Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura took cultural historian Erica Robles-Anderson to the Soho Apple store. Robles-Anderson recently studied the use of technology in churches and Laskow wanted to know: are Apple stores the new temples?
"People have used technology for a long time to speak to the gods," she says -- to create collective experiences of the sublime.
These days, technology is more often talked about as a way to create personalized, individual experiences, but Robles-Anderson thinks that's only part of the story. Communal ritual is always a part of technology: Early computers came into group spaces, like families and offices. (Mad Men understood this dynamic: the computer as an event weathered together.) Powerpoint presentations gather people to look at giant screens. Even using an iPhone to tune out the human beings around you requires being part of a larger group.
And Apple, more than any other technology company, has been able to access both these experiences, the individual and the collective. "They feel iconic, like an emblem of the personal," says Robles-Anderson. "And yet it's a cult. Right? It's so obviously a cult."
The architecture of the stores contributes to the sacred feeling of cult membership.
"The oversized doors are fantastic," says Robles-Anderson. "There's no reason for them." They're there only to communicate that this place is important. Also, they're heavy, like church doors, to give purpose and portent to the entry into the space.
We walk inside. It's light and bright, and immediately in front of us, a wide staircase of opaque glass sweeps up to the second floor.
This is an old, old trick. "It's used in ziggurats, even," Robles-Anderson says. "It creates a space that emphasizes your smallness when you walk in. You look at something far away, and that makes your body feel like you're entering somewhere sacred or holy."
The boxes on the chart have changed, but since the appointment of Bob Iger as CEO, Disney has seemingly doubled down on Walt's old strategy with their increased focus on franchises.
Disney's dominance can be boiled down very simply to one word: franchises. Or rather, an "incessant focus on franchises" in the words of former Disney CFO Jay Rasulo.
"Everything we do is about brands and franchises," Rasulo told a group of financial analysts last September. "Ten years ago we were more like other media companies, more broad-based, big movie slate, 20 something pictures, some franchise, some not franchise. If you look at our slate strategy now, our television strategy, almost every aspect of the company, we are oriented around brands and franchises."
Franchises are well suited to extend across multiple parts of a big business like Disney, particularly because it's a repeating virtuous cycle: movies drive merchandise sales and theme park visits, which in turn drives interest for sequels and spin-offs, rinse, repeat, reboot.
I wonder if more tech companies could be using this strategy more effectively. Apple does pretty well; their various hardware (iPhone, iPad, Mac), software (iOS, OS X), and services (iCloud, App Store, iTunes Store) work together effectively. Microsoft rode Office & Windows for quite awhile. Google seems a bit more all over the place -- for instance, it's unclear how their self-driving car helps their search business and Google+ largely failed to connect various offerings. Facebook seems to be headed in the right direction. Twitter? Not so much, but we'll see how they do with new leadership. Or old leadership...I discovered Walt's chart via interim Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Siri needs to be able to say just about everything in the English language, and that took a lot of hard work.
"I recorded four hours a day, five days a week for the month of July," Bennett says. For a voice actor, that workload causes a lot of strain. "That's a long time to be talking constantly. Consequently, you get tired."
The original Siri "was to sound otherworldly and have a dry sense of humor," Bennett says. She added that to her take on the character, even as she focused on staying consistent and clear.
Lonnie Mimms has a gigantic collection of vintage computers, software, and peripherals. You don't realize the scope of the collection until you see him walking around the Apple pop-up exhibit he built inside of an abandoned CompUSA.
I'm traveling this weekend, and I've been doing something I've never done: I've been using the hotel's gym. Any Apple Watch owners can probably guess why: I have a good run going on my daily Activity circles, and I want to keep it going.
Ever since getting the Apple Watch, not only have I been getting more consistent exercise, but I'm pushing myself further. I take more walks, and I walk faster and further than ever before. I've been walking Hops around the same streets for four years, but now I've been discovering new streets and paths just to extend our walking distance and try to beat my previous walks.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."
"Don't break the chain," he said again for emphasis.
The next day Mr. Lazaridis grabbed his co-CEO Jim Balsillie at the office and pulled him in front of a computer.
"Jim, I want you to watch this," he said, pointing to a webcast of the iPhone unveiling. "They put a full Web browser on that thing. The carriers aren't letting us put a full browser on our products."
Mr. Balsillie's first thought was RIM was losing AT&T as a customer. "Apple's got a better deal," Mr. Balsillie said. "We were never allowed that. The U.S. market is going to be tougher."
"These guys are really, really good," Mr. Lazaridis replied. "This is different."
"It's OK -- we'll be fine," Mr. Balsillie responded.
RIM's chiefs didn't give much additional thought to Apple's iPhone for months. "It wasn't a threat to RIM's core business," says Mr. Lazaridis's top lieutenant, Larry Conlee. "It wasn't secure. It had rapid battery drain and a lousy [digital] keyboard."
"RIM's chiefs didn't give much additional thought to Apple's iPhone for months."
"RIM's chiefs didn't give much additional thought to Apple's iPhone for months."
"RIM's chiefs didn't give much additional thought to Apple's iPhone for months."
You know how to circumvent the WSJ's paywall, right? You paste the title of the piece -- in this case, The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry -- into Google and click on the story from the search results or in Google News. Boom, instant access.↩
Since iOS 7 came out in 2013, your iPhone's Location Services has included a little-known feature called Frequent Locations, which keeps very detailed track of every distinct location you visit. How detailed? This, precisely, was when I was in my apartment over a three-day period last month:
All told, my phone recorded all 33 different locations I've visited in NYC since April 15, including 84 visits to my apartment and 54 visits to my office, down to the minute and a ~130-foot radius. The feature is on by default if you've got Location Services switched on, so you can find your information by opening the Settings app and going to Privacy > Location Services > System Services (at the bottom) > Frequent Locations. You can also turn the feature off if you wish.
Apple says the feature is used to learn your favorite places and the data is kept only on the phone:
Your iPhone will keep track of places you have recently been, as well as how often and when you visited them, in order to learn places that are significant to you. This data is kept solely on your device and won't be sent to Apple without your consent. It will be used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing.
It's likely that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and the NSA (until recently) are collecting this same sort of data about you regardless of what sort of phone you use, except that these organizations do not share Apple's public commitment to privacy. (via @dunstan)
If you've bought a ticket to an event in the past, oh, 15-20 years, chances are you got it from Ticketmaster. Chances are also pretty good that you think Ticketmaster completely sucks, mostly because of the unavoidable and exorbitant convenience fee they charge. And that probably has you wondering: if everyone who uses the service hates Ticketmaster so much, how are they still in business? Because ticket buyers are not Ticketmaster's customers. Artists and venues are Ticketmaster's real customers and they provide plenty of value to them.
Ticketmaster sells more tickets than anybody else and they're the biggest company in the ticket selling game. That gives them certain financial resources that smaller companies don't have. TM has used this to their advantage by moving the industry toward very aggressive ticketing deals between ticketing companies and their venue clients. This comes in the form of giving more of the service charge per ticket back to the venue (rebates), and in cash to the venue in the form of a signing bonus or advance against future rebates. Venues are businesses too and, thus, they like "free" money in general (signing bonuses), as well as money now (advances) versus the same money later (rebates).
Read that whole Quora answer again...there's nothing in there about TM being helpful for ticket buyers. It turns out asking "who's the customer?" is a great way of thinking about when certain companies or industries do things that aren't aligned with good customer service or user experience.1
Take Apple and Google for instance. Apple sells software and hardware directly to people; that's where the majority of their revenue comes from. Apple's customers are the people who use Apple products. Google gets most of their revenue from putting advertising into the products & services they provide. The people who use Google's products and services are not Google's customers, the advertisers are Google's customers. Google does a better job than Ticketmaster at providing a good user experience, but the dissonance that results between who's paying and who's using gets the company in trouble sometimes. See also Facebook and Twitter, among many others.
Newspapers, magazines, and television networks have dealt with this same issue for decades now.2 They derive large portions of their revenue from advertisers and, in the case of the TV networks, from the cable companies who pay to carry their channels. That results in all sorts of user hostile behavior, from hiding a magazine's table of contents in 20 pages of ads to shrieking online advertising to commercials that are louder than the shows to clunky product placement to trimming scenes from syndicated shows to cram in more commercials. From ABC to Vogue to the New York Times, you're not the customer and it shows.
This might be off-topic (or else the best example of all), but "who's the customer?" got me thinking about who the customers of large public corporations really are: shareholders and potential shareholders. The accepted wisdom of maximizing shareholder value has become an almost moral imperative for large corporations. The needs of their customers, employees, the environment, and the communities in which they're located often take a backseat to keeping happy the big investment banks, mutual funds, and hedge funds who buy their stock. When providing good customer service and experience is viewed by companies as opposite to maximizing shareholder value, that's a big problem for consumers.
Update: I somehow neglected to include the pithy business saying "if you're not paying for the product, you are the product", which originated in a slightly different phrasing on MetaFilter.
Update: One example of how maximizing shareholder value can work against good customer service comes from a paper by a trio of economists. In it, they argue that co-ownership of two or more airlines by the same investor results in higher prices.
In a new paper, Azar and co-authors Martin C. Schmalz and Isabel Tecu have uncovered a smoking gun. To test the hypothesis that institutional investors gain market power that results in higher prices, they examine airline routes. Although we think of airlines as independent companies, they are actually mostly owned by a small group of institutional investors. For example, United's top five shareholders -- all institutional investors -- own 49.5 percent of the firm. Most of United's largest shareholders also are the largest shareholders of Southwest, Delta, and other airlines. The authors show that airline prices are 3 percent to 11 percent higher than they would be if common ownership did not exist. That is money that goes from the pockets of consumers to the pockets of investors.
How exactly might this work? It may be that managers of institutional investors put pressure on the managers of the companies that they own, demanding that they don't try to undercut the prices of their competitors. If a mutual fund owns shares of United and Delta, and United and Delta are the only competitors on certain routes, then the mutual fund benefits if United and Delta refrain from price competition. The managers of United and Delta have no reason to resist such demands, as they, too, as shareholders of their own companies, benefit from the higher profits from price-squeezed passengers. Indeed, it is possible that managers of corporations don't need to be told explicitly to overcharge passengers because they already know that it's in their bosses' interest, and hence their own. Institutional investors can also get the outcomes they want by structuring the compensation of managers in subtle ways. For example, they can reward managers based on the stock price of their own firms -- rather than benchmarking pay against how well they perform compared with industry rivals -- which discourages managers from competing with the rivals.
BTW, asking who the customer is doesn't help in every situation where bad service and contempt for the customer rears its ugly head. See cable companies, mobile carriers, and airlines. Companies also have other conflicts of interest that interfere with good customer experience. Apple, for instance, does all kinds of things that aren't necessarily in the best interest of the people buying their products. And as the Ticketmaster example shows, determining a company's true customer isn't just a matter of where the revenue comes from. It's never simple.↩
This is a potential problem with kottke.org as well. Almost all of my revenue comes from advertising. My high regard for the reader keeps me pretty honest (I hope!), but it's difficult sometimes.↩
"My interview with the two Steves took place while they were still in the folks' garage," Craven tells Business Insider. She remembers it this way:
"I flew up from LA, and the two Steves picked me up in a red Chevy Luv Truck, tossed my suitcase in the back, and put me between them in the front seat. We went someplace for lunch, and talked about their plans.
Of course, Steve Jobs did all the talking. After lunch we drove to his parents home in Palo Alto-never went inside the house-straight to the garage. On a workbench sat a PC board. above the workbench on a shelf sat a TV set where wires dangled from it to the PC board.
The whole time Steve Jobs was talking, explaining, outlining future plans for marketing and development, he was just about dancing on his tippy toes in his tennies. Then Woz sat at the workbench, initiating the operating system (I suppose) to demonstrate a program. Woz was pretty quiet. I got that he was the engineering brain power, and Jobs was the idea guy.
One of the things Jobs told me was that they would make certain there would be an Apple in every classroom and on every desk, because if kids grew up using and knowing the Apple, they would continue to buy Apples and so would their kids. The computers would be donated by Apple Computer. I understand that when that article came out, orders starting pouring in, and Apple Computer was seriously launched."
Some sort of embargo seems to have lifted because here come the Apple Watch reviews! As I'm unanointed by Apple, I haven't experienced Apple Watch in the flesh, but I do have a few random thoughts and guesses.
John Gruber notes that why Apple made a watch is different from why they made the iPhone. People were generally dissatisfied with their mobile phones (I know I was) so Apple made one that was much better. But people who wear current watches like them.
But as Ive points out, this time, the established market -- watches -- is not despised. They not only don't suck, they are beloved.
I'm one of the watch non-wearers Gruber discusses elsewhere in his review; I haven't worn a watch since my Swatch band broke when I was 17. Part of the reason I don't wear a watch is they look hideous. The more expensive watches get, the uglier they are. Have you seen the watch ads in the New Yorker or Vogue? Garish nasty looking objects. And men's watches are generally massive, built for lumberjacks, linebackers, and other manly men, not for dainty-wristed gentlemen like myself. I tried on a regular men's Rolex some years ago and it looked like I'd strapped a gold-plated Discman on my wrist.
I know, I know, not all watches. The point is that for me, Apple Watch looks like something I would consider wearing on a regular basis -- imagining myself living in Steve Jobs' living room has always been more my speed than J.P. Morgan's library.1
The subtle notifications possible with Apple Watch (taps, drawings, heartbeats) are very interesting. Also from Gruber's review:
You're 16. You're in school. You're sitting in class. You have a crush on another student -- you've fallen hard. You can't stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual -- but you don't know. You're afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally -- afraid of the crushing weight of potential rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and send a few taps. And you wait. Nothing in response. Dammit. Why are you so stupid? Whoa -- a few taps are sent in return, along with a hand-drawn smiley face. You send more taps. You receive more taps back. This is it. You send your heartbeat. It is racing, thumping. Your crush sends their heartbeat back.
Pings would be perfect for situations when texting or a phone call is too time consuming, distracting, or takes you out of the flow of your present experience. If you call your husband on the way home from work every night and say the same thing each time, perhaps a ping would be better...you wouldn't have to call and your husband wouldn't have to stop what he was doing to answer the phone. You could even call it the "sweetheart ping" or "sweethearting"...in the absence of a prearranged "ping me when you're leaving", you could ping someone to let them know you're thinking about them.
Glancing: An application to allow ultra-simple, non-verbal communication amongst groups of friends online.
It's a desktop application that you use with a group of other people. It lets you "glance" at them in idle moments, and it gives all of you an indication of the activity of glancing going on.
A group is intended to be less than a dozen people. A person may belong to several groups simultaneously by running separate instances of Glancing. Groups are started deliberately, probably by using a www interface, and people are told the group secret so they can join (a "secret" is just a shared password).
But the thing that has struck me the most since the announcement of Apple Watch is the idea that if you're wearing one, you're going to be checking your devices a lot less. From TechCrunch last month:2
People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck.
One user told me that they nearly "stopped" using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don't, period. That's insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.
I'm in a meeting with 14 people, in mid-sentence, when I feel a tap-tap-tap on my wrist. I stop talking, tilt my head, and whip my arm aggressively into view to see the source of the agitation. A second later, the small screen on my new Apple Watch beams to life with a very important message for me: Twitter has suggestions for people I should follow. A version of this happens dozens of times throughout the day-for messages, e-mails, activity achievements, tweets, and so much more. Wait a second. Isn't the promise of the Apple Watch to help me stay in the moment, focused on the people around me and undisturbed by the mesmerizing void of my iPhone? So why do I suddenly feel so distracted?
The promise of the Apple Watch is to make it more convenient to send & receive notifications and quick messages, although many of the reviews make it clear that Apple hasn't entirely succeeded in this. In the entire history of the world, if you make it easier for people to do something compelling, people don't do that thing less: they'll do it more. If you give people more food, they eat it. If you make it easier to get credit, people will use it. If you add another two lanes to a traffic-clogged highway, you get a larger traffic-clogged highway. And if you put a device on their wrist that makes it easier to communicate with friends, guess what? They're going to use the shit out of it, potentially way more than they ever used their phones.
Now, it's possible that Apple Watch doesn't make receiving notifications easier...instead, it may make controlling notifications easier. Like congestion pricing for your digital interactions. But that is generally not where technology has been taking us. Every new communications device and service -- the telegraph, telephone, internet, email, personal computer, SMS, smartphones, Facebook, Whatsapp, Slack,3 etc. etc. etc. -- makes it easier to 1) connect with more and more people in more and more ways, and 2) to connect with a few people more deeply. And I don't expect Apple Watch will break that streak. The software will get faster & better, the hardware will get cheaper & longer-lasting, and people will buy & love them & use them constantly.
P.S. While I didn't quote from it, The Verge review is great. But mainly I'm wondering...where are the reviews from the fashion world? I assume Vogue and other such magazines and media outlets received Apple Watches for review and their embargoes lifted as well, but after searching for a bit, I couldn't find any actual reviews. And only a single major review by a woman, Lauren Goode's at Re/code. If you run across any, let me know?
Have you been to the Morgan Library? It's great, a lesser known gem of a museum in Manhattan. I went this past weekend, in fact. But I would not like to live in such a baroque place.↩
God, I hate linking to TechCrunch -- I've only linked to them a handful of times and I complain about it every time -- but they were the best source for this point. Apologies to my soul.↩
The conventional wisdom about Slack is that it's rescuing us from the tyranny of email. But when everyone is on Slack because it's easier and offers certain advantages over email, then what? What will rescue us from the tyranny of Slack? (A: Nothing. That's the point...we can't help wanting to communicate in easier ways with our fellow humans, so much so that we gorge ourselves like geese at the gavage. Whatever kills Slack will be a bigger, easier communications gavage. Rinse. Repeat. Until the heat death of the Universe.) ↩
In the above shot, blanks are placed in an immersion ultrasonic tester. What Apple is looking for is the presence of voids or density variances within the structure of the blank that, under stress, could lead to part failure or surface defects as material is removed in further machining processes. This level of inspection is, to put it mildly, fastidious beyond where most other companies would go (save Rolex). Immersion ultrasonic inspection is typically reserved for highly stressed medical implants and rotating components inside of aircraft engines; not only does this step take time, it also is typically performed by custom built machines of tremendous expense.
If you don't have the time or energy to read through the whole thing, at least skip to the final two paragraphs about manufacturing as ritual.
It is, in short, the book about Steve Jobs that the world deserves. You might wonder how such a book could be written without Jobs's participation, but effectively, he did participate. Schlender, in his work as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, interviewed Jobs extensively numerous times spanning 25 years. Remember the 1991 joint interview with Jobs and Bill Gates? That was Schlender. As the book makes clear, Jobs and Schlender had a very personal relationship.
The book is smart, accurate, informative, insightful, and at times, utterly heartbreaking. Schlender and Tetzeli paint a vivid picture of Jobs the man, and also clearly understand the industry in which he worked. They also got an astonishing amount of cooperation from the people who knew Jobs best: colleagues past and present from Apple and Pixar -- particularly Tim Cook -- and his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs.
Update: A glitch in Amazon's Look Inside the Book feature gave Luke Dormehl a sneak peek at some of the book's details, including that Tim Cook offered Jobs a part of his liver and Jobs talked about buying Yahoo.
Another interesting tidbit: Steve Jobs and Disney boss Bob Iger talked about buying Yahoo! together at one point, a move that would have given Apple an "in" in the search business.
While the question of Apple buying Yahoo! has been raised plenty of times over the years, this is the first time there's been a serious suggestion that Jobs considered such an acquisition.
Buying Yahoo! would have given Apple access to a host of patents, web services and other tools in a fiercely competitive sector. Yahoo! would have been an interesting fit for Apple (which is probably why it didn't happen), but it's fascinating to consider what might have been.
One afternoon, Cook left [Jobs'] house feeling so upset that he had his own blood tested. He found out that he, like Steve, had a rare blood type, and guessed that it might be the same. He started doing research, and learned that it is possible to transfer a portion of a living person's liver to someone in need of a transplant. About 6,000 living-donor transplants are performed every year in the United States, and the rate of success for both donor and recipient is high. The liver is a regenerative organ. The portion transplanted into the recipient will grow to a functional size, and the portion of the liver that the donor gives up will also grow back.
Totally sweet and charming video of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak talking about the early days at the company while setting up and using an old Apple II.
Of Apple's two founding Steves, Wozniak was the technologist and Jobs was the one with the artistic & design sense, right? But it's obvious from watching this video that Woz cared deeply about design and was a designer of the highest order. Those early Apple circuit boards are a thing of beauty, which is echoed in the precision and compactness with which Apple currently designs iPhone and Mac hardware. They each have their own unique way of expressing it, but Woz and Jony Ive speak in a similarly hallowed way about how their products are built.
I awoke one night in Quito, Ecuador, this year and came up with a way to save a chip or two from the Apple II, and a trivial way to have the 2 grays of the Apple II be different (light gray and dark gray) but it's 38 years too late. It did give me a good smile, since I know how hard it is to improve on that design.
By the time I was done, the design of the Nova was half as many chips as all of the other minicomputers from Varian, Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard, all of the minicomputers of the time (I was designing them all). And I saw that Nova was half as many chips and just as good a computer. What was different? The architecture was really an architecture that just fit right to the very fewest chips.
My whole life was basically trying to optimize things. You don't just save parts, but every time you save parts you save on complexity and reliability, the amount of time it takes to understand something. And how good you can build it without errors and bugs and flaws.
I just upgraded to OS X Yosemite yesterday1 and the Helvetica as the system font is as jarring as everyone says it is. But that new Apple Watch font, San Francisco, seems really nice. So of course someone has worked out a way to use the Watch font as the system font on Yosemite. Here's what you do...just type the following in Terminal.app:
Pretty nice. But it's not perfect. For instance, look at the text in the Chrome tabs...it's not aligned correctly. And if you have the fast user switching menu enabled in the menu bar, that's weirdly misaligned too. If you'd like, you can also switch back to using the previous font, Lucida Grande.
From 10.8, no less. I'd been wary of upgrading for the past couple years due to the 15 hours I'd have to spend getting my development environment back into working order again. New version of Apache? Perl moved? Oh, I need to install memcached again? Where did all my configuration files go? [hair tearing out noise] But recently I moved my web development to Vagrant and holy crap is that a game changer. After updating OS X last night, I just issued a quick 'vagrant up' command and there was my dev environment, just like I left it. Awesome.↩
At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' " I often challenge myself with that question, and I've come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That's what has led me to today.
For years, I've been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I'm gay, and it doesn't seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I've had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people's differences. Not everyone is so lucky.
While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven't publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.
Casey Neistat visited several Apple Stores in NYC on the eve of the iPhone 6 launch to observe the folks standing in line. He found that many of those in line, particularly right in the front, were Chinese resellers.
The iPhone 6 won't be available in China for several months, so a lively and lucrative black market has sprung up. The video shows several typical transactions: two phones (the maximum allowed per person) are purchased with cash and then the people sell those phones to men who presumably have them shipped to China for resale.
I remember last year, when the iPhone 5s came out, there was always a line of mostly Asian people outside the Soho store in the morning, even months after the launch. (via @fromedome)
The analysis of the weak parts of Apple's recent introduction of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch at the beginning of this piece is good, but the real gem is the complete reworking of the presentation as Steve Jobs might have approached it.
Jobs: It's not easy being an engineer at Apple. (Laughs) How do you take the world's best phone and make it even better? (Cheers)
When we first launched the iPhone back in 2007, we didn't anticipate the central role it plays today-how it would touch every part of our lives. (Cheers)
Seven years later, our iPhones are the window to our world. Through this window I see my wife and kids. I see my friends, take care of work, and relax.
If this window is so important, what if we made it a little bigger?
(Steve holds out his hand and starts separating his fingers as if he's stretching an iPhone)
(Once they get really far, he grins and quickly pushes them back together)
Jobs: But not too big! (Audience chuckles) You still want to be able to hold it in one hand and fit it inside your pocket.
Our team of smart engineers have come up with the perfect size.
The heartfelt folksiness is pitch perfect. And the whole thing about the iWatch is amazing:
Jobs: The iWatch comes with a special sensor that detects your heartbeat. In addition to linking to Apple Health, it does something very special.
Something very dear to me.
I'd like to see how my daughter is doing. Instead of sending her a text, what can I do? I press this button twice, and... (Heartbeats echo in the auditorium)
You can't see it, but my watch is vibrating to her heartbeat. I can close my eyes and know that my daughter is alive, living her life halfway around the globe.
Not sure if Jobs would have approached it this way, but it made me actually want to get an Apple Watch. (via @arainert)
Peter Sims writes about an under-appreciated aspect of Steve Jobs' success: he "was a superb collaborator with the people who he respected and trusted".
[Ed] Catmull, now president of both Pixar as well as Walt Disney Animation (a position Catmull has held since Disney acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006), was Jobs' longest-running colleague, a working relationship that spanned 26 years. Catmull dedicates a chapter of his superb recent book Creativity, Inc. to what it was like to work with Jobs. Catmull, who has the least overt ego of any senior executive I've ever met, saw Jobs mature enormously over time, especially in the development of personal empathy and humility.
In fact, Catmull, sees Jobs' life as having taken a classic Hero's Journey arc.
From his widely-reported immature and often arrogant youth, Jobs by all accounts appeared to develop into a far more empathetic human being and wise leader. But that personal transformation would not have happened without what leadership scholar Warren Bennis described as "crucibles" -- those personal crises and setback experiences that shape us much like "medieval alchemists used in their attempts to turn base metals into gold" -- and, that allow for personal and leadership metamorphosis.
The "far more" qualifier in front of "empathetic" is necessary when speaking of Jobs' transformation. I think what he developed could probably be referred to as a ruthless empathy, employed much like another other tool in the service of building great companies and making great products.
"With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture," said Apple in a statement provided to The Loop. "When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS."
I wonder if the Photos app will be geared at all towards semi-pro/pro photographers or if they've permanently ceded that market to Lightroom.
An instant classic John Gruber post about the sort of company Apple is right now and how it compares in that regard to its four main competitors: Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Amazon. The post is also about how Apple is now firmly a Tim Cook joint, and the company is better for it.
When Cook succeeded Jobs, the question we all asked was more or less binary: Would Apple decline without Steve Jobs? What seems to have gone largely unconsidered is whether Apple would thrive with Cook at the helm, achieving things the company wasn't able to do under the leadership of the autocratic and mercurial Jobs.
Jobs was a great CEO for leading Apple to become big. But Cook is a great CEO for leading Apple now that it is big, to allow the company to take advantage of its size and success. Matt Drance said it, and so will I: What we saw last week at WWDC 2014 would not have happened under Steve Jobs.
This is not to say Apple is better off without Steve Jobs. But I do think it's becoming clear that the company, today, might be better off with Tim Cook as CEO. If Jobs were still with us, his ideal role today might be that of an eminence grise, muse and partner to Jony Ive in the design of new products, and of course public presenter extraordinaire. Chairman of the board, with Cook as CEO, running the company much as he actually is today.
This bit on the commoditization of hardware, and Apple's spectacularly successful fight against it, got me thinking about current events. Here's Gruber again:
Apple's device-centric approach provides them with control. There's a long-standing and perhaps everlasting belief in the computer industry that hardware is destined for commoditization. At their cores, Microsoft and Google were founded on that belief - and they succeeded handsomely. Microsoft's Windows empire was built atop commodity PC hardware. Google's search empire was built atop web browsers running on any and all computers. (Google also made a huge bet on commodity hardware for their incredible back-end infrastructure. Google's infrastructure is both massive and massively redundant - thousands and thousands of cheap hardware servers running custom software designed such that failure of individual machines is completely expected.)
This is probably the central axiom of the Church of Market Share - if hardware is destined for commoditization, then the only thing that matters is maximizing the share of devices running your OS (Microsoft) or using your online services (Google).
The entirety of Apple's post-NeXT reunification success has been in defiance of that belief - that commoditization is inevitable, but won't necessarily consume the entire market. It started with the iMac, and the notion that the design of computer hardware mattered. It carried through to the iPod, which faced predictions of imminent decline in the face of commodity music players all the way until it was cannibalized by the iPhone.
And here's David Galbraith tweeting about the seemingly unrelated training that London taxi drivers receive, a comment no doubt spurred by the European taxi strikes last week, protesting Uber's move into Europe:
Here's the relevant bit from Wikipedia about The Knowledge:
It is the world's most demanding training course for taxicab drivers, and applicants will usually need at least twelve 'appearances' (attempts at the final test), after preparation averaging 34 months, to pass the examination.
Uber, in this scenario, is attempting to be Microsoft in the 1980s and early 90s. They're implementing their software layer (the Uber service) on commodity hardware, which includes not only iPhones & Android phones, mass-produced cars of any type, and GPS systems but also, and crucially, the drivers themselves. Uber is betting that a bunch of off-the-shelf hardware, "ordinary" drivers, and their self-service easy-pay dispatch system will provide similar (or even better) results than a fleet of taxi drivers each with three years of training and years of experience. It is unclear to me what the taxi drivers can do in this situation to emulate the Apple of 1997 in making that commoditization irrelevant to their business prospects. Although when it comes to London in particular, Uber may have miscalculated: in a recent comparison at rush hour, an Uber cab took almost three times as long and was 64% more expensive than a black cab.
When developing the first Beats headphones, Iovine would lay out various prototypes in his Interscope offices and then poll everyone who came to see him. "It was this incredible parade of the world's great artists," says Wood. "M.I.A. or Pharrell Williams or Gwen Stefani or Will.i.am would come around, and I'd ask them, 'What do you think of this one? What about this? What about that?' " says Iovine. "It's not a numbers thing. I go to people with great taste." As he and Dre prepared to launch the final version of Beats, Iovine sent a pair to another world-famous guy: LeBron James. Iovine had been hanging out in the editing room with James's friend and business partner Maverick Carter during the development of a documentary on the basketball star. "Mav called me back and says, 'LeBron wants 15.' " Iovine sent them, and they turned up on the ears of every member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball team when they arrived in Shanghai. "Now that's marketing," says Iovine.
He spent "months and months and months" working out the exact shape of the stand of the desktop iMac computer because "it's very hard to design something that you almost do not see because it just seems so obvious, natural and inevitable". When he has finished a product, even one as fresh and iconic as the white headphones that came with the first iPod, he is haunted by the idea: could I have done it better? "It's an affliction designers are cursed with," Ive frowns.
It was an affliction he shared with Jobs, although he seemed to apply it to everything, with -- almost -- funny consequences. Ive recalls traveling with Jobs. "We'd get to the hotel where we were going, we'd check in and I'd go up to my room. I'd leave my bags by the door. I wouldn't unpack. I'd go and sit on the bed and wait for the inevitable call from Steve: 'Hey Jony, this hotel sucks. let's go.'"
Would have preferred more of the actual interview -- lots of biographical filler in this to make it accessible for the general public -- but there are good bits here and there.
Raffi Khatchadourian's long piece on the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is at once fascinating (for science reasons) and depressing (for political/bureaucratic reasons). Fusion reactors hold incredible promise:
But if it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world's energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on iter will be built, too-generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity's will. iter, in Latin, means "the way."
But ITER is a collaborative effort between 35 different countries, which means the project is political, slow, and expensive.
For the machine's creators, this process-sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star-will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars' worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the iter organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world's population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the iter Unit of Account.
No one knows iter's true cost, which may be incalculable, but estimates have been rising steadily, and a conservative figure rests at twenty billion dollars -- a sum that makes iter the most expensive scientific instrument on Earth.
I wonder what the project would look like if, say, Google or Apple were to take the reins instead. In that context, it's only $20 billion to build a tiny Sun on the Earth. Facebook just paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, Apple has a whopping $158.8 billion in cash, and Google & Microsoft both have more than $50 billion in cash. Google in particular, which is making a self-driving car and has been buying up robots by the company-full recently, might want their own tiny star.
But back to reality, the circumstances of ITER's international construction consortium reminded me of the building of The Machine in Carl Sagan's Contact. In the book, the countries of the world work together to make a machine of unknown function from plans beamed to them from an alien intelligence, which results in the development of several new lucrative life-enhancing technologies and generally unites humanity. In Sagan's view, that's the power of science. Hopefully the ITER can work through its difficulties to achieve something similar.
"A computer on every desk and in every home" was incredible foresight for 1977. It carried Microsoft for 25 years of growth. But once that goal was achieved, I don't think they knew where to go. They were like the dog that caught the car. They spent a lot of time and energy on TV. Not just with Xbox, which is alive and well today (albeit not a significant source of income), but with other ideas that did not pan out, like "media center PCs" and the joint ownership of "MSNBC", which was originally imagined as a sort of cable news network, website, dessert, and floor wax rolled into one.
No surprise: Gruber writes about Microsoft as well as he does about Apple.
The second aspect of the original Mac that stands out today as Apple-like is putting just enough whimsy into the experience. Most famously, the smiling Mac you saw as the system booted. Had anyone prior even considered a smiling computer? But fundamental to the genius of the smiling Mac is that it didn't come across as silly or corny. Friendly and fun: yes. Goofy: no. Getting that right required that most Apple-y of talents: taste.
And he's spot on in that second footnote about the lack of whimsy in iOS 7. There's nothing funny about those Settings and Safari icons.
To replicate the smell a brand new unopened Apple was sent to our fragrance lab in France. From there, professional perfume makers used the scents they observed unboxing the new Apple computer to source fragrance samples. On completion the laptop was sent back to Australia, travelling nearly 50,000kms and returned to our clients together with scent of an Apple Macbook Pro.
Incredible that the Mac is still around; the 90s were a dire time for Apple and it's amazing to see the current fantastic iMacs and Macbooks that came after some epically bad mid-90s machines. Here's Steve Jobs introducing the original Mac in 1984 (a snippet of the full introduction video):
First, I met the machine. From the instant the woman running the demo switched on that strange-looking contraption (inspired in part by the Cuisinart food processor), I knew the Macintosh would change millions of lives, including my own. To understand that, you must realize how much 1984 really was not like 2014. Until that point, personal computers were locked in an esoteric realm of codes and commands. They looked unfriendly, with the letters of text growing in sickly phosphorescence. Even the simplest tasks required memorizing the proper intonations, then executing several exacting steps.
But the Macintosh was friendly. It opened with a smile. Words appeared with the clarity of text on a printed page - and for the first time, ordinary people had the power to format text as professional printers did. Selecting and moving text was made dramatically easier by the then-quaint mouse accompanying the keyboard. You could draw on it. This humble shoebox-sized machine had a simplicity that instantly empowered you.
If you have had any prior experience with personal computers, what you might expect to see is some sort of opaque code, called a "prompt," consisting of phosphorescent green or white letters on a murky background. What you see with Macintosh is the Finder. On a pleasant, light background (you can later change the background to any of a number of patterns, if you like), little pictures called "icons" appear, representing choices available to you. A word-processing program might be represented by a pen, while the program that lets you draw pictures might have a paintbrush icon. A file would represent stored documents - book reports, letters, legal briefs and so forth. To see a particular file, you'd move the mouse, which would, in turn, move the cursor to the file you wanted. You'd tap a button on the mouse twice, and the contents of the file would appear on the screen: dark on light, just like a piece of paper.
The rollout on January 24th was like a college graduation ceremony. There were the fratboys, the insiders, the football players, and developers played a role too. We praised their product, their achievement, and they showed off our work. Apple took a serious stake in the success of software on their platform. They also had strong opinions about how our software should work, which in hindsight were almost all good ideas. The idea of user interface standards were at the time controversial. Today, you'll get no argument from me. It's better to have one way to do things, than have two or more, no matter how much better the new ones are.
That day, I was on a panel of developers, talking to the press about the new machine. We were all gushing, all excited to be there. I still get goosebumps thinking about it today.
What's clear when you talk to Apple's executives is that the company believes that people don't have to choose between a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone. Instead, Apple believes that every one of its products has particular strengths for particular tasks, and that people should be able to switch among them with ease. This is why the Mac is still relevant, 30 years on-because sometimes a device with a keyboard and a trackpad is the best tool for the job.
"It's not an either/or," Schiller said. "It's a world where you're going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don't have to choose. And so what's more important is how you seamlessly move between them all.... It's not like this is a laptop person and that's a tablet person. It doesn't have to be that way."
The Macintosh is the future of Apple Computer. And it's being done by a bunch of people who are incredibly talented but who in most organizations would be working three levels below the impact of the decisions they're making in the organization. It's one of those things that you know won't last forever. The group might stay together maybe for one more iteration of the product, and then they'll go their separate ways. For a very special moment, all of us have come together to make this new product. We feel this may be the best thing we'll ever do with our lives.
I like to claim that I bought the second Macintosh computer ever sold in Europe in that January, 30 years ago. My friend and hero Douglas Adams was in the queue ahead of me. For all I know someone somewhere had bought one ten minutes earlier, but these were the first two that the only shop selling them in London had in stock on the 24th January 1984, so I'm sticking to my story.
The Next Web has an interview with Daniel Kottke (no relation) and Randy Wigginton on programming the original Mac.
TNW: When you look at today's Macs, as well as the iPhone and the iPad, do you see how it traces back to that original genesis?
Randy: It was more of a philosophy - let's bring the theoretical into now - and the focus was on the user, not on the programmer. Before then it had always been let's make it so programmers can do stuff and produce programs.
Here, it was all about the user, and the programmers had to work their asses off to make it easy for the user to do what they wanted. It was the principle of least surprise. We never wanted [the Macintosh] to do something that people were shocked at. These are things that we just take for granted now. The whole undo paradigm? It didn't exist before that.
Like Daniel says, it's definitely the case that there were academic and business places with similar technology, but they had never attempted to reach a mass market.
Daniel: I'm just struck by the parallel now, thinking about what the Mac did. The paradigm before the Mac in terms of Apple products was command-line commands in the Apple II and the Apple III. In the open source world of Linux, I'm messing around with Raspberry Pis now, and it terrifies me, because I think, "This is not ready for the consumer," but then I think about Android, which is built on top of Linux. So the Macintosh did for the Apple II paradigm what Android has done for Linux.
I caught it on TV last night, and I couldn't disagree more. It's called "Misunderstood," as in misunderstood teenager. I found it depressing, upsetting, and a sad commentary on our social-, video- and image-obsessed culture. The goal, of course, was to market the wonder of the iPhone using the element of surprise: show a seemingly slacker teen disengaged from the goings-on of family life, his eyeballs glued to his iPhone-save for very fleeting moments-suddenly reveals to stunned family members a touching video he'd made of their Christmas merriment. That he'd been creating all day.
The problem is that while he was creating, he wasn't really living the day, he was a mere voyeur during it. The message? Life is better through video. Don't live life, tape it.
I admit I do this as much as anyone. We all love to photograph and record the activities and people we love. But lately I've been going to bed at night with that nagging feeling that I hadn't lived enough and had spent too much time focused on a device. Seriously. Are we happy that this year's Thanksgiving and Hanukkah was Instagram's busiest ever? This commercial glorified that reality. And I don't think it is a positive message.
In "Why I Write," Joan Didion explains, "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means." Hey, we're all little Joan Didions! Well, not exactly, but if my theory sounds grandiose, go back to look at things you wrote a few years ago, if you can. When I look at the notes I've stopped to write in those books, entire worlds come back at me. "Watching the squirming foot of the resident during the circumcision," I wrote while my son went through the procedure. I hadn't thought about that moment since it happened, but that image of the nervous young doctor put me right back on the threshold of the small operating room 11 years ago. The set list from the Bob Dylan show at Madison Square Garden in November 2001 reminds me of my visit that day to ground zero. I'd forgotten that George Plimpton nearly ran me over riding down 54th Street on a bicycle. My wife's malapropisms dot the books ("Hang up the towel," "Breathing down my throat," "Stick his neck out on a limb for me"). I recalled each dinner where they were minted, how we laughed over them and how she has the equanimity not to care.
Or maybe I'm the biggest sap in the world...either way, I'm totally crying at work.
ps. But of course, that can't be the best Apple advertisement ever because that title will always and forever be taken by a drunk Jeff Goldblum extolling the virtues of the iMac's internet capabilities:
Excited by Kerr's explanation of what a sophisticated touch interface could do, the team members started to brainstorm the kinds of hardware they might build with it.
The most obvious idea was a touchscreen Mac. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, users could tap on the screen of the computer to control it. One of the designers suggested a touchscreen controller that functioned as an alternate to a keyboard and mouse, a sort of virtual keyboard with soft keys.
As Satzger remembered, "We asked, How do we take a tablet, which has been around for a while, and do something more with it? Touch is one thing, but multitouch was new. You could swipe to turn a page, as opposed to finding a button on the screen that would allow you turn the page. Instead of trying to find a button to make operations, we could turn a page just like a newspaper."
Jony in particular had always had a deep appreciation for the tactile nature of computing; he had put handles on several of his early machines specifically to encourage touching. But here was an opportunity to make the ultimate tactile device. No more keyboard, mouse, pen, or even a click wheel-the user would touch the actual interface with his or her fingers. What could be more intimate?
What makes Apple fascinating is not that they are using some wiz-bang alien technologies to make things -- even here in Portland, Oregon, all the technologies Apple shows in this video are in-practice across numerous local factories. What makes Apple unique is that they perform their manufacturing with remarkable precision and on a scale that is simply astonishing, using techniques typically reserved for the aerospace or medical device industries.
The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn't play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called "the golden path," a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.
But even when Jobs stayed on the golden path, all manner of last-minute workarounds were required to make the iPhone functional. On announcement day, the software that ran Grignon's radios still had bugs. So, too, did the software that managed the iPhone's memory. And no one knew whether the extra electronics Jobs demanded the demo phones include would make these problems worse.
A portable networked computing and gaming device that can be easily operated with one hand can be used in a surprising variety of situations.
Try to take the adjectives and adverbs out of that sentence. (Strunk and White say to "write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. Strunk and White are often surprisingly stupid.)
But also try adding any more adjectives or adverbs in. Try adding in or taking away any of the clauses. Try writing a better sentence that describes the same thing. (This is also known as "the Mohammed Test.") Try to misunderstand what the sentence means. I'm a professional writer. So is Jason. I appreciate this stuff.
There's also a lot of structural and emotional variety in this post. The author gets mad. He makes jokes. But mostly, he observes. He studies. He empathizes.
People carry things. Coffee, shopping bags, books, bags, babies, small dogs, hot dogs, water bottles, coats, etc. It's nice to be able to not put all that crap down just to quickly Google for the closest public restroom (aka Starbucks).
It is very occasionally necessary to use the iPhone while driving. No, not for checking your stock portfolio, you asshole. For directions. Glance quickly and keep your thoughts on the road ahead.
My wife spends about five hours a day breastfeeding our daughter and has only one hand available for non-feeding activities. That hand is frequently occupied by her iPhone; it helps her keep abreast (hey'o!) of current events, stay connected with pals through Twitter & email, track feeding/sleeping/diaper changing times, keep notes (she plans meals and grocery "shops" at 3am), and alert her layabout husband via SMS to come and get the damned baby already.
I liked "layabout husband" so much when I read it, I started referring to Jason as "noted layabout Jason Kottke." At a certain point, I forgot where the phrase came from.
But read that last paragraph again. You can't read that description of Meg and not think of it every time you either are or aren't doing any of the things she does in that sentence, every time you have to have to carry a bag and use your phone, every time you have to open a door and use your phone, every time you don't have to use your phone while walking down the street but you do it anyways, because you can, and the fact that you can now means that you have to.
I think about it every time I cover a new gadget and companies start touting its hands-free features, how it's added a new voice interface, how its new keyboard algorithm makes it easier to correct for typos. People didn't use to market that sort of thing. But companies started to notice it was one of the things their customers liked best.
I also thought about it when I read these tweets Meg wrote, just yesterday and this morning, about how the newer iPhone's longer screen borks its one-handed functionality.
New iPhone (was on 4S): holding w left hand, pinky supporting bottom-right corner, my thumb can't reach diagonal to top right buttons...
I have enormous man-hands, and I still think that the trend toward enormous screen sizes on smartphones stinks. Not only is it harder to use a phone with one hand, it's harder to fit a phone in a pants pocket, and a long, thin phone is more likely to tip over and get knocked off a table or shelf.
We're all disabled sometimes. If I turn off the lights in your room, you can't see. If I fill the room with enough noise, you can't hear. If your hands are full, you can't use them to do anything else.
But as Sara Hendren writes, "all technology is assistive technology." When it's working right, technology helps people of every ability overcome these limitations. It doesn't throw us back into the world of assumptions that expects us all to be fully capable all of the time.
That's not what good technology does. That's not what good design does. That's what assholes do.
I think often about Jason's post on one-handed computing because I'm in the story. He wrote it for his wife, and he wrote it for me. I'd badly broken my right arm in an accident, snapping my radius in half and shooting it out of my body. Emergency room doctors stabilized my arm, then surgeons took the fibula from the left leg and used it to create a graft to replace my missing arm bone.
I'd broken my right leg, too, and sustained a concussion. With both legs unstable, I was stuck in a bed most days, and even when I could start putting weight on my left leg again, I couldn't climb in or out of bed to get into a wheelchair without help. I'm over six feet tall and I weigh about 300 pounds, so most nurses and orderlies were out of luck helping me. I couldn't type. I couldn't use the bathroom. I had hallucinations from the pain medicine. I was extremely fucked up.
Another victim of the accident was my Blackberry, my first-ever smartphone, which I bought just before I finally got my PhD. (I revealed this once in a 2010 post for Wired. Commenters called for my head, saying anyone whose first smartphone was bought in 2009 had no business writing for a gadget blog. "I'm sorry," I told them. "I spent my twenties learning things, not buying things.")
After I was discharged from the hospital, I spent money I didn't have to get an iPhone 3G, which was my phone for the next three years. It was mailed to me at the rehab institute where I learned how to walk again. And it changed everything for me. Even with my left hand, I could tweet, send emails, browse the web. I could even read books again -- even print books weren't as easy as the iPhone.
And then I read Jason's post about one-handed computing. And I thought and thought and thought.
I started blogging again. I even started my own community blog about the future of reading. The next year, that led to some articles for Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic.
I was back home by then. My injuries had cost me my postdoctoral fellowship and a second crack at the academic job market. But I was able to audition for and win an entry-level job writing for Wired the same week that I did my first stint guest-hosting for Kottke.
And I swore to myself that I would never forget: technology is for people.
Anyways, the accident that broke my arm in half was four years ago today.
It was on Jason's birthday. He was 36 then; I was 29. His son was two, almost exactly the same age as my son, his brand new baby daughter less than a week old.
It was all so very long ago. It was the beginning of the rest of my life.
If you ask me why Jason Kottke is important to me, it's because in 2005, he found my little Blogspot blog when it only had a couple dozen readers and started linking to it. It's because his idea of "Liberal Arts 2.0" led to a book I made with friends, some of whom went off to make extraordinary things of their own. (We offered to let Jason write the forward; characteristically, he declined.)
Then Jason became my friend. Every so often, he gives me the keys to this place he's built -- home to the best audience on the internet -- and lets me write about things I care about. And because of all of that, I got a second chance -- me, with all of my flaws and frailties, my misdeeds and mistakes.
But really Jason is important to me because Jason is always writing about how technology is for human beings. He doesn't bang gavels and rattle sabres and shout "TECHNOLOGY IS FOR HUMAN BEINGS!" That's partly because Jason is not a gavel-banging, sabre-rattling sort of person. But it's mostly because it wouldn't occur to him to talk about it in any other way. It's so obvious.
The thing that tech companies forget -- that journalists forget, that Wall Street never knew, that commenters who root for tech companies like sports fans for their teams could never formulate -- that technology is for people -- is obvious to Jason. Technology is for us. All of us. People who carry things.
People. Us. These stupid, stubborn, spectacular machines made of meat and electricity, friends and laughter, genes and dreams.
Happy birthday, Jason. Here's to the next forty years of Kottke.org.
Ms. Fobes, who lives in Raymore, Mo., plans meals around discounts offered at the grocery store and always checks coupon apps on her cellphone before buying clothes. When, a little over a year ago, J. C. Penney stopped promoting sales and offering coupons and instead made a big deal about its "everyday" low prices, Ms. Fobes stopped shopping there. It wasn't that she thought the prices were bad, she said. She just wasn't having any fun.
"It may be a decent deal to buy that item for $5," said Ms. Fobes, who runs Penny Pinchin' Mom, a blog about couponing strategies. "But for someone like me, who's always looking for a sale or a coupon -- seeing that something is marked down 20 percent off, then being able to hand over the coupon to save, it just entices me," she said. "It's a rush."
That's from an article in the NY Times about J.C. Penney's recent overhaul by Ron Johnson, who sought to apply his Apple Store experience to the mid-range department chain. Being the sort of person who a) doesn't like to shop, and b) doesn't want any nonsense when I do need to shop, I don't often think about shopping as a game. But it clearly is a game for some. As we don't spend so much time on the savana anymore, the hunting of bargains and the gathering of sale items is about as primal as we get these days, aside from Halo and Call of Duty. But not every shopping experience is the same type of game. And maybe that's where Johnson slipped up. The Apple Store game is more aspirational: buying the best products for reasonable prices and feeling part of a place & company that's so minimalist, simple, smart, and cool. Maybe Penneys shoppers didn't want to play that game...not at Penneys anyway.
I really enjoyed this piece by John Siracusa about why Apple should continue to make a high-end personal computer (like the Mac Pro) even though it's not a big seller or hugely profitable. Basically, the Mac Pro is Apple's halo car:
In the automobile industry, there's what's known as a "halo car." Though you may not know the term, you surely know a few examples. The Corvette is GM's halo car. Chrysler has the Viper.
The vast, vast majority of people who buy a Chrysler car get something other than a Viper. The same goes for GM buyers and the Corvette. These cars are expensive to develop and maintain. Due to the low sales volumes, most halo cars do not make money for car makers. When Chrysler was recovering from bankruptcy in 2010, it considered selling the Viper product line.
But car companies continue to make halo cars in part because they are great cars, or at least have the potential to be great cars, and when a car company stops caring about making great cars, they lose their identity and credibility...with consumers, with employees, with investors, and with competitors. Halo cars are the difference between being a car company and being a company that sells cars.
Normally I'm not a big fan of advice like "do what big car companies do", but what Siracusa's piece demontrates is one of the things that's problematic about data: there are important things about business and success that you can't measure. And I would go so far as to say that these unmeasurables are the most important things, the stuff that makes or breaks a business or product or, hell, even a relationship, stuff that you just can't measure quantitatively, no matter how Big your Data is. (via df)
Under the terms of the deal, the buyers' consortium, which also includes Microsoft, will pay $13.65 a share in cash. That is roughly 25 percent above where Dell's stock traded before word emerged of the negotiations of its sale.
Michael S. Dell will contribute his stake of roughly 14 percent toward the transaction, and will contribute additional cash through his private investment firm, MSD Capital. Silver Lake is expected to contribute about $1 billion in cash, while Microsoft will loan an additional $2 billion.
OK, I need to wrap this up. But first, raise your hand if you use a computer. That's what I thought. Have you tried doing anything without a computer lately? It's impossible. You want money from the bank? ATM computer. You want gas for your car? Pump computer. You looking for a news story explaining why your shares dropped 5% even though our gross margin was over 40%? Computer computer.
Apple CEO George Costanza, who is also CEO and chairman of Vandelay Industries, added, "George is getting upset!"
The iPad mini is the best tablet to get and lets be honest, it's way better than the full sized iPad for nearly everyone. I'd even go so far as to say that the full sized iPad is plain obscene after using the mini.
I'm embarrassed to say this because I've been part of the problem by not talking enough about the heft. But the truth is that we've all been overlooking the iPad's weight because everything else was good about it. It's not anyone's fault-it's physics and trade offs that make a 10-inch tablet weigh this much when its made of these materials with a battery life this long. It was the best tablet for most, because it was the only one to get with iOS and its amazing library of apps and great hardware. But I can't say the heft is ok anymore. You didn't hold it like a magazine, which is the dream of a tablet, because it weighed as much as coffee tablet book or a small telephone book. You can agree or disagree, but it's indisputable that the mini is a better hold because you don't have to grip it like a steering wheel or like an underpowered circus strongman. And what good is a mobile gadget if its hard to carry and hold?
After using one for just under a week now, I completely agree. When it gets a retina screen in the next iteration or two, it'll be perfect. (via @robinsloan)
Earlier this morning in a post about Apple manufacturing their products in the US, I wrote "look for this "made in the USA" thing to turn into a trend". Well, Made in the USA is already emerging as a trend in the media. On Tuesday, Farhad Manjoo wrote about American Giant, a company who makes the world's best hoodie entirely in the US for a decent price.
For one thing, Winthrop had figured out a way to do what most people in the apparel industry consider impossible: He's making clothes entirely in the United States, and he's doing so at costs that aren't prohibitive. American Apparel does something similar, of course, but not especially profitably, and its clothes are very low quality. Winthrop, on the other hand, has found a way to make apparel that harks back to the industry's heyday, when clothes used to be made to last. "I grew up with a sweatshirt that my father had given me from the U.S. Navy back in the '50s, and it's still in my closet," he told me. "It was this fantastic, classic American-made garment -- it looks better today than it did 35, 40 years ago, because like an old pair of denim, it has taken on a very personal quality over the years."
The Atlantic has a pair of articles in their December issue, Charles Fishman's The Insourcing Boom:
Yet this year, something curious and hopeful has begun to happen, something that cannot be explained merely by the ebbing of the Great Recession, and with it the cyclical return of recently laid-off workers. On February 10, [General Electric's Appliance Park in Louisville, KY] opened an all-new assembly line in Building 2 -- largely dormant for 14 years -- to make cutting-edge, low-energy water heaters. It was the first new assembly line at Appliance Park in 55 years -- and the water heaters it began making had previously been made for GE in a Chinese contract factory.
On March 20, just 39 days later, Appliance Park opened a second new assembly line, this one in Building 5, to make new high-tech French-door refrigerators. The top-end model can sense the size of the container you place beneath its purified-water spigot, and shuts the spigot off automatically when the container is full. These refrigerators are the latest versions of a style that for years has been made in Mexico.
Another assembly line is under construction in Building 3, to make a new stainless-steel dishwasher starting in early 2013. Building 1 is getting an assembly line to make the trendy front-loading washers and matching dryers Americans are enamored of; GE has never before made those in the United States. And Appliance Park already has new plastics-manufacturing facilities to make parts for these appliances, including simple items like the plastic-coated wire racks that go in the dishwashers.
What I saw at these Chinese sites was surprisingly different from what I'd seen on previous factory tours, reflecting the political, economic, technological, and especially social pressures that are roiling China now. In conjunction with significant changes in the American business and technological landscape that I recently saw in San Francisco, these changes portend better possibilities for American manufacturers and American job growth than at any other time since Rust Belt desolation and the hollowing-out of the American working class came to seem the grim inevitabilities of the globalized industrial age.
For the first time in memory, I've heard "product people" sound optimistic about hardware projects they want to launch and facilities they want to build not just in Asia but also in the United States. When I visited factories in the upper Midwest for magazine stories in the early 1980s, "manufacturing in America" was already becoming synonymous with "Rust Belt" and "sunset industry." Ambitious, well-educated people who had a choice were already headed for cleaner, faster-growing possibilities -- in consulting, finance, software, biotech, anything but things. At the start of the '80s, about one American worker in five had a job in the manufacturing sector. Now it's about one in 10.
As noted by Fishman in his piece, one of the reasons US manufacturing is competitive again is the low price of natural gas. From a piece in SupplyChainDigest in October:
Several industries, noticeable chemicals and fertilizers, use lots of natural gas. Fracking and other unconventional techniques have already unlocked huge supplies of natural gas, which is why natural gas prices in the US are at historic lows and much lower than the rest of the world.
Right now, nat gas prices are under $3.00 per thousand cubic, down dramatically from about three times that in 2008 and even higher in 2006. Meanwhile, natural gas prices are about $10.00 right now in Europe and $15.00 in parts of Asia.
Much of the growing natural gas reserves come from the Marcellus shale formation that runs through Western New York and Pennsylvania, Southeast Ohio, and most of West Virginia. North Dakota in the upper Midwest also is developing into a major supplier of both oil and natural gas.
So basically, energy in the US is cheap right now and will likely remain cheap for years to come because hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking aka that thing that people say makes their water taste bad, among other issues) has unlocked vast and previously unavailable reserves of oil and natural gas that will take years to fully exploit. A recent report by the International Energy Agency suggests that the US is on track to become the world's biggest oil producer by 2020 (passing both Saudi Arabia and Russia) and could be "all but self-sufficient" in energy by 2030.
By about 2020, the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer and put North America as a whole on track to become a net exporter of oil as soon as 2030, according to a report from the International Energy Agency.
The change would dramatically alter the face of global oil markets, placing the U.S., which currently imports about 45 percent of the oil it uses and about 20 percent of its total energy needs, in a position of unexpected power. The nation likely will become "all but self-sufficient" in energy by 2030, representing "a dramatic reversal of the trend seen in most other energy-importing countries," the IEA survey says.
So yay for "Made in the USA" but all this cheap energy could wreak havoc on the environment, hinder development of greener alternatives to fossil fuels (the only way green will win is to compete on price), and "artificially" prop up a US economy that otherwise might be stagnating. (thx, @rfburton, @JordanRVance, @technorav)
Apple CEO Tim Cook announced one of the existing Mac lines will be manufactured exclusively in the United States next year. Mac fans will have to wait to see which Mac line it will be because Apple, widely known for its secrecy, left it vague. Cook's announcement may or may not confirm recent rumors in the blogosphere sparked by iMacs inscribed in the back with "Assembled in USA."
Well, those iMac pretty clearly state they are assembled in the US. And look for this "made in the USA" thing to turn into a trend...I think companies are finding that making stuff in the US is not as expensive as everyone thinks it is.
It's not known well that the engine for the iPhone and iPad is made in the U.S., and many of these are also exported-the engine, the processor. The glass is made in Kentucky. And next year we are going to bring some production to the U.S. on the Mac. We've been working on this for a long time, and we were getting closer to it. It will happen in 2013. We're really proud of it. We could have quickly maybe done just assembly, but it's broader because we wanted to do something more substantial. So we'll literally invest over $100 million. This doesn't mean that Apple will do it ourselves, but we'll be working with people, and we'll be investing our money.
So this is fun. Back in February 2000, I wrote a post about Amazon being awarded a patent for their affiliates program. In it, I wondered about a world where Apple was the largest company in the world:
And that brings us to Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft is perhaps the largest target of this sort of "boycott", organized or otherwise. People hate Microsoft. Companies hate Microsoft. It's the company you love to hate. Apple, on the other hand, is one of the most beloved companies in the world. People love Apple.
But what if Apple were Microsoft? What if Apple had won the battle of the PC and was the largest company in the world? People would hate them. Why? Because they would be using the same tactics as Microsoft to stay ahead and keep every bit of that advantage in anyway that they could. Apple is the way it is because they are the underdog.
I'll even argue that life would be worse under Apple's rein. Apple controls the OS *and* the hardware: if we were under Apple's boot instead of Microsoft's, we'd be paying too much for hardware as well as the software.
Nailed it! Or not. That third paragraph is pretty wrong...one of the things that contributed greatly to Apple's rise is their commitment to pricing their products competitively. And software is cheap.
As for Apple being the underdog, I've always thought one of the interesting things about Daring Fireball, even from the beginning, is that John Gruber never treated Apple as an underdog. In his esteem, Apple was the best company making the best software and hardware, and the DF attitude with respect to Microsoft was very much like that of Jon Lovitz's Michael Dukakis in a debate with Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush on SNL: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy". Gruber proved correct...what looked like an underdog proved to be a powerhouse in the making. (thx, greg & andy)
This is an oldie but a goodie. Ron Avitzur was working for Apple as a contractor in 1993 when the project he was working on (a graphing calculator) was cancelled and his contract subseuently ended. However, Avitzur really wanted to finish what he started he kept on going into Apple to work on this calculator.
There was one last pressing question: How could we get this thing included with the system software when the new machines shipped? The thought that we might fail to do this terrified me far more than the possibility of criminal prosecution for trespass. All the sweat that Greg and I had put in, all the clandestine aid from the friends, acquaintances, and strangers on whom I had shamelessly imposed, all the donations of time, expertise, hardware, soft drinks, and junk food would be wasted.
Once again, my sanity was saved by the kindness of a stranger. At 2:00 one morning, a visitor appeared in my office: the engineer responsible for making the PowerPC system disk master. He explained things this way: "Apple is a hardware company. There are factories far away building Apple computers. One of the final steps of their assembly line is to copy all of the system software from the 'Golden Master' hard disk onto each computer's hard disk. I create the Golden Master and FedEx it to the manufacturing plant. In a very real and pragmatic sense, I decide what software does and does not ship." He told me that if I gave him our software the day before the production run began, it could appear on the Golden Master disk. Then, before anyone realized it was there, thirty thousand units with our software on the disks would be boxed in a warehouse. (In retrospect, he may have been joking. But we didn't know that, so it allowed us to move forward with confidence.)
Once we had a plausible way to ship, Apple became the ideal work environment. Every engineer we knew was willing to help us. We got resources that would never have been available to us had we been on the payroll. For example, at that time only about two hundred PowerPC chips existed in the world. Most of those at Apple were being used by the hardware design engineers. Only a few dozen coveted PowerPC machines were even available in System Software for people working on the operating system. We had two. Engineers would come to our offices at midnight and practically slip machines under the door. One said, "Officially, this machine doesn't exist, you didn't get it from me, and I don't know you. Make sure it doesn't leave the building."
According to the Wall Street Journal, Orbitz has determined that Mac users spend 30% more per night on lodging. Obviously, this is an opportunity for Orbitz to display more expensive hotel options to Mac users.
The Orbitz effort, which is in its early stages, demonstrates how tracking people's online activities can use even seemingly innocuous information--in this case, the fact that customers are visiting Orbitz.com from a Mac--to start predicting their tastes and spending habits.
It's funny. Or sad. Or predictable. It's predictably sadly funny that many tech media outlets are saying that Apple's iPad finally has a bonafide competitor in the Microsoft Surface. Set aside for now that Surface does look genuinely interesting, that the price hasn't been set, and the thing isn't even out yet. For a piece of portable networking technology like a smartphone or tablet to be successful on the scale at which Apple operates, you need to have an ecosystem, a network of interacting devices, software, products, and services that work together...hardware + software is not enough. Apple, Google (and partners), Amazon, and possibly Microsoft are the only companies with the expertise and pockets deep enough to build their own ecosystems. Ok, maybe Facebook in a couple years or if Nokia can dig themselves out of their current hole, but that's really about it.
The current parts of the phone/tablet/media ecosystem are as follows:
1. A piece of hardware at a price that compares favorably to its quality and features. Apple sells premium hardware with great features at a premium-but-still-reasonable price. Google and their partners offer a range of devices at different prices corresponding to different levels of quality and features offered. Amazon offers low-price hardware with a relatively limited but appropriate set of features. Microsoft looks to have a nice piece of hardware with promising features but the price point is pending.
2. An OS that takes proper advantage of the hardware capabilities with features in line with the price of the device. Apple has iOS, with most of its devices running the same version. Google and their partners have many different versions of Android, most of which are not the most recent version. Amazon runs a customized Android OS for the Kindle Fire and a modified version of Linux for the non-Fire Kindles. Microsoft has Windows 8, which will eventually run, in different configurations, on lots of different kinds of hardware, from desktop computers to phones.
3. An app store stocked with the applications that smartphone and tablet owners want to use. Apple has the comprehensive App Store. Google, etc. have Google Play (née Android Market), Amazon's Appstore for Android, and other stores, on which you can get most of the most popular apps. Amazon has their Appstore for Android for the Kindle Fire. Microsoft has the Windows Phone Marketplace for the Windows Phone with a more limited selection than the other stores...it's unclear what their plans are for a Windows 8 app store.
4. A media store with books, movies, and TV shows. Apple has the iTunes store (as well as iBooks, Newstand, etc.). Android has Google Play. Amazon has the Kindle store and Amazon Instant Video. Will Microsoft offer a way to purchase media across their Windows 8 platform? Does Windows Media Player do this?
5. A digital media hub for managing media, apps, software updates, etc. This part is a bit more optional than the others since media management is moving to the device and the cloud, but still. Apple has iTunes. Android has a variety of possible desktop managers and management happens on the device or through the cloud? You manage the Kindle stuff through Amazon's site and on the device. Microsoft will probably go cloud/device-based at this point?
6. An integrated cloud solution for syncing apps, media, and documents across devices. Again, this isn't crucial but will likely become so over time. Apple has iCloud. Android has Google's suite of apps (Gmail, calendar, Google docs, Google Drive, etc.). Amazon uses Whispernet and is leveraging AWS in various ways (e.g. Cloud Drive). Will Microsoft leverage SkyDrive for their tablets and phones?
7. Sister devices. Apple has the iPhone, iPad, iPod touches, Apple TV, and their full line of OS X-powered computers. Android runs on phones and tablets, but can also run on an increasing number of other devices (Google TV, etc.). And maybe ChromeOS devices? Amazon doesn't really have an interacting network of devices. Microsoft will have phones, the Surface, billions of desktop computers running Windows 8, and, dare I even say it, the Xbox.
You don't need to have every single part of the ecosystem for it to thrive but the more the better. Again, Surface does look genuinely interesting (as do the Windows phones from Nokia), Windows 8 and the Metro interface look promising, and Microsoft has deep pockets but all the pieces aren't quite there yet for them. Microsoft's real opportunity here is the Xbox. If they can properly leverage and integrate the Xbox's growing status as a home media hub (Xbox Live), they can fill in a lot of the holes in their fledgling ecosystem, provide people with compelling devices & media experiences, and give Apple, Google, and Amazon a real run for their (and our) money.
The point, explains Carmine Gallo, who is writing a book on the inside workings of the Apple Store, is to get people to touch the devices. "The main reason notebook computers screens are slightly angled is to encourage customers to adjust the screen to their ideal viewing angle," he says -- "in other words, to touch the computer."
A tactile experience with an Apple product begets loyalty to Apple products, the thinking goes -- which means that the store exists to imprint a brand impression on visitors even more than it exists to extract money from them. "The ownership experience is more important than a sale," Gallo notes. Which means that the store -- and every single detail creating the experience of it -- are optimized for customers' personal indulgence. Apple wants you to touch stuff, to play with it, to make it your own.
It's a genius touch. I went in to the Apple Store last week just after it opened to see the new MacBook Airs and retina MacBook Pros and I'll be damned if I didn't have to adjust the screen in both cases. Get out of my head, man! (via @alexismadrigal)
To summarize: after the deal, Apple will immediately become a giant payments company, with an installation base that is expected to encompass half of all mobile devices sold. The company will have the best local search abilities, far exceeding any existing recommendation engine. And due to its enormous reach, it will possess a payment system that merchants will line up to support.
The lessons are powerful: Jobs matured as a manager and a boss; learned how to make the most of partnerships; found a way to turn his native stubbornness into a productive perseverance. He became a corporate architect, coming to appreciate the scaffolding of a business just as much as the skeletons of real buildings, which always fascinated him. He mastered the art of negotiation by immersing himself in Hollywood, and learned how to successfully manage creative talent, namely the artists at Pixar. Perhaps most important, he developed an astonishing adaptability that was critical to the hit-after-hit-after-hit climb of Apple's last decade. All this, during a time many remember as his most disappointing.
The discussion of the lessons he took from Pixar and put into Apple was especially interesting.
And just as he had at Pixar, he aligned the company behind those projects. In a way that had never been done before at a technology company--but that looked a lot like an animation studio bent on delivering one great movie a year--Jobs created the organizational strength to deliver one hit after another, each an extension of Apple's position as the consumer's digital hub, each as strong as its predecessor. If there's anything that parallels Apple's decade-long string of hits--iMac, PowerBook, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, to list just the blockbusters--it's Pixar's string of winners, including Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E, and Up. These insanely great products could have come only from insanely great companies, and that's what Jobs had learned to build.
It made me reflect upon how lucky I have been to call the theater my home all these years, the only place I can imagine this kind of discourse happening. It made me grateful for the great privilege it has been to be able to call myself a storyteller and to have audiences come and listen to what I have to say, to extend their trust to me. I am sorry I was careless with that trust. For this, I would like to apologize to my audiences.
I don't want to get into a discussion about whether Apple should be rejecting apps based on morality or what not, but there's no debating the fact this app created by Luciano Foglia features the filthiest behavior any of these geometric shapes have ever been involved in. I watched it and then I needed a shower. And now I'm uncomfortable around the kitchen floor tiles.
We likes The Wire. We likes reading about The Wire.
1. Aaron Bady, of The New Inquiry, earns a 'tie-today's-story-to-The-Wire' badge by thoughtfully comparing the recent revelations about Mike Daisey's one man show to Jimmy McNulty serial killer creation in Season 5. People as a whole don't end up looking too hot when Bady is done with us.
After all, Jimmy McNulty's problem is not only that he's an unscrupulous narcissist, but that he combines that quality with a streak of good intentions, a kind of idealism and desire to do some version of the right thing. Cynics and fatalists wouldn't fall into this trap, because they've never expected the world to be different, or never imagined that they could change it.
(via e-migo @djacobs who accurately referred to the above piece of deep analysis + Apple + The Wire as #kottkebait)
2. David Simon, creator of The Wire, recently penned a story worth reading for The Baltimore Sun about the recent health issues of Baltimore cop Gene Cassidy. Cassidy was shot twice in the head, and the investigation and prosecution of this shooting is the basis for Simon's 1991 'Homicide'.
But grocery stores have not rebounded in the same way. Before the storm, there were 30 in New Orleans; today, there are 21. Most that have reopened are in wealthier neighborhoods: a Tulane University survey in 2007, the latest data available, found that nearly 60 percent of low-income residents had to travel more than three miles to reach a supermarket, though only 58 percent owned a car.
Bonus: Last week Omar Little was crowned The Wire's best character in Grantland's tournament. Jason is reportedly disconsolate. Even though he didn't make the tournament, my allegiance was to Slim Charles for that one scene. You know the one.
And a Kima update, too. Sonja Sohn recently spoke with NPR about ReWired for Change, a nonprofit she founded with Pierce and Michael K. Williams that attempts to cut down on crime with arts and mentoring programs.
Ira also talks with Mike Daisey about why he misled This American Life during the fact-checking process. And we end the show separating fact from fiction, when it comes to Apple's manufacturing practices in China.
The audio is not available on the site yet (because the show hasn't aired yet?), and the audio for the retracted show is no longer available on their site (but you can listen to it here). Mike Daisey, the performer of the retracted piece, responds on his web site:
What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic -- not a theatrical -- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.
I have difficult news. We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.
Amazingly, there's almost nothing to it...it's mostly battery and screen. My kids have toys that contain more components. Makes you realize that a not-insignificant part of Apple's success is essentially 3-D puzzle solving with chips, batteries, screens, and antennas as the pieces. John Gruber calls it "a remarkable engineering accomplishment" on the part of Apple, noting:
Apple doesn't make new devices which get worse battery life than the version they're replacing, but they also don't make new devices that are thicker and heavier. LTE networking -- and, I strongly suspect, the retina display -- consume more power than do the 3G networking and non-retina display of the iPad 2. A three-way tug-of-war: 4G/LTE networking, battery life, thinness/weight. Something had to give. Thinness and weight lost: the iPad 3 gets 4G/LTE, battery life remains unchanged, and to achieve both of these Apple included a physically bigger battery, which in turn results in a new iPad that is slightly thicker (0.6 mm) and heavier (roughly 0.1 pounds/50 grams, depending on the model).
50 grams and six-tenths of a millimeter are minor compromises, but compromises they are, and they betray Apple's priorities: better to make the iPad slightly thicker and heavier than have battery life slightly suffer. And keep in mind that the new iPad 3 remains far thinner and lighter than the original iPad.
It's really cool. They just started making it and not many people have one yet. It does all sorts of stuff and can fit in my pocket, but it can also get bigger than that if I want it to. Plus it's made by a company I trust to put out things that will make me happy.
(Not that I wouldn't consider buying this thing even if it weren't made by a familiar company-that's how cool this thing is-but the fact that I know and trust the company makes it even better.)
Despite my half-hearted and shameless plea on Twitter for an invite to Apple's product announcement, I am sitting at my desk in NYC today, sucking on lemons. Lemonade tastes better, so to that end I will be blogging the liveblogs blogging the announcement. Blog, bloggy, blog, blogggggggggggggg. Bla. Guh.
As a teaser, I'd like to offer the world's worst prediction for today's event: Apple announces the iPhone 5. Could you imagine though? After Apple declined the version number bump with the introduction of the 4S, what would a device need to do to warrant it? A fusion energy source? Teleportation? A camera that sees into the future? My money's on a built-in quadrotor system so that your phone could autonomously run errands for you or spy on your enemies.
Update: Notes will appear here, newest at the top.
The event is over. Thanks for joining me. I miss "one more thing". :(
So Apple has now used "iPod classic" and "new iPad" for product names. Uh, New Coke?
They are keeping the iPad 2 on sale. $399 for 16 GB Wifi model.
They *still* haven't told us the name of the new iPad. Is it just iPad? No 3 or 2S or HD or whatever?
"Apps that collect or transmit a user's contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines*," Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told AllThingsD. "We're working to make this even better for our customers, and as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release."
Hang on folks, things are going to get a little Apple bloggy around here this morning. First is the news of Apple's new operating system for the Mac, OS X Mountain Lion. Gruber has the details:
What do I think so far, Schiller asks. It all seems rather obvious now that I've seen it - and I mean obvious in a good way. I remain convinced that iCloud is exactly what Steve Jobs said it was: the cornerstone of everything Apple does for the next decade. So of course it makes sense to bring iCloud to the Mac in a big way. Simplified document storage, iMessage, Notification Center, synced Notes and Reminders -- all of these things are part of iCloud. It's all a step toward making your Mac just another device managed in your iCloud account. Look at your iPad and think about the features it has that would work well, for a lot of people, if they were on the Mac. That's Mountain Lion -- and probably a good way to predict the future of the continuing parallel evolution of iOS and OS X.
Details are finally starting to trickle out about how various iOS apps use the address book data on your phone. The Verge and Venture Beat both have good article on the subject. What they're finding is nowhere near the 13/15 ratio that Dustin Curtis reported last week but Curtis has also said:
Second, for obvious reasons, I promised the developers I reached out to that I would never reveal who they are. Many of them have, since last week, changed their practices.
What I like about The Verge and VB articles is that they both end with Apple's role in all this. In a future release, Apple should make sure that rogue parties can't do stuff like this. If you're going to have a store where every app has to be approved for the good of the end users and the integrity of the system, this is *exactly* the type of thing they should be concerned with.
It's not really a secret, per se, but there's a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user's entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It's common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database. Obviously, there are lots of awesome things apps can do with this data to vastly improve user experience. But it is also a breach of trust and an invasion of privacy.
I did a quick survey of 15 developers of popular iOS apps, and 13 of them told me they have a contacts database with millons of records. One company's database has Mark Zuckerberg's cell phone number, Larry Ellison's home phone number and Bill Gates' cell phone number. This data is not meant to be public, and people have an expectation of privacy with respect to their contacts.
13 out of 15! Zuckerberg's cell phone number! Maybe I'm being old-fashioned here, but this seems unequivocally wrong. Any app, from Angry Birds to Fart App 3000, can just grab the information in your address book without asking? Hell. No. And Curtis is right in calling Apple out about this...apps should not have access to address book information without explicitly asking. But now that the horse is out of the barn, this "quiet understanding" needs to be met with some noisy investigation. What happened to Path needs to happen to all the other apps that are storing our data. There's an opportunity here for some enterprising data journalist to follow Thampi's lead: investigate what other apps are grabbing address book data and then ask the responsible developers the same questions that were put to Path.
Update: I am aware of this very confusing display of data from the Wall Street Journal. It indicates that of the ~50 iPhone apps surveyed, only three (Angry Birds, Facebook, and TextPlus 4) transmit address book data to a server. That's not exactly the widespread problem that Curtis describes (the data sets are likely different)...it would be nice to see the net cast a bit wider.
Speaking of Apple, here's a profile of Jerry Manock, who worked for Apple from 1977 to 1984 and designed the case for the Apple II and helped design the Macintosh. Manock was Jobs' first Jony Ive.
The whole basis of the class I've taught at UVM for 21 years is ... integrated product development, which means concurrently looking at all of these things: the aesthetics, the engineering, the marketing ... which is what we were doing at Apple. Not necessarily purposefully, but everybody was just thrown together... I would walk through the software place and look around and see what people were doing ... walk through the marketing area. I had my drawings all on the walls, so anybody could come up. There was a red pencil hanging there. I'd say, "If you see something you don't like, or is a problem -- I don't care whether it's a janitor or Steve -- write the correction, circle it, put your phone there and I'll call you and we'll talk about it."
I take this to mean that any iPhone app can download your address book to their servers? What. The. Hell! Apple?
Upon inspecting closer, I noticed that my entire address book (including full names, emails and phone numbers) was being sent as a plist to Path. Now I don't remember having given permission to Path to access my address book and send its contents to its servers, so I created a completely new "Path" and repeated the experiment and I got the same result - my address book was in Path's hands.
"If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you're competing against a lot of people," Mr. Bezos told reporter Steve Levy last month in an interview in Wired. "But if you're willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you're now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We're willing to plant seeds, let them grow-and we're very stubborn."
Like Apple, Amazon is one of those large market cap growth stocks that investors don't really know what to do with. Both stocks are still undervalued compared to much of the rest of the market, IMO.
The company was obviously under tight constraints as to what they could do with the store (they would have loved to encase the whole thing in plexiglass probably), but from the looks of things, they did a marvelous job. There's so little styling -- the whole store is just tables and screens mostly -- that it looks like the Apple Store not only belongs there, but that it's been there forever, like Grand Central was designed with the Apple Store in mind. If you walk around Grand Central, not a lot of the other retail locations can say that, if any. (photo by katie sokoler)
Inspired by the collaborative intelligence of her fellow software designers, Kare stayed on at Apple to craft the navigational elements for Mac's GUI. Because an application for designing icons on screen hadn't been coded yet, she went to the University Art supply store in Palo Alto and picked up a $2.50 sketchbook so she could begin playing around with forms and ideas. In the pages of this sketchbook, which hardly anyone but Kare has seen before now*, she created the casual prototypes of a new, radically user-friendly face of computing - each square of graph paper representing a pixel on the screen.
Why not the same thing [as Newsstand] for TV channels? We're seeing the beginnings of this, with iPhone and iPad apps like HBO Go, Watch ESPN, and the aforementioned Bloomberg TV+. Letting each TV network do their own app allows them the flexibility that writing software provides. News networks can combine their written and video news into an integrated layout. Networks with contractual obligations to cable operators, like HBO and ESPN, can write code that requires users to log in to verify their status as an eligible subscriber.
This smells right to me...it's a very Apple-y way of approaching the TV/movie problem. Rather than fight with the studios and networks over content sold through the iTunes Store (where the studios control the licensing rights), just provide a platform (iPhone + iPad + iTV + App Store) controlled by Apple and if the studios/networks want to reach those customers, they need to provide an app...with Apple taking a 30% cut of the App *and* content sales.
[Apple's] devices have become increasingly simple and pared down, even as the power contained in them has increased. There is very little, if anything, extraneous on the Magic Trackpad or the MacBook Air. And of course the iPhones 4 and 4S are radically simple, yet well-constructed masterpieces of industrial design.
Yet, when it comes to stuff that isn't hardware:
But no one laughs when Apple delivers a calendar application for the iPad that tries its hardest to look like a real-word desktop calendar pad, complete with fake leather and "torn" pages.
Still fewer have a chuckle when they see the new Address Book app on Mac OS X Lion, or the even more recent Find My Friends iPhone app.
These apps, and many more besides, all stem from a completely different, and I would say opposite aesthetic sensibility than the plain devices they run on.
They are an expression of purest kitsch, sentimentality, and ornamentation for its own sake. In Milan Kundera's brilliant definition, kitsch is "the absolute denial of shit". These are Disney-like apps, sinister in their mendacity.
This isn't a recent thing either...look at the cheeseball themes and transitions in Keynote (many of them used by Jobs in his keynotes), some of the default system fonts, the emphasis in past keynotes on things like Mail.app themes, etc. Without too much effort, you could pull together many design examples from their currently shipping software that make it appear as though Apple doesn't have a good aesthetic sense of design at all. But then you look at the general aesthetics of OSX and iOS...I don't know, it's really confusing how the same company, especially one that had such strong design leadership, could produce something as beautifully spare as iOS and something as cheesy as the Game Center app. (via ★thefoxisblack)
Dieter Rams' 40 year stint at Braun until 1995 redefined the world of product design, taking pure modernism to the world of gadgets. He is the direct inspiration for much of Apple's product design after Steve Jobs returned and in many aspects his work is more rigorous and more coherent than Apple's.
Dan Lyons posted the notes of a long conversation he had with Steve Wozniak last week. Lots of Apple history and prehistory...I didn't know, for instance, that Woz designed the Apple I before Jobs was involved.
I was highly regarded for my engineering skills. But I never wanted money. I would have been a bad person to run a company. I wanted to be a nice guy. I wanted to make friends with everybody. Yes I came up with the idea for the personal computer but I don't want to be known as a guy who changed the world. I want to be known as an engineer who connected chips in a really efficient way or wrote code that is unbelievable. I want to be known as a great engineer. I'm thankful Steve Jobs was there. You need someone who has a spirit for the marketplace. Who has the spirit for who computers change humanity. I didn't design the Apple II for a company. I designed it for myself, to show off. I look at all the recent Apple products, like the iPhone, the iPad, and even Pixar, and it was like everything Steve worked on had to be perfect. Because it was him. Every product he created was Steve Jobs.
And Woz is *still* an Apple employee! He makes $100 a week. (via stellar)
I am incredibly sad this morning. Why am I, why are we, feeling this so intensely? I have some thoughts about that but not for now. For now, I'm just going to share some of the things I've been reading and watching about Jobs. And after that, I think I'm done here for the day and will move on to spend some time building my little thing that I'm trying to make insanely great.
The 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech. For me, the speech is better in text than in video.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
The iPhone announcement in 2007. I am with Dan Frommer on this one: this is Jobs at his absolute best. He was just so so excited about this thing that he and his team had created, so proud. His presentation is also a reminder of how revolutionary the iPhone was four years ago.
Jobs usually had little interest in public self-analysis, but every so often he'd drop a clue to what made him tick. Once he recalled for me some of the long summers of his youth. I'm a big believer in boredom," he told me. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, he explained, and "out of curiosity comes everything." The man who popularized personal computers and smartphones -- machines that would draw our attention like a flame attracts gnats -- worried about the future of boredom. "All the [technology] stuff is wonderful, but having nothing to do can be wonderful, too."
I like to think that in the run-up to his final keynote, Steve made time for a long, peaceful walk. Somewhere beautiful, where there are no footpaths and the grass grows thick. Hand-in-hand with his wife and family, the sun warm on their backs, smiles on their faces, love in their hearts, at peace with their fate.
I have no way of knowing how Steve talked to his team during Apple's darkest days in 1997 and 1998, when the company was on the brink and he was forced to turn to archrival Microsoft for a rescue. He certainly had a nasty, mercurial side to him, and I expect that, then and later, it emerged inside the company and in dealings with partners and vendors, who tell believable stories about how hard he was to deal with.
But I can honestly say that, in my many conversations with him, the dominant tone he struck was optimism and certainty, both for Apple and for the digital revolution as a whole. Even when he was telling me about his struggles to get the music industry to let him sell digital songs, or griping about competitors, at least in my presence, his tone was always marked by patience and a long-term view. This may have been for my benefit, knowing that I was a journalist, but it was striking nonetheless.
At times in our conversations, when I would criticize the decisions of record labels or phone carriers, he'd surprise me by forcefully disagreeing, explaining how the world looked from their point of view, how hard their jobs were in a time of digital disruption, and how they would come around.
This quality was on display when Apple opened its first retail store. It happened to be in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, near my home. He conducted a press tour for journalists, as proud of the store as a father is of his first child. I commented that, surely, there'd only be a few stores, and asked what Apple knew about retailing.
He looked at me like I was crazy, said there'd be many, many stores, and that the company had spent a year tweaking the layout of the stores, using a mockup at a secret location. I teased him by asking if he, personally, despite his hard duties as CEO, had approved tiny details like the translucency of the glass and the color of the wood.
Heartwarming/breaking: shortly following the news of Steve's death, our daughter called me "dada" for the first time. It goes on.
The Computer That Changed My Life. Bryce Roberts shares the story of the first Apple computer he bought.
As I sat alone in my makeshift office in Sandy, UT I decided that I wanted to start fresh, all the way down to my operating system. It sounds funny now, but it was an important psychological move for me. I wanted the next level to look and feel different than what I'd experienced in the past in every possible way.
I fired up my Sony Viao and surfed over to Apple.com. I wasn't an Apple fanboy. I'd never owned one of their machines. And that was the point.
I didn't know if I would love it or even like it, but it was going to be different. And different was exactly how I wanted the next level to feel.
This is *exactly* why I bought an iBook in 2002 after a lifetime of Windows/DOS machines.
I was hoping for something bold and interesting looking. The iPhone 4 was just that when it shipped. So too were the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G. If I'm going to buy a new phone, of course I want it to look new. Because of course we care about having novel designs. If we didn't we'd all be lugging around some 10-inch thick brick with a 12 day battery life.
Mat's is an understandable reaction. After I upgraded my iPhone, Macbook Pro, and OS X all at once two years ago, I wrote about Apple's upgrade problem:
From a superficial perspective, my old MBP and new MBP felt exactly the same...same OS, same desktop wallpaper, same Dock, all my same files in their same folders, etc. Same deal with the iPhone except moreso...the iPhone is almost entirely software and that was nearly identical. And re: Snow Leopard, I haven't noticed any changes at all aside from the aforementioned absent plug-ins.
So, just having paid thousands of dollars for new hardware and software, I have what feels like my same old stuff.
Deep down, when I stop to think about it, I know (or have otherwise convinced myself) that these purchases were worth it and that Apple's ease of upgrade works almost exactly how it should. But my gut tells me that I've been ripped off. The "newness" cognitive jolt humans get is almost entirely absent.
For me, yesterday's event, Apple's continued success in innovation *and* business, and the recent CEO change provided a different perspective: that Apple makes two very complementary types of products and we should be excited about both types.
The first type of product is the most familiar and is exemplified by Steve Jobs: Apple makes magical products that shape entire industries and modify social structures in significant ways. These are the bold strokes that combine technology with design in a way that's almost artistic: Apple II, Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. When they were introduced, these products were new and exciting and no one quite knew where those products were going to take us (Apple included). That's what people want to see when they go to Apple events: Steve Jobs holding up a rainbow-hued unicorn that you can purchase for your very own.
The second type of product is less noticed and perhaps is best exemplified by Apple's new CEO, Tim Cook: identify products and services that work, continually refine them, innovate at the margins (the addition of Siri to the iPhone 4S is a good example of this), build interconnecting ecosystems around them, and put processes and infrastructure in place to produce ever more of these items at lower cost and higher profit. The wheel has been invented; now we'll perfect it. This is where Apple is at with the iPhone now, a conceptually solved problem: people know what they are, what they're used for, and Apple's gonna knuckle down and crank out ever better/faster/smarter versions of them in the future. Many of Apple's current products are like this, better than they have ever been, more popular than they have ever been, but there's nothing magical about them anymore: iPhone 4S, iPod, OS X, iMacs, Macbooks, etc.
The exciting thing about this second type of product, for investors and consumers alike, is Apple is now expert at capturing their lightning in a bottle. 'Twas not always so...Apple wasn't able to properly capitalize on the success of the Macintosh and it almost killed the company. What Tim Cook ultimately held up at Apple's event yesterday is a promise: there won't be a return to the Apple of the 1990s, when the mighty Macintosh devolved into a flaky, slow, and (adding insult to injury) expensive klunker and they couldn't decide on a future direction for their operating system (remember Copland?). There will be an iPhone 5 in the future and it will be better than the iPhone 4S in significant & meaningful ways but it will also *just work*. And while that might be a bit boring to Apple event watchers, this interconnected web of products is the thing that makes the continued development of the new and magical products possible.
There's been a lot written about Steve Jobs in the past week, a lot of it worthy of reading, but one piece you probably didn't see is David Galbraith's piece on Jobs' similarity to architect Norman Foster. The essay is a bit all over the place, which replicates the experience of talking to David in person, but it's littered with insight and goodness (ditto).
The answer is what might be called the sand pile model and it operated at Apple and Fosters, the boss sits independently from the structural hierarchy, to some extent, and can descend at random on a specific element at will. The boss maintains control of the overall house style by cleaning up the edges at the same time as having a vision for the whole, like trying to maintain a sand pile by scooping up the bits that fall off as it erodes in the wind. This is the hidden secret of design firms or prolific artists, the ones where journalists or historians agonize whether a change in design means some new direction when it just means that there was a slip up in maintaining the sand pile.
And I love this paragraph, which integrates Foster, Jobs, the Soviet Union, Porsche, Andy Warhol, Lady Gaga, and even an unspoken Coca-Cola into an extended analogy:
Perfecting the model of selling design that is compatible with big business, Foster simultaneously grew one of the largest architecture practices in the world while still winning awards for design excellence. The secret was to design buildings like the limited edition, invite only Porsches that Foster drove and fellow Porsche drivers would commission them. Jobs went further, however, he managed to create products that were designed like Porsches and made them available to everyone, via High Tech that transcended stylistic elements. An Apple product really was high technology and its form followed function, it went beyond the Porsche analogy by being truly fit for purpose in a way that a Porsche couldn't, being a car designed for a speed that you weren't allowed to drive. Silicon Valley capitalism had arguably delivered what the Soviets had dreamed of and failed, modernism for the masses. An iPhone really is the best phone you can buy at any price. To paraphrase Andy Warhol: Lady Gaga uses an iPhone, and just think, you can have an iPhone too. An iPhone is an iPhone and no amount of money can get you a better phone. This was what American modernism was about.
Matt Buchanan's Unedited thoughts about technology better left unposted is like the sportswriter 'nuggets from the drawer'-type column for tech writing. Seems like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr would have been low hanging fruit, what other tech companies are missing? On the other hand, there are 9 paragraphs and 4 of them relate to Apple in some way. Maybe this should have just been unedited thoughts about Apple better left unposted.
A lot of the suggestions were to be more like Microsoft and embrace the Windows platform. Apple, obviously, rejected that path and has benefitted greatly from doing so. It's hard to remember now, but many people thought that Apple should drop their operating system and instead turn to making high end Windows PCs. I think we're all glad they never went that route.
Not content to knock-off simple iPhones and iPads, some enterprising Chinese have built an entire fake Apple Store in Kunming, China. It's an actual store selling actual products but is obviously not affiliated with Apple in any way.
Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple.
Two other misc Apple thoughts: 1) They appear to have discontinued the MacBook. There are Airs and Pros but no plain-old MacBooks. 2) Apple Inc, already among the largest companies in the world in terms of market cap, announced yesterday that the company's "revenue [is] up 82 percent and profits [are] up 125 percent" over the same quarter last year. That level of growth in such a big company...that's just astounding. And much of the revenue and profit are from products that didn't exist even five years ago...the iPad alone was a ~$5 billion business in Q3 (for comparison, Google had $9 billion in total revenues in Q2). If that's not unprecedented, it's damn close.
From 1990, a NY Times article on a new factory built by Next, the company Steve Jobs started after he left Apple. The more you learn about Next, the more you realize just how much Next DNA there is in the current incarnation of Apple. The story of Apple's second coming could easily be written as the triumph of Next. This section from the middle of the article articulates perfectly Apple's current approach to manufacturing:
Indeed, critics of Mr. Jobs, who is 35 years old, say he is wasting his money by building a factory at this point. With the small number of machines he is building today, it would have been cheaper simply to contract with other companies to assemble the computers, they say.
But Dr. Piszczalski said the initial high investment in an automated factory may permit Next more control of its expenses while volumes are low.
And backers of Mr. Jobs note that he has a long-term strategy in which manufacturing makes sense. "Steve will be in business for the long pull," said H. Ross Perot, one of Next's investors. "He's not in business for six months."
Next's products have yet to gain a significant share of the marketplace, but Mr. Jobs, who has a reputation for painstaking attention to detail and a passion for the importance of manufacturing, argues that by linking this flexible factory more closely than ever to Next's research and development process, his company can gain a strategic advantage in the industry that will eventually pay off in larger sales.
In Mr. Jobs's view, the factory testifies to the fact that the United States can still compete as both a low-cost and a world-class manufacturer when it sets its mind to the task.
Mr. Jobs said he modeled the factory after those of Japanese corporations like the Sony Corporation that have perfected a design-for-manufacturing strategy that transforms the factory floor into an extension of the company research and development center.
Update: Next made a documentary on how computers are made at the new factory.
That's got to be a Hans Zimmer soundtrack, yes? (via @mgrdcm)
In the near term, companies making iPhone and iPad competitors are never going to beat Apple at their own game. Apple has supply chain advantages, a massive number of their customers' credit card numbers (why do you think Jobs brings this up at every single Apple event...it's important!), key patents, one-in-lifetime personnel like Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, solid relationships with key media companies, and an integrated ecosystem of stores, apps, applications, and hardware. They are an imposing competitor.
But Apple also has some weak spots which a canny competitor should be able to exploit to make compelling products that Apple won't be able to duplicate or directly compete with.
1. Apple doesn't do social well on a large scale. Ping? Game Center? Please. Social applications don't seem to be in Apple's DNA...their best applications are still single-player or 2/3/4-player. Someone should figure out how to leverage Facebook's social graph to make the phone/app/gaming/music/video experience significantly better than on the iPhone/iPad and then partner exclusively with Facebook to make it happen. The Facebook Fone would be a massive hit if done right.
2. Apple can't do the cloud either. Mobile Me has been around since January 2000 (when it was called iTools) and the service is still not as compelling as newcomer Dropbox. iPods, iPhones, and iPads are still very much tethered to plain-old desktop/laptop computers and iTunes...there's an opportunity here for a better way.
3. iTunes is getting long in the tooth. The cloud and social are the two Apple weaknesses, but iTunes is showing its age and over the years has become a bloated collection of functionalities...music store, video store, app store, mobile device manager, "social" network, and, oh, by the way, you can also use it to play your music. Spotify, Pandora, and Rd.io point the way to a different approach.
4. I can't remember if this is my own theory or I read about this on Daring Fireball or something, but the Apple products & services that Apple does well are the ones that Steve Jobs uses (or cares about) and the ones he doesn't use/care about are less good (or just plain bad). Jobs uses Keynote and it's very good...but I'm pretty sure Jobs never has had to schedule his own appointments with iCal so that program is less good. Cloud apps and social apps are at the top of this list for a reason...I just don't think Jobs cares about those things. I mean, he cares, but there's not a lot of passion there...they aren't a priority for him so he doesn't really know how to think about them and attack those problems.
And then there are a couple of Apple weaknesses that actually aren't weaknesses at all:
1. Price. Everyone still thinks that Apple products are expensive, or, more to the point, overpriced. But no one else has made a compelling tablet for under $500 yet. And if you attack Apple on price, potential gothchas lurk: Apple is absurdly profitable and cash-rich; if they feel the need to compete with anyone on price in order to protect their business interests, they can do so with price cuts deep enough and long enough to drive most potential competitors out of business.
2. Openness and secrecy. Competitors should take a page from Apple's playbook here and be open about stuff that will give you a competitive advantage and shut the hell up about everything else. Open is not always better.
He is 27 years old. He lives in Los Gates, Calif., and works 20 minutes away in Cupertino, a town of 34,000 that his company has so transformed that some San Franciscans, about 35 miles to the north, have taken to calling it Computertino. There is no doubt in any case that this is a company town, although the company, Apple, did not exist seven years ago. Now, Apple just closed its best year in business, racking up sales of $583 million. The company stock has a market value of $1.7 billion. Jobs, as founder of Apple, chairman of the board, media figurehead and all-purpose dynamo, owns about 7 million shares of that stock. His personal worth is on the balmy side of $210 million. But past the money, and the hype, and the fairy-tale success, Jobs has been the prime advanceman for the computer revolution. With his smooth sales pitch and a blind faith that would have been the envy of the early Christian martyrs, it is Steven Jobs, more than anyone, who kicked open the door and let the personal computer move in.
The article contains some really interesting stuff: perhaps the first mention of Jobs' "reality-distortion field", a prescient comment that Jobs "should be running Walt Disney", and a description of Steve Wozniak as "a Steiff Teddy bear on a maintenance dose of marshmallows".
'We lost a great talent,' says Grinyer. 'We virtually created our own consultancy, Tangerine, just so that we could employ Jony (as Ive prefers to be called). And if I had to put my finger on why and where we lost him it would have to have been one day at Ideal Standard in Hull.
'Tangerine had a consultancy contract with the bathroom-fittings company to design a toilet. I was there when Jony made an excellent presentation to this guy who was wearing a red nose because it was Comic Relief day. This clown then decided to throw his weight around and pulled apart Jony's design. It was ridiculous. Britain lost Jony Ive then and there.'
Since the introduction of the iPhone, Apple has ruled the December holidays. Under the tree, by the menorah, and around the Festivus pole has appeared a steady stream of iPods, iPhones, iTunes gift cards, iPod touches, and even MacBooks. Apple has sold tons of devices in the final quarter of the last three years and, with the iPad added to the lineup, will likely do so again this year.
But I think two companies who will do even better than Apple in December this year.
The first is Amazon**. The cheapest Kindle is now only $139 (and the one with free 3G is $50 more). They are going to sell a metric crapload of these things this Christmas. And even if they don't, they're going to sell 50 million metric shitloads of Kindle books because you don't even need a Kindle to read Kindle books...Amazon has readers for the iPad (which is way better than Apple's iBooks app IMO), iPhone, Android devices, Blackberry, WinPhone 7, Windows, and OS X. I never would have predicted it, but I am a firm convert to Kindle books...and I don't even have a Kindle. The killer feature here is Amazon's multi-platform support. I *love* reading books on the iPad at home but when I'm out and about, if I've got my iPhone in my pocket, I can read a book. The best book is the one that's always with you.
This one is more of a guess, but the other company that will do well this holiday season is Microsoft. I know, right? But have you seen this Kinect thing? It's an add-on for Xbox 360 that takes everything people loved about the Wii and Wii Fit and makes it easier, more natural, and more powerful. Basically you hook this bar up to your Xbox 360 and it tracks your motion around the room. You're the controller. Here's a snippet from David Pogue's positive review:
The Wii, by tracking the position of its remote control, was amazing for its time (2006). It's a natural for games in which you swing one hand -- bowling, tennis, golf. But the Kinect blows open a whole universe of new, whole-body simulations -- volleyball, obstacle courses, dancing, flying.
It doesn't merely recognize that someone is there; it recognizes your face and body. In some games, you can jump in to take a buddy's place; the game instantly notices the change and signs you in under your own name. If you leave the room, it pauses the game automatically.
There's a crazy, magical, omigosh rush the first time you try the Kinect. It's an experience you've never had before.
The ventilation stripes used on Apple products from 1984 to 1990 were part of a design language developed by Frog Design called Snow White.
The Snow White design language was an industrial design language developed by Frog Design, founded by Hartmut Esslinger. It was used by Apple Computer from 1984 to 1990. It is characterised by vertical and horizontal stripes acting as decoration and occasionally ventilation, as well as creating the illusion of the computer enclosure being smaller than it actually is.
I enjoyed this extensive interview with John Sculley about his time at Apple (he was CEO from 83-93) because of 1) his insight into Steve Jobs' way of thinking, 2) his willingness to talk about his mistakes, and 3) his insights about business in general...he gives Jobs a lot of credit but Sculley is clearly no slouch. Some high points:
[Jobs] felt that the computer was going to change the world and it was going to become what he called "the bicycle for the mind."
On the small size of teams actually building products:
Normally you will only see a handful of software engineers who are building an operating system. People think that it must be hundreds and hundreds working on an operating system. It really isn't. It's really just a small team of people. Think of it like the atelier of an artist.
Sculley was president of Pepsi before coming to Apple:
We did some research and we discovered that when people were going to serve soft drinks to a friend in their home, if they had Coca Cola in the fridge, they would go out to the kitchen, open the fridge, take out the Coke bottle, bring it out, put it on the table and pour a glass in front of their guests.
If it was a Pepsi, they would go out in to the kitchen, take it out of the fridge, open it, and pour it in a glass in the kitchen, and only bring the glass out. The point was people were embarrassed to have someone know that they were serving Pepsi. Maybe they would think it was Coke because Coke had a better perception. It was a better necktie. Steve was fascinated by that.
On why he should not have been hired as Apple's CEO:
The reason why I said it was a mistake to have hired me as CEO was Steve always wanted to be CEO. It would have been much more honest if the board had said, "Let's figure out a way for him to be CEO. You could focus on the stuff that you bring and he focuses on the stuff he brings."
Remember, he was the chairman of the board, the largest shareholder and he ran the Macintosh division, so he was above me and below me.
After Jobs left, Sculley tried to run the company as Jobs would have:
All the design ideas were clearly Steve's. The one who should really be given credit for all that stuff while I was there is really Steve. [...] Unfortunately, I wasn't as good at it as he was.
And finally, Sculley and Jobs probably haven't spoken since Jobs left the company:
He won't talk to me, so I don't know.
Jobs is pulling a page from the Don Draper playbook here. In season two, Don tells mental hospital patient Peggy:
Peggy listen to me, get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.
Maybe Jobs is still pissed at Sculley and holds a grudge or whatever, but it seems more likely that looking backwards is something that Jobs simply doesn't do. Move forward, Steve.
The launch highlights the mounting pressure on Apple Inc. to give publishers a way to sell their magazines more than one digital issue at a time. Executives from the New Yorker and its publisher, Conde Nast, say the true value of apps like the New Yorker's can't be realized until readers are allowed to purchase subscriptions.
"It is important to the New Yorker that we have offerings that allow long-term relationships with the consumers," said Conde Nast President Bob Sauerberg. "Obviously, we don't have that in place for the moment with Apple. We are very keen to do that."
The other night, however, a very amazing thing happened. I downloaded an app called Color ID. It uses the iPhone's camera, and speaks names of colors. It must use a table, because each color has an identifier made up of 6 hexadecimal digits. This puts the total at 16777216 colors, and I believe it. Some of them have very surreal names, such as Atomic Orange, Cosmic, Hippie Green, Opium, and Black-White. These names in combination with what feels like a rise in serotonin levels makes for a very psychedelic experience.
I have never experienced this before in my life. I can see some light and color, but just in blurs, and objects don't really have a color, just light sources. When I first tried it at three o'clock in the morning, I couldn't figure out why it just reported black. After realizing that the screen curtain also disables the camera, I turned it off, but it still have very dark colors. Then I remembered that you actually need light to see, and it probably couldn't see much at night. I thought about light sources, and my interview I did for Get Lamp. First, I saw one of my beautiful salt lamps in its various shades of orange, another with its pink and rose colors, and the third kind in glowing pink and red.. I felt stunned.
One of the first things that Steve Jobs did after taking over as Apple's interim CEO in 1997 is to get Apple back on track with their branding. In this short presentation from '97, Jobs talks about branding & Apple's core values and introduces the Think Different campaign.
What's interesting is how the iPad and iPhone advertisements focus almost entirely on the product. Apple no longer has to imply that their products are the best by showing you pictures of Albert Einstein and Amelia Earhart...they just show you the products and you know. But I don't see Jobs doing a "fake it 'til you make it" branding presentation anytime soon. :)
This Best of Kottke post was easy, because I wanted to write something about Steve Jobs over the years anyways. The kickoff is Jason's link to a 1995 interview with Jobs for Smithsonian Magazine. It's mostly reflective, talking about his childhood, his history with Apple and early history with NEXT and Pixar. Toy Story hadn't come out yet, and it's fascinating to read what could be his bluster about what the movie and company were going to do, which of course turned out to be totally true. He's also absolutely thrilled with what NEXT was doing with graphical user interface and networked computers. Windows 95 came out four months later.
It's a sharp contrast with his interview the next year for Wired, which is mostly about the future of computing. He's devastated and angry about Windows, but incredibly enthusiastic about the open web.
The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That's over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it's going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this decade.
It's like when IBM drove a lot of innovation out of the computer industry before the microprocessor came along. Eventually, Microsoft will crumble because of complacency, and maybe some new things will grow. But until that happens, until there's some fundamental technology shift, it's just over.
The most exciting things happening today are objects and the Web. The Web is exciting for two reasons. One, it's ubiquitous. There will be Web dial tone everywhere. And anything that's ubiquitous gets interesting. Two, I don't think Microsoft will figure out a way to own it. There's going to be a lot more innovation, and that will create a place where there isn't this dark cloud of dominance.
He also has this crystal clear vision about how the web was going to move beyond simple publishing and would be used to do commerce and create marketplaces for physical and virtual goods -- a vision, which, again, turned out to be exactly right.
Two common threads in both interviews: he hates teachers' unions, and doesn't think technology can do anything for education. You generally see a much more libertarian, pessimistic Jobs in both of these interviews than you do today. He talks about death a lot, even though he's still young and healthy.
Finally, I'll link to what's still one of my favorite looks at the future of consumer technology, Jobs and Bill Gates's 2007 joint interview at D5 with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. (Prologue - Full Video - Transcript) It's long to watch, but so worth it. They joke and reminisce with each other, tell stories about the early days of the computer industry, and share ideas about where things are going. (Bill Gates's first line: "First, I just want to say: I am not Fake Steve Jobs.")
The iPhone (announced but not released) is hot as hell, but Apple is still a much smaller company than Microsoft. Vista's just been released and is stumbling out of the gate. Gates, unlike Jobs, is incredibly invested in trying to do something in tech to help education, and Jobs (whose Apple now has a huge education market) is mostly silent.
It's also painfully obvious in retrospect that Jobs is talking about the expansion of the iOS into the iPod Touch, iPad (and maybe beyond) while Gates is talking about the experiments in input recognition that played into Windows 7 and the new XBox Kinect. Neither of them have any real idea what to do with TVs, but Gates actually seems to be more visionary, in part because he can afford to be less coy. It's great. I've probably rewatched it four times, and you've never seen it, and care about this stuff at all, you should catch it.
Here's a great story of Jami getting her bike stolen last night in Brooklyn. Wait, why is that great? Because, thanks to some internet sleuthing, a lot of luck (!!!), and solid police work from Brooklyn's finest, she had it back by 11:30 this morning!
While we're on the subject of bikes, according to a recently filed patent, Apple is looking at making a smart bike. I look to the future and I see 1) Consternation that Apple has signed an exclusive agreement to release the bike on Trek frames only for a period of 3, 4, or 5 years depending on which rumor you believe. 2) Several media stories crediting Apple for popularizing the riding of bikes. 3) Several media stories criticizing Apple for claiming they popularized the riding of bikes, even if they didn't.make that claim, 4) Much rejoicing 3 weeks after release of the bike when someone has figure d out how to jail break the phone into a fixed gear. 5) 250 posts from John Gruber refudiating predictions of iBike failure. I look forward to all of it.
Lastly, on the topic of bikes. My friend Chris Piascik is drawing all the bikes he's ever owned. This wouldn't be a big deal for most people, Chris, however, has owned a gazillion bikes. The drawings are accompanied by vignettes on the bikes and I think the project will end up being more of a memoir than Chris originally anticipated. (Disclosure: If I had to name a favorite artist, it'd probably be Chris, and I post his art often on UW.)
1. a creation myth highlighting the counter-cultural origin and emergence of the Apple Mac as a transformative moment; 2. a hero myth presenting the Mac and its founder Jobs as saving its users from the corporate domination of the PC world; 3. a satanic myth that presents Bill Gates as the enemy of Mac loyalists; 4. and, finally, a resurrection myth of Jobs returning to save the failing company...
On Twitter, Tim Carmody adds that Apple's problems are increasingly theological in nature -- "Free will, problem of evil, Satanic rebellion" -- which is a really interesting way to look at the whole thing. (John Gruber the Baptist?)
** The Antennagate being, of course, the hotel where Apple Inc. is headquartered.
If the Mac was so great, why did it lose? Cost, again Microsoft concentrated on the software business and unleashed a swarm of cheap component suppliers on Apple hardware. It did not help either that suits took over during a critical period. (And it hasn't lost yet. If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell phone with a web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble.)
Then again, a few footnotes later Graham writes:
Apple is holding a press conference today, which will presumably address the antenna problems that few actual customers seem to be having on the still-selling-like-hotcakes iPhone 4. I have a number of sources at Apple and based on my conversations with them, here's my prediction on how today's event will play out:
Steve Jobs will come out on stage and will sit in front of a large olde tyme cash register. He will immediately begin taking questions from the assembled journalists and bloggers. As the first-question scrum begins, Jobs will start madly ringing up purchases on the very loud register while pointing to his ears, shaking his head, and shouting "gosh, I'm sorry I can't hear you guys over the sound of the register". This will continue for several minutes and then the press conference will be over.
Someone on Apple's board suggested a more conventional press event but Jobs quickly wrote an email back saying that they were not going to "hold it that way".
I have to think (and experiment) every single time I want to decipher one of these keyboard "shortcuts". Why is it that only the command key (⌘) actually has the symbol printed on the key itself? And what's up with the symbol for the option key (⌥)?
The recently announced iPhone 4 includes a feature called FaceTime; it's wifi videophone functionality. In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace wrote that within the reality of the book, videophones enjoyed enormous initial popularity but then after a few months, most people gave it up. Why the switch back to voice?
The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, and (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech.
First, the stress:
Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation [...] let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet -- and this was the retrospectively marvelous part -- even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end's attention might be similarly divided.
[...] Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable. Callers now found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener's expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those caller who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking extra rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.
And then vanity:
And the videophonic stress was even worse if you were at all vain. I.e. if you worried at all about how you looked. As in to other people. Which all kidding aside who doesn't. Good old aural telephone calls could be fielded without makeup, toupee, surgical prostheses, etc. Even without clothes, if that sort of thing rattled your saber. But for the image-conscious, there was of course no answer-as-you-are informality about visual-video telephone calls, which consumers began to see were less like having the good old phone ring than having the doorbell ring and having to throw on clothes and attach prostheses and do hair-checks in the foyer mirror before answering the door.
Those are only excerpts...you can read more on pp. 144-151 of Infinite Jest. Eventually, in the world of the book, people began wearing "form-fitting polybutylene masks" when talking on the videophone before even that became too much.
Last week, Mike Davidson put up a post about Apple discussing the idea that having a ruthless company making great products is a good problem to have (compared to a ruthless company making so-so products). It got picked up by DF, but I flagged it in my RSS because of a section close to the bottom. I haven't seen this theory about Apple discussed before.
What's the best way to avoid becoming a monopoly? Make sure you never get close to 100% market share. What's the best way to temper your market share? Keep prices a bit higher than you could. Keep supply a bit lower than you could. Keep investing in high margin differentiation and not low margin ubiquity...They are fighting hard right now to make sure they are one of the two or three that will continue to be relevant in 5-10 years, but their goal is clearly not to be at 100% or even 90%...It's scary to people because they remember the harm other companies have done when they reached monopoly status, but with Google, Microsoft, Nokia, RIMM, and now HP all keeping the market healthy with different alternatives, there is no excuse for not voting with your feet if you're unhappy. Apple's not going to take over the world because -- if for no other reason -- the laws of the United States won't let them.
Until we see that the iPhone is as thoroughly entangled into a network of landscapes as any more obviously geological infrastructure (the highway, both imposing carefully limited slopes across every topography it encounters and grinding/crushing/re-laying igneous material onto those slopes) or industrial product (the car, fueled by condensed and liquefied geology), we will consistently misunderstand it.
A letter from Steve Jobs about why they don't allow Flash on iPhones, iPods, and iPads. (Notice he specifically uses the harsher "allow" instead of the much softer "support".)
Jobs sort of circles around the main issue which is, from my own perspective as heavy web user and web developer: though Flash may have been necessary in the past to provide functionality in the browser that wasn't possible using JS, HTML, and CSS, that is no longer the case. Those open web technologies have matured (or will in the near future) and can do most or even all of what is possible with Flash. For 95% of all cases, Flash is, or will soon be, obsolete because there is a better way to do it that's more accessible, more open, and more "web-like".