kottke.org posts about Apple
In a short video and accompanying article, David Pogue profiles a little known but highly useful iOS feature called VoiceOver, which helps visually impaired people do anything and everything on their iPhones.
A few years ago, backstage at a conference, I spotted a blind woman using her phone. The phone was speaking everything her finger touched on the screen, allowing her to tear through her apps. My jaw hit the floor. After years of practice, she had cranked the voice’s speed so high, I couldn’t understand a word it was saying.
And here’s the kicker: She could do all of this with the screen turned off. Her phone’s battery lasted forever.
It’s possible that people using VoiceOver to control their phones are more efficient at many tasks than those who use the default interface.
This was very cool: “If I’m in my office and put my headphones on, I’m hearing the phone call and I’m hearing what VoiceOver is saying, all through the headphones. But the person on the other end cannot hear any of the VoiceOver stuff. You don’t know what I’m reading, what I’m doing. I can do all these complicated things without you hearing it. That’s what’s really incredible. If you and I were working together on a three-way call, and you were to text me, ‘Let’s wrap this up’ or ‘Don’t bring that up on this call’-I would know, but the other guy wouldn’t hear it.
Joe showed me how he takes photos. As he holds up the iPhone, VoiceOver tells him what he’s seeing: “One face. Centered. Focus lock,” and so on. Later, as he’s reviewing his photos in the Camera Roll, VoiceOver once again tells him what he’s looking at: “One face; slightly blurry.”
See also how blind people use Instagram and iPhone: a revolutionary device for the blind.
In the Atlantic, Ian Bogost takes on the accepted view that Apple has great design, calling it “the biggest myth in technology today”.
At base, such a claim seems preposterous. In 1977, the Apple II made the microcomputer useful and affordable. In 1984, the Macintosh made the computer more usable by the everyperson thanks to the graphical user interface. In 2001, the iPod fit a music library in a pocket. In 2007, the iPhone made computing portable (and obsessive).
But if Apple designs at its best when attending closely to details like those revealed in the construction of its spaceship headquarters, then presumably the details of its products would stand out as worthy precedents. Yet, when this premise is tested, it comes up wanting. In truth, Apple’s products hide a shambles of bad design under the perfection of sleek exteriors.
While I find this piece to be hyperbolic, it hints at where Apple’s design is weakest. Apple is great at designing products but less good at designing the connections between these products and the rest of the world.1 iPhones, iPods, and iPads are great, but you have to go through iTunes to manage their contents. As Bogost notes, the power cords and chargers for their products are often bulky and awkward…you can’t even charge the newest iPhone using the newest Macbook Pro without a separate adapter. Who makes all the apps that people want to use on their iPhones to chat/connect/flirt/collaborate with their loved ones? Facebook, Snap, Google, Slack…not Apple, who initially wasn’t even going to provide a way for 3rd parties to build apps for the iPhone. Almost every attempt by Apple to build services to connect people — remember Ping?! — has failed. Even iCloud, which promised to unite all Apple devices into one fluid ecosystem, was plagued for years with reliability problems and still isn’t as good as Dropbox. How devices, apps, and people interconnect are far more important now than in 1977, 1984, and even 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, and Apple could stand to focus more of their design energy on that experience.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the iPhone.
In the ten years since, iPhone has enriched the lives of people around the world with over one billion units sold. It quickly grew into a revolutionary platform for hardware, software and services integration, and inspired new products, including iPad and Apple Watch, along with millions of apps that have become essential to people’s daily lives.
You can watch Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone during the MacWorld 2007 keynote in the video above; it’s one of the best technology demos ever. Here’s my liveblog of the keynote, my thoughts from a couple of days later, and my review after getting an iPhone in June. (I also constructed a cardboard version of the phone to see how the size compared to my then-current mobile phone.)
I guess we know why iPod development has seemed a little sluggish lately. When the Zune came out two months ago, it was thought that maybe Apple was falling behind, coasting on the fumes of an aging product line, and not innovating in the portable music player space anymore. I think the iPhone puts this discussion on the back burner for now. And the Zune? The supposed iPod-killer’s bullet ricocheted off of the iPhone’s smooth buttonless interface and is heading back in the wrong direction. Rest in peace, my gentle brown friend.
It’s difficult to overstate the impact of the iPhone on the world. In just 10 short years, smartphones have completely and irreversibly changed how a large part of humanity communicates and is quickly changing how the rest will. And that all started with the iPhone. As I noted at the time, you could see a product like this coming but Apple put it all together in a way that became the blueprint, for better and for worse, for every device and mobile application that followed. Not bad for a computer that didn’t have copy/paste when it launched.
Amazon Go grocery stores will let you walk in by swiping an app, grab whatever you need, and just walk right out the door again.
Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.
I guess that makes these self-shopping stores? Lame jokes aside, this is a pretty cool idea. Not entirely revolutionary though…Apple’s EasyPay service has allowed shoppers to self-checkout with the Apple Store app since 2011. I used the self-checkout at an Apple Store once and it felt *really* weird, like I was shoplifting. New commercial transactions are always tricky. Things like one-click ordering, contactless payments (e.g. Apple Pay), and Uber-style payments feel strange at first, but you get used to them after awhile. Something like Square’s odd “put it on Jack” system — where instead of swiping a card or scanning a QR code on an app, you need to negotiate with a person about who you are — don’t catch on. It’ll be interesting to see where something like Amazon Go falls on that spectrum.
Update: This is an IBM commercial from the 90s that showed Just Walk Out shopping.
A new commercial from Apple pairs photos & videos shot on iPhone 6 with a poem from Maya Angelou called Human Family.
We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
You can hear Angelou recite the entire poem here:
Alex Ronan interviewed legendary designer Susan Kare for Lenny. Cross-stitch prepared her for designing pixel icons and fonts for the Mac:
Also, I did have limited experience designing for grids from working on craft projects such as tiled ashtrays and cross-stitch embroidery kits.
Tech investor Fred Wilson recently gave the commencement address for the very first graduating class at the Academy For Software Engineering. In it, he shared the secret to his success:
So with that, I am here to tell you that the secret to success in your career comes down to three things, take risks, work hard, and get lucky.
I essentially1 agree with Wilson here. Earlier today I was listening to the latest episode of the Recode Media podcast where Peter Kafka’s guest was Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. Gruber recounted how he got started blogging about Apple and eventually turned it into a very successful business. I’ve heard the story before and it conforms nicely to Wilson’s path to success.
1. Take risks. Gruber bet heavily on three things for Daring Fireball: Apple, blogs, and (later) podcasts. None looked that impressive from a business standpoint when his bets were made. In 2002 when he started writing DF, Apple was still an underdog computer company whose partisans had mostly stuck with the company through its lean years of offering products that weren’t competing well and which didn’t exemplify the ideals of the Apple of yore. The iPod had just come out a year earlier and the life- industry- company-changing iPhone was years in the future. But Gruber never viewed Apple as an underdog…to him it was a legendary company in the world poised for future greatness. Professional blogs were just starting to be a thing back then as well, and it was far from certain that you might be able to earn even a partial living from them, especially on your own. And when he started his Talk Show podcast in 2007, podcasting was still largely a hobbyist endeavor. Sure, you could make some money doing it, but 9 years on, there’s big money to be had for the most popular shows. Three risky bets that paid off.
2. Work hard. Tens of thousands of posts and hundreds of hours of podcasts over the past 13+ years, yeah, I think that covers it. Gruber has put in the necessary ass-in-chair time.
3. Get lucky. There’s a lot of luck sprinkled around the success of DF, but perhaps the biggest break Gruber got was Apple’s decision to open up the iOS App Store to outside developers. Suddenly, you had all of these developers, startups, established software companies, and venture capitalists pouring money into the development and promotion of iOS apps. So these companies had money and needed somewhere to advertise their apps, a place where they could be sure all of the most influential and rabid Apple aficionados would see their message. Daring Fireball was the obvious place and the site’s RSS sponsorships were the perfect format.
Gary Hustwit, director of Helvetica and Objectified, is directing a movie on legendary product designer Dieter Rams. Here’s the Kickstarter campaign.
This Kickstarter campaign will fund the film and also help to preserve Dieter’s incredible design archive for the future. There’s a trove of drawings, photographs, and other material spanning Dieter’s fifty plus years of work, and it needs to be properly conserved.
To that end, we’re working with the Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation to help them catalog, digitize, and save these documents. The public has never seen most of this material, and we intend to share some of these discoveries with our backers during the process of making the film.
Rams’ designs have influenced an entire generation of designers, including one Jony Ive from a small company called Apple.
Just learned/realized that the old logos for Reebok, Apple, and Trapper Keeper all use the same typeface, Motter Tektura.
Apple turns 40 years old next week on April 1. To celebrate in their typical “don’t dwell on the past but whoa look at all the cool stuff we’ve done” fashion, Apple debuted a 40-second commercial at an event earlier this week featuring 40 significant things from the company’s history. Stephen Hackett annotated each of things in the video.
April 1, 1976: Apple Computer, Inc. is founded.
The Happy Mac used to greet you as your machine booted up. It got replaced way back in 2002.
iMac: The computer that saved Apple.
The iPod mini made music fashionable and the iPod nano made it colorful.
Multi-Touch: If you see a stylus, they blew it!
Touch ID: Unlock your device with just your fingerprint.
Hackett also notes only a handful of products from the non-Jobs era Apple are featured. (via df)
Update: Former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée wrote about Apple’s 40th. I liked these two paragraphs:
Apple 2.0 began in late 1996 when Jobs managed what turned out to be a reverse acquisition of Apple. We owe much gratitude to then-CEO Gil Amelio who unwittingly saved the company hiring Steve to “advise” him. Jobs’ advice? Show Amelio the door and install himself as “interim” CEO. Jobs then made an historic deal with Bill Gates which gave him time to let his team of NeXT engineers completely rebuild the Mac OS on a modern Unix foundation. Steve also rummaged through the company and found Jony Ive who gave us the colorful iMacs, the first of a series of admired designs.
What followed is recognized as the most striking turnaround story in any industry, one that has been misunderstood and pronounced as doomed at almost every turn. The list of Jobs’ “mistakes” includes killing the Macintosh clone program by canceling Mac OS licenses; getting rid of floppies and, later, CD/DVD-ROMs (mostly); entering the crowded MP3 player field; introducing iTunes and the micropayment system; the overpriced, underpowered $500 iPhone; the stylus-free iPad (ahem)…
Update: To mark the anniversary, Apple flew a pirate flag over their headquarters in honor of the original Macintosh team.
The building looked pretty much like every other Apple building, so we wanted to do something to make it look like we belonged there. Steve Capps, the heroic programmer who had switched over from the Lisa team just in time for the January retreat, had a flash of inspiration: if the Mac team was a band of pirates, the building should fly a pirate flag.
A few days before we moved into the new building, Capps bought some black cloth and sewed it into a flag. He asked Susan Kare to paint a big skull and crossbones in white at the center. The final touch was the requisite eye-patch, rendered by a large, rainbow-colored Apple logo decal. We wanted to have the flag flying over the building early Monday morning, the first day of occupancy, so the plan was to install it late Sunday evening.
Dwell has a short feature on Tekserve, a beloved Manhattan technology store and Apple service shop.
But think about that: you can walk in, take a ticket (like at the deli counter), and then talk to a live person, someone knowledgeable who will give you diagnostics right on the spot and provide you with options. We have a 30-year history of working with the Apple community, so we really know our stuff. Our community trusts us-that’s why we maintain an 80 percent repeat customer rate.
In November, after many stubborn months of using my Macbook Air as a desk-bound device because the battery was so bad that accidentally kicking out the power cord would shut the whole thing down,1 I took it in to Tekserve. I’d somehow never been there before, even though friends had raved about it. The store immediately reminded me of the computer stores of my youth, when you could actually tinker with the guts of these machines. Today’s technology shops, like the Apple Store, are so antiseptic that you barely even think about how the computers work, which I guess is part of the appeal for both company and patron.
Anyway, I took my laptop in there around midday on a Thursday, they quoted me a lower-than-I-expected price for the battery replacement, and told me it’d probably be read by the end of Friday or possibly, if they were super busy, by first thing Monday. I got an email about 3 hours later saying it was ready. Great service. If you need service on your Apple products — they are an “authorized Apple Premiere Partner” which means they honor warranties, AppleCare, etc. — you should definitely check Tekserve out.
In 1997, shortly after Apple’s purchase of NeXT, Steve Jobs took the stage at Apple’s annual developer conference to answer questions from the audience for at least 50 minutes. It was a different time for sure. Apple was reeling, Jobs had just returned as an advisor and then interim CEO, his last company, NeXT, had not succeeded on its own, and the iPod & Apple Stores were years off.
When he arrived at Apple after the NeXT acquisition, Jobs moved swiftly to pare down the number of projects that the company was working on. In this first video, Jobs responds to a question about Apple killing a promising technology called OpenDoc.
Jobs talks about how “focus means saying ‘no’” and how Apple’s loss of focus has made the company less than the sum of its parts and not more. Even at this early stage in Apple’s comeback, you can see the seeds of how it was going to happen.
In the second video, a later questioner tells Jobs “it’s sad and clear that on several accounts you’ve discussed, you don’t know what you’re talking about”, asks him to comment on OpenDoc again, and also tell the audience what “he’s personally been doing for the last seven years”, a reference to his answer to the earlier question in the video above and the failure of NeXT.
Instead of laying into the guy, as a caricature of Steve Jobs might, he responds thoughtfully and almost humbly about how Apple needs to focus on its “larger, cohesive vision” of selling products to people, starting with customer experience rather than technology, and most importantly, making decisions.
Of course, in hindsight, it is obvious how overwhelmingly right Jobs was in his assertions. Since then, Apple has focused relentlessly on what worked and has succeeded brilliantly, beyond anything anyone, save perhaps Jobs, would have ever imagined. I wonder what that cheeky engineer is up to now? (via alphr)
(Also, can we talk about the patches on Jobs’ jeans? That’s not a fashion thing, right? Like, those aren’t $450 jeans made to look worn out. To me, those are obviously Steve’s favorite pair of jeans — probably Levi’s, I can’t tell for sure — patched up because he wants to keep wearing them. No one in technology has been picked apart like Steve Jobs by people looking for clues to who he was as a person and how that informed his business activities.1 Was he an asshole? Was he an artist? Was he just all smoke and mirrors? If we can stoop to the level of assessing a man’s character by the clothes he wears, it seems to me that whatever else he did, Jobs was at once pragmatic and dreamy when it came to products, to objects. What a potent combination that turned out to be.)
Update: The man who takes a swipe at Jobs in the later video was possibly identified on Quora last year by an anonymous person who said they worked on the WWDC event and spoke to the man in question.
The audience member is named Robert Hamisch. Mr. Hamisch was a consultant at a security firm in the 1990’s that did consultant services for Sun Microsystems (their billing and payroll department) for a short period of time. As far as I know, he left the company (the consulting firm, he never worked for Sun directly) and has since retired. He attended the 1997 WWDC sponsored by his security consulting firm, although never had any stake in Sun Microsystems as a whole besides general system security for their billing and payroll department. I don’t know why he specifically asked about Java, but he may have just been frustrated with Jobs and his performance as a whole.
A short web search turned up no information on Hamisch. (thx, charles)
Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura took cultural historian Erica Robles-Anderson to the Soho Apple store. Robles-Anderson recently studied the use of technology in churches and Laskow wanted to know: are Apple stores the new temples?
“People have used technology for a long time to speak to the gods,” she says — to create collective experiences of the sublime.
These days, technology is more often talked about as a way to create personalized, individual experiences, but Robles-Anderson thinks that’s only part of the story. Communal ritual is always a part of technology: Early computers came into group spaces, like families and offices. (Mad Men understood this dynamic: the computer as an event weathered together.) Powerpoint presentations gather people to look at giant screens. Even using an iPhone to tune out the human beings around you requires being part of a larger group.
And Apple, more than any other technology company, has been able to access both these experiences, the individual and the collective. “They feel iconic, like an emblem of the personal,” says Robles-Anderson. “And yet it’s a cult. Right? It’s so obviously a cult.”
The architecture of the stores contributes to the sacred feeling of cult membership.
“The oversized doors are fantastic,” says Robles-Anderson. “There’s no reason for them.” They’re there only to communicate that this place is important. Also, they’re heavy, like church doors, to give purpose and portent to the entry into the space.
We walk inside. It’s light and bright, and immediately in front of us, a wide staircase of opaque glass sweeps up to the second floor.
This is an old, old trick. “It’s used in ziggurats, even,” Robles-Anderson says. “It creates a space that emphasizes your smallness when you walk in. You look at something far away, and that makes your body feel like you’re entering somewhere sacred or holy.”
From 1957, this is a drawing of the synergistic strategy of Walt Disney Productions, or what Todd Zenger of Harvard Business Review calls “a corporate theory of sustained growth”.
The boxes on the chart have changed, but since the appointment of Bob Iger as CEO, Disney has seemingly doubled down on Walt’s old strategy with their increased focus on franchises.
Disney’s dominance can be boiled down very simply to one word: franchises. Or rather, an “incessant focus on franchises” in the words of former Disney CFO Jay Rasulo.
“Everything we do is about brands and franchises,” Rasulo told a group of financial analysts last September. “Ten years ago we were more like other media companies, more broad-based, big movie slate, 20 something pictures, some franchise, some not franchise. If you look at our slate strategy now, our television strategy, almost every aspect of the company, we are oriented around brands and franchises.”
Franchises are well suited to extend across multiple parts of a big business like Disney, particularly because it’s a repeating virtuous cycle: movies drive merchandise sales and theme park visits, which in turn drives interest for sequels and spin-offs, rinse, repeat, reboot.
I wonder if more tech companies could be using this strategy more effectively. Apple does pretty well; their various hardware (iPhone, iPad, Mac), software (iOS, OS X), and services (iCloud, App Store, iTunes Store) work together effectively. Microsoft rode Office & Windows for quite awhile. Google seems a bit more all over the place — for instance, it’s unclear how their self-driving car helps their search business and Google+ largely failed to connect various offerings. Facebook seems to be headed in the right direction. Twitter? Not so much, but we’ll see how they do with new leadership. Or old leadership…I discovered Walt’s chart via interim Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
On Vox, Phil Edwards has a feature on Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri, and how the art of voiceover is changing in the digital world.
Siri needs to be able to say just about everything in the English language, and that took a lot of hard work.
“I recorded four hours a day, five days a week for the month of July,” Bennett says. For a voice actor, that workload causes a lot of strain. “That’s a long time to be talking constantly. Consequently, you get tired.”
The original Siri “was to sound otherworldly and have a dry sense of humor,” Bennett says. She added that to her take on the character, even as she focused on staying consistent and clear.
Lonnie Mimms has a gigantic collection of vintage computers, software, and peripherals. You don’t realize the scope of the collection until you see him walking around the Apple pop-up exhibit he built inside of an abandoned CompUSA.
Marco Arment writes about how the Activity circles on his Apple Watch have made him more active.
I’m traveling this weekend, and I’ve been doing something I’ve never done: I’ve been using the hotel’s gym. Any Apple Watch owners can probably guess why: I have a good run going on my daily Activity circles, and I want to keep it going.
Ever since getting the Apple Watch, not only have I been getting more consistent exercise, but I’m pushing myself further. I take more walks, and I walk faster and further than ever before. I’ve been walking Hops around the same streets for four years, but now I’ve been discovering new streets and paths just to extend our walking distance and try to beat my previous walks.
Reading this and looking at the chart of his completed Activity circles reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.
Apple Watch: Don’t Break the Chain.
The full story is behind a paywall,1 but the WSJ’s The Inside Story of How the iPhone Crippled BlackBerry is kind of amazing. The piece is an excerpt from Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry.
The next day Mr. Lazaridis grabbed his co-CEO Jim Balsillie at the office and pulled him in front of a computer.
“Jim, I want you to watch this,” he said, pointing to a webcast of the iPhone unveiling. “They put a full Web browser on that thing. The carriers aren’t letting us put a full browser on our products.”
Mr. Balsillie’s first thought was RIM was losing AT&T as a customer. “Apple’s got a better deal,” Mr. Balsillie said. “We were never allowed that. The U.S. market is going to be tougher.”
“These guys are really, really good,” Mr. Lazaridis replied. “This is different.”
“It’s OK — we’ll be fine,” Mr. Balsillie responded.
RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months. “It wasn’t a threat to RIM’s core business,” says Mr. Lazaridis’s top lieutenant, Larry Conlee. “It wasn’t secure. It had rapid battery drain and a lousy [digital] keyboard.”
“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”
“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”
“RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months.”
Oof. (via @craigmod)
Since iOS 7 came out in 2013, your iPhone’s Location Services has included a little-known feature called Frequent Locations, which keeps very detailed track of every distinct location you visit. How detailed? This, precisely, was when I was in my apartment over a three-day period last month:
All told, my phone recorded all 33 different locations I’ve visited in NYC since April 15, including 84 visits to my apartment and 54 visits to my office, down to the minute and a ~130-foot radius. The feature is on by default if you’ve got Location Services switched on, so you can find your information by opening the Settings app and going to Privacy > Location Services > System Services (at the bottom) > Frequent Locations. You can also turn the feature off if you wish.
Apple says the feature is used to learn your favorite places and the data is kept only on the phone:
Your iPhone will keep track of places you have recently been, as well as how often and when you visited them, in order to learn places that are significant to you. This data is kept solely on your device and won’t be sent to Apple without your consent. It will be used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing.
It’s likely that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and the NSA (until recently) are collecting this same sort of data about you regardless of what sort of phone you use, except that these organizations do not share Apple’s public commitment to privacy. (via @dunstan)
If you’ve bought a ticket to an event in the past, oh, 15-20 years, chances are you got it from Ticketmaster. Chances are also pretty good that you think Ticketmaster completely sucks, mostly because of the unavoidable and exorbitant convenience fee they charge. And that probably has you wondering: if everyone who uses the service hates Ticketmaster so much, how are they still in business? Because ticket buyers are not Ticketmaster’s customers. Artists and venues are Ticketmaster’s real customers and they provide plenty of value to them.
Ticketmaster sells more tickets than anybody else and they’re the biggest company in the ticket selling game. That gives them certain financial resources that smaller companies don’t have. TM has used this to their advantage by moving the industry toward very aggressive ticketing deals between ticketing companies and their venue clients. This comes in the form of giving more of the service charge per ticket back to the venue (rebates), and in cash to the venue in the form of a signing bonus or advance against future rebates. Venues are businesses too and, thus, they like “free” money in general (signing bonuses), as well as money now (advances) versus the same money later (rebates).
Read that whole Quora answer again…there’s nothing in there about TM being helpful for ticket buyers. It turns out asking “who’s the customer?” is a great way of thinking about when certain companies or industries do things that aren’t aligned with good customer service or user experience.1
Take Apple and Google for instance. Apple sells software and hardware directly to people; that’s where the majority of their revenue comes from. Apple’s customers are the people who use Apple products. Google gets most of their revenue from putting advertising into the products & services they provide. The people who use Google’s products and services are not Google’s customers, the advertisers are Google’s customers. Google does a better job than Ticketmaster at providing a good user experience, but the dissonance that results between who’s paying and who’s using gets the company in trouble sometimes. See also Facebook and Twitter, among many others.
Newspapers, magazines, and television networks have dealt with this same issue for decades now.2 They derive large portions of their revenue from advertisers and, in the case of the TV networks, from the cable companies who pay to carry their channels. That results in all sorts of user hostile behavior, from hiding a magazine’s table of contents in 20 pages of ads to shrieking online advertising to commercials that are louder than the shows to clunky product placement to trimming scenes from syndicated shows to cram in more commercials. From ABC to Vogue to the New York Times, you’re not the customer and it shows.
This might be off-topic (or else the best example of all), but “who’s the customer?” got me thinking about who the customers of large public corporations really are: shareholders and potential shareholders. The accepted wisdom of maximizing shareholder value has become an almost moral imperative for large corporations. The needs of their customers, employees, the environment, and the communities in which they’re located often take a backseat to keeping happy the big investment banks, mutual funds, and hedge funds who buy their stock. When providing good customer service and experience is viewed by companies as opposite to maximizing shareholder value, that’s a big problem for consumers.
Update: I somehow neglected to include the pithy business saying “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”, which originated in a slightly different phrasing on MetaFilter.
Update: One example of how maximizing shareholder value can work against good customer service comes from a paper by a trio of economists. In it, they argue that co-ownership of two or more airlines by the same investor results in higher prices.
In a new paper, Azar and co-authors Martin C. Schmalz and Isabel Tecu have uncovered a smoking gun. To test the hypothesis that institutional investors gain market power that results in higher prices, they examine airline routes. Although we think of airlines as independent companies, they are actually mostly owned by a small group of institutional investors. For example, United’s top five shareholders — all institutional investors — own 49.5 percent of the firm. Most of United’s largest shareholders also are the largest shareholders of Southwest, Delta, and other airlines. The authors show that airline prices are 3 percent to 11 percent higher than they would be if common ownership did not exist. That is money that goes from the pockets of consumers to the pockets of investors.
How exactly might this work? It may be that managers of institutional investors put pressure on the managers of the companies that they own, demanding that they don’t try to undercut the prices of their competitors. If a mutual fund owns shares of United and Delta, and United and Delta are the only competitors on certain routes, then the mutual fund benefits if United and Delta refrain from price competition. The managers of United and Delta have no reason to resist such demands, as they, too, as shareholders of their own companies, benefit from the higher profits from price-squeezed passengers. Indeed, it is possible that managers of corporations don’t need to be told explicitly to overcharge passengers because they already know that it’s in their bosses’ interest, and hence their own. Institutional investors can also get the outcomes they want by structuring the compensation of managers in subtle ways. For example, they can reward managers based on the stock price of their own firms — rather than benchmarking pay against how well they perform compared with industry rivals — which discourages managers from competing with the rivals.
From 1977, is this the first news article written about Apple Computer? Sheila Craven wrote about the fledgeling computer maker in the second issue of Kilobaud, The Small Computer Magazine.
“My interview with the two Steves took place while they were still in the folks’ garage,” Craven tells Business Insider. She remembers it this way:
“I flew up from LA, and the two Steves picked me up in a red Chevy Luv Truck, tossed my suitcase in the back, and put me between them in the front seat. We went someplace for lunch, and talked about their plans.
Of course, Steve Jobs did all the talking. After lunch we drove to his parents home in Palo Alto-never went inside the house-straight to the garage. On a workbench sat a PC board. above the workbench on a shelf sat a TV set where wires dangled from it to the PC board.
The whole time Steve Jobs was talking, explaining, outlining future plans for marketing and development, he was just about dancing on his tippy toes in his tennies. Then Woz sat at the workbench, initiating the operating system (I suppose) to demonstrate a program. Woz was pretty quiet. I got that he was the engineering brain power, and Jobs was the idea guy.
One of the things Jobs told me was that they would make certain there would be an Apple in every classroom and on every desk, because if kids grew up using and knowing the Apple, they would continue to buy Apples and so would their kids. The computers would be donated by Apple Computer. I understand that when that article came out, orders starting pouring in, and Apple Computer was seriously launched.”
Kevin Fox recently unearthed a screenshot he took of Apple’s homepage in the early 90s:
I don’t remember this version, but it looks like it was contemporary with this Microsoft homepage (which I do remember). I bet there’s footage of this page in Triumph of the Nerds or Nerds 2.0.1 or on an episode of Computer Chronicles. Anyone?
This is magnificent. The little floppies!
And you can totally build your own with these instructions. Case is 3D printed and the chip & software run on the Arduino platform. So cool! (via devour)
Some sort of embargo seems to have lifted because here come the Apple Watch reviews! As I’m unanointed by Apple, I haven’t experienced Apple Watch in the flesh, but I do have a few random thoughts and guesses.
John Gruber notes that why Apple made a watch is different from why they made the iPhone. People were generally dissatisfied with their mobile phones (I know I was) so Apple made one that was much better. But people who wear current watches like them.
But as Ive points out, this time, the established market — watches — is not despised. They not only don’t suck, they are beloved.
I’m one of the watch non-wearers Gruber discusses elsewhere in his review; I haven’t worn a watch since my Swatch band broke when I was 17. Part of the reason I don’t wear a watch is they look hideous. The more expensive watches get, the uglier they are. Have you seen the watch ads in the New Yorker or Vogue? Garish nasty looking objects. And men’s watches are generally massive, built for lumberjacks, linebackers, and other manly men, not for dainty-wristed gentlemen like myself. I tried on a regular men’s Rolex some years ago and it looked like I’d strapped a gold-plated Discman on my wrist.
I know, I know, not all watches. The point is that for me, Apple Watch looks like something I would consider wearing on a regular basis — imagining myself living in Steve Jobs’ living room has always been more my speed than J.P. Morgan’s library.1
The subtle notifications possible with Apple Watch (taps, drawings, heartbeats) are very interesting. Also from Gruber’s review:
You’re 16. You’re in school. You’re sitting in class. You have a crush on another student — you’ve fallen hard. You can’t stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual — but you don’t know. You’re afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally — afraid of the crushing weight of potential rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and send a few taps. And you wait. Nothing in response. Dammit. Why are you so stupid? Whoa — a few taps are sent in return, along with a hand-drawn smiley face. You send more taps. You receive more taps back. This is it. You send your heartbeat. It is racing, thumping. Your crush sends their heartbeat back.
In 2005, I wrote about a feature I called sweethearting:
Pings would be perfect for situations when texting or a phone call is too time consuming, distracting, or takes you out of the flow of your present experience. If you call your husband on the way home from work every night and say the same thing each time, perhaps a ping would be better…you wouldn’t have to call and your husband wouldn’t have to stop what he was doing to answer the phone. You could even call it the “sweetheart ping” or “sweethearting”…in the absence of a prearranged “ping me when you’re leaving”, you could ping someone to let them know you’re thinking about them.
Like I said elsewhere in that post, this stuff always makes me think about Matt Webb’s Glancing project:
Glancing: An application to allow ultra-simple, non-verbal communication amongst groups of friends online.
It’s a desktop application that you use with a group of other people. It lets you “glance” at them in idle moments, and it gives all of you an indication of the activity of glancing going on.
A group is intended to be less than a dozen people. A person may belong to several groups simultaneously by running separate instances of Glancing. Groups are started deliberately, probably by using a www interface, and people are told the group secret so they can join (a “secret” is just a shared password).
But the thing that has struck me the most since the announcement of Apple Watch is the idea that if you’re wearing one, you’re going to be checking your devices a lot less. From TechCrunch last month:2
People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck.
One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.
From Joshua Topolsky’s review at Bloomberg:
I’m in a meeting with 14 people, in mid-sentence, when I feel a tap-tap-tap on my wrist. I stop talking, tilt my head, and whip my arm aggressively into view to see the source of the agitation. A second later, the small screen on my new Apple Watch beams to life with a very important message for me: Twitter has suggestions for people I should follow. A version of this happens dozens of times throughout the day-for messages, e-mails, activity achievements, tweets, and so much more. Wait a second. Isn’t the promise of the Apple Watch to help me stay in the moment, focused on the people around me and undisturbed by the mesmerizing void of my iPhone? So why do I suddenly feel so distracted?
The promise of the Apple Watch is to make it more convenient to send & receive notifications and quick messages, although many of the reviews make it clear that Apple hasn’t entirely succeeded in this. In the entire history of the world, if you make it easier for people to do something compelling, people don’t do that thing less: they’ll do it more. If you give people more food, they eat it. If you make it easier to get credit, people will use it. If you add another two lanes to a traffic-clogged highway, you get a larger traffic-clogged highway. And if you put a device on their wrist that makes it easier to communicate with friends, guess what? They’re going to use the shit out of it, potentially way more than they ever used their phones.
Now, it’s possible that Apple Watch doesn’t make receiving notifications easier…instead, it may make controlling notifications easier. Like congestion pricing for your digital interactions. But that is generally not where technology has been taking us. Every new communications device and service — the telegraph, telephone, internet, email, personal computer, SMS, smartphones, Facebook, Whatsapp, Slack,3 etc. etc. etc. — makes it easier to 1) connect with more and more people in more and more ways, and 2) to connect with a few people more deeply. And I don’t expect Apple Watch will break that streak. The software will get faster & better, the hardware will get cheaper & longer-lasting, and people will buy & love them & use them constantly.
P.S. While I didn’t quote from it, The Verge review is great. But mainly I’m wondering…where are the reviews from the fashion world? I assume Vogue and other such magazines and media outlets received Apple Watches for review and their embargoes lifted as well, but after searching for a bit, I couldn’t find any actual reviews. And only a single major review by a woman, Lauren Goode’s at Re/code. If you run across any, let me know?
Update: Joanna Stern wrote a review for the WSJ with an emphasis on the fashion aspect. (via @trickartt)
Update: Executive editor Nicole Phelps wrote a review for style.com. (thx, louis-olivier)
From product designer Greg Koenig, a fantastic display of Kremlinology on how he thinks Apple makes the Apple Watch, based on the available evidence (production videos, patents, product specs).
In the above shot, blanks are placed in an immersion ultrasonic tester. What Apple is looking for is the presence of voids or density variances within the structure of the blank that, under stress, could lead to part failure or surface defects as material is removed in further machining processes. This level of inspection is, to put it mildly, fastidious beyond where most other companies would go (save Rolex). Immersion ultrasonic inspection is typically reserved for highly stressed medical implants and rotating components inside of aircraft engines; not only does this step take time, it also is typically performed by custom built machines of tremendous expense.
If you don’t have the time or energy to read through the whole thing, at least skip to the final two paragraphs about manufacturing as ritual.
Also, Koenig’s Twitter stream is full of interesting nuggets about Apple. Here are a few that caught my attention:
For their new ad campaign, Apple gathered some photos that people had taken with their iPhones and are featuring them on their website and on billboards. Here are a few I found particularly engaging.
I’ve said it before and it’s just getting more obvious: the iPhone is the best camera in the world.
Update: Apple has added a section for films shot on iPhone 6.
A new biography of Steve Jobs is coming out in March, written by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, a pair of technology journalists who have covered Jobs and the personal computer revolution for decades. John Gruber has read it and calls it “remarkable”.
It is, in short, the book about Steve Jobs that the world deserves. You might wonder how such a book could be written without Jobs’s participation, but effectively, he did participate. Schlender, in his work as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, interviewed Jobs extensively numerous times spanning 25 years. Remember the 1991 joint interview with Jobs and Bill Gates? That was Schlender. As the book makes clear, Jobs and Schlender had a very personal relationship.
The book is smart, accurate, informative, insightful, and at times, utterly heartbreaking. Schlender and Tetzeli paint a vivid picture of Jobs the man, and also clearly understand the industry in which he worked. They also got an astonishing amount of cooperation from the people who knew Jobs best: colleagues past and present from Apple and Pixar — particularly Tim Cook — and his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs.
Update: A glitch in Amazon’s Look Inside the Book feature gave Luke Dormehl a sneak peek at some of the book’s details, including that Tim Cook offered Jobs a part of his liver and Jobs talked about buying Yahoo.
Another interesting tidbit: Steve Jobs and Disney boss Bob Iger talked about buying Yahoo! together at one point, a move that would have given Apple an “in” in the search business.
While the question of Apple buying Yahoo! has been raised plenty of times over the years, this is the first time there’s been a serious suggestion that Jobs considered such an acquisition.
Buying Yahoo! would have given Apple access to a host of patents, web services and other tools in a fiercely competitive sector. Yahoo! would have been an interesting fit for Apple (which is probably why it didn’t happen), but it’s fascinating to consider what might have been.
Update: Excerpts of the book are starting appear. Fast Company has a Tim Cook-related excerpt as well as an interview with Cook conducted by Schlender and Tetzeli.
One afternoon, Cook left [Jobs’] house feeling so upset that he had his own blood tested. He found out that he, like Steve, had a rare blood type, and guessed that it might be the same. He started doing research, and learned that it is possible to transfer a portion of a living person’s liver to someone in need of a transplant. About 6,000 living-donor transplants are performed every year in the United States, and the rate of success for both donor and recipient is high. The liver is a regenerative organ. The portion transplanted into the recipient will grow to a functional size, and the portion of the liver that the donor gives up will also grow back.
Totally sweet and charming video of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak talking about the early days at the company while setting up and using an old Apple II.
Of Apple’s two founding Steves, Wozniak was the technologist and Jobs was the one with the artistic & design sense, right? But it’s obvious from watching this video that Woz cared deeply about design and was a designer of the highest order. Those early Apple circuit boards are a thing of beauty, which is echoed in the precision and compactness with which Apple currently designs iPhone and Mac hardware. They each have their own unique way of expressing it, but Woz and Jony Ive speak in a similarly hallowed way about how their products are built.
Update: Wozniak still has improving the Apple II on his mind. From earlier this year:
I awoke one night in Quito, Ecuador, this year and came up with a way to save a chip or two from the Apple II, and a trivial way to have the 2 grays of the Apple II be different (light gray and dark gray) but it’s 38 years too late. It did give me a good smile, since I know how hard it is to improve on that design.
Update: From Founders at Work, an interview with Woz that goes a bit deeper into the genesis of the Apple I and the early days at Apple.
By the time I was done, the design of the Nova was half as many chips as all of the other minicomputers from Varian, Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard, all of the minicomputers of the time (I was designing them all). And I saw that Nova was half as many chips and just as good a computer. What was different? The architecture was really an architecture that just fit right to the very fewest chips.
My whole life was basically trying to optimize things. You don’t just save parts, but every time you save parts you save on complexity and reliability, the amount of time it takes to understand something. And how good you can build it without errors and bugs and flaws.
I just upgraded to OS X Yosemite yesterday1 and the Helvetica as the system font is as jarring as everyone says it is. But that new Apple Watch font, San Francisco, seems really nice. So of course someone has worked out a way to use the Watch font as the system font on Yosemite. Here’s what you do…just type the following in Terminal.app:
ruby -e “$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/wellsriley/YosemiteSanFranciscoFont/master/install)”
Then restart your computer. Full instructions are on GitHub. Here’s what it looks like:
Pretty nice. But it’s not perfect. For instance, look at the text in the Chrome tabs…it’s not aligned correctly. And if you have the fast user switching menu enabled in the menu bar, that’s weirdly misaligned too. If you’d like, you can also switch back to using the previous font, Lucida Grande.
In an article for Businessweek, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly reveals he is gay.
At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” I often challenge myself with that question, and I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today.
For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.
While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.