Is Amazon Setting the World on Fire? Or to Itself?

| Particle Debris

The recent revelations about the NSA, the endless parade of online hacking and theft of credit card or personal information, and the desire by Amazon to seduce customers into ever more purchases has created a strong pendulum in the direction of the erosion of human dignity. There may be money to be made and unexpected success to be found as the pendulum swings in the other direction.

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Social pendulums swing back and forth. It could be women's hemlines over the years or changing attitudes about American involvement in foreign conflicts. One constant remains: whenever we go too far in one direction, there's a social backlash, and the pendulum starts to swingback the other way.

Right now, we've gone about as far as we care to go with devices on the Internet being a vehicle for either spying on us or attacking our fundamental security and privacy. When that happens, there is opportunity and money to be made by appealing to citizens and at least trying to return to them what they feel they've lost.

I got an email from Microsoft on Wednesday that explains: "We're updating our terms of use and privacy statement." Here's just a piece of it. Note the use of a mother and her child as a signal that Microsoft is focusing on the fundamentals, valuable human things that we should all care about, a happy, safe and secure environment for our family.

The key idea here is that we have a warm feeling about Microsoft because of what the company is trying to do for us instead of to us. How long has it been since we felt that way about Microsoft?

If one looks at the various camps, one can get the feeling that Apple and Microsoft are one one side of this battle because of the kinds of products they sell. And then Google and Amazon are on the other side because of the very nature of their business. And so I can't help but thinking, who stands to gain the most as the pendulum swings back the other way?

On page two, coming up, journalists weigh in on whether Amazon has a sense of this pendulum swing, and the answer is that Amazon apparently does not. In fact, the company is still trying to push the pendulum in the wrong direction. See for yourself.

Next: the tech news debris for the week of June 16.

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Comments

nealg

John,

An excellent piece with several must read links.

At some point, the pendulum for more privacy will start to swing back, if it hasn’t already started. But first, we will have to stop invading our own privacy by posting every single thought and every movement on services like facebook and twitter. I can’t believe the number of people that are still posting when they are on vacation.

Blissmonkey

John,

An excellent article.
Cannot thank you enough for the link to “Only Apple”.
You’re my current go-to guy for reporting and commentary on Apple.
Keep up the great work.

ibuck

JM, I’m with bliss & neal in commending your reporting. That and Gruber’s “Only Apple”  gives optimism as to where Apple’s going. And it seems to indicate that upcoming Apple devices, including some that are quite tardy in updating, will satisfy, thrill and amaze customers.

Privacy concerns don’t seem to bother most people—until used against them. And then the pendulum will swing rapidly the other way.  I’m afraid our politicians and media will be stunned at election results when it turns about.

John Martellaro

Blissmonkey, neal, ibuck.  Thank you sirs.  I am honored.

wab95

John:

A very tightly written piece with some thought - provoking reference material. Thank you. Unfortunately, my time these days permits, at best, respite for just one or two quick thoughts.

The John Gruber piece is a thorough and authoritative analysis of Apple’s relative strengths versus those of their competitors, and how each have a different starting position that inevitably commits them not only to specific strengths and weaknesses but to a defined business model from which there is little escape. It also, delightfully, flips the binary proposition that so many pundits have posed regarding whether or not Apple can survive or be as great under Tim Cook as it had under SJ with an empirical assessment of how the company has actually improved under Tim Cook’s tenure. The conclusion of Gruber’s analysis, however, is fully supported by his argument and should be sobering stuff for any reader, irrespective of platform preference or loyalty, namely that only Apple are positioned to provide an integrated and harmonised user experience across all devices.

This latter feature is what Tim Cook referred to about a year ago when he began to refer to Apple as a platform, and not simply a hardware company, as some, including the esteemed Chris Breen at Macworld, have argued.

In my view, what analysts and users alike need is to adjust their assessment of Apple away from a company that is device-centric; that is, makes premium quality hardware buttressed by a war chest of software and services that help to move the hardware in the marketplace. Rather, what I believe is that Apple begins with a question, ‘What are the major challenges facing the client in managing their digital lifestyle’? This in turn is followed by two related questions, ‘Which of these issues actually affect quality of life for the end user’ and ‘Which of these, in turn, can be addressed by available technology that is both consumer ready and can provide a reliably consistent user experience’?

In other words, I would differ with Gruber in this respect; Apple are not device-centric so much as they are a company that is ‘user experience centric’ and continue to make that transition away from a company built around silos of excellent devices and supportive products (e.g. iOS) and services (e.g. iCloud) to one whose centre and fulcrum for product creation and release is a user experience that meaningfully enhances the quality of life for that user, as well as making the management of that life measurably easier.

The relevance of this is simple. The metric by which to measure Apple’s success or failure, henceforth, should be in whether or not they succeed in achieving such a high standard in each product cycle upgrade no less than in their new product releases, and not by whether or not that product exceeds in spec-orgy some isolated product or service offered by a competitor, e.g. how many megapixels does the camera sport. Such specs, and indeed features, e.g. 3D displays, are virtually meaningless in isolation of an integrated, harmonised user experience across the board that enriches that user’s experience, productivity, well-being and sense of joy in engaging the platform. Of what value is a device with a 100 megapixel camera if it sits in that user’s desk drawer, or if its features are so abstruse, esoteric or inaccessible that their mere contemplation leaves the end user bewildered and frustrated - or worse - annoyed.

Where I do fully concur with Gruber is in his assessment that Tim Cook is that CEO who is already demonstrating, by all empirical evidence and contrary to the howls of discontent from Apple’s clandestine ill-wishers who publicly pose as platform neutral supporters or even as Apple clients, no less than from the community of Apple clients who are simply not close observers of Apple’s continued corporate evolution from hardware manufacturer to platform, his (Tim Cook’s) ability to strengthen Apple’s engineering systems to be able to move all products forward simultaneously, but to extend Apple’s capacity to expand that platform to even greater capability by the addition of new products and services.

This was not the observation I was intending to share, but felt the need to dwell upon for emphasis’ sake. The other observation, which would have addressed the issue of overcoming this retrospective vs prospective appreciation of what Apple are doing will need to wait, sadly, for another time.

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