Opinion

Apple’s Next Battleground isn’t TV; it’s Web Services

Apple does hardware and software well, and it’s at the top of its game when it does them together. But when it comes to Web services, the company is a laggard, with an ever-lengthening conga line of missteps.

There are hands-down fiascos: MobileMe, Ping and Maps. And there are works in progress: Game Center, iTunes Match and iCloud. And all of them speak to a troubling deficiency that Apple just can’t seem to overcome. One that’s garnering increasingly more public scrutiny. One that, at its worst — say with the disastrous Maps debacle — shows up the company that prides itself on building the “magical and revolutionary” as fallible.

So, as the 2013 Apple rumor mill ramps up, and the prognosticators wonder whether the company’s product pipeline includes a television, a watch, or both, consider this: While Apple could likely use another disruptive innovation on which to build its continued success, what it really needs — crucially — is to do Web services well.

The remarkably thin skinned Cult of Mac

Everyone who follows me on Twitter or listens to YML or who has met me in person knows what I think of the web site, Cult of Mac. Poorly designed, cluttered, bad, writing, awful copy editing, etc., etc., etc.

So it will not come as a shock to anyone that they may not be my biggest fan, either. I'm OK with that. But, when they start doing really stupid stuff is when it gets fun.

Yesterday, one of the mouth breathers at CoM posted a story about the single stupidest thing I've seen come out of CES so far - a Bluetooth enabled FORK. Yeah, it's as stupid as you imagine it to be.

So I commented on the post:

Today, I go back to the site to see if there are additional comments to be made and see this:

Poof...my post is gone. I tried to log in to see if that was the problem and got the "Permission Denied" message.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's their web site. they can do as they please. They can ban anyone as they see fit.

But banning someone just because they've said mean things about you on Twitter seems the height of childishness and petulance. But that's what I've come to expect from Cult of Mac - a web site full of bad writers who can't take criticism.

Viticci's Take on Twitterific vs Mine

Yesterday, the folks at The Iconfactory released the latest version of their iOS Twitter client, Twitterific. First of all, you've got to give props to any company still working on Twitter clients given what signals the folks at Twitter have been sending out. So I give The Iconfactory all the respect in the world for moving forward through all of that.

I read four or five reviews of the app and, as someone always on the look out for new/cool/interesting apps, I downloaded the (trial) OS X version and paid ($3) for the Universal iOS version.

I wish I hadn't.

Everyone has different needs and wants. I have some specific things in a Twitter client that I feel are necessary for me to use the application. Now, it can be argued whether or not those features are for "power users" or not. It's a moot point. They are features *I* want in an application.

The first thing I noticed in the Mac version was there was no support for viewing images in the timeline of your Twitter feed. Annoying but not a deal breaker. My preferred Mac Twitter client doesn't do it either. But the Mac version of Twitterific also doesn't do any kind of blocking or muting. That *is* a dealbreaker for me. I block and mute a *lot* of things and need that feature in order to use a Twitter client.

So, Twitterific for the Mac is out. I move over to the iOS version - and it doesn't those things either. And that's where my desire to use the app ended. If it doesn't have the functionality I want and need, there's no point going any further.

Make no mistake, the iOS version is a very "pretty" application. The Iconfactory describes it as "a simply beautiful way to tweet". That's all well and good but I prefer functionality over beauty.

Tim Cook: "Apple will make Macs in the USA". Not exactly....

So everyone got all excited because Tim Cook, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, said, "Next year we are going to bring some production to the U.S. on the Mac."

As usual, the Tech Media, in its haste to "get it first", don't see the whole story. Later in the same interview, Cook said, "This doesn’t mean that Apple will do it ourselves, but we’ll be working with people..."

What does that mean? Well, when you look at this story, Foxconn Plans American Expansion, it seems pretty obvious that Apple's China manufacturing partner will become their US based partner, too.

And what machines will get the "Built In the USA" label? Some speculate the iMac would be but Apple will start small and ramp up. The Mac Pro seems to be the more likely candidate.

Gene Munster's Apple TV Predictions And Data Are Seriously Flawed

If you had to pick one person that is the most outspoken advocate of Apple’s still non-existent all-in-one Apple TV, it would have to be Piper Jaffray Wall Street analyst Gene Munster.

For more than three years now, Gene’s been very vocal in predicting that Apple is getting ready to release an Apple TV set. The moment he says anything about the device, many people in the media make it into their lead story, even though to date, he’s yet to be right about any of his Apple TV predictions. While I don’t know Gene personally, and for all I know he’s one of the nicest guys in the world, I don’t understand why anyone listens to him when he’s been predicting the same thing, year after year, with no results to show for it.

Is Chris Matyszczyk of CNET intentionally obtuse?

I've often railed against the poor writing, thinking and reasoning skills of CNET's Chris Matyszczyk. He's supposedly an "award-winning creative director" and he very well may be exactly that. But he most certainly is not someone who thinks well about Apple and its place in the world. CNET should be embarrassed to have him writing for their site.

His latest piece of headshaking thought is "Are Apple stores just too crowded?". While his premise might have some validity, he completely destroys it with...well..his writing.

He says:
It's not as if it's Apple's fault that these places are more popular than churches.

There...you're done. End of story. Stop writing. But no - he continues to whine and complain about Apple's success like the grumpy old white guy he appears.

He says:
Despite Apple's firing of retail head John Browett, its stores are performing very well.

I honestly don't even know what that means. Is he saying if Browett was still there, the Apple stores would be less crowded?

And finally, Matyszczyk goes on to prove that he has absolutely zero understanding of how Apple, retail or mall economics works by saying:
(Apple) could also simply take over the mall stores on either side of the Apple store, knock the walls down and create breathing room.

"Simply"? How could anyone be so dense as to think it's just that "simple" for Apple?

The only thing "simple" here is Matyszczyk.

Apple paid less than 2% income tax on earnings outside US in 2012

The Washington Post says, "Apple Inc. paid an income tax rate of only 1.9 percent on its earnings outside the U.S. in its latest fiscal year, a regulatory filing by the company shows."

THOSE BASTARDS!

Apple made $36.8 billion on foreign earnings in the fiscal year ended Sept. 29 but yet only paid $713 million in tax on those earnings. According to the general tech media, that's disgusting, irresponsible and, according to the Washington Post, completely legal.

So...yeah..no story here...but of course, that doesn't stop the media from jumping all over Apple for doing it because, to those of us working stiffs who don't have access to the nuances and vagaries of the US Tax Code, it seems like Apple should have to pay more, doesn't it?

Granted, it doesn't help when the Post describes some of the accounting moves as “Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich,” which routes profits through Irish and Dutch subsidiaries and then to the Caribbean. It just sounds suspicious, doesn't it?

Interestingly enough, the Post has another angle that a lot of the Tech Media is ignoring. Apple is actually hurting itself a little bit by holding back some of its overseas profits just in case US Tax law changes and Apple is forced to pay taxes on it. If they would stop doing that, it might increase Apple’s profits for past three years by as much $10.5 billion, according to The Associated Press.

But let's just go ahead and bury that bit of news because it doesn't fit the preconceived notion of Apple as the Big Bad Capitalist screwing America.

Apple's "disappointing" weekend iPad sales numbers. How many Surface tablets were sold, Microsoft?

This morning, Apple announced they had sold three million of the Wi-Fi only models of the new iPad mini & fourth generation iPad.

And the Tech Media immediately started whining about it.

The first and only question they to want to ask is, "How many exactly of each model did Apple sell?" But Apple rarely if ever breaks out sales numbers by specific model and, if they did, the media would then ask, "How many white? How many 16GB? How many white, 16GB iPad minis to women with 2.5 children and a poodle?"

Apple considers all iPads to be just that - iPads. No differentiation.

Note how conveniently the tech media ignores the fact that Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Samsung and RIM rarely, if ever, report their sales numbers. As usual, they hold Apple to different standards than they hold other tech companies.

Crappy Computers

This is a sentiment you often hear from people: casual users only need «entry-level» performance. Even casual users themselves perpetuate it: «Oh, I’m not doing much on my computer, so I always just go with the cheapest option.» And then they buy a horrid, underpowered netbook, find out that it has a tiny screen, is incredibly slow, the keyboard sucks, and they either never actually use it, or eventually come to the conclusion that they just hate computers.

In reality, it’s exactly backwards: proficient users can deal with a crappy computer, but casual users need as good a computer as possible.

"I’ve had it on my first home screen for weeks now..."

"I’ve had it on my first home screen for weeks now..."

Developers sell their children for that kind of recommendation from Daring Fireball's John Gruber. While it's not a selling point for me, I'm certainly going to check out what he's talking about if it has some relevance.

In this case, he's talking about a new iOS app called "Watercooler". I went to their web site to see its feature set and see this:

In order to help you make an informed decision, note that there are a few things Watercooler does not support at this point in time:
No push notifications.
No direct messages.
No searching all posts for keywords.
No support for Twitter lists.

it's unlikely that push notifications or direct messages will be supported on Twitter in the near future.

Wait....what? It doesn't do those things? I had no idea Gruber didn't need, want or care about those features.

For me, they are essential. This app not only won't ever be on my iPhone's home screen, I have no intention of ever paying $5 for such a crippled app.

Why Apple doesn’t Care about its Competition

There are three questions, then, which real people will ask about the iPad mini. Do I want it, can I afford it, and which model should I get. The answers to those questions will determine how many iPad minis Apple manages to sell. But the question which most of the press concentrates on — how does the iPad mini compare to its non-Apple competitors — is one which gets asked much less often than the Apple-as-company people tend to think.

Which is why the bellyaching about the iPad mini’s pricing is very weird to me.

Apple doesn’t need a $200 iPad mini

With a starting price tag of $329, Apple’s new iPad mini may be too expensive to attract budget-conscious consumers drawn to Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which, at $249 and $199, are significantly cheaper. But does that even matter?

Honestly, when has Apple ever played at the bottom of the pricing barrel? The company’s M.O. has always been to build premium products that command premium prices and offer great margins. As Mike McGuire, research vice president at Gartner, told AllThingsD, “Apple didn’t need to come down to $200; they’ve never done products to hit competitors’ price points.”

Reflecting on the iPad mini Event

Tim Cook took special care to note what an amazing year it has been for Apple, just as he had promised when the year began. The list of updated Apple products is pretty astounding: Mountain Lion, iOS 6, the new iPad, another new iPad, MacBook Pro Retina, iMac and now iPad mini. Equally astounding is the continued lack of improvement to Mac Pro. With every passing day, Apple makes it priorities more clear.

All in all, I thought this presentation gave us a boatload of interesting stuff.

Five Reasons to (not?) join App.net Now

Jon Mitchell of ReadWriteWeb has an article called "Five Reasons To Join App.net Now". In light of our last show discussion about Twitter and App.Net, I was interested in the article. Unfortunately, he really doesn't make his case.

He starts off with, "Don’t think of App.net as a Twitter competitor."

But that's exactly what it is. It's exactly what it was set up as. Or perhaps, more accurately, a "Twitter alternative". Regardless, a competitor is exactly what it is right now.

His number one reason is, "App.net has lowered the membership price." He's right - App.Net started off at $50/year but they recently lowered the price to $36/year or $5/month. But Twitter is still free to join - so a lower price may not be muh of a draw for a lot of people.

His number two reason? "There are 20,000 people on App.net." Umm...so? That number has since risen to 25K+ users but still....so? Why is that number a reason to join App.Net?

Number three? "Great apps are coming out." OK...but great apps are already out for Twitter. "Great apps soon to come" isn't a reason to join App.Net *now*. It might be a reason in the future though.

While his number four reason may be valid - "App.net pays developers to build experiences you love" - it may not hold a lot of water for the average user. I can't see a critical mass of people joining the service because at some nebulous point in the future, you *might* have some great apps that *might* give you an "experience you love".

And finally, his number five reason, "App.net is more than a Twitter clone", not only echoes his first sentence but may not be the audience draw he seems to think it is.

Don't get me wrong - I'm intrigued by App.Net and am as active on it as I can be but the kind of "feel good" reasoning of articles like this really aren't going to convince those who are on the fence.

Personal Preference is Personal Preference

Ben Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies and a guy I've interviewed a couple of times. He's really smart and writes really well about this tech stuff.

His latest column, "I Chose the iPhone, You Chose an Android Phone — So What?" got me thinking about why we argue/discuss/flame over our tech du jour.

Ben says:
What really stumps me is the desire to criticize others’ choices of personal technology products. It’s as if one person choosing a different product is going to drastically alter the quality of life of another person.

Should we harshly criticize those who like different music than us? Should we criticize those who buy different car brands than us? Should we criticize those who like different foods than us?

I understand that personal technology is just that: personal. Because of that reality, there will be emotions attached to personal preferences.

And there's the rub - emotion. Ben (and most of us) would like people to make rational, logical choices and decisions based on facts and evidence. But as human beings, we see so many things through an emotional prism. We criticize others over their different choices - whether it be the car they drive, the soda they like or the phone they use - because of our need to have our emotions affirmed.

We think, "If I bought this thing and you didn't, then (because I can't be wrong) you are wrong and must be told so." It's even worse when it comes to things we develop an emotional attachment to. We need our emotions and feelings validated and to be "told" we did the right thing.

Apple Maps: adventures in crisis management

Many have reacted positively to Tim Cook’s letter, finding it refreshingly honest.

Personally, it made me squirm a bit. Not because I prefer Apple to be untruthful, but because I want it to be even more truthful.

Counter-Perspective

My good friend John Moltz (actually, I don't even like the guy but his wife is great and his kid is cute) on his "Very Nice Web Site" (it's pretty boring) has an opinion called "Perspective". He quotes all his usual buddies (name dropping sycophant that he is) but it's the last line that got my attention:

So many of these Apple critics, however, are just reveling in the mistake.

For those of you old enough to remember when Apple was (rightfully) always described as "beleaguered", you'll also remember how we Mac users revelled in every single misstep of "The Dark Side". How many of you remember Bill Gates demoing a USB scanner (back in the day when USB was just getting off the ground) during a demo at Comdex for Windows 98 and getting the Blue Screen of Death? Oh, how we Mac users laughed and mocked and derided everything PC based.

And that wasn't the only example of the incredible Schadenfreude of Mac users.

So when the shoe gets put on the other foot and the chickens come home to roost, suck it up and take it. We Mac users dished it out for long enough. We can eat a little crow every now and then.

(could I have jammed any more cliches into that above paragraph?)

(PS: All those mean things I said about Moltz in the lead paragraph? I was just kidding. Moltz is one of the nicest guys on the web - but he does have freaky bug eyes....)

How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future

The office of Wendell Weeks, Corning’s CEO, is on the second floor, looking out onto the Chemung River. It was here that Steve Jobs gave the 53-year-old Weeks a seemingly impossible task: Make millions of square feet of ultrathin, ultrastrong glass that didn’t yet exist. Oh, and do it in six months.

The story of their collaboration—including Jobs’ attempt to lecture Weeks on the principles of glass and his insistence that such a feat could be accomplished—is well known. How Corning actually pulled it off is not.

Apple Maps: Damned If You Do, Googled If You Don’t

Pointing out the limitations of your product is a sign of strength, not weakness.

I can’t fathom why Apple execs keep ignoring this simple prescription for a healthy relationship with their customers. Instead, we get tiresome boasting: …Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world…we [make] the best products on earth. This self-promotion violates another rule: Don’t go around telling everyone how good you are in the, uhm…kitchen; let those who have experienced your cookmanship do the bragging for you.

The ridicule that Apple has suffered following the introduction of the Maps application in iOS 6 is largely self-inflicted.

Who Benefits from iOS 6's Crappy Maps?

The classic criticism that thoughtless Apple haters use against the company is that it makes products that are pretty but dumb. Usually those criticisms are by people who don't understand the value of a comprehensible user experience, frustrated by the reality that many people will eagerly trade the open-ended technologies of competitors for the simple and satisfying experience that Apple provides.

But this time, they're right: Apple's made a new product that actually is pretty but dumb. Worse, they've used their platform dominance to privilege their own app over a competitor's offering, even though it's a worse experience for users. This is the new Maps in iOS 6.

Lightning: the iPhone's new connector

The iPhone 5 offers many improvements over its predecessor, including a larger screen, better performance, LTE, and an improved camera. But for those upgrading from an older iPhone, there’s another change that might prove to be more significant, at least when it comes to compatibility: a new dock connector.

Apple has done away with its proprietary—and nine-year-old—30-pin connector in favor of a new, smaller alternative. Why did Apple make the change? And what does it mean for you—and for your existing accessories? Here’s a look at this new connector, dubbed Lightning.

Apple’s Secrets Aren’t So Secret Anymore, and That’s O.K.

The fact that yesterday’s bash wasn’t full of startling twists presumably helps explain why it prompted lots of stories declaring the event, and even the iPhone 5 itself, to be a disappointment.

Product rollouts aren’t action movies. Surprises are nice, but they aren’t the ultimate goal — at least if the idea is to sell lots and lots of gadgets and make lots and lots of money.

Surprise has no inherent relation to quality or popularity.

Apple’s Magic Is In The Turn, Not The Prestige

Apple took something ordinary, a phone, did some extraordinary things to it, and then made it re-appear in grandiose fashion. It’s a great trick. It’s so good, in fact, that I think it’s fair to call it true magic.

The problem, if you want to call it that, is that Apple has now been doing this trick since 2007. Granted, they have other solid tricks too (they are far from the one-trick pony claims that several of their competitors face). But the iPhone is the best trick in their bag. And in the last few years, some people have gotten sick of seeing it.

But it’s important to remember that just because you’ve seen a show before, it doesn’t make actually make it any less magical. It’s a perception issue.

iPhone 5: The Most Beautiful iPhone Yet… and More

As a leader in personal computing, Apple product launch events often bear the burden of too much hype. Then as they launch new products that set new sales records, customer satisfaction levels, and needed health into the consumer electronics industry, people always seem to ask “have they done enough?” My stock answer is yes, and I am sticking with it.

The headroom to grow in the smart phone market is enormous. Smart phones are maturing as a market but we are far from market saturation. The global customer base is still ripe for the picking and Apple has raised the bar when it comes to the iPhone 5.

Amazon to Apple: the Game starts Now

The key moment in Jeff Bezos's keynote announcing Amazon's new Paperwhite Kindle and Kindle Fire models came before he introduced any of the new hardware.

"People don't want gadgets any more," Bezos declared, explaining why the Kindle Fire had succeeded where other gadgety Android tablets had failed. "They want services that improve over time. They want services that improve every day, every week, and every month." This statement of purpose signals a new phase in Amazon's evolution as a company, and its singular, emerging take on the developing consumer marketplace, and how it's positioning itself towards its broad field of competitors.

How the New Kindle Fires impact the tablet Landscape

Amazon on Thursday unveiled not one, not two, not three, but four new tablets all called the Kindle Fire.

There’s the Kindle Fire, which is a slightly upgraded version of the previous tablet also named the Kindle Fire. Then there’s the Kindle Fire HD 7”, which ups the screen resolution, improves the audio, and boosts the Wi-Fi performance; the Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, which is obviously just about two inches larger diagonally; and then the Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE Wireless, which is also 8.9 inches, but includes access to all ten bands of 4G service in the U.S. That last model requires a $50 per year data plan, which gets you 250MB per month of data and 20GB of cloud storage.

Whew. That’s a lot of Kindles.

Apple's True Intentions behind the Samsung Suit

When news broke that Apple would sue Samsung for $2.5 billion over patent and design issues, I was stunned—not because Apple was suing Samsung, but because the amount in damages it was suing for was so low.

Apple earns at least that much in profit per month, making it clear to me that this suit is not about damages. As I hear the various testimonies from Apple and Samsung, I believe Apple's real motive is becoming clearer.

Bait and switch: What’s behind AT&T’s stance on FaceTime

In blocking Apple’s FaceTime application from its cellular network for certain customers, AT&T is trying to drive customers to new plans and change the debate when it comes to network neutrality. If Ma Bell succeeds it looks like consumers and maybe app developers could lose.

AT&T’s decision to block Apple’s video-calling program on its cellular network for certain customers has raised the ire of consumers and public-interest groups, and it may even draw the attention of the Federal Communications Commission. And after the wireless carrier posted its rationale on Wednesday on its decision to limit video over FaceTime to customers who have signed up for its Mobile Shared Data plan, I see two reasons the carrier has picked this fight.

The Definitive Insider’s Guide to Apple vs. Samsung

There have been plenty of dramatic moments in the case of Apple versus Samsung, which some have dubbed the patent trial of the century.

But let’s be clear. There has also been a lot of downtime. As a result, there has been quite an opportunity for those in the court to familiarize themselves with both their surroundings and the main voices in the trial.

What really scares Apple’s Competitors

I was recently talking with some of Apple’s competitors and they gave me some interesting feedback on how they feel about Apple. When I asked them what they actually fear about Apple, their answer was interesting. I had expected them to say things like Apple has great industrial design. Or their $117 billion cash position gives them a huge advantage over all competitors. Or even that since Apple owns their hardware, software and services, they can make them work together seamlessly, which also gives them a huge advantage over competitors.

But the consensus from those I talked to about what really scares them about Apple is the fact that Apple sees the future and then creates products that people want even if people do not know they want them.