Posts about Apple

iPad danger: app v. web, consumer v. creator

I tweeted earlier that after having slept with her (Ms. iPad), I woke up with morning-after regrets. She’s sweet and pretty but shallow and vapid.

Cute line, appropriate for retweets. But as my hangover settles in, I realize that there’s something much more basic and profound that worries me about the iPad — and not just the iPad but the architecture upon which it is built. I see danger in moving from the web to apps.

The iPad is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again. That is why media companies and advertisers are embracing it so fervently, because they think it returns us all to their good old days when we just consumed, we didn’t create, when they controlled our media experience and business models and we came to them. The most absurd, extreme illustration is Time Magazine’s app, which is essentially a PDF of the magazine (with the odd video snippet). It’s worse than the web: we can’t comment; we can’t remix; we can’t click out; we can’t link in, and they think this is worth $4.99 a week. But the pictures are pretty.

That’s what we keep hearing about the iPad as the justification for all its purposeful limitations: it’s meant for consumption, we’re told, not creation. We also hear, as in David Pogue’s review, that this is our grandma’s computer. That cant is inherently snobbish and insulting. It assumes grandma has nothing to say. But after 15 years of the web, we know she does. I’ve long said that the remote control, cable box, and VCR gave us control of the consumption of media; the internet gave us control of its creation. Pew says that a third of us create web content. But all of us comment on content, whether through email or across a Denny’s table. At one level or another, we all spread, react, remix, or create. Just not on the iPad.

The iPad’s architecture supports these limitations in a few ways:

First, in its hardware design, it does not include a camera — the easiest and in some ways most democratic means of creation (you don’t have to write well) — even though its smaller cousin, the iPhone, has one. Equally important, it does not include a simple (fucking) USB port, which means that I can’t bring in and take out content easily. If I want to edit a document in Apple’s Pages, I have to go through many hoops of moving and snycing and emailing or using Apple’s own services. Cloud? I see no cloud, just Apple’s blue skies. Why no USB? Well, I can only imagine that Apple doesn’t want us to think what Walt Mossberg did in his review — the polar opposite of Pogue’s — that this pad could replace its more expensive laptops. The iPad is purposely handicapped, but it doesn’t need to be. See the German WePad, which comes with USB port(s!), a camera, multitasking, and the more open Android operating system and marketplace.

Second, the iPad is built on apps. So are phones, Apple’s and others’. Apps can be wonderful things because they are built to a purpose. I’m not anti-app, let’s be clear. But I also want to stop and examine the impact of shifting from a page- and site-based internet to one built on apps. I’ve been arguing that we are, indeed, moving past a page-, site-, and search-based web to one also built on streams and flows, to a distributed web where you can’t expect people to come to you but you must go to them; you must get yourself into their streams. This shift to apps is a move in precisely the opposite direction. Apps are more closed, contained, controlling. That, again, is why media companies like them. But they don’t interoperate — they don’t play well — with other apps and with the web itself; they are hostile to links and search. What we do in apps is less open to the world. I just want to consider the consequences.

So I see the iPad as a Bizarro Trojan Horse. Instead of importing soldiers into the kingdom to break down its walls, in this horse, we, the people, are stuffed inside and wheeled into the old walls; the gate is shut and we’re welcomed back into the kingdom of controlling media that we left almost a generation ago.

There are alternatives. I now see the battle between Apple and Google Android in clearer focus. At Davos, Eric Schmidt said that phones (and he saw the iPad as just a big phone… which it is, just without the phone and a few other things) will be defined by their apps. The mobile (that is to say, constantly connected) war will be won on apps. Google is competing with openness, Apple with control; Google will have countless manufacturers and brands spreading its OS, Apple will have media and fanboys (including me) do the work for it.

But Google has a long way to go if it hopes to win this war. I’m using my Nexus One phone (which I also had morning-after doubts about) and generally liking it but I still find it awkward. Google has lost its way, its devotion to profound simplicity. Google Wave and Buzz are confusing and generally unusable messes; Android needed to be thought through more (I shouldn’t have to think about what a button does in this use case before using it); Google Docs could be more elegant; YouTube’s redesign is halfway to clean. Still, Google and Apple’s competition presents us with choices.

I find it interesting that though many commercial brands — from Amazon to Bank of America to Fandango — have written for both Apple and Android, many media brands — most notable The New York Times and my Guardian — have written only for Apple and they now are devoting much resource to recreating apps for the iPad. The audience on Android is bigger than the audience on iPad but the sexiness and control Apple offers is alluring. This, I think, is why Salon CEO Richard Gingras calls the iPad a fatal distraction for publishers. They are deluding themselves into thinking that the future lies in their past.

On This Week in Google last night, I went too far slathering over the iPad and some of its very neat apps (ABC’s is great; I watched the Modern Family about the iPad on the iPad and smugly loved being so meta). I am a toy boy at heart and didn’t stop to cast a critical eye, as TWiG’s iPadless Gina Trapani did. This morning on Twitter, I went too far the other way kvetching about the inconveniences of the iPad’s limitations (just a fucking USB, please!) in compensation. That’s the problem with Twitter, at least for my readers: it’s thinking out loud.

I’ll sleep with the iPad a few more nights. I might well rebox and return it; I don’t have $500 to throw away. But considering what I do for a living, I perhaps should hold onto it so I can understand its implications. And that’s the real point of this post: there are implications.

: MORE: Of course, I must link to Cory Doctorow’s eloquent examination of the infantilization of technology. I’m not quite as principled, I guess, as Cory is on the topic; I’m not telling people they should not buy the iPad; I don’t much like that verb in any context. But on the merits and demerits, we agree.

And Dave Winer: “Today it’s something to play with, not something to use. That’s the kind way to say it. The direct way: It’s a toy.”

: By the way, back in the day, about a decade ago, I worked with Intel (through my employer, Advance) on a web pad that was meant to be used to consume in the home (we knew then that the on-screen keyboard sucked; it was meant to be a couch satellite to the desk’s PC). Intel lost nerve and didn’t launch it. Besides, the technology was early (they built the wireless on Intel Anypoint, not wi-fi or even bluetooth). Here’s the pad in the flesh. I have it in my basement museum of dead technlogy, next to my CueCat.

: More, Monday: NPR’s related report and Jonathan Zittrain’s worries.

WWGD? – The videos (6)

And they never end: Here’s the sixth day of videos from the aborted v-book edition of What Would Google Do?:

A touch dated now, here’s a video I made on my Flip a year ago arguing that it was the Googley way to do video because it serves the creation generation:

A very quick little video about Apple generosity that asks about other companies':

30 days of WWGD? – What about Apple?

John Gapper in the Financial Times reviewed What Would Google Do? today and argued against my core concept of following Google’s lead. I’d link to the review, but it’s behind the pay wall. Irony #1. Gapper complains about my suggestion that free is a business model (note to Chris Anderson: Hope that Gapper doesn’t review your next book, Free!), saying that advertising won’t replace subscription revenue. That’s a classic view of those who think that old models can be replicated in the new world. The point of the book is that the world has changed fundamentally and old models won’t work anymore. It’s ironic — that’s Irony #2 — that the review came out today, when I attended a panel run by Gapper’s boss, the editor of the FT, here in Davos about peril to the Fourth Estate. The discussion was filled with efforts to replicate old models. I debated the point there and I’d be eager to debate Gapper.

Gapper says that Apple is the company to follow, instead of Google. I don’t argue that quality is always a way to win and Apple wins on quality. Indeed, I make the point in the book. So here’s today’s snippet from my chapter about Apple:

* * *

Is there any entity that is untouched? Is there an anti-Google, one institution that has become successful by violating the rules in this book? I could think of one: Apple.

Consider: Apple flouts Jarvis’ First Law. Hand over control to the customer? You must be joking. Steve Jobs controls all—and we want him to. It is thanks to his brilliant and single-minded vision and grumpy passion for perfection that his products work so well. Microsoft’s products, by contrast, operate as if they were designed by warring committees. Google’s products, though far more functional than Microsoft’s and built with considerable input from users, appear to have been designed by a computer (I await the aesthetic algorithm).

Apple is the opposite of collaborative….

Apple is a cult company and its customers are its best marketers—that much is Googley….

Apple is the farthest thing from transparent. It has sued bloggers for ferreting out and revealing its secrets. Attacking its own fans was unbloggy and uncool, but Apple didn’t care about the bad publicity. It’s Apple.

Apple abhors openness. That’s another reason its products work so well, because it controls what can run on them, how it runs, and how it makes money….

Apple does not think distributed. It makes us come to worship at its altar….

Apple does not manage abundance. It creates scarcity. Witness the fanatics who camped out overnight to get each version of the iPhone….

Free as a business model? The gift economy? Apple is not generous. It charges a premium for its quality….

Apple follows just a few Google rules. Lord knows, it innovates. And nobody’s better at simplifying tasks and design.

How does Apple do it? How does it get away with operating this way even as every other company and industry is forced to redefine itself? It’s just that good. Its vision is that strong and its products even better. I left Apple once, in the 1990s, before Steve Jobs returned to the company, when I suffered through a string of bad laptops. But when I’d had it with Dell, I returned to Apple and now everyone in my family has a Mac (plus one new Dell); we have three iPhones; we have lots of iPods; I lobbied successfully to make Macs the standard in the journalism school where I teach. I’m a believer, a glassy-eyed cultist. But I didn’t write this book about Apple because I believe it is the grand exception. Frank Sinatra was allowed to violate every rule about phrasing because he was Sinatra. Apple can violate the rules of business in the next millennium because it is Apple (and more important, because Jobs is Jobs).

So then Apple is the ultimate unGoogle. Right?

Not so fast…..

Twittered brands

Another place brands need to monitor, especially techy brands: Twitter. Here‘s what they’re saying today about the MacBook Air. Many agree — including me — that not being able to swap out a spare battery is a killer (or even attach a supplementary battery). Damn.

Jobs is Dell as warp speed

Steve Jobs is famously not transparent or flexible; he violates every principle we ClueTrainy advocates of customerism hold dear and he can get away with it because we hold his products dear. He’s good, that good. So I find it interesting that when he dissed his most loyal customers, the fools who stood in line for that beautiful iPhone, by lowering his price for the masses (a good move, by the way), he wasted no time apologizing and giving them a $100 store-credit rebate ($200 would have been the purer gesture). I wonder whether Jobs would have done this five years ago. I wonder, too, how long it would have taken for Apple to realize that there was a problem, all the while their customers’ anger would have been festering.

But now the process is instantaneous. Apple could see the reaction in not only the emails Jobs refers to in his apology but also, obviously, in blog posts and forum discussions (not to mention the stock price). All you have to do is listen. And act quickly.

It’s the same lesson that Dell learned about the customer in control. Only now add the element of speed. (Amplified by the fanaticism of the Apple customer cult.) I think we are seeing a permanent change in customer relations and our empowerment: If enough customers think you made the wrong move and you hear them quickly enough, the cusotmers will win. If you’re smart.

But then, of course, Apple people are different. Get a load of this post from Lisa on the proverbial knitting blog — really, a knitting blog! — telling Jobs that she doesn’t regret paying the higher price for the iPhone and asking that he give his $100 to a charity. That’s the Apple cult for you — that’s a brand cult: ‘Please charge me more.’ But the cult won’t make the iPhone into the life-changing device Jobs believes — and I’m coming to believe — it will be. So that’s why he had to move past the cult — while not losing any cultists along the way.

Breakfast in the big time

I had a wonderful breakfast the other day with the Wall Street Journal’s Kara Swisher, talking about lots of things from Yahoo’s doom to entrepreneurial journalism. Her video over the omelet here.

Her colleague Walt Mossberg was having breakfast at the next table and as he wandered by he spotted my Treo on the table. Walt shoot his head. “You can do better than that,” he said.

I explained that I’m not allowed to have an iPhone yet. My son bought one with the proceeds of his Facebook app writing for a VC. And my wife said that if he teaches me to write apps, maybe I can get an iPhone, too.

iPhone and the future of news

Something significant happened in the coverage of the otherwise insignificant and comically unnecessary lines that formed outside Apple stores waiting to get the iPhone:

The event was covered live, in video, directly to the internet and to the public, by the people in the story, without news organizations.

That is a big deal: the start of live, video witness-reporting. Scoble did it. More than one of‘s folks did it. So did and Diggnation and the gadget blogs and more than I can list.

Not to mention, of course, all the reporting that went on via Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, blogs. . . .

Two months ago, after the video of the Virginia Tech shooting went up online — more than an hour after the news occurred — I speculated that someday soon, we’d see that same video from a news event being fed live, directly to us on the internet.

Well, that didn’t take long.

As I said in that post, this necessarily changes the relationship of witnesses to news and news organizations. When it is live, producers don’t have time to edit, package, vet and all the things that news organizations have always done. They can’t intermediate. All that news organization can do is choose to link or not link to what we, the witnesses, are feeding, as the news happens.

The news is direct, from witness to the world.

The infrastructural challenge in this is that we, the audience, won’t necessarily know where to find what’s going on. For a time, there will be portals for live — UStream et al — but it’s already hard to find out what’s happening there. Portals don’t work. So I imagine that news organizations will need to devote people to combing all the live video to see what’s happening out in the world. The real value will then be alerting all the rest of us that something is going on now so we can watch on the internet . . . or perhaps on our iPhones.

ijustineiphone.jpgAnd, of course, soon those iPhones will be the means of gathering and sharing that news, as soon as they have video cameras and as soon as AT&T gets its act together. Son Jake told me that iJustine, one of the Justin.TV lifevloggers, doesn’t need to carry a backpack; her small camera hooks up to a Vaio in her purse. So the gigantic ENG (electronic news gathering) and SNG (satellite news gathering) trucks with their dishes and expensive equipment and expert operators are replaced by . . . a purse, and soon a mere phone.

This also makes this transaction interactive: The audience can interact with the reporter. We can ask questions and share information and suggest they go shoot this instead of that.

Now add in GPS and SMS and the idea that people who happen to be near a news event can be alerted and assigned to open their phones and start shooting: Everybody at the Glasgow airport with a video phone gets an SMS suggesting that they start shooting and sharing whatever they see; a flaming car just rammed the front of the terminal. Others there can be warned to stay away from the door where the danger is. Live.

So imagine that Wolf Blitzer on CNN is standing in front of a wall of screens showing our video from the scenes of news. Imagine that MSNBC sends us alerts when news happens live so we can tune into the internet to watch. Imagine if the BBC can assign viewers near any news event to start shooting and sharing. Imagine if CBS News prepares for an event — a storm — by asking the public to all be streaming in their witness-eye views. Imagine also that we can go around these organizations and set up alert systems to tell each other, directly, what’s happening where and to show it happening, live; that is precisely what happened in the case of the iPhone lines.

Problems? Of course, there are. I never sit in a meeting with journalists without hearing them obsess about all the things that could go wrong; that is, sadly and inevitably, their starting point in any discussion about new opportunities. I blew my gasket Friday when I sat with a bunch of TV people doing just that. So, yes, someone could fake a news broadcast and, because it’s live, you don’t have the time to vet. But you can issue caveats and triangulate with others in the area or choose not to link to or show something you doubt. You can also set up systems to vet trusted contributors and ban fakester. We in the public will also doubt and it is the job of journalists and educators to help them doubt; that is the media literacy we need to strengthen already in the age of 24-hour cable news. Yes, nasty things could happen before our very eyes and ears. Someone who’s in grave danger in front of the Glasgow airport might actually say “oh, shit.” I would. And, yes, through each lens, we’ll see just one angle on the story; it is necessarily incomplete. But we can also get more people to show more angles on that story than we ever could with just one camera and one SNG truck — which usually arrived long after the news is over, leading to the tortured tense of TV news: “Police are this morning hunting for… Firemen are this morning sifting through… Neighbors are this morning wondering…”

Life becomes a 24-hour news channel. And we see news through the eyes of witnesses.

Even though the mass of iPhone lines in front of the Apple stores was a nonstory, it still was a story that changed news profoundly.

: LATER: Just read a very good related post at TechCrunch by Duncan Riley. He calls this eventstreaming: “Eventstreaming is the missing link in Web 2.0’s challenge to network television.”


So I checked the iPhone availability chart, just for curiosity, and didn’t see a single place where it’s sold out. Did that mean all those people were fools to sleep out and wait hours? I report, you decide.