Apple & the Black Hole of the Big Business Trajectory

| Particle Debris

BlackholeApple certainly appears to be on a typical business arc. A struggling computer company hits the big time, suddenly has lots of money, new products are added, its list of competitors grows, and that takes the company into endless court proceedings against those competitors. Then serious security issues crop up. Suddenly the U.S. DOJ is interested in some business practices. What’s next?

Let’s get this cleared up. I am a huge fan of Apple. I’ve been using their products since 1978, and I even fulfilled a dream of working for the company, ten years ago now. Apple does a boatload of great things.

On the other hand, as an observer of the company, I can’t help catalog a worrisome sequence of events that seems to be a byproduct of size, business success and wealth. That is, there are market and human forces that just can’t be avoided. It’s like being dragged into a black hole, inside the event horizon. The passage of distance towards the black hole’s center is as ineluctable as the passage of time everywhere else. These are laws of business and physics.

So when I watch Apple get dragged into endless court cases, patent and trademark disputs, security snafus reminiscent of Microsoft, and DOJ investigations, I think: whoa. What’s happening here? The company that we watched emerge from the garage and then become a struggling boutique UNIX hardware company under an eccentric Steve Jobs has now reached Childhood’s End. Apple is all grown up, but worse, it can’t seem to avoid that oh-so typical trajectory of a company that’s grown to be huge, can throw its weight around, and yet becomes victimized by the free market forces that impact any large company.

Some of this was voluntary. For example, it’s been well documented how outraged Steve Jobs was by Android’s apparent copying of iOS, and he vowed to go “thermonuclear.” Today’s Apple has carried that war forward. Also, as Apple’s product line has expanded, with great success, some companies have chosen to copy Apple’s products. In the past that was done with relative safety, but now Apple has the money to fight back. Hard. And it should. As a result, it’s nice to see some companies now reacting to that by showing that they too can have their own tablet vision, like Sony. At least Sony is trying.

While some of these trajectories of business are natural and inescapable, others may not be. For example, the larger a company gets, the thinner its skin grows. Every major industry event and every competing product is seen as a threat. Every success by a competitor is coveted or feared, and that produces a compulsion to beat everyone else to the next important product, whether or not the market has shown a need. For example, there continues to be grave disagreement by Apple followers whether Apple should build a smarter HDTV or stay with the accessory box concept. Lately, Ben Bajarin and David Katzmaier have weighed in with additional thoughts.

I think Apple is taking its sweet time on this project because, when you think about it, the next phase of the big business trajectory for a computer company, after the security snafus and DOJ investigations, is the launch of a suspect product, one that makes people scratch their heads and feel like, for the first time, the company may have pushed too hard, lost its focus.

Anyway, these are my thoughts this week about the arc of Apple’s success. I think that Apple can avoid going down blind alleys and dark roads, and I’m sure Tim Cook and Phil Schiller will do that. Like the black hole, if you steer clear, all’s well, but the danger comes with flirting with a too close encounter. One failed rocket engine, and whoosh… you’re sucked in with irresistible force.

Tech News Debris

When the father of the modern browser and the world wide web speaks out, we listen. Last week, Tim Berners-Lee had some insightful comments to make about Google and Facebook: “demand your data from Google and Facebook.” Basically, his thesis is that Facebook and Google use the information about us for their own ends, but it’s very hard for our own software to mine that data for our own benefit. We generally can’t get easy access or exploit it for our own good.

Speaking of Facebook, there are some writers who are able to stand back and take the long view. Facebook and a most of our mobile technologies are the fulfillment of a technical dream. We have geosynchronous satellites, a massive Internet, pervasive wireless, mobile technologies, GPS, and Facebook. We’re living in a technological dreamland, right?

The only problem is, we’re like a very wealthy person who has everything, but finds that it doesn’t bring fulfillment and happiness. In the case of our technical riches, we find that all this technology has brought great business success to a few, but we as users are left with a gnawing hunger.

Great riches

What’s next? What can we do with the tools that we pay so dearly for each month? What’s the next step in our evolution? Can we use the technology for great good — before it enslaves us and fritters our time and freedom away? And finally, are we too stunned and distracted to figure out what should be next? All this and more is discussed in: “The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future” by Alexis Madrigal. That’s not a name you typically associate with the high tech world, but that’s an additional lesson: the best insights often come from outside the community, not the insiders.

Madrigal’s essay is a must read for Particle Debris readers.

Next. When an article starts out like this …

While Facebook prepares to go public, Apple Pings into the void, LinkedIn focuses on resumes, Myspace circles the drain, Twitter becomes more complex, Pinterest distracts, Google+ goes around in circles, and Instagram loses focus, the next big Interests & Passions network is being built… under the radar.”

… you know something good is coming next. In this case, it’s about network analysis being done by, for example, Amazon and a new book by David Weinberger, Too Big to Know. Here’s the article that introduces it, and it’s really cool.

Finally, with all that, it’s time for some comic relief. T-Mobile isn’t going to be Mr. Niceguy anymore. Without the iPhone, T-Mobile is hurting, and something has to be done. So Ms. Pretty in Pink, Carly Foulkes, T-Mobile’s spokeswoman, is going to don some leather and get a little more edgy. Here’s the story, with video: “T-Mobile officially breaks out Carly’s leather-clad alter ego in new ad.

I’ve included the YouTube video below.

____________________

Image Credit: Shuttestock (Black hole, riches)

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

Comments

aardman

I thought social networking in computing was the most mundane, overhyped, revolution that there ever was.  Really now, Facebook is just an easier way to stay in touch with people.  And sharing pictures?  That’s the brave new world that Facebook introduced?

That network analysis/turbocharged data mining thing is not really that useful to us computing peons.  Mega corporations and government intel agencies might find it useful in their efforts to sell more stuff to us or to find that terrorist in the haystack of humanity.  But really, why would I ever sit down in front of a computer and research what the most average person on earth’s habits and interests are?

I’ve stated or alluded to it in other posts.  The Big Thing, not just the ‘next’ big thing in computing is, for lack of a better term, Star Trek computing.  When the computer in the cloud does for us exactly what Captain Picard’s onboard computer in the Enterprise does for him and every member of his crew—improving their lives by making the *important* tasks they need to accomplish easier to accomplish.  Or, in Steve-speak, when the computer is not just a bicycle for the mind, but a supersonic freight train.

Facebook makes one thing slightly easier: staying in touch with people.  Everything else Facebook offers (bejeweled, that farm thing game, the constant mindless banter that we post on each other’s walls) are things we would not be doing if Facebook wasn’t there to serve them up.  In short Facebook is a distraction from the important, purposeful things in our lives.  Such distractions have their benefits, but computing is not living up to its potential if distraction is all it offers.

The way to Star Trek computing is a completely fluent natural language interface, a comprehensive and highly intelligent database and database system, and rock-solid mobile connections.  Apple has started on this path with Siri, Wolfram and iCloud.  It’s still got a ways to go but it’s probably the only company with a clear picture of where it’s headed.

Larry

Where did you learn about business trajectories? Harvard. What a bunch of crap.

Gunhedd

Mmm… Carly Foulkes…

geoduck

2B2K
An interesting analyses. I does bring up one point that I’ve been mulling over for some time. From the comments:

“If I wanted to hire you I would first skim over your resume on LinkedIn quickly and then do a much deeper compatibility analysis with your Amazon behavior data. Do you have the background?—> LinkedIN data, would you fit in?—> Amazon data. “

It’s all about the network. You buy a book so they recommend another book. You are in this circle on that site so you get contacts from another circle with a number of common contacts. You apply for a job, they check your Linkedin profile and who you are connected with and who they are connected with.

The trouble is that there are a good number of us for whom all this social networking is alien territory. When I was unemployed last year I signed up with LinkedIn. Signed up with several groups for IT people and everything. Got absolutely nothing out of it. The only leads I saw were for party girls in Dubai. I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it. I deleted my FaceBook account last year because I realized that I really really don’t give a damn about anything on there. I haven’t signed up with any other social sites because at heart I just don’t understand the concept and don’t get anything out of it. Does this mean that I’m as off the grid as some guy living in a cave?

I’m a writer that is having trouble getting published. All the people in the business say that I need to establish a “personal brand” with FaceBook and Twitter, and a dozen other outlets to get my name established before any publishers will ever even talk to me.

So because I’m just simply not that social I’m doomed to never get a job or sell my writing and artwork? What happens to this centuries Edward Gorys or J.D. Salengers? Will we only be reading works by those that are better at sales than writing? Will we only see artwork by those better at personal marketing than panting and sculpture?

Have we taken the old adage of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” to it’s logical extreme where talentless people eager to expose themselves for a buck get all the attention and become the upholders of culture while those with actual talent are ignored by the sensationalist crowd looking for their next titillating thrill?

Lancashire-Witch

I thought Business Trajectory was something to do with the control of air traffic in Europe….....  Hmmm. 

On another matter, I overheard a snippet in a restaurant last week to the effect - “... if the application mentions facebook or twitter they don’t even make the cut for an interview ....”  .  Oh dear. Friends found; opportunities lost.

@ geoduck. I’ve found the older I get the better I am at panting.  -:)

Jamie

So because I?m just simply not that social I?m doomed to never get a job or sell my writing and artwork? What happens to this centuries Edward Gorys or J.D. Salengers? Will we only be reading works by those that are better at sales than writing? Will we only see artwork by those better at personal marketing than panting and sculpture?

For what it’s worth, Geoduck, that’s been the case in the arts ever since Duchamp glorified the urinal (and yes, I know it was intended to be ironic, but the joke was lost on most). And it’s funny with social media specifically regarding these areas (visual art, writing) - what was supposed to be a rallying arrow of freedom shot at the traditional gate keepers has more or less evolved into a recreation, through online channels, of precisely the same structures people sought to evade, and the closed feedback loop nature within a lot of online communities of this sort pretty much kills real creativity, there just isn’t room for it. Mediocrity and recycled thought reign more supremely than ever in many ways (this actually relates pretty well to Madrigal’s piece linked above).

That said, if something is undeniably great it has a tendency to find its way into the hands of the people that will treasure it, as evidenced by Apple’s comeback over the past 12 years or so, and I do believe that as technology becomes ever more organic it’ll be more integrated and the central hubs we are accustomed to these days will fade. They are cultural waves and we ride them, but eventually they do break shore to dissipate then disappear, and another, different wave is always close behind.

And yeah, LinkedIn pretty much sucks. wink

AdamChew

The worst thing that Apple would do is listen to bloggers, analysts and pundits.

wab95

Several intriguing thoughts here, John.

In Childhood’s End, human children embark on a sudden, indeed brutal, evolutionary shift to non-human, to the detriment of the human race, a transition overseen by Overlords who look like the personification of the Devil. The only connection I see here with Apple is, yes, a break with its beleaguered past, amidst the welter of accusations of evil intent by some of its competitors (whose own bloodstained hands level the charge of hypocrisy against themselves) and a handful of mis-Apple-thropes. But in Clarke’s story, the non-human children (presumably) go onto a future where their parents cannot follow; a more fulfilled and self-actualised future. Your thesis indicates that Apple are following a stereotyped and tragic trajectory, beyond whose event horizon, redemption is impossible. Perhaps the irretrievable loss of their former innocence, for want of a better term, is similar to the destruction of the parent race, as in Childhood’s End. My take is a bit different, but my time is running out, so let me move to my main thought, despite its brevity.

Alexis Madrigal’s thought piece is insightful, even if premature. By that I mean, so swift and game-changing have been Apple’s product and service releases since SJ’s return in 1997, that it will take, I suggest, at least a decade if not a generation (20 years) before their full impact and transformative effects are registered and these have had their deeper, sustained, cultural effects. During that period, we will be relatively non-receptive if not impervious to any ‘next big things’ the way we were to, say, the iDevices and the Cloud. The unimaginative copy mode, in which entrepreneurs find ways of simply cashing in, is to be expected. We are all in assimilation mode. What will emerge from this is something we have yet to see. We have pundits who complain that tablets lack USB ports and keyboards. Until they matriculate out of thought-circulation, and clients in our kids’ generation come into their own with these devices, we may not be, as a race of humanity, ready for any truly revolutionary changes and adaptations. There is just so much change that a generation may be able to assimilate without becoming overwhelmed and innovationally inert. 

Time will tell.

Log-in to comment