Captain Cook Sails to China

Tim Cook has been in China this week to deal with a variety of issues. That’s very good news: the captain of the Apple ship is getting out and about, some wind in his hair. In other news debris, one deeper analysis article looks at why companies can’t compete with the iPad and are dropping into fear. Another takes a deep foray into the vaults of thermonuclear patent war.


Capt Cook sailsI like the idea of Tim Cook going to China. A lot. Here’s why. It seemed to me that in Mr. Jobs’s later years, he was becoming a bit of a (necessary) recluse. While there may not be an ironclad connection, I always had the suspicion that the withdrawal from Macworld New York and Macworld San Francisco were not only strategic, but they also seemed to mirror the tendencies of the company’s CEO as he may have lost some energy himself.

That is, as Mr. Jobs health became more of an issue, his travels were restricted to family affairs. The energy of the company seemed, in my mind to wane, ironically, as its fortunes soared.

For example, when I was with Apple in the 2000-2005 era, Apple attended lots of conferences. There were the two Macworlds and many other secondary conferences in genomics, bioinformatics, sometimes ACM SIGGRAPH, always FOSE and so on. I was responsible for Apple’s presence at the American Astronomical Society meetings as well as the Supercomputing event. I even went to a couple of Salishan HPC conferences and an American Meteorological Society meeting to scope it out for an Apple booth.

These meetings are high energy. Apple employees are in booths, meeting with various technical people in the industry, giving presentations, and meeting with customers. They would become engaged technically and professionally with other people in the industry. But, alas, the logistics are expensive and the ROI is not direct and immediate. Also, person to person meetings by mainstream Apple staff can lead to awkward conversations, leaks, and loss of marketing control. Even so, these events don’t sell products, they sell the company. But Apple decided it has other good ways of selling itself, and great products sell themselves.  So the company is gone from all these events.

Maybe it’s just me, but through the years, I felt that Apple was somehow pulling within itself as it simultaneously and successfully turned towards the Apple retail stores as its major, visible presence. That move was certainly strategic and enormously successful. But I always got the feeling that Apple only went to these conferences and expos in the past in order to engage in traditional marketing — holding the fort until the company could succeed on its own, alternative and superior terms. The unfortunate result was that people in science, government and the enterprise felt that Apple was going it alone, ignoring them technically and professionally (Sometimes, that was a good thing, sometimes it wasn’t.) Like its co-founder, Apple did it alone and succeeded — so profound was Mr. Jobs’s vision.

It’s a mixture of philosophies, hardly black and white, and I certainly can’t fault Apple for marshaling its resources and having a distinct vision. But I’ll admit that I came from an academic world where companies get involved in things that are worthwhile from a research standpoint, contribute to the state of the art, and generally get out and about. IBM and Sun did that, and I respected them for it. But then, hey, look how they have fared compared to Apple. So there’s that.

Along those lines, Mr. Cook had some accumulating things to attend to in China. He got on it. Items include the ongoing kerfuffle with Proview and ownership of the iPad name, working conditions at Foxconn, and strategic discussions with Vice Premier Li Kequang and efforts to expand Apple’s retail presence in the country.

So here’s the bottom line. I like the idea of physical, travel energy in a company and its CEO. It’s good to see Tim Cook, a healthy energetic man, age 51, get on an airplane and fly for 12 hours to China. International travel by celebs makes news. With that kind of approach, I think Tim Cook adds an extra amount of vigor to Apple, and perhaps it will now extend to some other worthy efforts.

To whom much has been given, much is expected.

Tech News Debris

Along the lines of the above, very vaguely, is the idea that Apple is constantly sizing up its position in the market place and matching its strategic goals to its products and support. For example, there was a time when Apple was enthusiastic about competing in the enterprise with Xserve and Xserve RAID. Not so much anymore, even though these were highly regarded products. In light of that, we have an interesting article by Ryan Faas, an expert on Apple and IT issues: “Apple Downsizes IT Training And Certification – How The Changes May Impact You.” It’s probably not as bad as it seems.

I recently wrote about paradigm shifts in the industry and how Steve Jobs was a master at sensing when the need and the technology came to a nexus. Plus, he always made sure Apple had the hardware and software expertise to exploit the elegant and timely convergence of art and computing. On the other hand, other companies struggle internally for various reasons. Here’s a good discussion on all that: “PC makers struggle to match iPad.” Another good title would have included the term “Fear Factor.”

The Apple TV and the Roku box are similar products, and we know, or think we know, Apple’s ongoing philosophy with the classic Apple TV. So I found it interesting when I ran across this interview with Roku founder Anthony Wood in which he explains his own company’s approach, especially regarding apps and partnerships with cable TV.

There may have been some misunderstandings about how the new iPad’s battery is charged, or any iOS device for that matter, to wit: “it’s possible that Apple purposefully designed its battery meter to tell a little white lie about its charge in the interest of extending the lifetime of the tablet. Here’s some good background if you missed it the first time around.

Finally, Bloomberg-Businessweek has published a feature story about Apple’s war on Android. It’s a monster article, as Internet standards go, but it’s the kind I like. It’s not a tasty after dinner mint. Rather, it’s the full course meal. Find an easy chair, curl up with your iPad and read the full story of Apple going thermonuclear: “Apple’s War on Android.


Image Credit: Shutterstock plus some magical assistance from Bryan Chaffin and Jeff Gamet.