Google’s Growth Since Its IPO 

Speaking of Dan Frommer, he has a good post noting the 10-year anniversary of Google’s IPO.

Twitter Now Officially Says Your Timeline Is More Than Just Tweets From People You Follow 

Dan Frommer on Twitter’s updated definition of what goes into your timeline. This is a terrible decision on Twitter’s part, and I’ve seen nothing but complaints about it. That your timeline only shows what you’ve asked to be shown is a defining feature of Twitter.

So far, these changes are only evident when using Twitter’s first-party clients, but it’s a bad sign even if you use a third-party client like Tweetbot or Twitterrific. However, tweets that you favorite using a third-party client might start showing up in the timelines of your followers who do use Twitter’s own interfaces.

Sharp’s New Aquos Crystal Phone 

Interesting new design from Sharp: a display that goes edge-to-edge on the left, right, and top. (I.e. it has no forehead, only a chin.)

Policing by Consent 

Jason Kottke on “The Nine Principles of Policing” that served to establish the Metropolitan Police of London in 1829:

As police historian Charles Reith noted in 1956, this philosophy was radical when implemented in London in the 1830s and “unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public”. Apparently, it remains radical in the United States in 2014.

Police Impunity in Ferguson 

One more on the police in Ferguson. Matt Yglesias:

The other two men in the photograph, despite presumably being police officers, are not identifiable at this time. Unlike normal police officers, they are not wearing name tags or badges with visible numbers on them. When police arrested the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and the Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly, they weren’t wearing badges or name tags either. Reasonable people can disagree about when, exactly, it’s appropriate for cops to fire tear gas into crowds. But there’s really no room for disagreement about when it’s reasonable for officers of the law to take off their badges and start policing anonymously.

There’s only one reason to do this: to evade accountability for your actions. […]

Policing without a name tag can help you avoid accountability from the press or from citizens, but it can’t possibly help you avoid accountability from the bosses. For that you have to count on an atmosphere of utter impunity. It’s a bet many cops operating in Ferguson are making, and it seems to be a winning bet.

Disgraceful. Every police officer should not only always wear their badge and name tag while on duty, they should be proud to do so. (And in most cases, that’s true.)

The Police State 

Sunil Dutta, “professor of homeland security” at Colorado Tech University and 17-year veteran of the LAPD, in a surprisingly candid op-ed in the Washington Post:

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge.

“If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.” Don’t question authority or you might get beaten or shot. Astounding.

Here’s this mentality in action: local police near Ferguson threatening Al Jazeera journalists — “I’ll bust your head right here” — simply for having the temerity to ask him why he wouldn’t allow them to photograph a sign.

Update: Here’s video footage of officer Sunil Dutta on the job.

If Police in Ferguson Treat Journalists Like This, Imagine How They Treat Residents 

Max Fisher, writing for Vox:

That police in Ferguson are targeting journalists so openly and aggressively is an appalling affront to basic media freedoms, but it is far scarier for what it suggests about how the police treat everyone else — and should tell us much about why Ferguson’s residents are so fed up. When police in Ferguson are willing to rough up and arbitrarily arrest a Washington Post reporter just for being in a McDonald’s, you have to wonder how those police treat the local citizens, who don’t have the shield of a press pass.

Steve Ballmer Steps Down From Microsoft Board 

The WSJ:

“I think it would be impractical for me to continue to serve on the board, and it is best for me to move off,” Mr. Ballmer said in a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft published the letter on its website Tuesday. “I see a combination of the Clippers, civic contribution, teaching and study taking a lot of time,” he wrote.

Translation: “Good luck.”

AAPL Hits $100, Closes in on Record 

I was going to make a joke asking what happened to all the dopes who were calling for Tim Cook to be fired 18 months ago, but I suspect Apple’s stock is being driven now by pump-and-dump manipulators. I just saw an “analyst” projecting 75 million iPhones sold in the holiday quarter, when the best they’ve ever done previously (last year) was only 52 million. That just seems like nonsense.

Swift Performance 

Jesse Squires has been benchmarking Swift against Objective-C during the beta releases:

If you recall the results from the previous post, then this should be quite shocking (in a good way). Take a deep breath. Yes, yes this is real life. The tables have completely turned (no pun intended). I’ve been running these trials since the first beta, and this is the first time that Swift has performed better than Objective-C for every single algorithm, with standard optimizations. And not only is Swift faster, but it is faster by significant margins.

There were some worrisome results from the first few Swift betas, but given that the language was designed by a compiler expert, I’m not surprised performance is going to be impressive in the 1.0 release.

Resuscitating a Drowned iPhone 5 

Rob Griffiths, writing at Macworld:

Thanks to (I’m guessing) some time in the rice and a healthy dose of compressed air, I now have a fully functional iPhone 5, as seen in the image at right. I find this simply amazing, given the amount of time it spent 10 feet deep in a lake. So what did I learn during this incident?

(Via Shawn King.)

Josh Ginter Reviews Vesper 

One of my favorite reviews of Vesper yet.

On Apple and Deadlines 

Mark Kawano, CEO of Storehouse and formerly a user experience evangelist at Apple:

But the theory that Apple doesn’t have deadlines isn’t just slightly inaccurate, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Not only does the company set internal deadlines, it also creates deadlines for deadlines that have their own deadlines. Every aspect of the company’s production cycle, from conception to ship date, is calculated. But — and this is a big “but” — what makes Apple different is that it is a company that is willing to move those deadlines. If a product in development isn’t ready to be released, the deadline is pushed back. If an idea isn’t perfect, or isn’t considered truly magical and delightful internally, it’s held back, revised, and the product given an entirely new launch date.

Against Editors 

Hamilton Nolan, writing for Gawker:

In the writing world, there is a hierarchy. The writers are on the bottom. Above them are editors, who tell the writers what to change. This is backwards. […]

Good editors are valuable. They are also rare. If we simply kept the good ones and dismissed the bad ones, the ranks of editors would immediately shrink to saner levels. Editors are an important part of writing — a subordinate part. Their role in the industry should be equally subordinate. It is absurd that most writers must choose between a career spent writing and a career that offers raises and promotions. The “new” online media, happily, tends to be less editor-heavy than the big legacy media outlets that have sprouted entire ecosystems of editors and sub-editors over the course of decades. This is partly because the stark economics of online journalism make clear just how wasteful all those extra editors are. To hire a new editor instead of a new writer is to give up actual stories in favor of… some marginal improvements, somewhere, or perhaps nothing at all.

I’m reminded of a 2005 essay by Paul Graham:

My experience of writing for magazines suggests an explanation. Editors. They control the topics you can write about, and they can generally rewrite whatever you produce. The result is to damp extremes. Editing yields 95th percentile writing — 95% of articles are improved by it, but 5% are dragged down. 5% of the time you get “throngs of geeks.”

On the web, people can publish whatever they want. Nearly all of it falls short of the editor-damped writing in print publications. But the pool of writers is very, very large. If it’s large enough, the lack of damping means the best writing online should surpass the best in print. And now that the web has evolved mechanisms for selecting good stuff, the web wins net. Selection beats damping, for the same reason market economies beat centrally planned ones.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver: Ferguson, MO and Police Militarization 

Spot-on summary of the entire situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and militarization of U.S. police forces.

‘The Most Fascinating Profile You’ll Ever Read About a Guy and His Boring Startup’ 

Good profile by Mat Honan on Stewart Butterfield and Slack.

#Ferguson 

David Carr, writing for the NYT:

Perhaps even absent the conflagration on Twitter, journalists would have shown up. Perhaps cable news would have turned hard toward the story, and the kind of coverage that eventually drew the attention of the president and the governor of Missouri would have taken place. Perhaps all the things that led to the security situation in Ferguson being handed over to cooler heads would have ensued. But nothing much good was happening in Ferguson until it became a hashtag.

PaintCode 2 

My thanks to PaintCode for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. PaintCode is a unique vector drawing app — it turns your drawings into Objective-C or Swift code, acting as a bridge between developers and graphic designers. PaintCode lets you develop apps that are truly resolution independent. It’s every bit as cool as it sounds. You draw the interface just like you would in any other vector drawing app, and the output is code instead of a slew of image assets.

PaintCode has been successfully adopted by numerous companies, including industry giants such as Apple, Evernote, Google, The New York Times, Pixar, and Twitter. To learn more or download a free demo version, visit PaintCode’s website.

‘Humans Need Not Apply’ 

Fascinating and persuasive short film by C.G.P. Grey on the inevitable upheaval in employment opportunities wrought by automation:

Horses aren’t unemployed now because they got lazy as a species, they’re unemployable. There’s little work a horse can do that pays for its housing and hay.

And many bright, perfectly capable humans will find themselves the new horse: unemployable through no fault of their own.

MIUI 6 

I’m not sure who should be more upset. Apple, because this is such a preposterously shameless ripoff of iOS. Or Samsung, because Xiaomi is so much better at ripping off Apple than they are.

Update: Keep in mind, too, that Xiaomi VP Hugo Barra keeps insisting they don’t copy designs from Apple. Even Thom Holwerda agrees that this is just shameless.

Gus Mueller: ‘Apple Should Open a Seattle Office’ 

Gus Mueller:

Hire a manager, and open an Apple developer office in Seattle. There are plenty of places across the county where Apple has offices for historical reasons or acquisitions. Why not have a remote office on purpose this time?

Then you could quietly steal the best and brightest from MS, Adobe, and wherever. And you just solved a big part of your hiring problem.

I agree; Seattle is just lousy with great Cocoa developers.

Mo’ne Davis Dominates at Little League World Series 

Two-hit complete game shutout from the most popular athlete in Philadelphia. She struck out the side in the sixth inning to end the game.

MacLovin’ Bundle 

Bundle of great Mac apps — Keyboard Maestro, Hype, Moom, Boom, and more — for just $40. Regular price for all these apps, purchased separately: $861.

(StackSocial, the company running the bundle, has an affiliate code system, but I’m not using it. I won’t get a penny if you buy the bundle through this link — I just think they’re great apps at a great price.)

A Thought on the Pricing of the Upcoming New iPhones 

Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for the WSJ yesterday:

Apple is considering using sapphire screens in more expensive models of the two new, larger iPhones it plans to debut this fall, if it can get enough of the material, people familiar with the matter say. Some analysts expect Apple to charge more for the phones than previous new models, because of increased component costs.

First, I don’t understand how a report on August 14 could plausibly imply that Apple still doesn’t know what material they’re going to use for the displays on the new iPhones they plan to introduce on September 9, and which (if the schedule is like last year) they probably plan to ship to customers on September 19. I would think that people who are truly “familiar with the matter” already know, today, whether the new iPhones are going to use sapphire displays.

As for the persistent rumors that the new iPhone is going to cost $100 more, I have a thought. Last year, Apple put two phones at the $199 subsidized price point: the 16 GB 5S, and the 32 GB 5C. What Apple could do this year is drop the 16 GB size from the top-tier new device(s), and start the new iPhone(s) at 32 GB/$299. Raising the entry price, not the price. That’d leave the $199 pricing tier for the mid-range iPhone (maybe the 16 or 32 GB 5S?).

Even better would be if Apple doubled storage capacities at each price point: start the new iPhone(s) at $299 for 64 GB, and $399 for 128 GB. And then start the mid-tier phone at 32 GB instead of 16, and switch the lowest-tier “free” iPhone (the 5C?) to 16 GB. A bump in storage capacities feels due.

Update: Abdel Ibrahim tweets:

What @gruber maybe forgets to realize is how important price is to people. Nobody wants to be forced to pay $299 for the newest iPhone.

I didn’t say Apple should raise the entry price for the new top-tier iPhone from $199 to $299. What I’m saying is, if the rumors are true that they’re going to raise the price, dropping the lowest storage tier could be how they do it. Honestly, I think it sounds weird and somewhat un-Apple-y for them to raise the entry price for any product, let alone for their most important product. Entry prices tend to go down over time, not up.

Another possible explanation: the new iPhone ships (as widely rumored) in both 4.7- and 5.5-inch sizes, and the 5.5-inch model costs $100 more than the corresponding 4.7-inch one with the same specs.

Apple Expands Leadership Page to Include Five Vice Presidents 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

Apple today updated its Apple Leadership press page to add the bios of five vice presidents, including Paul Deneve, Lisa Jackson, Joel Podolny, Johny Srouji, and Denise Young Smith.

The inclusion of several vice presidents on the executive team is a new move for the company, as the page previously only listed the company’s lineup of senior vice presidents.

Interesting on a few fronts. It significantly expands the diversity of this listing. You can see in Apple’s just-published company-wide diversity report that they have a significant number of women and non-white people in “leadership” positions, but that was not reflected on this public-facing senior leadership page.

Second, it shows where Tim Cook is placing new-found importance: the environment, human resources, and Apple University. Oh, and “special projects” — under the leadership of former Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve. No idea what that could be about.

‘Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet’ 

Alexis Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic:

Perhaps the way, then, to recover some of the old web, before the dominance of Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook, isn’t to build new competitors to those companies, but to redouble our use and support of good old email.

Email — yes, email — is one way forward for a less commercial, less centralized web, and the best thing is, this beautiful cockroach of a social network is already living in all of our homes. 

The Best Podcasting Apps for iPhone 

Thoughtful, detailed comparative review by Robert McGinley Myers of all the top iPhone podcasting apps.

Diversity of Various Tech Companies by the Numbers 

Nick Heer:

With Apple’s report today (finally), major tech companies have all published information about racial and gender diversity. I thought it might be useful to run the numbers and compare them against the demographics of the United States as a whole, for reference. All data is as-reported from each company.

How to Be Polite 

Paul Ford:

Politeness buys you time. It leaves doors open. I’ve met so many people whom, if I had trusted my first impressions, I would never have wanted to meet again. And yet  —  many of them are now great friends. I have only very rarely touched their hair.

Such a lovely piece.

Uber Playing Dirty With Competitors 

Erica Fink, reporting for CNN/Money:

Uber employees have ordered and canceled more than 5,000 rides from rival Lyft since last October, according to new data provided by Lyft. The data was obtained at CNNMoney’s request when reporting another story on the companies’ competition.

It’s the latest in a pattern of aggressive and questionable tactics by Uber to control the car-on-demand market, according to rivals.

Love the Uber service, but it’s hard to like the company.

The Talk Show: ‘BlackBerry Is Still Technically in Business’ 

Special guest Dan Frommer joins me on The Talk Show. Topics include speculation — seriously, just speculation — on Apple’s purported upcoming wrist wearable thing, Apple’s fall event schedule, polarized sunglasses, market share in the post-PC era, and Beats’s integration into Apple (including a clever idea from Dan about the potential for a Beats Music channel on Apple TV).

Sponsored by:

Apple Publishes Employee Diversity Numbers 

Tim Cook:

Apple is committed to transparency, which is why we are publishing statistics about the race and gender makeup of our company. Let me say up front: As CEO, I’m not satisfied with the numbers on this page. They’re not new to us, and we’ve been working hard for quite some time to improve them. We are making progress, and we’re committed to being as innovative in advancing diversity as we are in developing our products.

Harassment in Science, Replicated 

Christie Aschwanden, writing for the NYT:

Most men are not creeps, and they have a powerful role to play here. During a field trip at a journalism conference a few years ago, I had an engaging conversation with a keynote speaker. As we parted, he told me, in front of two other men, “Your husband shouldn’t let you out of the house.”

The two bystanders brushed off this insulting attempt at a compliment. It was easier for them to let it go than to call out a friend, and their behavior said it was all right to treat me like that. […]

It will take chief executives, department heads, laboratory directors, professors, publishers and editors in chief to take a stand and say: Not on my watch. I don’t care if you’re my friend or my favorite colleague; we don’t treat women like that.

Amazon Takes on Disney in DVD Pricing Fight 

Bloomberg:

The move signals that Amazon, the world’s largest Web retailer, is increasingly willing to keep certain items from consumers to put pressure on its vendors. It also spotlights the extent of Amazon’s clout in the home-entertainment market. Studios count on sales of DVD and Blu-ray versions of their movies to help deliver profits because few films reach profitability in theaters.

“They are squeezing studios on DVD pricing, understandable given their market position,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “Disney can’t cut them off, and Amazon can cut Disney off, so I would say Amazon has the leverage.”

Sounds like it’s time for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Apple again.

Robin Williams, Beloved Genius, Dies at 63 

Portrait of Robin Williams in 2011

(Photo: Peter Hapak.)

Mat Honan Liked Everything He Saw on Facebook for Two Days 

Mat Honan:

Likewise, content mills rose to the top. Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post. As I went to bed that first night and scrolled through my News Feed, the updates I saw were (in order): Huffington Post, Upworthy, Huffington Post, Upworthy, a Levi’s ad, Space.com, Huffington Post, Upworthy, The Verge, Huffington Post, Space.com, Upworthy, Space.com.

If a corporation could have a wet dream, this would be Facebook’s.

Inside Apple University 

Brian X. Chen, writing for the NYT:

Randy Nelson, who came from the animation studio Pixar, co-founded by Mr. Jobs, is one of the teachers of “Communicating at Apple.” This course, open to various levels of employees, focuses on clear communication, not just for making products intuitive, but also for sharing ideas with peers and marketing products.

In a version of the class taught last year, Mr. Nelson showed a slide of “The Bull,” a series of 11 lithographs of a bull that Picasso created over about a month, starting in late 1945. In the early stages, the bull has a snout, shoulder shanks and hooves, but over the iterations, those details vanish. The last image is a curvy stick figure that is still unmistakably a bull.

“You go through more iterations until you can simply deliver your message in a very concise way, and that is true to the Apple brand and everything we do,” recalled one person who took the course.

Kudos for Chen for getting a few sources to speak about Apple University. Pretty sure no other company has anything like it. (Well, except Pixar.)

Christopher Wright on the Amazon vs. Hachette Fight 

Christopher Wright:

Here is the secret to understanding my take on Amazon: they’re not part of the publishing industry, although the things they do certainly affect it. They’re not a service and retail company, though that is the way they make all their money. At its core, Amazon is and always has been part of the computer industry, and if you view them from that perspective their business practices should scare the shit out of you.

Chinese Regulation/Censorship of Social Media 

Lily Kuo, writing for Quartz:

For the past four years, China’s government and its far-reaching bureaucracy have embarked on a campaign to take back China’s weibo microblog scene from the masses, who have been using social media services to expose corrupt officials, circulate news, and air their opinions.

And it’s working. According to a new study by media researchers based in China and the US, the government’s 176,000 microblogs are trying to control much of the discussion online, by offering official interpretations of public events, while contrary views are ruthlessly deleted by Great Firewall censors.

In the latest government maneuver, China released new restrictive regulations today seemingly aimed at Tencent’s popular WeChat chat service, which has also become a de facto town square where current events are discussed. According to the People’s Daily, only the public accounts of media agencies can post or re-post political news on instant messaging apps like WeChat. New users will also have to provide their real names and sign a contract promising they will “obey the law and respect the socialist system.”

We in the U.S. are fortunate that our most popular social media site has a completely transparent and open system for what people see in their news feeds. Wait, what.

New Microsoft Surface Ads Take on MacBooks (and iPads) Directly 

I think these are pretty good ads. They make the case for Surface — one device that serves both as a traditional laptop PC and an iPad-style tablet — succinctly.

What’s more interesting to me is how by mocking Apple’s products by name, these spots illustrate how clearly the tables have turned in the last decade. Apple could run the “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” campaign a decade ago because they were the underdog. It’s nearly impossible for the market leader to belittle its competition by name without appearing small, defensive, bullying — or all of the above. Pepsi makes fun of Coke, but Coke never even mentions Pepsi.

It’s another pillar of the Church of Market Share crumbling. MacBooks don’t have even close to a market share lead in laptops, and the iPad doesn’t have one in tablets, either — but Apple is the clear leader in both markets because they dominate the profitable high-end in both.


Two Memos

Brian S. Hall poked me on Twitter yesterday:

“This style of communication is like reading a foreign language to me. I don’t understand what most of it means.” @gruber re Apple IBM memo.

I.e. that my criticism of the opaque business-jargon-laden style of Satya Nadella’s company-wide memo regarding Microsoft’s layoffs could apply just as aptly to Apple’s press release announcing their IBM partnership, which I didn’t criticize.

Hall has a point. That Apple press release is rather jargon-laden and opaque. I don’t know why that is, but my guess is that as a joint initiative, the press release was written jointly by Apple and IBM. Most press releases from Apple, though formal, are better written. (Some are even poignant in their relative brevity.)

But, to compare a press release to a company-wide memo is a bit of an apple-to-oranges situation. A company-wide memo is not a press release, and Tim Cook sent a company-wide memo regarding the IBM deal, too. Unlike Microsoft, Apple doesn’t (yet?) post such memos for public consumption, but as usual, 9to5Mac has a copy (adorned with artwork from Darth).

Cook’s memo is short, clear, and jargon-free.1

You don’t have to be an industry insider to know that Microsoft and Apple have very different company cultures. One could argue that Nadella’s style is what Microsoft employees expect, and that my personal sensibilities more closely align with Apple’s culture. But I don’t buy it. I think clear writing is the result of clear thinking. Cook’s memo isn’t casual or informal; it simply isn’t dressed up with extraneous formalities and corporate-culture bromides. Nadella’s raises as many questions as it answers. 


  1. My only criticism is that Cook doesn’t use the Oxford comma, but that’s a matter of taste. And perhaps it is apt that a man whose forte is efficiency would choose the terser style. 


Only Apple

1.

“Only Apple” has been Tim Cook’s closing mantra for the last few Apple keynotes. Here’s what he said at the end of last week’s WWDC keynote:

You’ve seen how our operating systems, devices, and services, all work together in harmony. Together they provide an integrated and continuous experience across all of our products, and you’ve seen how developers can extend their experience further than they’ve ever done before and how they can create powerful apps even faster and more easily than they’ve ever been able to.

Apple engineers platforms, devices, and services together. We do this so that we can create a seamless experience for our users that is unparalleled in the industry. This is something only Apple can do. You’ve seen a few people on stage this morning, but there are thousands of people that made today possible.

Is this true, though? Is Apple the only company that can do this? I think it’s inarguable that they’re the only company that is doing it, but Cook is saying they’re the only company that can.

I’ve been thinking about this for two weeks. Who else is even a maybe? I’d say it’s a short list: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Samsung. And I’d divide that short list into halves — the close maybes (Microsoft and Google) and the not-so-close maybes (Amazon and Samsung).

Samsung makes and sells a ton of devices, but they don’t control any developer platform to speak of. They’re trying with Tizen, but that hasn’t taken off yet. So their phones and tablets run Android, their notebooks run Windows or Chrome OS, and there’s no integration layer connecting all the other stuff they make (TVs, refrigerators, whatever). I think Tizen exists because Samsung sees the competitive disadvantage they’re in by not controlling their software platforms, but they’re nowhere close to having something that helps them in this regard.

Amazon sells devices (including soon, purportedly, phones) and certainly understands cloud services and the integration of features under your Amazon identity. But their aims, thus far, are narrow. Amazon devices really are just about media consumption — books, movies, TV shows — and shopping from Amazon. They don’t make PCs, so compared to Apple and the growing integration between Macs and iOS devices, Amazon isn’t even in the game. And with their reliance on Android (forked version or not), they don’t have anywhere near the control over their software platforms that Apple does.

Google has all three: platforms, devices, and services. But the devices that are running their platforms are largely outside their control. They sell “pure Google” Nexus devices, but those devices haven’t made much of a dent in the market. Google’s mindset a decade ago was centered around web apps running in browsers. Google didn’t need its own platform because every PC had a browser and people would use those browsers to do everything Google provided in browser tabs. That meta-platform approach has limits, though, particularly when it comes to post-PC devices. Their stated reason for buying Android wasn’t because they wanted to design and control the post-PC device experience, but because they wanted an open mobile platform on which their web services could not be locked out.

Google’s aspirations for seamlessness largely, if not entirely, revolve around Google’s own apps and services. They’ve long offered tab sharing between Chrome on multiple devices — a cool feature, much in line with the Continuity features Apple debuted at WWDC. But if Google did something similar for email, it would only work with Gmail. Gmail on your phone to Gmail in a tab in Chrome on your PC. (On the other hand, Google’s solution would likely work from Gmail on your iPhone too; Apple (Beats excepted) offers bupkis for Android users.)

That leaves Microsoft. Here’s a tweet I wrote during the keynote, 20 minutes before Cook’s wrap-up:

Microsoft: one OS for all devices.

Apple: one continuous experience across all devices.

That tweet was massively popular,1 but I missed a word: across all Apple devices. Microsoft and Google are the ones who are more similarly focused. Microsoft wants you to run Windows on all your devices, from phones to tablets to PCs. Google wants you signed into Google services on all your devices, from phones to tablets to PCs.

Apple wants you to buy iPhones, iPads, and Macs. And if you don’t, you’re out in the cold.2

Apple, Google, and Microsoft each offer all three things: devices, services, and platforms. But each has a different starting point. With Apple it’s the device. With Microsoft it’s the platform. With Google it’s the services.

And thus all three companies can brag about things that only they can achieve. What Cook is arguing, and which I would say last week’s WWDC exemplified more so than at any point since the original iPhone in 2007, is that there are more advantages to Apple’s approach.

Or, better put, there are potentially more advantages to Apple’s approach, and Tim Cook seems maniacally focused on tapping into that potential.

2.

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.

Apple suffered when they could not operate at large scale. When you go your own way, you need a critical mass to maintain momentum, to stay ahead of the commodity horde. To pick just one example: CPUs. Prior to the Mac’s switch to Intel processors in 2006, Macs were generally more expensive and slower than the Windows PCs they were competing against. There weren’t enough Macs being sold to keep Motorola or IBM interested in keeping the PowerPC competitive, and Apple didn’t have the means to do it itself. Compare that to today, where Apple can design its own custom SoC CPUs — which perform better than the commodity chips used by their competitors. That’s because Apple sells hundreds of millions of iOS devices per year. Apple’s commitment to making its own hardware provided necessary distinction while the company was relatively small. Now that the company is huge, it still provides them with distinction, but now also an enormous competitive edge that cannot be copied. You can copy Apple’s strategy, but you can’t copy their scale.

Microsoft and Google have enormous market share, but neither has control over the devices on which their platforms run. Samsung and Amazon control their own devices, but neither controls their OS at a fundamental level.

Microsoft and Google can’t force OEMs to make better computers and devices, to stop junking them up with unwanted add-ons. Apple, on the other hand, can force anything it can achieve into devices. Apple wants to go 64-bit on ARM? Apple can do it alone.

Let’s take a step back and consider Apple’s operational prowess. In their most recent holiday quarter, they sold 51 million iPhones and 26 million iPads. In and of itself that’s an operational achievement. But further complicating the logistical complexity: the best selling devices (iPhone 5S and 5C, iPad Air and the iPad Mini with Retina Display) had only just been released that quarter. iOS device sales skew toward the high-end, not the low end, because they’re not commodities. Brand new devices sold in record numbers. The single best selling and most important device was the iPhone 5S, with an all-new fingerprint sensor and camera. A secure enclave for the fingerprint data. Brand-new Apple-designed A7 processors — the first in the industry to go 64-bit. No one else is making 64-bit mobile CPUs and Apple sold tens of millions of them immediately. There are very few standard parts in these devices. Consider too that Apple has no way of knowing in advance which devices — and which colors of those devices — will prove the most popular.

But the whole quarter went off, operationally, pretty much without a hitch. Record unit sale numbers with fewer product shortages and delays than ever before. No one’s perfect — remember the white iPhone 4, which was announced in June 2010 but didn’t go on sale until April 2011? — but Apple is very, very good, and has been throughout the entire post-NeXT era.

Everyone knows that Tim Cook deserves credit for this operational success. Manufacturing, procurement, shipping, distribution, high profit margins — these are things we’ve long known Tim Cook excels at managing.

As the Cook era as Apple’s CEO unfolds, what we’re seeing is something we didn’t know, and I think few expected. Something I never even considered:

Tim Cook is improving Apple’s internal operational efficiency.

It has long been axiomatic that Apple is not the sort of company that could walk and chew gum at the same time. In 2007, they issued a (very Steve Jobs-sounding) press release that stated Mac OS X Leopard would be delayed five months because the iPhone consumed too many resources:

However, iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price — we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned.

In response, Daniel Jalkut wrote:

The best we can hope for is that it is only sleazy marketing bullshit. Because if what Apple’s telling us is true, then they’ve confessed something tragic: they’re incapable of building more than one amazing product at a time. The iPhone looks like it will be an amazing product, but if Apple can’t keep an OS team focused and operational at the same time as they keep a cell phone team hacking away, then the company is destined for extremely rough waters as it attempts to expand the scope of its product line.

Or consider the October 2010 “Back to the Mac” event, the entire point of which was to announce features and apps for the Mac that had started life on iOS years earlier.

That seems like ancient history, given the magnitude of the updates shown last week in both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. All the things that make sense for both OS X and iOS are appearing together, this year, on both platforms. Everything from user-facing features like Extensions and Continuity to Swift, the new programming language. This requires more engineers working together across the company.

The same maestro who was able to coordinate the procurement, assembly, production, and shipment of 76 million all-new iPhones and iPads in one quarter has brought those operational instincts and unquenchable thirst for efficiency to coordinating a Cupertino that can produce major new releases of both iOS and OS X, with new features requiring cooperation and openness, in one year. They’re doing more not by changing their thousand-no’s-for-every-yes ratio, but by upping their capacity.

The turning point is clear. The headline of Apple’s October 2012 press release said it all: “Apple Announces Changes to Increase Collaboration Across Hardware, Software and Services”. It turns out that was not an empty bromide, meant to patch over run-of-the-mill corporate political conflict. Tim Cook wanted Apple to function internally in a way that was anathema to Scott Forstall’s leadership style. The old way involved fiefdoms, and Forstall’s fiefdom was iOS. The operational efficiency Cook wanted — and now seems to have achieved — wasn’t possible without large scale company-wide collaboration, and collaboration wasn’t possible with a fiefdom style of organization.

That also happens to be the same press release in which Apple announced the ouster of retail chief John Browett, whose ill-fated stint at the company lasted just a few short months. Browett is a footnote in Apple history, but I think an important one. Apple hired him from Dixon’s, a U.K. electronics retailer akin to Best Buy here in the U.S. In short, a nickel-and-dime operation where the customer experience is not the top priority. Browett thus struck many as a curious choice for the head of Apple retail.

Browett’s hiring and the resulting failure of his tenure at Apple raised a legitimate fear: that this was a sign of things to come. This — penny-pinching and prioritizing the bottom line, losing sight of excellence in the eyes of the customer as the primary purpose of the Apple Stores — this, is what happens when the “operations guy” takes over the helm.

Ends up, we should have no such worries. My guess is that it’s as simple as Cook having thought that there were operational improvements to be had in retail, and so he hired an operationally minded retail executive. He didn’t understand then what Angela Ahrendts’s hiring shows that he clearly does understand now: that Apple’s retail stores need to be treated much like Apple’s products themselves, and thus require the same style of leadership.

During the keynote last week, John Siracusa referenced The Godfather, quipping:

Today Tim settles all family business.

I’d say it’s more that Cook settled the family business back in October 2012. Last week’s keynote was when we, on the outside, finally saw the results. Apple today is firing on all cylinders. That’s a cliché but an apt one. Cook saw untapped potential in a company hampered by silos.

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.3

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 éminence 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.

3.

This is what only Apple can do:

Software updates that are free of charge and so easily installed that the majority of iOS and Mac users are running the latest versions of the OSes (a supermajority in the case of iOS). Apple can release new features and expect most users to have them within a year — and third-party developers can count on the same thing.

Hardware that is designed hand-in-hand with the software, giving us things like the iPhone 5S fingerprint scanner and the secure enclave, which requires support from both the operating system and the SoC at the lowest levels. And now Metal — custom graphics APIs designed specifically and solely for Apple’s own GPUs. A custom graphic API to replace an industry standard like OpenGL would have been a hard sell for Apple a decade ago, because the Mac market was so relatively small. Microsoft could do it (with DirectX) because of the size of the Windows gaming market. Now, with iOS, Apple already has the makers of four popular gaming engines on board with Metal.

Tim Cook has stated publicly that new products are in the pipeline, and he seems confident regarding them (as do other Apple executives). We can’t judge them yet, but consider this: Recall again that in 2007 Apple was forced to admit publicly that they had to pull engineering, design, and QA resources from the Mac in order to ship the iPhone. This year, new products are coming and but iOS and Mac development not only did not halt or slow, it sped up. In recent years, the company grew from being bad at walking and chewing gum to being OK at it, and most of us thought, “Finally”. But that wasn’t the end of the progression. Apple has proceeded from being OK at walking and chewing gum to being good at it. Thus the collective reaction to last week’s keynote: “Whoa.

And the whole combination — hardware, software, services — is gearing up in a way that seems to be just waiting for additional products to join them. The iPhone in 2007 was connected to the Mac only through iTunes and a USB cable. Part of what made the iPhone a surprise in 2007 is that Apple clearly was in no position to add a new platform that harmonized seamlessly with Mac OS X. Today, they are.

4.

Last week generated much talk of this being a “New Apple”. Something tangible has changed, but I don’t see it in terms of old/new. As Eddy Cue told Walt Mossberg two weeks ago, there was a transition, not a reset.

There is an Old Apple and a New Apple, but the division between them — the one actual reset — was 1997, with the reunification with NeXT. Old Apple was everything prior. New Apple is everything since.

New Apple didn’t need a reset. New Apple needed to grow up. To stop behaving like an insular underdog on the margins and start acting like the industry leader and cultural force it so clearly has become.

Apple has never been more successful, powerful, or influential than it is today. They’ve thus never been in a better position to succumb to their worst instincts and act imperiously and capriciously.

Instead, they’ve begun to act more magnanimously. They’ve given third-party developers more of what we have been asking for than ever before, including things we never thought they’d do. Panic’s Cabel Sasser tweeted:

My 2¢: for the past few years it’s felt like Apple’s only goal was to put us in our place. Now it feels like they might want to be friends.

It’s downright thrilling that this is coming from Apple in a position of strength, not weakness. I’m impressed not just by what Apple can do, but by what it wants to do. 


  1. According to Favstar’s tweet popularity rankings, besting this gem from five years ago

  2. With some exceptions for Windows users, notably the promise of support with iCloud Drive. 

  3. The Godfather analogy still stands


WWDC 2014 Prelude

Beats

The commentary leading up to WWDC this year has been largely dominated by Apple’s $3 billion acquisition of Beats Electronics and Beats Music. I didn’t get it at first, that’s for sure. But the truth is, I don’t think there is much to get.

A wholly-owned subsidiary with an independent brand is new territory for Apple. (Yes, there is Filemaker, but Filemaker is ancient history and small potatoes. Apple’s ownership/stewardship of Filemaker offers us nothing in terms of predicting how they will oversee Beats.) But so what?

I think for the most part, Apple’s publicly stated reasons for buying Beats are the actual reasons they did it:

  • It was easier to buy Beats’s streaming music service than to build a new one, and the Beats brand gives Apple cover to offer the service on non-Apple platforms like Android. The iTunes desktop app runs on Windows, but that’s an historical anomaly at this point — the iWhatever brands are of Apple, by Apple, and for Apple users. “Beats” can be for everyone without diluting the Apple platform centricity of the iTunes brand.

  • They wanted to hire Jimmy Iovine. Apple needs to make more deals with the entertainment industry, and by all accounts, having Iovine on team Apple will help.

  • Beats Electronics’s headphone and speaker business is profitable; Tim Cook told Recode:

    Financially, it’s great, because even in the short term there are synergies. Using Apple’s global footprint, there’s hitting the gas on the subscription service, there’s distributing the headphones globally in countries that they’re not in today. There’s lots of things like that.

    So we’re projecting it’s going to be accretive in fiscal year 2015, which as you know for us, only starts in a few months.

My concern isn’t that Beats is a bad fit for Apple, but rather that it might be a sign of lessening focus. Only time will tell if this acquisition is part of a focused plan, or the first sign that Apple has lost the ball. Me? Somehow I doubt that the same company that launched last year’s WWDC with the splendid “A Thousand No’s for Every Yes” animated video — the closest thing we’ve seen to a mission statement from Apple since Steve Jobs’s “Intersection of Technology and the Liberal Arts” — has decided to change their ratio of no’s to yes’s in just one year.

Let’s revisit this acquisition in a year. For now, I don’t think it’s worth much more thought. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s pretty weird to see Apple buy a company that just six months ago was partially owned by HTC.

Mac OS X 10.10

This is the thing I’m most excited about. We know that Mac OS X 10.10 is getting a visual overhaul, and we’re all pretty sure it’s largely along the lines of the iOS 7 appearance. Which is to say, stark. But I’ve seen no leaked screenshots, and no specific details of what exactly it’s going to look like or what is going to change. Double-down on secrecy, indeed.

My guesses:

  • Mostly white backgrounds, liberal use of translucency, key colors to indicate clickable UI controls, 3D effects to convey the layering of windows atop each other, and a strong focus on typography.

  • Speaking of typography, I expect the system font to change for the first time since Mac OS X 10.0 back in 2001. (If you want to be pedantic, Lucida Grande has been the system font since the public beta release in 2000.) Helvetica Neue is the obvious choice, since that’s what iOS uses. The wildcard would be Apple Sans (perhaps with a new name), a new typeface Apple has been designing in-house for years. (And if OS X switches to Apple Sans, maybe iOS 8 will too.) Bottom line, though, I think we’ve seen the last of Lucida Grande.

  • Mac OS X 10.9’s icons will need an overhaul to match the rest of the UI. My guess: a unification with the iOS 7 style. Maybe with circles for the outer shape (Apple already uses many circular icons for Mac apps: App Store, Safari, Launchpad, Dashboard, iTunes, and iBooks), or maybe with the exact same round-corned square shape iOS requires. Expect much gnashing of teeth over this. Mac users and designers have strong opinions about icons — app icons are a focal point of attention for fans of old-style skeuomorphic design. A disproportionate share of the criticism regarding iOS 7 pertained specifically to its app icons.

  • Speaking of Launchpad and Dashboard, Mac OS X is in desperate need of an overhaul of its conceptual spatial layout. Mission Control, Spaces, Launchpad, Dashboard — where are these things? How do you get to them? It’s all a confusing jumble of ideas that have been glommed together piece by piece over 15 years. There’s no better time to clean this mess up than now, similar to how last year Apple cleaned up the spatial layering of things like Notification Center and homescreen folders in iOS.

  • As for its name, I placed my bet on “Yosemite” back in April.

iOS 8

I really don’t know what to expect with iOS 8, other than that there must be more to it than Healthbook. It’s great that Apple is paying so much attention to Mac OS X this year (or at least so we all presume), but there’s no avoiding the fact that iOS is Apple’s primary platform. iOS has an order of magnitude more users than Mac OS X, iOS devices account for a vast majority of Apple’s revenue and profit, and mobile is the area where Apple faces the strongest competition.

iOS 8 could just be a lot of little improvements — the iOS equivalent of a Leopard / Snow Leopard or Lion / Mountain Lion release — but if that’s the case, Apple must be confident that this year’s new iOS hardware will provide advertising-worthy new features.

New Hardware

I expect no new iPhones, no new iPads, and no all-new devices like watches or wristbands or whatever wearables we’re imagining. WWDC is a developer conference first, a platform for new hardware introductions only when convenient for Apple.

An updated Apple TV seems like a possibility, even though there don’t seem to be any rumors to that effect. I say maybe because I’m hoping that whatever form the next major release of Apple TV takes, that it will be a developer platform with an App Store of its own. That would make sense for a WWDC introduction.

I could see new Mac hardware being announced. A retina display iMac would be great, but I don’t think the price curve is there yet. On the portable front, the MacBook Airs were just revised a few weeks ago, so I don’t think we’ll see a major (read: retina) new version tomorrow, and the MacBook Pros have already gone retina, so anything new that Apple announces this week would likely just be a speed bump, no big whoop.

I’d love to be proven wrong, but my gut feeling is that we might not see a single new hardware product tomorrow. It’s going to be a busy second half of 2014 for Apple on that front.

iCloud and Photography

Apple needs to boost iCloud’s storage limits. Nik Fletcher said it well back in October:

Much as Apple is offering free versions of iWork with a new iOS device, it’s time to stop tying backups to a storage quota and simply say: “We’ve got this. Your iOS device — no matter how much you’ve got on it — will be backed up”.

People should not have to worry about this with their iOS devices. Apple charges a premium for larger storage capacity devices — doing away with backup quotas should be part of the value users get in exchange.

And along those lines, I would love to see iCloud-based photo storage go unlimited. Let us store all the photos we take with our iPhones and iPads in iCloud.1

Digital photo management remains an unsolved problem. What are we supposed to do when our iOS devices run out of space because of all the photos we’re storing on them? Apple’s solution is from the Mac-as-digital-hub era: plug your iPhone or iPad to your Mac and import your photos into iPhoto. That feels antediluvian today, in a world where some photographers never move their photos off the iPhones on which they took them.

I’ve noted several times this past year — including earlier this week — that Apple has quietly become one of, if not the, largest and most important camera companies in the world. The iPhone could just as well be named the iCamera for many of us — I’d rather use an iPhone that can’t make phone calls than use one with a broken camera.

To that end, here’s what I’d like to see: a ground up rewrite of iPhoto, designed as a client for an iCloud-centric photo library. You can keep all your photos on your Mac, but they can all be on iCloud too, and thus accessible from your iOS devices anywhere with a network connection. The goal should be to make it such that an iCloud-using iPhone or iPad user will never lose a photo because they’re lost or broken their device, nor should they ever feel the need to permanently delete photos just because they’ve run out of storage space on the device.

Apple might as well get rid of Aperture while they’re at it, and focus on making iPhoto good enough for everyone short of true professional photographers — most of whom, I think, have settled on Adobe Lightroom. The writing has been on the wall for a while. If Apple still sees the need to separate truly expert features from the basic features most people need, they could do something like make the new iPhoto free for all users, and sell “iPhoto Pro” as an in-app purchase.

This way Mac users would have one system standard photo library, just like iOS users have, and third-party Mac apps could have access to it the same way they do on iOS. 


  1. Video, in contrast to still photos, seems problematic in this regard. HD video file sizes are too big for me to suggest with a straight face that Apple allow unlimited storage for them with iCloud. So, OK, instead of unlimited storage, how about “generous storage limit for free, very high storage limits for a reasonable annual charge”. 


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