Superpower Apple Makes us Worry Too Much

| Hidden Dimensions

Apple has now achieved superpower status and is working on a starship HQ. That means that the company has the money, resources, and influence to achieve almost anything it desires.

In turn, some of the things it does makes us worry. I’ve noticed that the list of things that get worried about includes:

  • Final Cut Pro X
  • The Mac Pro’s fate
  • The potential merger of OS X and iOS
  • Less than vigorous Thunderbolt support
  • China’s workers
  • AutoSave and Versions in Lion
  • Sandboxing and the future richness and capabilities of Mac apps
  • Apple’s onerous 30 percent cut of everything
  • The iBooks Author EULA
  • The monstrosity called the iTunes app
  • The oversimplification of essential apps and tools
  • ___________ write-in candidate

Why is this happening?

Superpowers Always Worry Us

Countries and companies with superpower status naturally worry us. They also become targets as well as rich fodder for heated discussion. That keeps writers fully employed.

For example, with great respect for these wonderful countries, which I would love to visit, we don’t worry about Belgium attacking Iran. We don’t worry about Switzerland colonizing the moon and seizing it for its own use. Some charming, small countries mind their own business, but other smaller countries are always sizing up the superpowers of the world, wondering what they’ll do next that’s in the superpower’s interest, but not theirs.

Large countries and large companies have interests and the means to achieve them. It can be worrisome.

Deathstar

Deathstar (credit: ShutterStock)

The Role oF Secrecy

Apple has long used secrecy as a competitive advantage, to get a leg up on the competition, to enhance its competitive abilities and to surprise and delight us. But occasionally, the best surprise is no surprise.

Examples of surprises that gave us pause are, I think, the new Final Cut Pro X, sandboxing and the specter of a merger of OS X and iOS that would, somehow, hinder our abilities to be as in control — and thereby as creative.

These are not happy surprises because Apple’s secrecy dictates unilateral action.

Worse, as we know from the military, secrecy can morph from being a natural, shrewd policy to protect intellectual property to becoming an end in itself. The larger the target company (or country), the larger the paranoia becomes. Questionable policies that weren’t practical or affordable before suddenly become, somehow, essential, leading to unfavorable news.

Why We Worry About Apple

Occasionally, nowadays, Apple’s surprises are looked upon with dismay instead of pure glee. As Apple’s customer bases shifts and grows, some worry that Apple no longer feels allegiance to those who stuck with Apple through thick and thin over the years. That creates worry.

Uncertainty

Worry, uncertainty or overactive imagination? All of the above

Even more so, creative artists fret that Apple will take away, for its own interests, what we most enjoy about our Mac life. That’s crazy nonsense of course, but some writers seize the moment to stir the pot and get attention, seizing upon our overactive imagination.

Of course, other companies worry too. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it became evident that other companies were worried about Apple seizing the initiative in the TV industry and stealing their already paltry profits. They should be.

What to do?

First, technical columnists need deep insight into Apple. For example, if Apple were to cancel the Mac Pro, just for the sake of argument, it would be easy to run wild with speculation that Apple might, someday, cancel the whole desktop line. In fact, the Mac Pro may just be making enough money. The interpretation of superpower motives is essential.

As Apple moves sharply towards sandboxing, it might be easy to speculate that Apple will someday turn our creative tools into mindless toys, iPads, solely for the consumer masses. When all that we care about is threatened, demagoguery seeps in.

Ill-formed speculations make for interesting, if not alarming, editorials that, in turn arouse the ire of other writers, and the Mac echo chamber becomes abuzz with sturm and drang.

Apple is in a situation where, like any superpower, the slightest feint or movement can be misconstrued. Because Apple can almost do as it pleases, gloomy specters arise at every point. That affects predictions and turns them pessimistic — for example, the prediction of the early demise of the iPod classic and iPod shuffle last year. Or that Apple might discontinue the entire Mac line, a notion that’s emerging but is nonsense.

Of course this doesn’t even begin to address those writers who, historically, haven’t cared for Apple and its products. So we can expect them to pour gasoline on any glowing embers and make matters worse.

I think that readers hunger for a continuing, intelligent discussion and assessment so that they, as Apple customers, can better understand what they have at hand, what they need and what they really want from Apple.

Sure, sometimes Apple gives us things we didn’t know we needed, but the rest of the time, it’s important to communicate to Apple what, as a community, we do need and want to preserve.

What Can Apple do?

Apple still needs corporate secrecy to maintain its competitive advantage. However, strategic moves can also made to ease unwarranted fears. For example, if the Mac Pro sales are way down, that could be taken constructively that Apple hasn’t met the modern needs of its customers. Perhaps it’s time for a newer, sleeker, smaller, better designed, faster Mac Pro that does meet our needs.

Mac ProMac Pro - time to retire or redesign? (Image credit: Apple)

 

If Apple were to telegraph at this summer’s WWDC that OS X 10.8 is going to preserve the basic structure and tools that creative artists need and love, that would go a long way towards stopping endless speculation cold in its tracks.

Sometimes, the easiest and most honest questions asked of Apple by journalists call for a simple affirmation rather than a stonewall. When we pass that on, the confidence of customers grows.

In other words, there are subtle things Apple can do to encourage and delight its customers without giving away its intentions for future products. Apple executives aren’t accustomed to thinking like that because their superpower status is relatively new.

But if they did, we could focus more sharply on all the positive, fabulous things Apple is trying to achieve. And we’d all sleep better at night.

_______

Deathstar image credit: Shutterstock

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Comments

John Martellaro

I should add my thanks and acknowledgement to reader “wab95,” in one of his comments, for the inspiration to use the term superpower. In this article,

http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/apples_not_so_secret_war/

he commented:

Professor Lyman at the Navel Postgraduate School defines a superpower as a country that has the capacity to project dominating power and influence anywhere in the world, and sometimes, in more than one region of the globe at a time, and so may plausibly attain the status of global hegemony.

skipaq

Enjoyed the thought provoking article. Apple’s secrecy is legendary and has always been a concern. If I would add one related thing that concerns me now because of Apple’s size, it would be the threat to competitive balance.

Choice is important in most things. I would hate to think world dominance in technology is Apple’s (or anyone’s) intended goal. But even achieving such a thing without the intent would not be good.

The blessings and cursings that is Apple comes from their position at the intersection of liberal arts and technology. On the one hand, Apple makes great products that reinvent entire arts industries. On the other hand, dominating these industries like a dictator can be a bad result.

Will

Not quite what I was worried would be written. Just some good points for thought.
I suspect that we need to give Tim a little time. He likely has most of the skills Steve had and then some. He may not be the showman, but that role can easily be assigned.

I don?t get the quibbles over iTunes I hear from some. A PC friend complained and said he used other PC media bits instead. I showed him how to make changes under View Option and once iT was simplified and what he had no interest in had been eliminated, he has come to quite like it.
With regard to Thunderbolt, what can Apple do? It takes the whole industry to build a family. With USB Apple?s timing was lucky. The iMac and Apple?s decisions happened at just the right moment, the edge of the tipping point.

Winski

There seems to be two very distinct sides of this discussion and both need to be dealt with..one, is products and Ive’s sheer brilliance in crafting that ‘one last thing’ that has been a hallmark of Apple for years. Apple’s future has this keel at it’s heart. If that is intact, many steps to the top of this mountain have already been traversed.

Then, there are influences and various levels of interference and irritation that keep popping up randomly that very easily could become a distraction. Tim is clearly a bright man and I’m sure he believes that the selection Apple has made for the new head of retail is, in his words, ‘the best by far’ to take Apple retail the next level….. We’ll see in very short order.

The last, and LEAST important Radom event, is Trump’s clarion call to build Apple products in America… A truly idiotic statement when surrounded by facts and context, but have you ever seen a mob react to clarion calls with rationality? Hummm….

deasys

If I would add one related thing that concerns me now because of Apple?s size, it would be the threat to competitive balance.

I agree. Apple is not nearly large or influential enough to counter the continued threats from Google and its Android platform or Microsoft.

deasys

Ill-formed speculations make for interesting, if not alarming, editorials

Indeed!

(Apple can still be torn down so fast it would make your head spin. Just take a look at the New York Times massive FUD piece on Chinese labor and its fallout “Boycott Apple” movement. All it would take is an effort like one of these to ‘catch’...)

iJack

Professor Lyman at the Navel Postgraduate School defines a superpower as a country that has the capacity to project dominating power and influence anywhere in the world, and sometimes, in more than one region of the globe at a time, and so may plausibly attain the status of global hegemony.

OMG! Did he really write, “Navel?”
Am I the only one that thinks that is hilarious?

Lee Dronick

Did he really write, ?Navel??
Am I the only one that thinks that is hilarious?

Contemplate it smile

geoduck

Good article. I had been putting together a Forum posting on much the same topic. My list of items was much similar to yours, though I have to admit I don’t find 30% “onerous” compared to what you often see in the industry.

I guess over the last few years I’ve been getting a feeling of arrogance from Apple that wasn’t there a decade earlier. Even if Apple does everything right by the customers arrogance can quench its coolness faster than anything else.

wab95

I should add my thanks and acknowledgement to reader ?wab95,? in one of his comments, for the inspiration to use the term superpower.


Many thanks for the acknowledgement, John. The mark of a true scholar.

I’m just getting in from the field at the end of the week, where the wild things are and the internet is not, so catching up on my TMO reading.

A key message I get from this thought piece is the effect on the equanimity of the Mac user community (and the wider tech community at large) from speculation over Apple’s intent, an intent assigned even greater gravitas due to Apple’s all-to-recent superpower status, on the one hand, and the tendency of people to project often their worst fears to the motives of entities whose motives and internal workings are opaque to them, on the other. Correct or not in my interpretation, this is where I wish to pick up the thread and continue.

But for the human tendency to project our worst fears on the unknown, we would not have the plethora of horror movies with evil bogey men leaping from dark (therefore ?opaque? or ?unknown?) shadows, or bloodthirsty aliens who spare no expense to span the galaxy to slake their thirst for human gore (one has to wonder, still, how they managed to evolve space flight over eons in absence of slurping down human blood, but I digress). Our pre-hominid, arboreal past, where we once fell victim to animal ambush predation, with these creatures literally leaping out of camouflage and hiding to devour us, has continued to fuel our fear and apprehension of what we cannot clearly discern. We hesitate to walk into dark places, grow quiet and unsettled when alone in unfamiliar and ?eerie? places, and become apprehensive of large, imposing entities whose motives we cannot discern. Out of instinctive self preservation, we determine the risk is too great that the intent is malevolent and move off to safer grounds.

Another, less instinctive but more cognitive approach is to piece together what we can discern, interpret the pattern(s) and trajectory, and assign motive and likely future action based on that interpretation. This is what scientists do with empirical observation and the development of theories to explain the world around us. This approach is available to anyone.

My personal observation of Apple, keeping this short, is this. Apple is all about the consumer experience. In all of its products and services, the objective is to provide not only the best, but the most consistent user experience that the best available technology can provide.

This motive is modified by Apple?s desire, as any living entity, to survive; but in Apple?s case, that survival is driven by a desire to shape and mould the future, and not be shaped and moulded by it. Apple is an innovator par excellence, and is too competitive to following others? lead. More than that, it?s history has shown that it, better than any other company, can best divine the way forward, which has defined its relationship with its peer organisations. Apple is a leader.

Two things:

First, Apple?s trajectory and track record demonstrate a commitment to providing its user base with the best tools that technology can provide, in the context of a standardised or uniform user experience, and within reasonable costs. That user experience is comprised of both productivity (hence its own productivity suite of apps) and consumption. Apple is keenly aware that many of its users are not only professional artists, but scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, architects - in a word - people who build societies and inspire their further development. I have seen nothing to persuade me otherwise.

Second, Apple is made up of humans, and humans are imperfect. Intelligence and good intentions are no guarantors against fallibility and error, else hell?s path would not be paved with good intentions. Apple will make mistakes. Apple will get things wrong. When it does, we have to look at the weight of evidence and its overall developmental trajectory - its flight path if you will - rather than the mistake in isolation if we are to avoid our own hominid-inherited tendency to assign malevolence. So far, the things I have seen Apple get wrong (e.g. dot Mac?s iDisk) are more likely due to human frailty than to mal-intent. Should Apple turn evil, its trajectory will be consistent with evil.

Still, Apple is a business and has to make tough, cost/benefit decisions on products and services (e.g. Mac Pro - to be or not to be).

For now, I see a company made up of smart people with a desire to contribute to a bright future that even Star Trek?s creator, Gene Roddenberry, would envy.

wab95

OMG! Did he really write, ?Navel??
Am I the only one that thinks that is hilarious?


Yes, I did. My bad, not John’s. Professional bias (physician), Freudian slip, food for thought (as Lee suggests), or just plain sloppiness, take your pick.

Thanks for spotting, iJack.

iJack

Thanks for spotting, iJack.


It’s OK, Dr. wab.  But I did have a bit of fun thinking what might be taught in Navel Postgraduate School.

wink

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