“This blog is 12 years old. The reason it’s still here will surprise you.”

I have a section in my feeds called “Friends”. This folder includes RSS feeds for virtually all my friend’s personal blogs, and for about a year there’s something interesting about it: there’s virtually nothing new in it.

Oh sure, there are updates. But they’re the virtual equivalent of an alarm set on a phone you no longer use. They’re things like “My tweets for Thursday”, “Links I liked”, and other automatic posts created by other services. They’re the kind of thing which, a few years ago, would have been the filler between interesting comments, essays, and more. Now, they’re all my friends are producing.

Except that they’re not. Some of my friends have moved away from creating things online and sharing them, mostly due to the ever-evolving pressures on their time: increasing families, work that becomes more time consuming. Houses. Even more kids.

But mostly, they’re sharing smaller and smaller snippets, on social networks. Or they’ve abandoned writing on their own blogs in favour of other platforms like Medium.

This makes me a little sad. There’s a lot of friends out there who I initially discovered through their blogging. Back in the late 90’s and early noughties, having a blog was an essential way of expressing yourself and your thoughts. It was also, truth be told, a place to show off a bit.

But there was also a genuinely political element to it, in the sense that for the first time in history, publishing was something anyone could do. You would write, post your pictures, do what the heck you wanted without having to rely on a third party. If you put in the effort, you could own everything bar the connection your server had to the wider Internet. It brought to life the slogan The Well used: “You own your own words”.

All things pass, and it feels like the time of the blog has in some sense passed too. Who has time to write, when you can pump out status updates which let your friends and family know exactly what you’re thinking and doing at any moment? And why bother to think through what you’re going to say and express in in a few hundred words, when really all anyone cares about is the pithy headline, the punchy hook. “This blog is 12 years old. The reason it’s still here will surprise you.”

Keeping writing a blog is hard work, and takes commitment, and it’s very easy to drift out of that commitment. One of the reasons that I decided to start trying to write 500 words a day is because I believed that making this kind of commitment was good for me. But it was also an attempt to avoid pouring too much of a my energy into things like Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks which – while fun, and generally positive – don’t feel like they have the permanence of my own space. This blog is older than Facebook, and I like that.

 

What exactly does it mean for Apple to be a “growth” company?

One of the most consistent questions asked about Apple at the moment is whether it will ever be a “growth” company again. And, of course, the answer you’ll see is usually “no”.

I disagree. There’s nothing in the present state of Apple and its core businesses which indicates it won’t continue to be a growth company. In fact, it has grown all the way through Tim Cook’s leadership.

What it won’t necessarily be is the kind of hyper-growth company it was during the earlier days of the iPhone. But the kind of opportunity which the iPhone represented are rare, and largely driven by factors outside the direct control of the company. The iPhone was launched into a mature mobile phone market, where there was weak competition and the potential for high margins. Apple’s execution was superb, which enabled them to grow massively and quickly, but it took the existence of a particular set of market conditions to allow this execution to work.

I don’t see any potential product categories which would present the same level of hyper-growth opportunity as smartphones did. TV is huge in revenue, but short on margin, and massively complicated. The regular update cycle is too long to support rapid repeat sales if you look at TVs themselves. You can sell a $100 product like the Apple TV, but it’s effectively a peripheral, a value-add to the iTunes/iOS/Mac ecosystem.

Wearable a feels like a big opportunity to me, but as a value-add for iOS devices rather than a standalone. It’s a way of getting iPhone and iPad owners to pay another $100-250 rather than a $20bn business on its own. And with more and more iPhones sold through the Apple Stores, Apple has a clear path to upselling customers with an incredible health-related wearable.

So where could Apple get iPhone-levels of growth? I just don’t see anywhere. To put the size Apple is at into a little context: if Apple somehow magically owned the entire global online ad market in 2016, it would only add another $163bn of revenue: that’s less than the $170bn revenue the company earned in FY 2013.

It seems, then, Apple is doomed to be merely an enormous, vastly profitable player in the biggest technology markets on the planet until whatever the next big wave is comes alone. And when that wave comes along, it will have to completely miss it or fail to execute as brilliant as it did with the iPhone. At that point, yeah, Apple will be doomed. As doomed as, say, IBM. I’m sure Tim Cook will live with that possibility.

The 500

There are lots of reasons to write.

Sometimes, you write because you have an important point you want to get across. Blogging allowed all of us to do this, to publish our perspective on the world in a way which hasn’t been possible before.

Sometimes you write because you’re responding to someone. Maybe you’re outraged by someone’s simply ridiculous views on the world. Perhaps you’re trying to pick holes in someone else’s argument. Maybe, you’re just practicing the fine art of snark. Lord knows, there’s a worldwide shortage of snark. The snark, after all, is an endangered species.

Sometimes, you write because you think it might be a career, something you can do to earn a living. And there’s no doubt that if you can make a living at it, writing is a fun occupation. I’ve been lucky enough, at various times of my life, to be paid to write.

But there’s another reason to write, and I think for most people it’s the most important reason of all. Writing helps you understand yourself. It forces you to focus your thoughts and move them from the massively-parallel way that your mind works into a kind of linear order. The process of writing something down turns it from a fleeting thought into something much more concrete.

When you write for this reason, it doesn’t really matter if anyone else reads. What matters is that you have written something that’s more than a single thought.

Over the past few years, mostly because of the emergence into my life of services like Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been neglecting writing to any length other than that of a single though. I’ve become good at paring back what I write to just 140 characters, sometimes less (sometimes much less).

But 140 characters leaves no room for nuance, for anything except the most crystal clear of statements. There’s no room for argument (in the positive, rationalist sense) or for anything other than a single thought, a single witticism.

And I think that I’ve begun to feel this a little in the way that I think. My thinking, which used to be all about focus, has felt… fuzzy. Frayed around the edges. Jumping around like the proverbial Mexican jumping bean. Oooh look! Another tweet has arrived! Must… write… pithy… epigram…

So, rather than carry on in the same way, I’m going to try and break a habit to make a habit: and the habit that I want to get into, like MG Siegler, is to write 500 words a day. I’ve no idea what it will be about. Mostly, I’d guess, technology and publishing, the two things that I spend most of my waking hours thinking about. Probably stuff which lies at the intersection between the two. But some days it might be politics, or the attention span of cats, or how incredible the weather is.

Who knows? But it will be no less than 500 words. Sometimes a little more. But never less. And this post needs to be finished, now.

Felix Salmon on Facebook and content

Felix Salmon, writing about the “Viral Math” which supports sites like Upworthy:

To put it another way: at the moment, Facebook assumes that people click on exactly the material that they want to click on, and that if it serves up a lot of clickbaity curiosity-gap headlines, then it’s giving its users what they want. Whereas in reality, those headlines are annoying. Curiosity-gap headlines are a bit like German sentences: you don’t know what they mean until you get to the end, which means that the only way to find out what your friend is saying is to click on the headline and serve up another pageview to Upworthy. (Or ViralNova, or Distractify, or whomever.) It’s basically a way of hacking real-world friendships for profit, and there’s no way Facebook is going to allow it to continue indefinitely.

I think Felix is underestimating Facebook here. Facebook doesn’t just know what you click on on-site: it’s also tracking what you do once you leave, and storing this data for further use. It’s entirely possible it knows how long you spend on content which you click on; it definitely knows if you quickly bounce back to Facebook. Given this, it’s hard to imagine it won’t factor this into what content it serves up to you, if not now, then in the future.

Google and Motorola: (One of) the biggest destructions of shareholder value in history

If the reports are true (and Matthew Panzerino certainly thinks they are) then it looks like Google is selling off Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for a bargain-basement $3bn. This would represent a loss of around $9bn in a little over two years. (Update: It’s official.)

Except there’s more money been flushed down the toilet than just the loss on the deal. There’s also around $1.5bn of losses, plus probably hundreds of millions of dollars of legal fees which have spent chasing Apple around patent courts – to absolutely no effect.

The entire farce has cost Google somewhere in the region of $11bn, even once it’s managed to get $3bn back from Lenovo, which is desperate for a brand it can use to crack the American market.

This would eclipse the $10.2bn deal (and $8.8bn write down) for Autonomy done by those masters of a poor acquisition, HP.

Imagine, for one second, Tim Cook making a huge acquisition and, two years later, taking a $10bn bath on it. How loud would be the calls for him to be fired? Will there be similar calls for Larry Page to step down? Not a chance.

Update: Here’s another way of looking at it. Google sells Motorola Mobility for $3bn, after selling Motorola Home to Arris for $2.35bn. Assuming that Google is holding on to all the patents, and that its valuation of $5.5bn is correct (highly unlikely), that all comes to $10.85bn – a loss of around $2bn on the price it originally paid. Add in losses and so on, and you’re probably talking about a $4bn loss. That’s not quite the $6.2bn write-off that was Microsoft’s acquisition of aQuantive, but it’s not far off.

Why I don’t trust Glenn Greenwald

Willard Foxton, writing for The Telegraph, on Glenn Greenwald and the creepy cult that surrounds him:

I’m sure Mr Greenwald sees himself as a crusader for justice. It’s exactly that commitment to a cause that makes me wonder if he came across a document exonerating the Obama administration in this scandal, would he throw up his hands and say “Sorry guys, we have to forget about this one”? Or would he quietly bin it, because it doesn’t fit with what he believes as an activist? Journalism isn’t just about writing good copy, it’s about actually finding the truth, and accepting that sometimes it won’t be a truth you like.

This is exactly the problem I have with Greenwald. I don’t trust him not to simply ignore anything he comes across which doesn’t fit with his narrative.

Selective publication of documents only works if the journalist handling them can be trusted to publish the truth of what he finds. That’s incompatible with the idea of “activists journalist” that Greenwald espouses – because an activist, by definition, is batting for one side rather than another.  There’s not a chance he would print “a truth he doesn’t like”.

If someone made a potato, Samsung would make a Galaxy Potato

GigaOm:

Another report in the Korea Times suggests that Samsung is also working on a pair or smart glasses designed to compete with Google Glass, tentatively dubbed Galaxy Glass. Samsung is reportedly hoping to launch these glasses by September at IFA, which might get them to market sooner than Google makes its Glass available at the consumer level. 

I’m trying to think of a new technology which has come out that Samsung hasn’t raced to copy. 

Nope, still trying… no. Can’t think of anything. 

Repeat after me: Chrome is the platform, Android (and iOS) is just the host

I’ve been saying for some time that Google’s longer-term plans for application development all hinged around Chrome. Native Android apps are silos: although Google has built tools which allow developers to make Android apps searchable (and thus a target for ad sales, and tracking) it’s much harder than with a native HTML web app. 

Building an app using native tools is also a dead-end: developers have to work harder to create a web-native equivalent. And web-native equivalents can be easily supported by advertising, supplied by… you guessed it… Google. 

Chrome Packaged Apps, on the other hand, are “native” web apps – and the web is Google’s true focus. So it’s no surprise that Google has released an early release which lets you bring Packaged Apps to iOS and Android. 

Chome is the development platform, not Android: Android is just the host, just like iOS is. 

My thirty years of the Mac

The first Mac I used was a 512K machine, in the computer science lab at Hatfield Polytechnic in 1986. The halls where I lived were organised into floors of 12 rooms which shared a kitchen, and although the Poly tried its best to mix students of different disciplines, for some reason my floor had six computer science students on it. I was the sole, weird, humanities guy[1].

One day, one of my floor-mates took me to the computer science lab, and showed me around. There were terminals hooked into the polytechnic’s main computer (yes, the one computer, running UNIX[2]), PCs… “and this is the Mac. It’s pretty advanced – you should try using one. You might like it.”

I did. In fact, I was in love. Compared to the primitive home computers I’d used up till then, this was amazing. Like something from another planet, or at least California.

Three years and one first-class honours degree later, I ended up spending a year commuting from my home in St Albans, round the M25 to Apple UK’s headquarters in Stockley Park, near Heathrow. I spent a year interning with the Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) team, mostly fixing problems by the two most reliable methods available to a Mac tech at the time: reinstalling the system, or, if that failed, replacing the motherboard. I could probably still disassemble a Mac II if I had to, in record time (hint: don’t touch the power supply).

More importantly to me, working for Apple meant I could take advantage of the “Loan to Own” scheme, which let you borrow a Mac and, after a set period of time, buy it at a steep discount. In my case, a year later the Mac Plus (and 20Mb hard drive) I’d been using was mine, just in time for me to go back to Hatfield to work on a PhD. The Mac Plus, with 4Mb of RAM, spent its time with me for the next few years churning through words in MacWrite (and then Word), keeping notes in HyperCard (in a note-taking stack I’d written) and storing endless academic references in EndNote (which I’m happy to find is still going strong.

The experience of working at Apple and owning a Mac changed my life. A few years later, casting around for a job when it became clear I really didn’t want to be an academic (and academia didn’t really want me) I answered an ad in The Guardian media section (in print!) for a labs assistant on MacUser magazine. I’d never wanted to be a journalist, but – thanks to the Mac – I ended up one.

The Mac, in the form of one machine or an another, has been with me now for 25 years. I’ve written millions of words on it, played countless hours of games, got into arguments and met people hundreds of people. It’s taken me – literally – around the world and given me a livelihood. I wouldn’t be the person I am without Steve’s Amazing Machine.


  1. Which is another way of saying I had a girlfriend.  ↩

  2. The same group of computer science friends later thought it was hilarious to give me, the token humanities guy, root access to the mainframe. Thankfully I never used it for evil…  ↩

Microsoft Surface is still a failure

Jason Del Ray, writing for Re/Code on the apparently-impressive Microsoft Surface:

In its fiscal second-quarter earnings release today, Microsoft said Surface revenue was $893 million during the final quarter of calendar year 2013, up from $400 million in the preceding quarter. It didn’t, however, provide information on the number of units sold and it did cost the company $932 million to generate the Surface revenue.

Still, that’s some holly jolly holiday season news, considering the Surface’s track record. The bad news, of course, is that Microsoft’s share in the tablet market is still minuscule.

The market share is irrelevant at this point: The bad news is that Microsoft is still losing money on every Surface it sells. 

Ian Betteridge on Macs, mobiles, and technology