Apple will never produce the best technology: here’s why

I have been branded an Apple hater a long time ago, so I don’t bother to worry about that.  Since 1981 I have lived and breathed technology and Apple insults the very essence of the world as I understand it with its behavior.  I don’t use the word “like”, it is not aesthetic and it is not subjective.  Apple can never be a positive force in the world of technology.  Admirable marketing maybe.  Amazing reality distortion for sure.  Machiavellian trickery when it can.

Technologically speaking, the world is not an unknown, magical place.  There are only so many electrons that can whiz around in silicon at a specific speed.  Apple can’t change that.  They can’t magically make any major breakthrough.  Not only because they hardly spend any money in Research and Development.  Because nobody makes such amazing leaps on their own.  The world of scientific innovation is one of collaboration and open platforms.

That is of course the exact opposite of everything Apple stands for.  It is no surprise that a Unix derivative in the form of Android now powers 90% of the planets smartphones.  Here’s what Apple can never do:

  1. Be open about its plans.  Absolutely vital for innovation to happen.  You can’t build on something if nobody tells you how it works.
  2. Experiment more freely.  Apple produces an absolutely terrible product such as the first iWatch but insists on selling it as the next big thing.  They don’t seem to be able to give away something in order to learn like Google does so often.  (With mixed results, but the principle is correct, tried and tested in innovation)
  3. Make more.  Why only three iPhones?  I can get an Android with a battery that lasts 3 days, a rugged Android, an Android for 100 dollars, etc, etc.  If you don’t try market niches, if you don’t allow others to explore them, you will never discover something really exciting.
  4. Stick to global standards.   Apple costs the world economy billions in lost productivity.  Why on earth can’t they just stick to standards?  How hard is it to have a “normal” USB for power, or to avoid tweaking Bluetooth?  Standards in technology are the bedrock of innovation, the firm ground from which we fly to the skies.
  5. Collaborate.  It seems silly to even write that it is so obvious to everyone in business these days.  You collaborate even with your direct competitors when it makes strategic sense.  Apple never seems to be able to last long in any sort of collaboration, a slave to its Steve Jobs’ inspired image of the lone genius.

There is no such thing as a lone genius in technology.  Some amazing people have made great leaps and provided us with inspiring moments and ideas.  But the actual products?  They are always the result of extensive team work spanning the globe, companies, universities and every kind of kid playing with something to finally achieve greatness.

When Cook took over I hoped he would change some of this.  It seems he can’t.  Apple is a prisoner to its old “rules” and too afraid to go for the real innovation of changing its corporate selfishness.

Apple: We burn Pentiums to the ground

If you don’t remember that slogan, let me remind everyone.  Because in a rather strange way, it has been wiped from Google!  Seriously, Google it.  “We burn Pentiums to the ground” and toasting Pentiums was a major Apple promotional campaign, aimed at convincing us all that their proprietary Motorola (IBM) processors were “better” or “faster” than the Intel alternatives.  It is an extremely educational story to take to hearth as Apple goes down the same rabbit hole with the iPhone today.   Back then it took users a couple of years to figure it out.  Graphic artists were trying to ignore that benchmarks of actual task performance was showing a huge disadvantage.  Back then, Apple was the tool of choice for creative professionals in the visual design.  So it was a matter of pride.  You applied a Photoshop filter and it took twice as long to render it as that guy you made fun of with the cheap PC.  In video it was ridiculous.  Apple did its best to make sure that there weren’t many applications running on both PC and Mac, but Adobe After Effects slipped through the net.  Benchmarks there were off the chart, with the ultra expensive Apple machines trailing by whole minutes in everyday tasks.

So what did Apple do?

They lied in your face!  The “we burn Pentiums to the ground” campaign, much like a lot of Steve Jobs’ presentations, were 100% lies.   He used vague graphics and charts showing an X percent advantage, or stating the new processors were 22% faster than…something.  And then they got personal claiming they “toasted” the Pentium processor.   But you won’t find it easily.  Here’s a video:

 

Where are the ads now?  I am a long time Apple hater so I know very well how I used to find them with an image search…..gone.  Zilch.  Almost no digital footprint of them left!  Either Apple or Intel, or both of them, got Google to make them disappear.  And this is where it gets interesting.  Because Apple is heading the same way today.  I wrote a short article highlighting the many things about the iPhoneX.  Quad DAC, GigabitLTE, MQA, Log and lookup tables for video…it is a long list of useful high end features other smartphones have already.   I post it on Facebook and an Apple fan friend (I still talk to them) starts going on about the “all mighty A11 Apple chip”.  Obviously he had no better response.  But allmighty Apple chip?  Really?

The company is in its classic rabbit hole.  It needs to “think different” but instead it is focusing on “being different”.  Not the same thing.  When the whole world has Bluetooth, the whole world needs Apple working on a safer, faster, better standard.  Not to just tweak it a bit and call it iBluetooth, making its AirBuds “proprietary”, “more expensive” and “not compatible”.  (What their tag lines should have been in the first place.)  When the world agrees to use USB type C we don’t want to carry around custom Apple dongles and dangles.    Siri is a joke and new Apple “features” are usually just copied from Android.  If they are not, they are a bad idea.  Like getting rid of the home button.

I still remember holding the very first iPhone and asking “where is the copy-paste” function?  They laughed.  Like they laughed when I asked where the right click was on their mice.  Guess what?  The iPhone got copy and paste eventually.  And the Mighty Mouse had a right click.  Even now, Apple products are not as good as others in these two respects.   In Android we have built in advanced clipboard features and multiple windows to play with.   They copied too little, too late.  And made a mess of the reality distortion necessary to cover up their tracks.

Much like the old days, someone is going to have bail Apple out.  Not talking about cash this time.  It will be Google that will run to the rescue and they won’t even tell us about it.  Suddenly Siri will magically get better, Apple Maps will work around the world instead of the rather limited version they have now and other Google power features will trickle through in various ways.  Just enough for Apple to pretend it is the innovator.  Which it is.  Just not in technology.  In technology it takes R&D, persistence and number crunching to get to the top.   Apple is better at getting money off people.  Some call it marketing, some of us like to call it as it is.  Especially since most of us aren’t making any money from this mass dellusion.

Don’t let me spoil the party though, enjoy looking at your shiny iPhoneX until it unlocks.

 

FBI vs Apple = 6-1

  1. If there was someone on the planet that didn’t know that the usual way FBI and Apple solve these things is in secret, we all know it now.  Both parties involved admitted that usually when the FBI wants the contents of a phone, Apple has always played along and told nobody about it.
  2. We all found out about Apple’s sneaky secret backdoors.  Updates they can install on just one specific phone and other things which only a mind as perverse as Steve Jobs could think of.
  3. At best Tim Cook seemed “adequate”.  For most of us he was just blatantly hypocritical in pretending to stand up for free speech and privacy.  This is the right hand man of Steve Jobs.  They both did so much nasty stuff against consumers’ interests for so many years; any serious analyst can only laugh to hear him wax lyrical now.  iPhones secretly sent location, private data and well,  pretty much everything in the past.  It probably still does, just in more complex ways.  They never told consumers any of it.
  4. Similar to “freedom fries” and the small media war against France in the past, this media frenzy will leave Apple with scars.  True patriots will avoid iPhones to some degree.  After their tax dodging tricks, Chinese workers killing themselves and Donald Trump having a go at Apple, it is starting to pile up.
  5. After all this, magically, a way to hack the iPhone was discovered.  So the FBI doesn’t need a backdoor.  They can use the same trick for any iPhone.  Heck, we are all pretty sure they can hack the latest models too.  Well done Apple, you just made sure the entire planet knows just how unsafe your products are.
  6. I am not the only one not to buy the story about an “outside contractor helping the FBI”.   Apple gave in.  They helped the FBI and came up with this vague story to cover up.  They knew that if they left it long enough, many outside contractors and hackers would find publish a way around on the internet.  Every hackathon has Apple products falling first.  This is no conspiracy theory.  Apple products’ security is rubbish.

There is only group of people which think that Apple won the case.  Apple fan boys.  But then again they always think Apple has won.  So the only interesting question is “why make all this fuss for nothing?”  I would look more at the stock market for answers than the technology involved.

Trump is right about something! Made in USA counts for a lot

You probably rushed to dismiss it.  After all, in this globalized world it seems counterintuitive that Apple should produce iPhones entirely in the US.  Some would say impossible.  And it is Donald Trump saying it, the man is ridiculous almost 24/7.

Now think about it again.  Cost?  Yeah, sure it would be more expensive to produce in America but Apple has the margin to support it.    It would not be more expensive to the consumers.  And even these Tim Cook days of actually giving back to shareholders, it isn’t just about the stock market.  Apple stock has become a global “too big to fail” ticker, it’s price was never really connected to its performance much anyway.

Some say it is impossible to produce an iPhone entirely in the US.  So let me get this straight.  There are countries out there more advanced than America?  And this is OK with everyone?  Nobody else perceive a medium term threat in the situation?  It is true that no country actually produces an iPhone, it is simply a matter of assembly.  So why can a Mac pro be produced in America and not an iPhone?  Samsung might not seem much of a threat these days but that can quickly change.    You set up your whole supply chain somewhere else and pretty soon “somewhere else” is selling iPhone knock offs at a tenth of the price.    Furthermore they attract more customers on the back of their legitimate claim to be manufacturing or assembling iPhones.  Their countries learn how to produce such items in terms of all their processes, taxes, permits, government procedures and a million other little things we call “know how”.  You are greasing the way for anyone else to roll in and compete.

I know all this sounds very unliberal and unbusinesslike.  That is because we have been schooled to always assume that the free market is the best choice.  It usually is.  Abusing worker rights in China is not.  There is nothing liberal or free about what Apple has been doing (and continues to do) to squeeze its suppliers.  It didn’t join the move of “Made in Argentina” when Samsung and Blackberry did.  Apple doesn’t care about building long term relationships with any market in the world other than America.  Apple always treated its distributors like crap, was always secretive, has always decided from the top and bossed everyone else around.

Well there is no point running complex business analysis or logistics calculations on it.  It is a matter of soul.  What is Apple about?  If it is a truly global company, why does it act like a bunch of Californians with attitude who don’t care about anything?  Making iPhones in America won’t solve any problems.  It won’t make them worse either.

And it just might force the company to face up to the fact that it isn’t really sure what it is about anymore and how it connects to consumers.

 

 

Is that an iBanana in your pocket?

…or are you just happy to have an iPhone6 plus that bends?  The latest Apple fiasco is pretty worrying for a number of reasons.   Maybe it isn’t too common.  Could be blown out of proportion by iPhone haters.  I have noticed that in the Android ecosystem negative news about iPhones seem to be promoted by Google in their own news products and they do seem to do better than expected as “trending” or promoted posts in Google Plus.  Much like Tim Cook inherited an Apple which had run out of steam, his new PR team is inheriting a bunch of journalists really annoyed by the fact that for all these years anyone who didn’t write nice things about Apple got cut out of its PR events and information.   Phones being squashed in back pockets are not something new.

What is new is the level of Apple disregard to users’ problems.  Which is pretty ironic seeing as they top customer satisfaction polls.  Or is it?   After all they do it all the time.  But back then Steve Jobs’ aura protected them.  “Just hold it differently” he said for the reception problems.  The man could say “we burn Pentiums to the ground one week” and “Intel is the future” the next and not bat an eyelid.   It would be like a devout Catholic denouncing his faith if Apple users didn’t top user satisfaction polls; that is what they signed up for, a religion.

Well, even the Catholic church is trying to face up to sexual abuse cases nowadays.  But Apple seems to be getting worse in reaction times to problems.   The Maverick OS update also shows an even more worrying trend: the tech press is letting them get away with it.   Blame journalist cut backs if you want or shrinking attention spans with us readers.   But it took way too long for the media to figure out there was something seriously wrong.   This could be because Apple devices simply aren’t used in mission critical situations.  While they remain cool gadgets for Apple fans, they also remain irrelevant to the real world.

Which obviously isn’t something any religion would want us to find out now, is it?

Moving the i-Goalposts

In the old days we used to have great flame wars of PC vs Mac.  Back then Apple was going to conquer the desktop.  They never even got close of course.  Everyone talked about Apple machines but bought PCs.  There was always some secret plan, some new technology, a “gamechanger” just around the corner that Apple was about to reveal.  There was firewire (much better than USB!) or other Apple-proprietary flops which remained in the Apple ecosystem or just quietly died out.  Apple fan boys still talk about them.  Apparently the world was wrong to go mainstream with Windows and Intel, “if only they had all picked the better technology” and gone with Apple….

Similar story with iPads.  For the second time in Apple’s history, education would be key.   Schools apparently would fill up with iPads.  The PC is no longer important, check out market share of all devices and iOS is conquering the planet!  Well, no, it didn’t.  iPads are already retreating big time in terms of market share.   Apple’s latest hope, the collaboration with IBM is probably first fanboy fiction which actually has a hope.   But only because of IBM infrastructure and serious technology.

Apple couldn’t support going mainstream.   Much like Facebook struggled to keep up with demand as it growed.   Billions of hits on your servers from all around the world is quite something to handle.   On Apple-only technology it would be impossible.   Since switching to Intel of course, things are much better.   Apple can pretend to be running on Apple hardware, get real software companies to handle the software and actually gradually catch up with Microsoft and Google, SAP, Oracle and all the other serious companies.  They use Oracle and IBM for their data centers since 2010.  In order for Apple to support its own Content Delivery Network they will need to steal a damn lot of specialized engineers, copy or buy the pop count models of Level3/Edgecast/Limelight or buy them out, figure out how iPhone users are different and then lose money big time for several years until they figure out the optimum configuration.

The plateau reached by iPhones is typical in this respect.  While others talk about iOS catching up and iWatches, I watch the total user base numbers.   Only Google can handle the number of Android devices around.  People nag about the Play store but who else could build an infrastructure able to handle the payload?   If Apple made a cheaper iPhone and sold more of them, they would need to outsource even more of their infrastructure.   Sooner or later the myth bubble would burst.   Apple needs to keep up the fantasy of a “different” and “superior” ecosystem.   Have you striving for the “ideal” of living with iPhone, iPad, MacBooks all around you.   And this despite the fact that Apple was never able to build a proper retail channel?

In fact, the greatest news about the Apple-IBM deal is that IBM might force Apple to stop changing adaptors, connectors, file formats and everything else they change all the time!  Because which corporate buyer in their right mind will invest in a company that suddenly stops supporting a device you bought only 2 or 3 years ago?  Steve Jobs might get away with telling consumers to hold their iPhone differently in order to get better reception, but corporate contracts don’t have quite the same patience….   IBM might also provide some much need oomph in terms of Artificial Intelligence through the Watson platform because – let’s face it – Siri has no chance in hell of catching up with Google does it?

The myth of a superior operating system has been maintained by Apple not through real innovation but through acquisitions.   They never spent enough on R&D to come up with real technological breakthroughs.   Steve Jobs was a genius not in “giving the people what they didn’t know they wanted” but in dressing up technologies that already existed.   You can only do that so much though.   So he bought in stuff.   Look at a the list of Apple acquisitions.   When Apple wanted to pretend they were kings of digital video they knew their software was rubbish.  It was written by the same guy who wrote PremierePro, the software they made fun of!  So they bought other companies and gave it away with Final Cut.   Software that used to sell for $10,000 on its own, was suddenly thrown in the suite for free.  As long as you buy in to the Apple fantasy…

I have written before that Tim Cook really is Apple’s only hope.  IBMesque moves will save the company.  But handling their fanboys fanatic approach to everything is slowing them down.

Apple Silli and Google Creepy

I have been accused of being a “Google basher”.  This is rather unfair.  It would be hypocritical to use so many of their products and complain.    Google Now might well be called “Google Creepy”.  It draws on my email, calendar, gps, web searches and many many other bits of information I voluntarily hand over to them everyday.   And it gives me better advice.  It knows what I am really looking for.

Anyway you look at it, when you conduct a web search it is well worth sitting back and thinking about it:  “You have just got relevant information from the sum total of human data available on a vast international network in 0.8 seconds“.  That’s not quite how it says it at the bottom of every Google search, but it sure could boast if it wanted to.  Nothing comes close.

Which of course is why Apple bought Cue.  A desperate effort to get Siri slightly more intelligent by using what little social context you are willing to give it plus access to your mailbox.  Much like Apple’s humbling experience with maps, the point is to buy in some  know how.  Just enough new features for them to talk about at the next iPhone or iOs launch.  Enough to keep the fans happy.  But nowhere near as much substance as Google Now.

What this approach to customization is effectively doing is making it even harder to monitor what Apple and Google are doing with our data.  Like the Hummingbird changes to Google search, they are introducing an even bigger “not provided” category in Google Analytics.  You will not know how visitors got to your website as it is not a simple matter of keywords anymore.  It might be because Google Now algorithmically guessed really well, or it might be influenced by an Ad campaign or it might even be the NSA giving Google instructions to get you to land on a website.   We simply won’t know and there will be no way to reverse engineer it easily either.

So no, I’m not Google bashing.  I am in awe of the company’s ability to walk that fine line.  They persuade us that what they offer is so useful that it really is worth handing over personal data for it.     But Apple?  What exactly are they offering?

Why Apple won’t make an iPhone for the masses

Don’t go looking in the detailed cost breakdowns.  Sure, Apple has plenty of profit margin to shave off the iPhone.  They could sell one for $150 and still make a profit better than most.  But it is not in the market share figures either.   And it isn’t some complicated marketing reason, anything about a premium brand and the Apple aura.  The reason that Apple doesn’t go downmarket in price to attract a greater market share is actually much more simple:

They can’t suppport it.

If you have ever played the Mac vs PC game, there are a few trump cards.  Mac users always (rightly) claim superior design and good looks.  PC users however often ask their graphic designer opponent something closer to home:  “…and what OS does the computer you are doing your company’s accounts run?”  Outside the US and UK the answer is usually Windows.  “What company makes the OS on your medium sized companies’ servers?”   That won’t be Apple either.  In fact I have yet to find any compelling proof that even Apple Inc itself runs any heavy duty work of its own on machines made by Apple.  (If you have evidence to the contrary, please drop a comment at the end of this article.)

Apple’s famous ecosystem doesn’t run on Apple servers.  While Google leads the planet in data center design and software economies, while they pioneer efficient energy usage and blazing speed in every transaction, Apple is very very far behind.  And then some.   This is a company that couldn’t even support it’s own emailing system properly, not even for die hard fans was it good enough.  Apple buys capacity from others.  This is a company that basically rebrands other people’s technology, they have no idea how to design a system as elegant in it’s massive scale as Amazon’s server infrastructure.  Others are breaking new groung in improving databases and every aspect of computer transactions while Apple plays around buying patents and suing.

So how exactly would Apple support us if the entire planet started using iPhones and iPads?  While they are all just playing games and – literally – twiddling their thumbs on their touch screens, things hold up.  If they all started looking for serious infrastructure support, if they started actually trying to work online concurrently, the system would crash and the lawsuits would start.  Apple would have to announce a partnership with someone like Google or Amazon to scale up quickly.

We can all find bones to pick with Microsoft but this is a company that has made sure that roughly 90% of the planet’s personal computers and a lot of its servers actually work and exchange software, files and information for the past two decades pretty well.  I can take the accounting software I used on MS Dos, stick it in the latest PC off the shelf and run it.  It will even support an amazing selection of the planet’s hardware and accessories.

So don’t hold your breath.  If Apple wants to take market share, I look forward to hearing about it’s robust infrastructure first.  Doing business in regions where most people won’t actually use anything “smart” online on their smartphoen doesn’t cut it.  Unless Tim Cook just goes ahead anyway and admits it:  “we don’t make the fastest or safest browser, we don’t even control Apple computer hardware ourselves really, heck, we in fact we outsource all our infrastructure.  Get a life!  Apple isn’t about superior technology, it is about the user experience.”

Here is exactly what Tim Cook needs to do with Apple: turn it into IBM!

The thing about us consultants is that we give advice even when nobody asked for it.    The world’s biggest company surely doesn’t need my help.   Even more so since I have historically and openly criticized it at every corner.   But, like my friends always say, I probably have a secret wish to one day buy an iPhone.   So here is my best shot at how this might come to pass:

1. I loved IBM laptops.  In this blog I wrote an almost erotic in intensity elegy.  I still check out the odd Lenovo I see somewhere to see if that keyboard has the old IBM magic, the design details.

2. Tim Cook is essentially an IBM person at heart.  12 pretty important years in his personal development made him so.   IBMers are a breed apart, the corporate ethos was much more intense than Apple those days.

3. IBM hardware was always top quality and slightly more expensive.   You could usually pay 20-30% more for a machine with similar specs.   Remind you of someone?

4. IBM always made conservative decisions about specifications, I/O, software and other components.   Which meant that you have a much better chance to still be relying on the machine even a decade later.  Which justifies the price difference retrospectively many times over.

…and therein is the difference.   I tried to revive an IBM laptop and a top of the range Apple desktop of about the same era.   Started up the IBM, pressed F2, it came back to Windows XP factory settings.  Left it online to update itself and it is ready almost anything.   The Mac impressed my kids more with its massive monitor and fancy hardware.    “We want to play with the one with the Apple!” they chanted as I struggled to prepare it for use at their school.   To no avail.  Getting OS9 to do anything (especially online) requires almost root level hacking skills.   Meanwhile the ΙΒΜ was playing all their latest Flash game favories, YouTube videos, and I could even load up some ancient DOS games I found lying around back from my gaming days twenty years ago.

Anecdotes aside, here is the point:   there will always be a need for high quality hardware.  Even more so if it is matched with great design.   Even more so if it has a tidy ecosystem to make it easier to use.   This does not however require stone walls and proprietary tricks.   We don’t want Apple to invent a new connector for our monitors, much less so for our mobile phones.   We are willing to pay Apple to produce 20-30% more expensive hardware because they have put more effort in its design and quality.   In its ease of use.   In good marketing, which means getting the right people using the platform; it benefits everyone on the platform after all when this happens.

Apple is doing none of this right now.   But Tim Cook has a seriοus personal – leadership problem.   He can’t get people to forget the (inevitable) mistakes he makes like Steve Jobs did.   No glossing over.   He talks simply.   No magic involved.   So why doesn’t he take Apple towards the good old hardworking IBM ways he broke his teeth on?   If he doesn’t, Samsung will.   And I will still prove my friends wrong for another decade by not buying an iPhone for another ten years…

Apple won’t sue Google and Cook is a better manager than Jobs. Which is bad.

Of course Apple won’t sue Google!   Getting a positive verdict when fighting a foreign company in a US court is one thing.   Going up against Google is quite another.  Even without the closet of Motorola patents, Google wouldn’t lose.   It would be like going up against the water utility company; they just leave you to die of thirst while you wait for the verdict.   And even if you win, you will always worry what they might put in your water…

And Tim Cook, unlike Steve Jobs, is a good manager.   He doesn’t take chances like that.   He doesn’t believe in hocus pocus quack medicine.  He has made Apple a much more “normal” company.   After almost two decades of irrationality, he finally gave out dividends.   He actually talks to investors.   After a decade of forcing slave labor in China he finally decided to look like he is doing something about it.    Employees in the US no longer live with the fear of a Jobs’ attack on them; they actually have time to drink coffee now.

There is more formal organisational structure; without Jobs, other people actually get some real responsibilities.   Around 53% of the employees who reference “MBA” on their Linked in profile have been at Apple (non retail)  less than 22 months.  After a lifetime of closed garden design …hey, OK, he can’t change everything all at once!   There might be a few chinks in the armour but it is still a secretive company.  Only problem is, we are less and less interested in their secrets anymore.

Apple is based on the wow factor.   Tim Cook will make the best of disappointments like the iPhone 4s.   The company will of course not remain as succesful as it has been in the past years.   But it will not fall down all of a sudden.   He is milking the brand carefully.   But making it a “normal” company is obviously a very…unApple thing to do.   Normal companies don’t perform like Apple did under Jobs.

So don’t hold your breath.   Some people say “let’s wait and see the new product launches before we decide”.   I don’t think you need to wait for anything.   It won’t be a spectacular success.   And it won’t be a spectacular failure either.

Normal.   Heck, they might even start giving away more than 1$ a year to charity…