Category Archives: Apple

The most relevant question about Apple today

Horace Dedieu:

In 2012 Apple’s capital spending has reached the extraordinary level of $10 billion/yr, higher than all but the most capital-intensive semiconductor manufacturers. This is unusual for Apple as it was less than $1 billion in the year before the iPhone launched. It’s also unusual for Apple’s competitors in phones, PCs or tablets. It’s on a level matched only by semiconductor heavyweights. What is the purpose of this spending and what should we read into it leveling off at $10 billion for 2013?

To underline that again: Apple’s capital expenditure is massive. The next time that someone tells you that Apple isn’t spending enough, point them to this.

Apple is winning. Google is winning. Can we shut up now please?

Ben Thompson on the Google we always wanted

Android did its job: Google’s signals have unfettered access to users on every mobile platform. Microsoft is in no position to block them, and Apple, for all its bluster, isn’t interested.

Chrome is doing its job: Google’s signals sit on top of an increasing number of PCs, slowly making the underlying OS irrelevant.

Google+ is doing its job: Every Google service is now tied together by a single identity, and identity is the key to data collection on mobile.

This is the thing that people often don’t get: while Google and Apple appear to be competing with each other, because both companies sell a mobile platform, in fact they have entirely different aims and objectives. This means that it’s perfectly possible for both to “win” by their own criteria.

Apple wins by selling the best devices, ensuring no one can stop them delivering the best user experience and making a profit from them. Google wins by improving its advertising products and ensuring that no other company can lock it out, depriving it of potential audience. 

This is why the occasional talk of Google pulling or handicapping its iOS products (see the comments here) is laughable. Google doesn’t care if you’re using an iPhone or an Android phone. It cares if you’re using Google services or not. And the best way to get iOS users to use more Google services is to produce better products for iOS, rather than expect them to buy a new mobile phone. 

…and gravy

John Gruber replies to my gentle spoofing of his post about Larry Page’s statements with a measured and considered piece which highlights his key point: That Page was simply being hypocritical:

“What major tech giant has Google not pitted itself against? Whose mashed potatoes do they not seek to take? Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Oracle, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon — Google has made enemies of all of them. The difference between Google’s predatory rapaciousness today and Microsoft’s of yore is that Microsoft wore it on their sleeve, they owned it, celebrated it. What rankles about Google is their hypocrisy.”

There’s an element of truth to this (it is, as John puts it, when referring to the likes of Ive’s comments on not caring about making money, “truthy”). Google as a company has always had the kind of “why shouldn’t we?” arrogance that you’d expect when the founders are a pair of Montessori-educated certified geniuses rather than a couple of drop-out hippies. They’ve had no fear about going up against much older and (initially) far better resourced incumbents. If they decide they want to do something, they really don’t care who gets rubbed up the wrong way.

From the outside, I can see how this looks like “predatory rapaciousness”. But John positions these actions as being driven by greed:

“Page was telling the I/O audience what they wanted to hear, that Google is something other than a ruthless, greedy competitor… The drum I’m trying to bang here is not that Google is a greedy competitor, but rather that Google is a greedy competitor that presents itself as anything but — as a sort of peaceful, whimsical, happy-go-lucky techno-futurist corporate utopian — and that rather than see this pose as absurd, many people, Googlers and Google users alike, buy it.”

(My emphasis) This is where John and my opinions diverge. My experience of Google and Googlers is that they really are something other than a ruthless, greedy competitor, just as my experience of Apple and Apple-folk is something other than a ruthless, greedy machine to vacuum up all my spare cash (something they’ve been remarkably effective at).

Yes, they are ruthless and arrogant. But they are not only that. If they were only that, they wouldn’t be a company capable of producing great products.

The myths that a company tells about itself aren’t just for public consumption: they are the method that you use to set who you are and what you do apart. The statements that Jobs and Ive made about Apple being at the “intersection of technology and the liberal arts” and “our goal isn’t to make money” are exactly this kind of myth. And they are, undoubtedly, genuinely and whole-heartedly believed – because without that kind of belief in a purpose beyond simply making money, creative people find their creativity shrivelling up and dying.

The myths that Google tells itself (and the outside world) are the same: genuinely, wholeheartedly believed by the company from the top down (probably with the exception of some hard-nosed finance people in both cases – but they are a breed apart). This isn’t just a question of marketing or spin. In order to do the work they need to do, they need to believe those myths.

All the truly great companies of our age begin and grow with a fundamental tension at their heart, pulled by two strands which, if the founders are not careful, will pull it apart. On the one hand, they want to build a business, to be a machine for making money; on the other, they want (to borrow Steve Jobs’ phrase) to put a ding in the world, to change it, for the better. Google and Apple are both cut from this cloth, and both have this tension at their heart.

Even Microsoft began with this tension. Microsoft’s founding mission was “A computer on every desk and in every home,” something that was crazily radical in 1975. But even then, Gates knew that building the money-making machine was the only way to achieve this vision: the mission statement added “…running Microsoft software”.

Microsoft’s problem is that the first part of its vision was achieved, and nothing ever filled that void – leaving it with just the money-making part. The visions of Apple and Google, on the other hand, still remain unfulfilled, which is why both of them will continue to make great products for many years to come.

John is absolutely right that Google is perfectly happy to take all the mashed potatoes. But like Apple, it also has the gravy of a genuine, heart-felt desire to change the world for the better, to make amazing stuff which enriches people’s lives. And it’s that, rather than the mashed potatoes, which defines who it is and what makes it great.

Apple versus (after John Gruber)

(Before reading this post, read John Gruber’s post here)

UPDATE: John’s written a thoughtful response to this post, which I’ve added some gravy to in a further response. Both, I think, are worth reading.)

Steve Jobs, on stage in 1997:

“We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose,” Jobs said. “We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job. If others are going to help us, that’s great. Because we need all the help we can get. […] The era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over.”

Apple fans seem to eat this kumbaya stuff up, to really believe it. But Apple is the company that built iPhone after Windows Mobile, iCloud after Google Docs, and soon a subscription music service after Spotify. iCloud mail? Webmail but better. Think about even iTunes: music software wasn’t something new; it was something better. Way, way, way better, but still.

Consider music sales. Apple iTunes Store entered a market where eMusic and others had been around for years. That wasn’t something great that didn’t already exist. It was a better version of something that already existed. Apple is a hyper-competitive company, and they repeatedly enter markets that already exist and crush competitors. Nothing wrong with that. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work, and Apple’s successes are admirable. But there’s nothing stupid about seeing Apple being pitted “versus” other companies. They want everything; their ambition is boundless.

Why single sourced rumours about Apple should be taken with a pinch of salt

You know, if you wanted two paragraphs to sum up the perils of tracking Apple’s supply chain ‘build plans’, they would be these:

In Nov. 2011 DigiTimes reported that Apple had “slashed” orders for iPhone 4S parts 10% to 15% — a report that generated a flurry of doomsday headlines (Uh-Oh: Apple Said To Cut Orders To Asia Suppliers On iPhone 4S Problems” from Business Insider’s Henry Blodget) and persuaded many on Wall Street that Apple was headed for disappointing Christmas sales.

As it turned out, the company shipped a record 37 million iPhones that Christmas quarter, up 128% year over year.

It needs saying again… and again… and again… single sourced stories just aren’t reliable. 

Sure, developer interest in Apple is waning. Sure.

David Gewirtz, two days ago, claiming “iOS developers abandoning sinking Apple mothership: Biggest drop ever”:

In what may be another sign that Apple’s fortunes are on the downward slope, an interesting chart reports that Objective-C popularity has plummeted for the first time in two years, and more than ever before.

iOS (and Mac) developers, today

Last year developers had half a day to get their WWDC ticket purchases in before the conference sold out, this year tickets sold out in just two paltry minutes. Apple restrictions limited sales to one per person and five tickets per organization. Tickets cost $1,599.00. It doesn’t really matter though, they’re already gone.

And this guy is, apparently, “CBS Interactive’s Distinguished Lecturer… a regular CNN contributor, and a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.”

No, really, “five ways Apple has lost its bite”. I kid you not

Five ways Apple has lost its bite | Technology | guardian.co.uk.

Having turned the music and telecoms industries on their heads, Apple was understood to have trained its sights on cable TV companies. But the move has been talked about since 2011 and yet there is still no sign of an Apple television set – or iPanel as some predict it will be called.

This single paragraph contains so many weasel words it’s an entire nest of weasels. Apple “was understood to have…”, “as some predict…”

Why does this article exist? What insight does it bring to the table? How does it leave any reader – ANY reader – better informed about one of the world’s biggest and most influential companies?

I always thought one of the points of Internet publishing was that it liberated us from having to have second-rate “filler” stories which existed solely to fill space in print. This woeful piece of crap proves me wrong.

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Blink and you’ll miss it

Blink and you'll miss them

There’s a part of me which wonders, as a massive Doctor Who nerd, if someone in Google’s web platforms team isn’t a big fan. In “Blink”, one of the best episodes ever, the enemy is a group of aliens who take the form of statues which can only move when you’re not looking at them. They’re the ultimate stealth attacker: blink, and they’ve got you.

Likewise, Google’s decision to split with WebKit and instead create its own browser engine – called, Who-style, Blink – looks at first like a stealthy move to control more of the Internet than the search giant already does. Like the statues in Doctor Who, if you don’t keep an eye on them, they’re going to control everything.

That’s certainly the angle that many Mac fans have taken with Blink. I’m actually not so sure. I think that Blink might turn out to be the best thing that’s happened to the web – and, indirectly, a really good thing for Apple too. Continue reading

A Mac user’s view of the Chromebook Pixel

I’ve been a Mac user since 1986, and edited a Mac magazine for a couple of years. I’ve contributed to MacGasm, MacFormat, and pretty-much anything that has the word “Mac” in its title. I attended more Steve Jobs keynotes than is healthy, and suffered the epic 3 hour Gil Amelio keynote which reduced even the hardest-bitten hacks to weeping babies. If there is such a thing as Mac spurs, I’ve earned them.

But as a technology writer, I’ve also always kept an open mind about other options. I’ve used Windows in anger (back in the days when a tablet PC meant Tablet PC, not an iPad). I’ve had Android phones. I’ve used my own cash to buy Android tablets (and boy, did I regret that one).

And in the past couple of years, anyone that follows me will know that I’ve also long been interested in the Google’s Chromebook concept. The idea of a machine which reflects how I actually work (mostly online) is attractive. It’s secure, fast enough, and I never have to worry about where any of my data lives. Almost all the software that I use on a day-to-day basis is web-based, and my browser is the application I use most often. Sometimes two of them. Continue reading

Grumpy old men of tech redux

Trevor Pott, over at El Reg, makes an early entry into the “Doesn’t like this new-fangled world” competition with his piece on how “Netbooks were a GOOD thing and we threw them under a bus“. Pott’s demand of a machine – all-day battery life, a multi-tasking OS – aren’t outlandish, but his stalwart rejection of, basically, anything that isn’t a netbook running Linux marks him out as someone who really doesn’t understand the new world of “just works” computing.

Consider, for example, his rejection of the Chromebook as an option:

“Google could make Android a serious contender as a ‘good enough’ netbook OS in a very short timeframe. The web giant won’t because it views Android as its touch-based consumptive tablet and phone OS, and ChromeOS as the desktop replacement. ChromeOS is entirely reliant on internet connectivity and keeps you trapped into doing everything using SaaS apps; great for Google because it can ruthlessly invade your privacy in order to sell more advertisements. Bad for us because it cripples the OS in order to achieve this goal.”

Where to begin with this? Aside from the “ChromeOS is entirely reliant on internet connectivity” error (it’s not), saying that ChromeOS “keeps you trapped into doing everything using SaaS apps” is a bit like saying Windows “keeps you trapped into doing everything with Windows apps”. And there’s no compulsion on you to use Chromebooks with Google services: mine happily works with iCloud and Microsoft Online services (yes, including Office web apps). 

Using apps written with HTML/JavaScript isn’t lock in, particularly if you choose your software providers wisely. If you want data portability, choose a software company that provides easy ways out

And of course, the iPad also fits Pott’s bill…