The Commercial Robot Business Forges Ahead Without Apple

Apple robot

Ford is laying off about 7,000 auto workers. Why do I mention that here? Stay with me.

Ford is facing an assortment of challenges, including sales and share declines in the U.S. and China, its key markets. It’s been hit hard by President Donald Trump’s trade wars, and this week the auto giant confirmed it is axing 7,000 white-collar jobs, with some questioning whether further cuts could follow.

But Ford, (Ford!) also looking to the future, is testing a robot to be used for home delivery. “Ford’s delivery robot walks like a human.

https://youtu.be/WHWciIxNK2c

Every major tech giant, it seems, is on the commercial robot bandwagon. Except, notably, Apple. Why is that?

Does Apple feel that this isn’t its core market? Apple’s interest in autonomous vehicles casts doubt on that assumption.

Does Apple feel that it doesn’t have the technical expertise? But that’s something Apple could acquire if it thought the product fits in with its vision for the future.

Is Apple reluctant to get into a business that could harm humans in some fashion? Physically? Or, at the every least, take their jobs? I think that’s an unjustified specter given Apple’s engineering talent.

Last year, I wrote: “If Apple Built a Family Robot, What Would it Be Like?” I ended with “I can’t wait.”

What is Apple waiting for?

More News Debris

• There’s a new rumor that Apple might finally update the iPod touch with a new 2019 model. The rationale is that the current model, with its A8, won’t be supported in iOS 13. See: “iPod touch 2019: Release date rumors, spec speculation, and analysis.” Rene Ritchie explains:

Rumors of a new iPod touch only really started to surface over the course of this last year. Back in January, Mac Otakara claimed they heard chatter about a new, 7th generation iPod touch in and around CES. The lowest cost, entry-level iOS device, it had always served as a gateway to the App Store for anyone the least bit curious but not at all committed too Apple’s ecosystem, for kids who didn’t need and whose parents didn’t want them to have a phone, as a cheap music player or gaming device, and as an inexpensive way for developers to have an extra device or two around for testing.

• Speaking of iOS 13, here’s a pre-WWDC roundup. “Apple iOS 13: New features, release date and rumor roundup.

• We all have devices with displays. But sometimes, it’s not clear ::cough:: how to clean them. Time for a refresher. “Stop Cleaning Your iPhone Screen the Wrong Way.

• Give some people a device that’ll chat with them, and they’ll figure out a way to flirt. Or worse. The New York Times has the details. “Talk Dirty With Machine.

Get a Mac Promo Shot with John Hodgman and Justing Long
A promo shot from “Get a Mac” with John Hodgman as “PC” and Justin Long as “Mac”

• On May 21, Cult of Mac celebrated: “Today in Apple history: Apple’s ‘Get a Mac’ campaign comes to an end.” This was a celebrated, award-winning ad campaign for the Mac that’s never been equalled. Luke Dormehl writes:

Debuting in 2006, the ads starred actor Justin Long as the cool, youthful Mac. Comedian John Hodgman portrayed the stuffy, awkward PC. Alongside the ‘Think Different’ and the iPod ‘Silhouette’ campaigns, ‘Get a Mac’ will become one of the most fondly remembered extended ad campaigns in Apple history.

This is a fun reminiscence.

• Cutting the cord has to be done with care. Otherwise, one can end up spending as much or more than was paid for cable/satellite. USA Today writes: “The real cost of cutting the cord: What streaming companies don’t want you to know.” As you walk through this article and the mounting costs, ask yourself: “Do I really, really need that subscription?” It’ll be an eye-opener.

• Previously, I wrote: “How Apple is Actually Protecting Mac Sales with Marzipan.iMore, in a similar vein, explores: “What Marzipan Might Mean for Accessibility.

• Here is some good news for those who travel. “New Bill Would Require Agents to Actually Have Probable Cause to Search Electronic Devices at the Border.

Customs officials at the border don’t need a warrant or probable cause to search your electronic devices, an invasive practice that has only spiked in the last few years, resulting in a bunch of horror stories and some profoundly dumb screwups. But two US senators want to change that, introducing a bill on Wednesday [5/22] that would create a more consensual and reasonable system.

It’s not yet law, so let Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)
know how you feel.

• Finally, “The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released its global standards, which aim to ensure AI is designed to be robust, safe, fair and trustworthy.” Read more: “42 Countries Agree to International Principles for Artificial Intelligence.” And, yes, the U.S. is one of the 42.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article(s) of the week followed by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

4 thoughts on “The Commercial Robot Business Forges Ahead Without Apple

  • Apple should be all over building manufacturing robots, to build it’s products as cost effectively as possible with the highest quality. It would be s0 cool to be able to build in whatever country.

    I really thought the recycling robots were the first step, but there has been little new news.

  • John:

    This is the first time in weeks that I’ve had a minute for my TMO reading; much to catch up on.

    First, and probably not surprising, I think that your most important article is your last one on international principles for artificial intelligence, in which five principles are articulated, and are worth repeating:

    1) AI should benefit people and the planet by driving inclusive growth, sustainable development and well-being

    2) AI systems should be designed…to respect the rule of law, human rights, democratic values and diversity, and implement appropriate safeguards (eg human intervention) to ensure a fair and just society

    3) There should be transparency and responsible disclosure around AI systems to ensure that people understand AI-based outcomes and can challenge them

    4) AI systems must function in a robust, secure and safe way throughout their life cycles and potential risks should be continually assessed and managed

    5) Organizations and individuals developing, deploying or operating AI systems should be held accountable for their proper functioning in line with the above principles.

    Authors, analysts, philosophers and social commentators who have warned about the emergence of AI and its progressively prominent role in everyday life are right to be concerned, but not for some of their most cited reasons. The chief concern is not that AI is going to become self aware and want to throw off the mantle of human oversight and assume premier authority for itself. That’s a human trait, and if there is any consistency in our concerns about AI functions, it’s precisely for its non-human nature in how it problem solves, and that, absence of programming, is amoral and lacks human values. That includes ambition for personal aggrandisement, for which we have no evidence to date. Rather, the problem is human, and in the inherent or intentional biases and malignant subroutines that can be built into AI that will work against defined populations and demographics, not to mention systems of governance, their checks and balances, and the freedom of information that is their safeguard. If ever there were evidence of this emerging credible threat, it is smart fakes, ie fake speech from real people https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/12/15957844/ai-fake-video-audio-speech-obama. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Weaponised AI is the new nuclear arms race; far more rapid, penetrating, and devastating than any other weapon in our history, because it can reach every individual where they are in fractions of a second and alter their actions in ways that are self-harmful, or deprive them of essential resources and protections, or make them targets for mob retaliation. This is potentially Orwell on steroids and booster rockets.

    The concern is that the erstwhile protector and defender of freedom, liberty, the rule of law, and liberal democratic principles has succumbed to authoritarian nationalism, populism and public assault on the freedom of dissenting viewpoint without retaliation; further contracting the safe harbours and platforms where such a set of tenants as these five principles outlined above can take root and become codified law, and where violators can be held accountable.

    As for robots, I stand by the comments I made on your column a year ago, namely the the use-case for a home-based robot is yet to be defined, as we have, for example for PCs or smartphones. Once we have consensus on use case and core objectives, Apple and other consumer-centric manufacturers can focus their core competencies on those outcomes. Expending massive R&D to develop solutions for no ones demands is a recipe for failure and competitive disadvantage. For now, they are smart to keep their powder dry.

    As for Marzipan, I couldn’t agree more with your 21 May post. A case in point, my son, in preparing for his final exam and term papers, lost his iPad keyboard. He was in a panic, as all of his assignments are done online. We had to order a new keyboard for him, however it would not arrive for a couple of days. He then agreed that he could use his MBP to do his assignments. In short, his first tool choice was the iPad, not the Mac. Yes, we’ve entered that age, and that generation is coming to maturity.

  • What is Apple waiting for?

    Indeed. Robots seem like something that could pay back the initial investment a lot faster than the Apple Car idea.

    New bill would require agents to actually have probable cause

    Bloody well about time.

    …aim to ensure AI is designed to be robust, safe, fair and trustworthy.

    Sounds good. the trouble is the ones that either don’t sign on, or worse yet give lip service to the rules but quietly make exceptions for National Security or some such thing.

  • Cutting the cord has to be done with care.

    I am considering a smaller cord. Today I turned in one of our cable boxes; it was acting up and needed numerous resets. I have an antenna and will use that to replace the box. I am also thinking of getting another Apple TV. On the other hand I am trying out Apple News+ and will probably continue it after the trial period.

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