'Tis the week before Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference MMXIII: Borg vs. Cylon, and *SPOILER ALERT* we already know what spoilers have already spoiled the already-expected-anyway reveals from Cook & Co. Such as revealing iOS 7 and its new Jony Flats look, announcing streaming music service iRadio, updating the MacBook Air and Pro lines with Intel's latest Haswell processors and custom glitter (only a 45% chance of that last one being true), and dumping all sessions in favor of a nerd speed-dating free-for-all.
But these things, like Dippin' Dots, are in the future.
While I've never shied away from using my keen vision to peruse MacRumors and guess at said future, let's talk about the recently here and now.
The Supreme Hackintosh goes SSD. Normally, doing something like adding an SSD drive to my Hackintosh would result in at least one full-length post. Or even a series of three with the second column filled with nothing but invented curse words that sound vaguely German (Fargglehumpen!) But not this time. Fortunately for my sanity, if less so for my rambling, plopping in the SanDisk Extreme SSD with 240 GB of spin-less glory went off with a nary a "gärchenchoader" being uttered.
I did forget to order a Molex-to-SATA power cable with it, but get this, Radio Shack stocks them in store. Really. Hope that $5.63 keeps Tandyland going a few more days until I once again feel a powerful hankerin' for some diodes.
So now the SSD is my boot drive and my former boot drive only holds user data. I did not, as some hackintosh folks have, attempt to brew my own Fusion drive. I'd rather try to secure a one-machine Blu-ray license than attempt that bag o' hurt. I am, however, tempted to replace my 1 TB user drive with a similarly sized SSD. But not tempted enough to cough up $600 to Crucial. Still, my boot times have been cut by about 80%, so that's a $170 total well spent.
Now I'm looking at new cases. Hmm.
Apple involuntarily comes in from the cold. In what is estimated to be the 1,096th scandal/no-biggie for the Obama administration, (not Wee) Britain's The Guardian broke the story that the U.S. National Security Agency has been snooping around the servers of Apple, Google, Facebook and their ilk in the search for user data. The program, codenamed (which sounds a lot cooler than "acronymed") PRISM, was outed when The Guardian obtained a top-secret file giving an overview of the project. The fact that said document was a PowerPoint deck may or may not have served as the clinching bit of proof authenticating the document. All the tech giants involved have denied knowing anything about PRISM, and it has yet to be determined just how knowing how many times joeZjock@gmail.com made his own Grumpy Cat memes will stop terrorism. Newly appointed White House spokesman Clancy Wiggum was heard telling the country to "move along people—nothing to see here."
iPhone (and all phone) users on Verizon discover that U.S. Special Agent Perv McPerverson has been eavesdropping on their conversations. Just reread the above paragraph, only substituting "Verizon" for "Apple, Google, et al." Been a banner week for electronic privacy.
Electronic Arts pushes release of "Sim City" for Mac back to August. Considering the game came out for PC in 1989, what's a couple more months matter? What? This is a new version? Oh, okay. You keep telling yourself that, Stimpy.
Intel fails to refer to its 128 GB Thunderbolt thumb drive as "Thor." With a speed roughly twice that of a USB 3.0 drive, Intel's prototype would make plausible all those scenes in 90's computer movies where a virus gets injected into an "impenetrable" mainframe in under 30 seconds. It does not, however, come with Sandra Bullock. Fail.
Some Google exec mumbles in court and inadvertently helps Apple. The Verge reported that a witness for the Department of Justice accidentally helped the defendant, Apple, when his rock-solid recounting of collusion turned into a soup of "uhhh, I heard a guy say some stuff to another guy in line at the Google deli." The salami-lover in question was Google's director of strategic partnership and part-time carnival barker Thomas Turvey. The whole thing was in regard to Apple allegedly colluding with book publishers to fix ebook prices. Whether they did or not is still up in the air, but Mr. Turvey sure didn't help the DOJ. Which, if you've been paying attention, hasn't been having a good go of it of late.
Tune in next week when I'll likely have tales of removing plastic shards from my retina after the new SSD explodes due to an errant kext. No worries though. My Google Glass eye will be sweet.
FoxCoffee Talk with Timmy Cook
It's true. I recently won the Charitybuzz auction for "coffee with Apple CEO Tim Cook at Apple Headquarters in Cupertino, California." Sure, it set me back 610,000 bones, but the nice folks at Charitybuzz have done me a solid by letting me hold off on payment until my one share of Apple stock hits that magic number. Which should be right after the iPad superMini 19 comes out.
At first, I considered waiting until Apple's slow-to-rise Cheerio campus was complete before exercising the option on my coffee summit. But once I was assured that a couple dozen of Yum Yum's finest would be in attendance, I borrow a jet from my goodish friend Warren and hightailed it from Omaha to Cupertino. After parachuting into the general San Jose vicinity (California no longer allows jets to land within the state lest they accidentally snuff out Diane Feinstein), I hopped onto a RideShare SBU and one-wheeled my way to One Infinite Loop. Which I only circled 13 times before the batteries went kaput.
After making my way through security with only a brief, 45-minute half-cavity search to slow me down, I was escorted the second inner room of Cook's nested five-room inner sanctum. I was told this was the only one equipped with a burr grinder laser-cut from a solid chunk of Steve Ballmer's gallbladder. Apparently, Tim Cook likes his coffee just one step below Starbucks Bitter. Tim, as I was instructed to call him, arrived exactly on time, if the giant, Flavor Flav clock around his neck was to be believed. And that, naturally, is where our conversation began. I have excerpted parts of it below for your mild amusement:
Fox: So, Tim. Am I to surmise that's a first-gen iWatch?
Cook: The first aborted attempt, yes. Kodak threw it in to sweeten the QuickTake deal. Let me tell you, a sweetened turd is still a turd. Amiright?
Fox: I can only assume as much. But why are you wearing it?
Cook: Cuz it's straight-up fly, yo. Also, it hides the glow of my arc reactor.
Fox: Ha! Good one.
Cook: Good what?
Fox: Umm, okay. Anyway, when I was bidding on this meeting, I noticed it had an "actual value" listed of $50,000. How on earth did you figure that?
Cook: It's what I charge Ive to let him skip out on status meetings.
Fox: I see, I see. Do you ever get tired of the pundits predicting Apple's demise, especially after Steve Jobs passed away?
Cook: Whenever I start feeling my chi going askew, I look at one of the vintage iMac G4s I use to display inspirational quotes and wait the three to six hours it takes for one by Steve himself to float by. It reads simply: Money talks, Ballmer balks.
Fox: I didn't realize you harbored such antipathy for the man.
Cook: Who do you think shot the first pie-in-Ballmer's-face video? Guy Kawasaki? Please.
Fox: I don't recall ever seeing a video of Ballmer...
Cook: Of course not. Jobs had it expunged from the Internet.
Fox: You can do that?
Cook: Why do you think we put up with having Gore on our board? It ain't for his love of CFLs and Häagen-Dazs.
Fox: What do think of Google Glass?
Cook: Creepy. That's what. You want to pull off an interface like that, you gotta be sneaky. Like contact lenses. Which I am definitely not wearing now.
Fox: So that's why your left eye is red.
Cook: Um, I was hanging with Snoop Lion last night.
Fox: Right. Anyway. When are you guys gonna do something really cool again, like that Leap Motion thing?
Cook: Seriously? You really want to wave your arms around like a Tasered monkey all day just to share some cat videos?
Fox: Says the man who includes four-fingered gestures in his OS.
Cook: Touché. You're obviously not as dumb as your Gap jeans suggest. Fine. I'll let you take a look at the final prototype of our Apple TV.
[At this point, Timbo pointed to a small black puck on the table that had been there the whole time. It looked like a current-generation Apple TV, only about 60% the size. A blue, circular port glowed on its top.]
Fox: What? That thing again? I thought you were doing an actual panel. You know, something 4k with Siri integration.
Cook: First, 4k is for suckers. If we were to do a panel, it'd be Retina. You ready to pay for a 70-inch Retina display, Chachi? Didn't think so. Second, Siri integration sounds like something Forstall would want, only he'd have to license the image of Majel Barret to get his skeuo on. Third, who doesn't love a good hologram?
Fox: Are you telling me...
Cook: Yes. Impressive, no?
Fox: No. If I'd wanted to spend over half a million bucks to chat with a hologram, I'd have gone with the Sofia Vergara edition.
And with that, I was jettisoned from the facility—a little poorer, a little wiser, a little gassier. That's right, even the hippified halls of Apple's head honcho were barren of soy milk for this lactose-intolerant fool. But whatever. In the end, it really was no big whoop.
FoxAdobe lets you pay now and later and later again
The time was January 1995. The smooth, Philly soul and pleated pants of Boyz II Men ruled the airwaves. I had finally, seven months after ending my academic wanderings, wrangled a full-time job. I owned a miniature pig named Elvis the Tiny King. Life was good.
But enough about my porcine past. That first job was at a small ad agency. I was their lone copywriter, a complement to their lone art director. Yes, much loneliness was afoot. Not surprisingly, the agency was a Mac shop. I believe I had the privilege of piloting a Centris 660AV while my graphics-crunching cohort had some form of Quadra, possibly a 610. Our DTP weapons of (very limited) choice: QuarkXPress 3.1 for page layout, Photoshop 3.0 (the first with layers) for image editing, and Illustrator 5.5 for recreating vector logos from client-provided GIF files.
This triumvirate of print production would remain de rigueur for several years. Sure, Adobe had PageMaker, which it had acquired from Aldus in 1994, but it never really posed a serious threat to the usurper Quark's hegemony. Adobe and Quark kept rolling out periodic updates, and the advertising and publishing industries dutifully upgraded as cash flow permitted. Which, I'd be willing to bet, wasn't as often as either company would have liked. That's foreshadowing.
Quark, drunk on money, power, and an estimated 90% market share, started behaving like a moneyed, power-hungry boor. It was slow to innovate, slow to fix bugs, offered poor customer service, and extracted premium fees for its products. Which wouldn't have been so intolerable if the first three issues, well, weren't. Adobe, never a company to turn its back on increased market share, decided it was time to bring page layout into the company in a way PageMaker never really could, and it launched InDesign 1.0 in 1999. But it wasn't until versions 2.0 (the first OS X version) and 3.0 (the first Creative Suite version) that InDesign really started hammering away at QuarkXPress's user base. (I couldn't find any current market share numbers between the two products, but anecdotally, I don't know any ad agencies still using QuarkXPress. I still see internal corporate communications departments running it from time to time, but even that is a rare spotting. Still, my sample size is small. That's not a euphemism.)
Today, Adobe runs a bit roughshod through the marketplace. Their Creative Suite of design/publishing/web/video products is now up version 6. Getting the loaded Master Suite of all 16 CS programs runs a nifty $2,599. This is not really an obscene amount if you're one of the 11 people who use most of the programs. Of course, you can also opt for smaller bundles of Adobe love with a Design, Web, Design & Web, or Production (as in video) collection. And these may or may not be offered in Premium and/or Extended versions. I'd explain it all to you, but I know you don't care. Which is nice, because I don't, either. We're left with a cavalcade of options, prices and variables such that I'm surprised Adobe doesn't sell a separate app to tell you which one to buy. In my case, I purchased an academic version of Master Suite CS4 a few years ago since I needed programs that didn't come bundled in a sub-suite. Which, I'm sure, is another part of the Grand Schematica of Maximum Purchasification. I have not upgraded since then, because I don't really need new features (as much as I dig the content-aware stuff in newer Photoshop releases), I couldn't afford it anyway, and you can't upgrade an academic version. My company is currently on CS5.5, so I can use newish tools if the need arises.
So, Adobe's cycle of upgrades and corresponding upgrade fees has gone on for about 20 years. The problem, for Adobe, is that releasing a new version of CS doesn't guarantee the installed base will automatically whip out a collective purchase order and pony up for the new auto-liposuction tool. Where's the steady cash flow in that? And how can Adobe get the nabobs at Boondocks Advertising & Stick Whittlin' to finally dump Illustrator 88 and join the glorious future in the present?
The obvious, to Adobe, solution: mimic everyone's favorite industry: wireless telecoms! Now let's pause a moment to admire the double colon action of the preceding sentence. And scene.
Yes, Adobe announced earlier this week that it will no longer be releasing versions of Creative Suite in order to focus on its Creative Cloud applications. In a probably-not-entirely-accurate nutshell, Creative Cloud is a subscription plan in which you, Userboy, pay a monthly fee to access Adobe applications. You don't, however, run applications from the cloud—you still install them on your hard drive. Which is smart. The cloud part, as far as I can suss out, is the 20 gigs of online storage you get, along with the ability to collaborate with team members or any Anonymous members who hack your idiot roommate's account.
The shift from CS to CC theoretically allows Adobe to push out upgrades and bug fixes faster. Which is true if you're still installing Photoshop from 24 .sea files on DSHD floppies. What it most certainly allows is for Adobe to enjoy a steadier stream of income. Even though you can pay for CC a month at a time, the more likely scenario will be a set-it-and-forget-it mentality. Like your Hulu Plus account and coke habit. But more like your coke habit because it'll bleed you drier faster. Which is the main complaint I've been seeing online. Depending on which plan you opt for and which previous version of CS you own, you could spend anywhere from $240 to $840 a year using CC apps. For many, that will be a higher average annual cost than biennial upgrades. And, of course, you never own the software (and please don't toss out EULA garbage about how all software is really just a usage license). So once you stop paying, the software stops working, dubious workarounds notwithstanding.
As someone who helps run a business, I understand the desire for more consistent cash flow. Yet I fail to see how this move is any kind of win for the majority of CS users. While some rather nice alternatives for certain Adobe products (especially for Photoshop) exist, I'm not sure the pain of this switch will cause even a significant minority to leave the fold or, at the end of the day, go off the reservation, but I'm just a focus group of one. So there it is: Adobe's betting that they're just not going to anger people enough to bother switching and ditching. Quite a way to build brand loyalty.
FoxAngering hippies and financing evil
Seeing as how nobody else has released a Steve Jobs mockumentary ("These mold lines go to eleven!") and nothing on my Hackintosh has flipped me the zero-one-zero, let's go back to commentating on this week's Apple-related news.
PETA successfully lobbies to end skeumorphism in iOS 7. Much to the chagrin of pleather aficionado Scott Forstall, AllThingsD reports that Jony Ive is indeed stripping the next version of iOS of all manner of fake leather, faux notebooks, simulated calendars, and cubic zirconia, hopefully ending PETA's counterfeit outrage. The report also states that the look of iOS 7 (a.k.a. Cheetara) will be noticeably flatter, with a lack of fake specular highlights or push-up undergarments. And there was much rejoicing. Unless it looks like Windows Phone 7 and 8. Not because WP7/8 looks bad, but who wants to mimic Ballmer? Aside from his financial statements, of course.
Jim Dalrymple's beard surfaces and once again weirds me out. I erroneously thought in-the-know Mac journalist Jim Dalrymple had been covering Apple since the Sculley days, but he actually began after I graduated college, which was just after the Sculley days. Nonetheless, Jim seems to know everyone who knows someone who knows what is and is not going inside the still-not-yet-circular walls of Apple. This week, he popped up to succinctly confirm that Apple has pulled engineers off OS X 10.9 development to help finish iOS 7 on schedule. He also posted this sweet beard comparison with his son.
Department of Defense set to approve iOS 6 for inter-agency Words with Friends tournaments. A report from the Wall Street Journal states that the DoD will soon grant security clearances for iOS 6 devices along with Samsung's Galaxy series of smartphones. I sincerely hope this brings an avalanche of smart bomb videos to Vine.
Google Now sucks your will to live. And battery life, too. Except when it doesn't. A couple of days ago, the do-no-evil dudes and dudettes at Google added Google Now to the iOS version of, yes, Google. A feature long-available on Android, Google Now for iOS grants iDevice users the same creepy feeling that someone is watching their every move, guessing what they're going to do next, and pestering them to go ahead and leave for the airport already because traffic's a real Don Juan Bastardo today. Almost immediately upon its release, reports started sprouting up that the app was causing rapid battery drainage, which had nothing to do with attempting to stream multiple episodes of Top Gear (the BBC version) from Netflix. Google denies this is the case, but then, that's what Google does when they're not busy scanning your house with infrared cameras and Wi-Fi packet snoopers. Your results may vary.
The New York Times blames Apple for iPhone thefts and the public's inability to remember whether or not to italicize the "the" in its name. The Gray Lady (and what sweet nickname that is, no?) proffered an article by one Brian (OS) X. Chen on Wednesday discussing the rash of smartphone thefts in the greater New York City area. Early in the piece, Chen quotes San Francisco D.A. George Gascón as stating, "Unlike other types of crimes, this is a crime that could be easily fixed with a technological solution." The following day, Philip Elmer-DeWitt, writing for Fortune, rightly took Chen to task for not even discussing Apple's Find My iPhone system until nine paragraphs later. What I find extra stupid, though, is the idea promulgated by Gascón that there's a technological fix to theft. At best, there are deterrents, like the ability to wipe a phone or track it. You know, things that already exist. But beyond turning the phone into a self-arming Taser that automatically fires if it doesn't recognize certain biometrics and speech patterns ("I SAID UNLOCK-STAR69-HUBBA-HUBBA, YOU STUPID PIECE OF… AUUUUGGGHHHH!!!!"), I'm not sure how my four-ounce phone is, in and of itself, supposed to prevent getting jacked by a mugger. The answer, of course, is choosing the right case.
Apple throws their App Store success all up in Dr. Evil's (and I don't mean Andy Brown's) grill. It's taken Apple just 15 months to go from 25 billion App Store downloads to nearly double that. To celebrate the milestone, the company is once again offering a $10,000 App Store gift card to the lucky downloader of app number 50,000,000,000. I really hope it's Chrome. As of May 2, Apple said the number was at 49.2 billion, so start downloading all those Angry Birds rip-offs now.
The Antichrist hits the skids, plans to sell working Apple 1 to raise needed lucre. Originally priced at $666.66, one of six remaining working Apple 1 computers is scheduled to be auctioned off by German auction house Breker 2: Electric Boogalo to raise money for Beelzebub. Or charity. They didn't really specify. The motherboard is signed by Woz. The setup includes a monitor, original manuals, a keyboard with better feel than Apple's current Bluetooth units, and a tape cassette interface with a cassette of Hunt the Wumpus that only works on a TI-99/4A. Due to an unfortunate series of bronzer-related incidents the last time an Apple 1 was auctioned off, David Hasselhoff is barred from attending.
So, maybe you've got a shot.
FoxThe 463rd review of the first Steve Jobs movie
As promised, I have watched FunnyOrDie.com's fictionalized account of Steve Jobs's life entitled iSteve. As threatened, here is the review. (By the way, this whole review could be considered a spoiler—of the movie or your appetite for blogs—so if you're one of those people, avert your eyes.)
For those who fail to slavishly follow the genius that is Justin Long and his slow-shuttle-to-the-stars career trajectory, let me break off, like a metaphorical Kit Kat of Knowledge, the important chunks for you. iSteve is FunnyOrDie.com's longest self-produced piece of content ever. And not just from a gee-this-skit-sure-feels-like-it'll-never-end standpoint. Clocking in at 78 minutes, iSteve is not quite a feature-length film unless most of your trips to the multiplex involve films about Pooh. Indeed.
The movie, claim the producers, was written in three days and filmed in five. Apparently, they were under the impression that there was some sort of X Prize for beating Ashton Kutcher's forthcoming Jobs to market. Granted, I assume this boast was tongue-in-cheek. You know, a joke. Except it's not remarkably funny. Which, as it happens, can be said of the entire film. But more on that in a bit. First, you should know that Justin "I'm a Mac" Long stars as Jobs and Jorge "I Escaped from 'Alcatraz'" Garcia as The Woz. Second, you should know that Long, in latter-day Jobs form, sports what can only be described as an experiment in Chia beards gone horribly, horribly askew. Yet, unlike anything on CNN, you can't look away.
The movie chronicles Jobs's life from his travels to India in 1974 up to the initial engineering of the iPad. And, as best as I can tell, it faithfully follows the narrative laid out in Walter Isaacson's authorized biography Steve Jobs. Of course, I haven't read that book, so I pray to God that I am wrong. Because iSteve has taken the facts, events and people in Jobs's life and tossed them into a Blendtec to play Will It Blend? And, like a those kale-and-tofu smoothies that one girl at work (you know the one) keeps telling you are deliciously cleansing, iSteve is also a tad lumpy and not as satisfying as one would hope.
The chief problem is that one already has to be rather intimately familiar with the entwined stories of Jobs and Apple to both understand what's going on and to find most of the jokes funny. At least the ones that actually are. Here are a few examples of such wackiness:
Jobs's main creative breakthroughs from the late '90s onward came from dropping LSD with Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corrigan.
John Sculley was a Commodore mole sent to bring Apple to its knees.
Wozniak was a social misfit and outcast even within Apple who turned to unloading semis after Jobs was booted.
Melinda Gates was the Yoko Ono of a budding Supernerd Alliance between Bill Gates and Jobs. She would go on to make sweet virtual love with Steve during a brief, Friends-like "break" in her relationship with Bill.
Bill Gates will cold-cock you like a skunked 40 of Colt 45.
At a glance, these situations sound like good foundations for comedy, assuming you get their inside-baseball references. And they are. It's the executions that are lacking. The whole production is undercooked. Which is sad because I think this faux bio could have been pretty funny. They just needed six more days: After writing for three, they should've walked away for three and then revisited the script for three days of rewrites. That's not an uncommon practice in most forms of writing. Blogs like this being the exception that definitely proves the rule.
I don't mean to assert that iSteve is a stink bomb on the level of MobileMe's launch. There are many funny lines and even a few scenes that are humorous for the duration. Justin Long as Jobs berating another actor playing Justin Long comes to mind. The production values are quite good for something shot so quickly, and the actors are people you actually know, at least at the level of "Hey! It's that guy from that thing!" So that's something.
If you're looking for something to watch while attempting to fix your boss's Excel macros and you're already decently versed in Apple lore, iSteve may be just the ticket for you. At the very least, it will cleanse your palate for more Grumpy Cat videos.
My rating: Two Holes out of five.
FoxCupertino funk, part II: No joy in iVille
Last week, I prattled on about how Apple's dearth of a single, visionary leader was starting to make them feel like just another tech company. A wealthier, better-dressed tech company than most, for sure, but just another member of the herd, nonetheless. This week, I'll be using my poorly honed, casual sense of observation to remark on what I believe to be an even greater threat to Apple's Appleness: a lack of joy.
Apple products are still stylish. They're still designed and produced to ridiculous tolerances using a combination of alchemy and nanomonkeys with molecular-level, laser-welding packs. Still, I fear there is a palpable lack of joy surrounding Apple gear. I'm not speaking about the lack of another blockbuster product release on the level of the iMac, iPod, or iPhone—after all, how often can such moments really occur? It's that Apple products once embodied a kind of elegant power. They just worked, as the cliché goes, and you didn't need to fool around under the hood unless you were the type to do so. And the design of Apple's user interfaces—from early Mac OS releases to OS X and on through iOS—offered, at the very least, a pleasurable experience even if Platinum or Aqua didn't precisely match your personal aesthetic vibe. In the end, using a Mac always felt less fatiguing than using a Windows machine. At least once upon a time.
But now it feels like Apple is sacrificing its veneer of simplicity on the altar of Dubious Features We Hope You'll Love. Sure, new features that actually make life easier are welcome additions—Time Machine immediately springs to mind. But I dare you to ask a garden-variety Mac user to define Mission Control and what its purpose is. Here's a hint: "Huh?" is not the correct answer. Additionally, some good things Apple has produced are still a bit too complex for the average user to easily maneuver. Anyone tried setting up an Airport Extreme Base Station lately? I've used one for years and still have to dive into the realm of port forwarding and NAT protocols more than I'd care to. (Apple's attempt at making things easier by trimming down the options in Airport Utility 6 proved so futile many users still use version 5.6. which is still available for download from Apple.) And have you tried setting up Messages for someone lately?
Then there's the leather-bound elephant in the room known as skeuomorphism. The technical definition of a skeuomorph is, according to Apple's own Dictionary app, "an object or feature which imitates the design of a similar artefact in another material." Skeuomorphism is why my parents' 1973 Pinto station wagon had petroleum-based wood veneer dubiously adhered to the side. And it's why, today, Calendar and Contacts look like the 99-cent versions of a Franklin Planner. Do you know what a Franklin Planner is? Exactly. Not only is Apple's use of skeuomorphism fairly off-putting aesthetically, it's also random. Why doesn't iTunes look like a Wurlitzer? Why not make Safari resemble a Sears Wish Book from 1927? Because Sears didn't start printing them until 1933, that's why.
Fortunately, the skeuomorphic scourge may soon be ending; its chief proponent, Scott Forstall, is being shuffled out to the great stock option pasture in the sky. In his place, Jony Ive will oversee all Apple design. And while I can see him possibly making a finder window resemble a pair of Warby Parkers, I'm not overly worried about it. His guidance should result in better UI design (design-wise) going forward, although what impact it will have on the actual experience is another question entirely.
So how did Apple get here and how can they get out? Well, I'd say they got here by forgetting that one of their primary modus operandi was making difficult tasks seem easy—the "it just works" mentality. Sure, they didn't always pull it off—I wouldn't have left my mother alone with an open copy of Font/DA Mover—but there's a reason the iMac "3 Steps" commercial struck such a chord with people. Now, the vibe is more akin to "it works well enough if you know what you're doing." Which, too often, we don't. While Apple's software has grown increasingly complex, it's insistence that it hasn't remains steadfast. Which means manuals for silly things like the operating system are non-existent, and support.apple.com is full unto bursting with frustration and advice. There's a difference between being intuitive and completely understood. I can drive any car, but doesn't mean I'll figure out every nuance of the robotically controlled HVAC interface without a glance at the owner's manual.
I also think Apple has been fishing around for what to do next in the way of "big ideas." Mac OS X is old. While I'd hate for Apple to try and fix something that ain't broke, they don't seem to have a problem bloating something that wasn't in need. Grafting on features from iOS may, at times, make sense, but they only feel new if you're Android-using Mac owner.
So, what to do, what to do, what to do? Well, the answer is simple and fairly obvious, but the execution not so much. Apple must return to creating machines, devices, and operating systems that make the familiar seem new and the new seem familiar. To not just wow us with a new feature, button, or screen resolution, but to make us wonder how we put up without said item for so long. (Yes, that's a very #firstworldproblem kind of thing, but then aren't they all?) How do they achieve this? If I knew, I'd be rich, because Apple would've just bought out my startup. The aesthetics are relatively easy to fix. Simplifying and streamlining the OSes isn't a herculean task, either, assuming Apple has the internal will to do so. The true challenge lies in doing what the Apple of Steve Jobs excelled at: solving problems people didn't know they had in an elegant, almost obvious way. It ain't easy. I don't envy their task. But then, as I've said before, simplicity is often the result of much complex thinking, isn't it?
Good luck, fellas. You'll need it.
FoxCupertino funk, part I: O Captain, where art thou?
On October 5, 2011, the vultures returned to One Infinite Loop. Having once taken up what seemed like permanent residence in Cupertino during the Sculley years, their numbers dwindled a bit with the 1998 release of the iMac, dropped further in number with the 2001 introduction of the iPod, and went on complete sabbatical when the iPhone landed in 2007. In roughly a decade, Apple had gone from being the quaint little company with 5% market share to buying The Lonely Mountain so Smaug could guard its hoard of cash.
Then Steve Jobs—Apple's co-founder, prodigal son, savior and carnival barker—died. Surely, many assumed, the loss of Jobs would be the catalyst for Apple's journey from arbiter of technology and design to just another member of the gadget-proffering herd. Never mind that Jobs supposedly left behind an approved product roadmap that covered the next four years, or that he had filled the ranks of upper management with like-minded acolytes. No, the passing of Apple's leader was step one in the march to parity in a world where parity equaled failure.
Except, of course, it wasn't. The iPad 3 and iPhone 5 launches were typical Apple smashes. The Retina display migrated to the MacBook Pro. Another dot-release of OS X came and went. Apple's stock cracked the $700-a-share line. Life was good. The naysayers were wrong. Everything was coming up Milhouse.
Except, of course, it wasn't. The past few months have seen the cracks in Apple's armor expanding, with a tumbling stock price (relatively speaking) and a general sense of malaise in techland about the company. I've always believed that the only company that could ever, at this point, beat Apple was Apple. And it's starting to feel like they just might be up to the challenge. I believe two main causes are at work here: a lack of leadership and a lack of joy.
Regarding the former, it's hard to fault the leadership at Apple too much. They were in the unenviable position of attempting to fill in, collectively, for techland's Wizard of Oz (sorry, Woz). Good luck with that. Basically, they had two plays: continue boldly going where none (or only smaller companies they could buy out) had gone before, or simply try not to fumble the ball. Opt for the former, and they'd open themselves up to immense ridicule as second-class Steves if their efforts failed—never mind that Jobs didn't come close to batting 1.000 and never seemed overly bothered by it; he just kept pressing on. Opt for the latter, and they could hopefully ride out the Jobs product roadmap with nary a hiccup, bank even more cash, and be lauded as the keepers of the Apple flame. If only.
Obviously, Tim Cook and company chose the latter. Which, from a business school mentality, made perfect sense. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the public doesn't readily behave like a bunch of recent MBA grads. Apple was in a position very, very few companies ever are—its leader literally embodied the brand. Jobs was Apple and Apple was Jobs. This singularity undoubtedly swayed the Apple succession team not to try and "replace" Steve. After all, how could you, right? But therein lies the rub. Regardless of how qualified, adept, and in-sync "the team" may have been, in the end that's what they were: a team. A management collective. A, shudder, committee.
At any other company on the planet, that may have been enough. But Apple—the successful version—was a never a faceless tech company offering its version of the future to the marketplace. It was, to the public, the vision of one man who seemed to know what they wanted before they did. A man who got things done by hook or by crook and inspired equal parts awe and fear. He was always bold but seldom, in public at least, brash. You could think Jobs was completely snowing the folks inside Moscone West as he revealed just how magical the latest iThing was, but you couldn't say he was disingenuous. Maybe that's just a side effect of, instead of drinking the corporate Kool-Aid, being the one brewing it. But just as nature abhors a vacuum, consumers abhor the bland. (Pipe down, Camry owners.) Right now, the people on the stage during Apple keynotes appear smart and earnest, but not quite prepared to go once more into the abyss.
Could Apple have found a similar visionary to step into the void left by Jobs's passing? Probably not. Cults of personality are hard to replicate. But they could've put a greater emphasis on the idea that one person of vision was steering the ship, even if all the ideas weren't coming from his brain. People—the public, the pundits, the stockholders—didn't need the second coming of Steve; they needed the second coming of a powerful leader. The Joshua to Steve's Moses, if you please. Without one, it still seems as if Apple is reporting to a ghost and not doing a very good job at it, at that. No, they can't sit around navel-gazing and asking, "What would Steve do?" But they can be sure of what Steve wouldn't do—simply iterating instead innovating.
Tune in next week—same Hole time, same Hole channel—for reflections on why a certain, as the French say, I-don't-know-what has left Apple products.
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