Competing Interests

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I enjoyed reading the Washington Post Tim Cook interview. The interview was wide in scope and really gives you a window into the mind of Apple’s CEO. I recommend it. One section that raised my eyebrows was the discussion of security and privacy. This issue is a fascinating one to me because Apple has taken such a leading role in advocating privacy rights for consumers. As Tim explaned in the interview, “Customers should have an expectation that they shouldn’t need a PhD in computer science to protect themselves.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Tim talks about Apple’s mission.

The DNA of the company is really what I was talking about there. The North Star has always been the same, which for us, is about making insanely great products that really change the world in some way — enrich people’s lives. And so our reason for being hasn’t changed.

I absolutely believe the folks at Apple get out of bed in the morning to make great products. However, it really isn’t that simple. If you don’t believe me, perhaps I could interest you in a 16GB iPhone. Making insanely great products has always required compromises. Apple has to make a profit if they want to stay in business and every Apple product (just like any other company’s product) that comes to market requires thousands of small compromises. That’s always come with the territory but until recently, I’ve never really thought of Apple having a competing North Star. Now I wonder.

Privacy is a big deal to Apple. Tim explained:

Privacy, in my point of view, is a civil liberty that our Founding Fathers thought of a long time ago and concluded it was an essential part of what it was to be an American. Sort of on the level, if you will, with freedom of speech, freedom of the press.

I think this is more than CEO puffing. I think Tim, and the rest of Apple leadership, feels this in their bones and they are absolutely willing to go to bat for consumers on the issue of privacy. They took a drubbing over the San Bernardino case and I suspect they’d do it all over again. The question, however, becomes what happens when protecting consumer privacy gets in the way of making insanely great products? If Apple’s unstoppable force hits its own immovable object, who wins?

There are plenty of consumers already getting off the Apple services bandwagon in favor of Google precisely because the way Google does everything on its servers results in some insanely great user experiences. Apple is responding by trying to get those types of services on-device–as opposed to the less private cloud storage as Google does. We’re early days on this but it seems, at least for the immediate future, that the cloud service solution is better, faster, and more adaptable than on-device.

If Tim Cook were sitting here right now, I suspect he’d argue that the 2016 version of an insanely great product is one that (in addition to many other features) protects user privacy and going back to the issue of compromises, it’s probably better that you not let somebody else index all of your photos, even if that would make it easier to search out pictures of canteloupes. I agree with that particular compromise but as we move into the next few years, I think the goals of great products and protecting user privacy aren’t always going to align.

The 5 stages of grief for a headphone-jack-free iPhone (Macworld)

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It started as rumbles and turned into solid rumors. Now, with the report from Bloomberg by Mark Gurman that the next iPhone won’t have a headphone jack, it seems like a sure thing. The standard audio plug that’s been around for decades (and in every Mac, iPod, iPad, and iPhone) is being removed from Apple’s most popular product.

As someone who’s been listening to music on plugged-in headphones since at least the 1980s, this has been a difficult story to come to terms with. The iPhone succeeded the iPod as my go-to music player. I’m listening to music on my iPhone via a pair of wired headphones right now. But Gurman’s sources are generally impeccable, and I’m starting to come to terms with the inevitability of this change.

I’ve gone through all the stages of grief to get here, though.

Continue reading on Macworld…

Symbolic Leadership

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Om Malik:

I think Gruber is missing the point — attending a game when a
division you are responsible for is down for six hours is a clear
lack of empathy for the customers, and also is a sign that
standards are falling of what used to be an Apple Standard for
building products of delight. Sure, things might have taken as
much time to fix the iCloud, but the message you would have sent
out to rest of the Apple team would have been different.

Let’s unpack this. First, it has nothing to do with “empathy for the customers”. 99.999 percent of the customers whose iCloud accounts were affected by the June 2 outage have no idea who Eddy Cue is, let alone care whether he attended the Warriors game.

As for the message to Apple employees, that’s really the only part of the “Eddy Cue should have skipped the game” argument that makes any sense to me. I disagree with it, but at least it makes sense. But it’s predicated on a lot of assumptions about Apple employee attitudes and morale, and Cue’s leadership and management abilities. Are the engineers and system administrators who were responsible for fixing the outage delicate emotionally fragile children who felt hurt when they found out Eddy Cue went to a basketball game while they were doing their jobs? Or are they mature professionals, who realize that the only thing that mattered was fixing the outage?

And let’s go further. Let’s say Cue did skip the game. How would the employees working on the outage know that he skipped the game? Should Cue have been calling them every 15 minutes to see how it’s going? Should he have made them feel small by screaming at them, telling them that they’re incompetent shitheads? Should he have made them feel guilty by telling them that he was missing game one of the NBA Finals, because of this outage? Or, should he simply trust them, leave them alone and let them do their jobs — in which case, he might as well have just gone to the fucking game.

If we’re going to talk about symbolic leadership, I like what it says to Apple employees that Cue went to the game. It says having fun and a life outside work is good.

Google Docs and the iPad

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Today I received a pleasant surprise when Google issued an update to Google Docs and Google Sheets finally enabling split screen.

In this case the “finally” term is merited. Apple first announced split screen in June 2015. It took Google 14 months to update these apps for split screen. I’d love to hear the story behind why it took so long but suspect we never will. During those 14 months, Microsoft Office for iOS got a lot better and I began to seriously question Google’s commitment to iOS.

While it’s nice that these apps support split screen on the iPad Pro, I’m not holding my breath that they’ll be getting lots of attention going forward.

As a writing tool, there isn’t a lot to love about Google Docs. However it does have one advantage … and it’s a big one. Google Documents has is the rock-solid ability for multiple people to access and edit a document simultaneously. While they’ve tried, neither Apple’s Pages nor Microsoft Word come close to matching Google Docs on this feature. Quip was interesting, but they’ve been acquired and Dropbox Paper looks promising, but it is still early days.

If anything, the examples set by Quip and Dropbox Paper is that it is possible for other companies to compete in this collaboration space but Google remains king of this hill. I’m hoping that doesn’t remain the case forever because Google’s been pretty lukewarm about the iPad for the past 14 months or so.



On the Economic Feasiblity of Apple Providing Decent Wireless Earbuds With the New iPhones

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Thomas Ricker, writing for The Verge:

“I’d prefer ‘good enough’ wireless earbuds included with the
iPhone,” says Gruber, “and ‘amazing’ headphones as the upsell

Same, but that doesn’t mean it’s economically viable for Apple to
do it. When I first read Gruber’s take a few weeks ago I thought
bundling an acceptable set of wireless earbuds would be too
expensive. After all, the most popular models recommended by
experts start at around $80, and can easily cost more than $200.
But that was before I received the Meizu EP-51 Bluetooth earbuds
for testing.

These Meizu earbuds cost $28 and are pretty decent. Of course Apple could make something similar. Apple loves profit margins, but institutionally their distaste for wires and cables is even stronger. They might go with Lightning earbuds by default, but they should go wireless. That’s what justifies removing the standard jack — not that one port is better than another, but that wireless is better than wired.