Inside Apple — But Not Far Enough

by francine Hardaway on February 19, 2012

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

I just finished reading Adam Lashinsky ‘s book “Inside Apple.”  It must have been an incredibly difficult book to write, given all the secrecy surrounding Apple, and I am not sure it is as fascinating a read as Walter Isaacson‘s bio of Steve Jobs, BUT (a very important BUT) Lashinsky draws conclusions at the end that I think will turn out to be prescient.

I think it’s already apparent that Apple will be different without Jobs. Even though the products it has released since his death have been well-received, they’re really not stellar.

Siri, introduced as a beta product, has proven all but unusable to me. It’s cool to have, but the best thing I can reliably do with it is set an alarm for myself. I am not sure I need a personal assistant for that. When Siri first came out as an app, several years ago, +Robert Scoble got me to try it, and I drew the same conclusion. I could (maybe) make a dinner reservation. But most of the time I had the same problem with it that I had with IBM VoiceType Dictation fifteen years earlier; training it to my voice is a barrier I will probably never cross. I will find a workaround first.

iMessages, which I downloaded the day it came out, is another beta product, and one I am not sure I need. If it doesn’t really integrate all my IM lists, it’s not useful to me, and I am pretty far into GTalk at this point.

iCLoud seems to be similarly late, although I own enough Apple products and devices (four in a one-person household) to reserve judgment. How many places can hold my music? It’s already on Google and Amazon, in iTunes and most of it is on Spotify.

And Mountain Lion itself, although I haven’t yet tried it, doesn’t sound earth shattering for me either. Yes, Airplay on the Mac sounds like a good thing in principle, but tell me how many devices I need to send Netflix to a TV. I already have Apple TV and an iPad.

And then there are the textbooks. Everyone agrees that textbooks should be digital. But I’m on a bunch of educational technology social streams right now, and the teachers are a bit angry that IPad apps and iPad texts are the only future. The teachers I speak to don’t want their students (or themselves) to  be forced to give up what they have now for another, potentially expensive, device. And schools are broke, governments unwilling to fund them further. We don’t even have to get into issues with publishers to see the stumbling blocks.

The Jobs reality distortion field was incredibly important to Apple. Or perhaps it was his leadership that was important. Either way, things have already changed.

I happened to be at Intel the year +Andy Grove got kicked upstairs to Chairman at the mandatory retirement age of 65. I didn’t know a thing about Intel politics,nor did I want to, but I know the company changed almost overnight under the management of Craig Barrett. Grove was an entrepreneurial spirit, and Barrett was nicknamed “Mr. Copy Exactly.” The stock price has never recovered.

For me, Intel immediately became a place I longer wanted to work (they probably didn’t want me, either). I’m not saying Apple is doomed, but I think you ought to read Adam’s book and draw your own conclusions.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Pinto February 20, 2012 at 3:34 am

Actually I’ve been blown away by how good Siri really is — the thing is that it really works best on the data sets that your iPhone is strong at: So if you ask it the weather, need a DJ or want to find pizza it’s great. It’s very first generation — the problems with it are the speed of uploading your voice, but that will change in time. In fact I think once you see Siri on a Mac with a touchscreen you’ll be amazed that said features weren’t standard before. 

I also think that people forget how underwhelmed people were at many of the Steve Jobs announcements. People didn’t think anything of the iPod. People hated the fact that there was no stylus or keyboard on the iPhone. People just thought of the iPad as a giant iPhone. The problem is that we’ve sort of made Jobs a saint and forgot all of the detractors — and he did bomb with products like the hockey puck mouse and not allowing developers to make apps for the iPhone. 

The irony now is that the trick for Apple is to see if it can be IBM: A company that can thrive after the first generation of founders left. IBM pulled that off, but it feels like HP and Microsoft won’t be able to duplicate that magic. 

hardaway February 20, 2012 at 6:24 am

That’s a great comment, Michael. My iPhone data probably sucks. But mostly Siri is like the wife who doesn’t understand me. She is constantly saying she’s “sorry Francine, I don’t understand you” or “still trying””. And I guess I don’t order pizza very much #healthyeater. It doesn’t understand when I ask it to find local movie times though.
Francine Hardaway, PhD
Stealthmode Partners

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