraded via the Cloud.

This is very different than Microsoft selling the "private" cloud in order to maintain lock in and price control for its software assets. And it will continue to make it a struggle to break the bond between Apple and Facebook and their customers, who prefer to finance the architecture with hardware and software, and then leverage the Cloud to introduce continuous and rapid innovation that keeps us engaged and satisfied.