Business Technology

Apple doesn’t break the rules; it doesn’t have any!

What is Apple’s mission statement?

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

Seriously.  Not kidding, it is from the Apple website under “Investor Relations”.   If I had written a mission statement like that, even at that project at the end of Year 1 of business studies they would have failed me.    Even the other gem, hidden in the same section isn’t much better:

Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings.

Yeah right.   That defies all rules of mission statement making.   Pretty sure nobody in the company even knows it.   Apple’s mission statement was probably more like:

We all do whatever is cool and seems to please the Allmighty Steve Jobs.   He always knows best, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense; he will make it work sooner or later.

Forget social responsibility (no charity, iKill workers abroad) it is all about profit maximisation.   And now that Jobs is gone a few shareholders are daring to ask whether they might actually have a share of the monumental cash pile at last.    You can only pretend to be emotionally impaired by those times aeons ago when you were cash strapped and even borrowed from Microsoft.    Apple is one of the richest companies in the world.   More than 100 billion in the bank just sitting there for what?   And they don’t even pretend to have some masterplan!

Forget increasing market share.   They could easily drop prices, increase product range or just buy a few companies and give away something of value like Google does.   Buy Adobe, give away Photoshop or something.   (More or less what they did with the digital video market which they then almost abandoned.)  But no, the ghost of Jobs walks the sleek halls of Apple still.   They still shamelessly do everything they can to maximise profit.   Nothing else.   After all, if everyone has a Mac how could they urge you to “Think Different”?

But that is no mission statement either.   To cater to weird designer type people and make them feel special.   I made that up but it would still be more accurate than what they have now.    So Macs are stuck at much less than 10% market share globally and iPhones not much more than that, 25% globally for the optimists.   Depending on your mood you can do statistical hoopjumping to consider iPads a threat to the global status quo or not.  To force other technology companies to produce cooler gadgets than the geeky stuff they did so far.   That would show some awareness, some commitment to helping the planet in some way.   It would give us an idea where it might be heading and all that stuff we learnt about missions statements.   We all thought it was really necessary for a well functioning company…

Sorry to be the party pooper but this doesn’t make sense.   What is the point of this company again?   And without a magician to tell us that the emperor is not naked, how will it pull off any future tricks?


Bernulli, calculus and copyright protection

In what was probably an early example of distance learning, the rich French military man Guillaume François Antoine, hired Johan Bernulli to mentor him.   There was even a written agreement but much of the teaching happened through regular mail.   The  Marquis de l’Hôpital sent questions, Bernulli sent answers.  All went well.   Even when the student published a book based on these letters as his own.

“Infinitesimal calculus with applications to curved lines” is such a useful book even now, that nobody really focuses on the fact that it was plagiarism at its worse.   He hadn’t informed Bernulli and didn’t even directly mention him at all in the book other than a vague sentence about “this work is of course based on a lot of fine thinking before me and has been influenced by thinkers before me and contemporary to me”.   It is irrelevant to a large degree because it is simply the material in a different form, that of a useful compendium textbook on infinitesimal calculus.

There are a number of interesting facets to this story in view of ACTA, SOPA and all the modern copyright wars.   (By the way, why is Business Software Alliance keeping such a low profile as the world rages against ACTA?  ; ) One is that the book initially appeared anonymously.   Possibly so that the marquis could evaluate its success before claiming it.   The other was that Bernulli didn’t react at first.   As the years past and the book became a reference point he increased his complaints though!   Up until recently, even prominent mathematical historians like Struik wrote: “By 1696 the first textbook on calculus appeared, the Analyse des infiniment petits,written by the Marquis de l’Hospital under the strong influence of Johann Bernoulli, who for a while had tutored him.”  The same person who described it as a “strong influence” later fumed “Let the good Marquis keep his elegant rule; he paid for it.”

Rather old school copyright thinking, eh?


Mac vs PC: is anyone ever going to run proper benchmarks again?

OK, it is a sign of age.   Do you remember back when people actually tested computers for their performance?   I especially fondly remember Charlie White’s heroic efforts.   He is now high up the Mashable food chain and doesn’t “attack” Macs anymore…. heck he writes about them like everyone else.   But who does actually give Apple machines an honest run for their money?   I’m not talking about their business practices, whether they do any charitable donations (they don’t) or kill loads of people in their factories without any serious signs of caring or doing much about it.   This is a techie question, not a social responsibility sermon.

It is a well established (statistically, theoretically, practically and well…obviously!) that Apple has journalists wrapped around its finger.   It’s i-finger or i-whatever it does.   It gets more coverage for free, more positive coverage and more simply adoring coverage than anyone else.   It gets in more movies than anyone else.   And it doesn’t pay for it.   They are marketing demi-gods.   The only recent mac vs pc test I could find ends up almost equating the two solutions even though the Mac is $450 more expensive!    (To be fair they end the comparison like this: “So, if you love Macs, stay put. For everyone else, the choice is simple: Save your money and buy a PC. It’ll get the job done.” )

But wait a minute.   These are, for the most part, tools.   Not gadgets but machines we use to get a job done.   Sure most of the iPad lot are just scrolling up and down aimlessly and playing Angry Birds.   But for every 100 PCs out there, at least half are for actually producing something.   In a finite Universe with finite time.   We should care how quickly it gets done.   If you are crunching numbers, running a business, serving a customer, these things matter.   Which is why you don’t see Macs in mission critical environments.   They are not only more expensive; some businesses would pay for the style.   They are also slower.

I will gloss over the pro Apple arguments.   About a sleeker interface, myths about it being more stable or more safe none of which apply for many years now and especially since Windows 7.  I am talking about performance.   You use Photoshop?   You should care if it takes forever to load an image, or twice as long to execute a plugin effect as an equally priced PC.   You spend all day doing it.   You could be gaining valuable hours of free time.   There are good business reasons why Apples are slower.   Not just because Apple spends all day figuring out how to sell phones, not PCs anymore.   Even seemingly secondary things like hybrid HDD drives have good Windows drivers months or years before they have any compatibility with Macs.   It’s simply not worth the time of any manufacturer to bother doing any research for a company like Apple with such a small hold on worldwide PC sales.   And on top of that, Apple doesn’t make any partner’s life easy of course…

Back then, even with huge, proven differences in performance of common tasks, Mac fanatics simply refused to change.   Even when they finally conceded that they were slower, much slower, they came back with “yeah, but PCs are ugly“!

What’s your excuse?

Communication Society

The painless way to disappear and reappear on Facebook at will

After much ballyhoo in the past, Facebook made it easy to deactivate your account….and reactivate it!   In fact when deactivating one of the choices in the multiple available is “This is temporary.  I’ll be back.”   It is so easy and fast that you could well use it instead of logging out.   There is a very minor delay when logging in as Facebook informs you that “we are reactivating your account” and then everything you had is just where you left it.  Too easy.   If you are worried about what is “happening on Facebook” while you are on holiday, just deactivate instead of logging out before you leave to go somewhere offline, even if it is for a few hours!

Oh.   So in fact the account is never deleted.   Much like photos you upload which are always available throught their direct link.   Which is why Facebook says “deactivate” instead of delete.  All they are doing is adding a tag in their database not to show stuff you own.   Well what if everyone deactivated their accounts instead of logging off everytime?   It would be like an optical illusion as comments would disappear from threads of conversations, rendering them meaningless.   You would know when someone is online because they will all reappear.   You would have 6 friends (awake – logged in) at 4am and 150 by lunchtime.

Interfaces are in fact well suited to analogies with biology.   With such an enormous number of users they adapt or die.   Facebook is sure to make it harder to deactivate your account.   They will introduce an artificial delay to reactivating or add some hoops when you try to deactivate.   Otherwise we will all be confusing privacy advocates by deactivating every time like me.