One of the things that fascinated me about Tim Cook's AllThingsD interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher was one of the questions after the interview. The question was posed by Dan Benton of Indoor Capital. The Q&A went roughly like this:
Mr. Benton. Why won't you let us dream? The guys at Google are presenting the world right now with gigabit fiber, weather balloons that do wireless and Google Glass.... All of Kara's and Walt's earlier questions were about giving us a view of the future. If you don't give me a view of the future, I'm going to think about Mike Spindler, Gil Amelio [former Apple CEOs]... Why won't you gives us a glimpse of the future, as Apple sees it?
Image Credit: AllThingsD
Mr. Cook: We've always, at least the last fifteen years, we've done the same thing. We've released products when they're right. And we believe very much in the element of surprise. We think customers love surprises. So, I have no plan on changing that [laughter].
At first Mr. Cook's response seems distant and evasive, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was just a place holder, "Cook Code" if you will, for what Apple really stands for. (One has to listen carefully to this CEO.) I'm referring to Mr. Cook's previous comments in that very interview about how Apple builds products that enrich people's lives.
This approach by Apple is something that's, for some reason, easy to overlook amidst the discussion about the competition with Google. The reason there is confusion, I think, is that just because both companies compete in the same marketplace doesn't mean that they must compete on common ground or have the same vision. Some explanation is in order.
The discussion by some journalists seems, lately, to originate with Google Glass (GG). I've said before that Google Glass is the seed of a good idea. Mr. Cook's view is that it will make its inroads in certain vertical markets. I think GG will gain traction in the military, law enforcement, medicine, warehouse management, construction to name a few. In those environments, the payoff is high and the social stigma is low.
In time, the technology will become less offensive. Some smart Google engineer will dream of being able to stick a small piece of thin plastic on our regular prescription glasses, and we'll all be off and running with a 4th generation product.
The Art of Creativity
However, what's at issue here is not the technology of GG, but the nuance of what we do with such a device. I'm talking about, for example, tech toys, some of which have ulterior agendas versus products that are used for creation and sharing. Mr. Cook mentioned that as well in the interview. At first, the iPad was viewed as a content consumption tool only, but Apple is working, Mr. Cook said, to make it a content creation tool as well.
The difference in the vision of Google and Google Glass and that of Apple is somewhat like the difference between a person who likes to wear gaudy gold jewelry versus the composer of piano music. The person who wears extensive gold jewelry is fascinated by the object(s) and what it does for her or him. Its appearance on the body can be mildly offensive to others.
The composer of, say, a piano solo is pleased because of what he/she has created for others. The appreciation for a fine tool, like the piano, is not an end in itself. It's merely an instrument for expression and creation. What's more, when the maker has a passion for building fine pianos, they're probably not going to be throwing out new fashion jewelry every few weeks.
Of course, the creative aspect is just an example, and there are additional nuances when it comes to smartphones. But even there, we see Apple's signature when it comes to how we delight in our iPhone. I'm referring to recent TV ads for music and photography, the creation of videos, the use of FaceTime, and iMessage. Sometimes, the art of creation is embedded in the human things we do with each other. Enriched lives.
We dream a different dream, and it's a good one.
Apple shares its dream when the product ships.
My take on the recent agitation about Apple needing to supply some tech observers, on demand, with an explicit vision of the future and competitive toys to please them is a very materialistic approach. It satisfies their insatiable demand for secrets, boyz toys, gives them something to write about that's jazzy, and puts the competition between Apple and Google in simpler terms that they can understand.
On the other hand, there are writers who cover Apple who understand how Apple got where it is and what it tries to do for its customers. For example, I am writing this article on an iPad 3/Brydge keyboard/UX Write word processor. With luck, I've used these great tools to inspire you or cause you to reflect on something worthwhile. That's my passion in life. That's why I'm an Apple customer.
Writers who talk about the competition between Apple and Google in terms of material goods, tech toys, and oneupmanship haven't really been paying attention to what Apple is all about. They're just caught up in the gadget of the week syndrome.
Wearable Computing and Apple HDTV
I suspect that the eagerness by some to see the iWatch (iBand?) and the Apple HDTV Right Now is based on the gaudy-gold-jewelry syndrome. It's something personal to play with and write about. Apple, on the other hand, I suspect, is looking deeply at how these devices will fundamentally enrich the lives of all its customers.
These new products won't be tools for creation, but they will fundamentally touch our lives in ways that we'll come to appreciate. A minor, speculative example: a FaceTime connection between families and friends on an HDTV display.
That traditional Apple formula takes time to bake. Plus, Apple is not interested in a product that might fail. The company doesn't throw us bones and brilliant but haphazard experiments. When they're fully baked, Apple ships products that become so fundamental to a broad range of customers that it can expect to sell tens or even hundreds of millions of them. The Apple TV has sold 13 million units to date, according to Mr. Cook, a mere “hobby."
I'm betting that when these new products are finally released, we'll see that signature, enduring Apple theme. And then, we'll be reminded one more time what Apple is all about.
At least some of us.
Kid with dreams via Shutterstock.