Apple 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.
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.