The Evolution of Apple’s Hobby: Act on the Dream

| Particle Debris

Apple started off as a boutique computer company, selling Apple IIs then printers and Macintoshes. In time, however, Apple’s vision and ambition led to endeavors in music, tablets, TV and all things consumer electronics. What’s the next step for Apple so that it can leave its TV hobby behind and realize its full vision? Can the company just sit back and sell tablets forever?

In order to explore that question, I need to set the stage with a related technical news debris item.

I have written previously here about Dish (the satellite TV company) and its AutoHop technology. Now a verdict has come in, and a Los Angeles District Court judge has declared that she will not grant an injunction requested by Fox Broadcasting to ban the marketing of DVRs with this technology. That’s the strictly newsy part.

To catch you up, AutoHop is a DVR technology developed by Dish that allows the DVR, at the user’s option, to skip over ads in prerecorded content. Basically it saves you the effort of having to hit the 30 second skip forward button yourself ‘n’ times during playback. Dish markets this feature as “The Hopper.

Fox continues to insist that this is copyright infringement by Dish, and that argument seems on the thinnest of grounds. In fact, Judge Gee thinks that this is a matter than can be handled via licensing and fees rather than by a concession to a radical outcry by Fox for an outright ban against a wretched hive of scum and villainy. So far, the customer (and Dish) have won round one. For some more insight on the whole matter, here’s the best article I’ve found.

This is relevant to Apple for several reasons. The entire ad supported model of TV viewing is broken, even if when asked the majority of customers say they’d rather not pay than pay for TV content. Who doesn’t like “free”? But, in time, we’re all going to have to get over the idea that we all have to watch ads for beer and cars that we have no interest in. Or try to skip them with a DVR button.  It's crazy.

There was a time when we thought that there could be more targeted advertising on cable, and that’s exactly what the Internet provides with it’s IP addressability. But broadcast TV keeps shoving ads we’re not interested in down our throats, and any technology that can solve that problem helps customers even though it enrages the networks who live and die by advertising dollars. (Remember the original Sony Betamax also enraged the networks.)

When we watch prime content on Apple TV, we pay for the content and never have to worry about skipping over ads. It’s something that, I hope, we as a nation can get more accustomed to. The Hopper will certainly get Dish into hot water in the short term, but technical development always will be the future of TV.

In fact, what Dish has done, in a modest way, is to use modern technology to market its goods and delight the customer. Isn’t that what Apple is supposed to be all about, but in a much grander way?

The problem is that just enough content is dribbled out to Apple to provide incremental income to the networks and creators. It’s done that way because a wholesale move to let Apple provide unbounded content for pay would destroy the ad-based model the networks currently have. Disintermediation would ensue. Accordingly, the networks are never going to allow any one provider control over their content. And that’s why an innovative thing like The Hopper scares them, and that’s why Apple will never be able to undermine the current financial model and legal precedent and protections of TV ads. Unless. Apple. Seizes control over content creation.

So when I hear Mr. Cook talk about Apple TV remaining a hobby, and he just wants to sit back and see where it goes, my thought is that it’s going nowhere. Until Apple decides to spend some of its $121 billion cash assets to achieve a longer term goal, Apple will continue to be victimized by the content holders and the technology copiers. Perhaps this is why there is so much concern over whether Apple has peaked. We ponder a path forward other than being pummeled by a concerted, massive attempt to steal a major share the smartphone and tablet market from Apple in the Post-PC out years.

Star Trek’s Mr. Spock once said that large civilizations have large ambitions. The same applies to large corporations.

Tech News Debris

[Author note for new readers: The current structure of Particle Debris is that I pick a technical news item, with relevance to Apple, and discuss it at some length in a preamble. As I did above. Then, I continue with other news items that didn’t make the TMO headlines, also with some clarification and commentary. This structure has worked out handsomely.]

I strongly advise you to put down your coffee before this next Particle Debris adventure. Ready?

“Surely there has never been a better time to physically abuse a computer, since they are smaller and lighter then ever before.... And God knows, the little f***ers deserve it.” And so goes the rip-snorting, ROTFL, account of one family’s propensity to kick the s**t out of any device that acts up, gets in the way, or misbehaves. “Have we become so meek and accepting?” asks Alistair Dabbs. Submitted, forthwith, for your entertainment: “Kick your computer... before it kicks you.”

Thrashing your car. Image Credit: BBC/Fawlty Towers

At TMO, we like to keep our headlines short, punchy and to the point. Plus, there are technical reasons for a relatively small character count. But for those blessed publications that can have their way with a headline, this one is a doozy. “I went to Microsoft Store for Surface on a launch day. Compared to Apple Store, t’was a retail experience from hell.

This is not the buying experience he was looking for. In addition, Microsoft separated the Surface keyboard component, so critical to the design of this content creation device, so that they could claim a lower entry price, trying to have it both ways. I have previously predicted that any buyer of the Surface would come under intense pressure if they opined to the Microsoft salesperson that they would forego the $100 keyboard, and bingo, I saw this line in the story: “At one point, the employee was desperately trying to sell the keyboard.” CTTN. Hey, I warned you not to be drinking coffee this time.

Microsoft Surface: Keyboard is key, yes?

There are two ways to approach the backing up of your personal data. One is to connect an external drive, turn on Time Machine, and then don’t give it all a second thought. Until disaster strikes. The best way, however, is to explore products, understand which data is critical, develop a formal plan and then continuously monitor. This excellent article from Mac expert Joe Kissell will help you do the latter. “Bulletproof backups: When you absolutely can't lose any data.

Back when I worked for Apple, there were tremendous highs. But not all was rosy, and there were severe challenges for the two major teams I worked with. One of my former boss’s boss has written an ebook about his experiences at Apple over nearly 20 years, and it is vastly illuminating. Here’s a short form synopsis of the book by Dan Lyons, and here’s a link to the Kindle book, “The Pomme Company.

I must note, having read most of the book, that Mr. Lyons sometimes casts things in his own peculiar, sensational way that I don’t agree with. In contrast, author Sobotta was very sober and professional in his approach. So let Mr. Lyons whet your appetite for the book without unduly influencing your emotions.

Finally, recently, I have discussed the concept of skeuomorphism, both in Particle Debris and in Hidden Dimensions. But skeuomorphism isn’t all there is to talk about when it comes to iOS UI and UX. Not only does iOS have inconsistencies, but it’s a staggering task now to both understand the worst design problems and then figure out which things to address and what can be realistically done. That delightful task now falls on the shoulders of Sir Jonathan Ive, and here’s some interesting technical background on that endeavor (or endeavour if you please). “Apple’s design problems aren’t skeuomorphic.”

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Man on ladder via Shutterstock.

Comments

wab95

John:

My recent and still current travels have afforded me little time to keep up with my TMO reading, let alone providing comments, however I note during the past couple of weeks a rising tide of bearishness on Apple, not simply in the marketplace, but in the blogosphere by every pundit with a pen (okay, keyboard - and probably still using a mouse).

I note, with bemusement, the two articles Bryan Chaffin cites on the Apple Death Knell, and see Kontra’s piece that you cite on skeumorphism in a not too dissimilar light. What distinguishes Kontra’s comments from so many others is his list of concrete suggestions for improvement under ‘Apple, quo vadis’ rather than the mindless hand-wringing so much in vogue in recent days, which, in my view, is summarised thus, ‘Apple haven’t produced any new revolutionary products in the years since SJ’s passing, ergo Apple doomed to slow slide to irrelevance and death’. There is merit in his suggestions, and many of his points are well-aimed.

Rather, I see pundits drinking from the same punch bowl and convincing themselves, contrary data aside (after all, who wants to be confused by facts when we have consensus opinion), of Apple’s inevitable demise in much the same way that one US political party recently convinced themselves, contrary data aside, of inevitable presidential victory. Social media aside, it never pays to ignore hard data, however much it might differ from popular view.

John Martellaro

wab95: You are exactly right.  This column was about aggressive vision, but the pundits are now failing to look at the real numbers for here and now.  I will have much more to say on all this in my Hidden Dimensions of Nov 14.

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