Monthly Archives: September 2012

Michigan v. Notre Dame: the end of an era

It was announced today that Notre Dame is not going to renew the contract to play Michigan annually, meaning the last game will be in 2014 in South Bend.  It’s tempting to think that ND witnessed the crapfest on the field this last weekend and decided that Touchdown Jesus shouldn’t take it anymore.  But the reality is that it has to with money, conference alignments, and probably tweaking schedules to be a little less murderous so that the Irish — who’ve been on the way back for decades — can have a hope of seeing another National Championship.

As much as I loathe the Irish, I will miss the series, which gave us many, many great memories.  The Rocket was ridiculous, and (the good) Denard his second coming.   If we squinted enough, we could actually convince ourselves that this series is a representation of what college football should be: quality schools, high character kids, ancient rivals with plenty to taunt each other about.   Michigan is the all-time winningest school, with the highest winning percentage, and we actually taught ND how to play the game somewhere in the 1800’s.  Notre Dame has more Heisman Trophies, their own network, and God.

I remember Desmond’s catch like it was this morning.  I was in grad school at UM, and my wife and I were in the student section when Elvis, on fourth down, went for it all, pumping once and delivering the perfect pass to the perfect receiver.  We know the rest.

Ultimately money is winning in College Football, and there is too much to hold one’s nose about.  Whether it’s athletes getting a tiny fraction of apparel sales, or sleazy over signing perfected by the SEC, we all know what’s going on, and shrug.

But Michigan v. Notre Dame felt right.

iHypocracy: a stupid but obvious example

Yeah, Apple’s magical genius is coming out here.  Apple’s new iPad clock is on the left above; the Swiss Railroad’s classic design on the right.  No question about Apple’s taste, or the provenance of the design.  Looks like they’re going to (have to) have a conversation with the Swiss, reactively, to pay some royalties.

As I’ve said elsewhere, though it may have had a deep reserve of sympathy from the 80s and 90s, Apple is no longer seen as the victim of Microsoft diabolical copying, or the rebel: consumer psyche operates a little differently when your market cap is $650B.  Among other things, the combination of minting money, foisting $30 lightning cable adaptors on millions of loyal iDevice ecosystem members, shipping a downgraded mapping app (for good reasons few consumers give a crap about), and a whole series of borderline smug and self satisfied TV ads, may begin to add up in a negative way.

Perhaps they need to revisit wrapping themselves in a bit of U2 or Feist or (insert current cool).

iOS 6 maps: mostly accurate for me, a little too cute at times

I use driving directions on my iphone pretty frequently.  Seattle is a city on a grid, so I don’t when in town, but almost invariably on a business trip with a rental it comes in handy.  I’ve been using TomTom’s iPhone app, generally with great success.

All of these apps have data accuracy issues, it’s just a matter of degree.  TomTom almost got me killed (well, I was driving too fast) on a back country CT road that it thought was actually still there, but years before had apparently been blocked off because of a new (great) golf course.  If you look up the same section in Google Maps, it’s pretty clear the Old Stone Road ends:

Apple, likely because it uses TomTom data, has the same inaccuracy (Old Stone Road does NOT go through as it appears below, but ends with a pile of logs in the woods) that almost got me killed:

Like many people, I’ve had mixed results with Apple maps so far.   Not poor, just mixed.  Some examples:

  • I used it quite a bit for turn by turn driving directions in San Jose last week, and I’m happy to report the maps were accurate and the system worked well for the most part.  Granted, that was Apple’s back yard.
  • I had some minor issues with the route selection UX, especially selecting starting and ending points.  It just didn’t seem very intuitive, though once I “got it” it was very efficient.  I ended up going to a place I’d already been that day.  Minor problem that will get fixed fast.
  • It’s unclear whether the TxT directions are taking into account traffic, but in my case they seemed to, attempting to route me away from the obvious exit — suspicious advice I ignored, and then promptly wound up in bumper to bumper that I hadn’t expected.
  • The dotted red line design for showing where traffic is heavy is a bit precious in the TxT.  It’s one thing to have something very subtle when one is just using maps.  It’s quite another thing when you are behind the wheel, and only glancing at the maps in traffic.  I think the colors need to be more pronounced, even to the point of messing up the feng whatever they think they’ve achieved.   I do like that they’re only marking up where there’s bad traffic: no reason to clutter it up with green for good traffic — unless nothing at all indicates, erroneously, that there might not be any data a section of road.
  • I used it again last night going from Seattle to see a concert in Puyallup (short review of Train may come), and it worked like a charm, recalculating seamlessly when we got off the route for a quick coffee.
  • One more thing about clutter removal: I know it makes for a busy display, but I actually like it when TomTom tells me a) how much time is left in my trip, and b) the time I’ll arrive.  Yes, I can do the math myself, but it’s a convenience.   Apple hasn’t bothered to implement either yet.

I do think that Apple’s business rationale for shipping the product before it’s complete and hyper accurate is sound.   Apple and Google benefitted from each other for years — Google got an enormous amount of data, and Apple got a top quality mapping app — but that obviously isn’t a viable strategy now for Apple:  Geo spatial stuff is a strategic asset, key for everything mobile, and Apple rightly doesn’t want a competitor a) owning that core component, and b) delivering them second rate functionality (which they’d begun to do with iOS vs. Android).

Apple needs to take the pain, collect data fast, and do the grunt work (sometimes manual).  They can afford it.  I expect the maps will get better very quickly, especially where there is great iOS density.

Thoughts about Apple after the iPhone 5 launch

If you listen to the chatter about the iPhone 5 announce, opinion is mixed:

  • Financial Analysts: generally bullish, even though they lazily lean on the law of big numbers all to often with Apple.  AAPL will blow past $700 soon, and Apple earns more money in a single day than AMZN makes in a whole quarter.  And despite the fact that Apple’s P/E ratio is a little over 16, compared to AMZN’s 377(!), Apple is still growing faster than them.
  • Apple bloggers like @DaringFireball, @TheLoop, @ParisLemon, with initial, positive thoughts (while they save their insights for larger pieces they’ll publish after they’ve had the chance to play with the demo units they all probably have but can’t talk about yet)
  • General Tech columnists: mixed, trying to be “fair and balanced” about Android, pretty jaded that Apple hasn’t disrupted another industry in the last 6 months
  • Fan boys on both sides of the OS “debate”: to be ignored largely

To the extent that there are negative themes, they pretty much fall into the following buckets:

  • The new iPhone is just incremental improvement
  • The new Lightning connector is (another) diabolical, $29 high-margin bauble to force lock-in to the Apple ecosystem when mini USB connectors — which litter the “old cable” box in many households — would have sufficed nicely for modernization and slimness
  • Apple is once again late to the party on big screens, LTE, etc.
  • Apple is actually behind because it didn’t ship NFC, widgets, haptics, etc
  • Meta-theme: there is no more magic, it left with Steve, and the whole affair felt rehearsed, boring, and a bit disingenuous.  There were no surprises because Apple’s veil of secrecy is broken.  Apple is slipping.

Most of that is a crock of course.

The reality is that Apple right now is a marvel of business execution probably never seen before.  If you are at all inclined to admire business done right, take a step back and think about what they are doing right now:

  • Clear, steady focus on shipping beautiful, well-designed, highest build-quality devices with compromises that are usually made for the right reasons.  No one is surprised that Bang and Olufsen thinks it important and smart business to try and make the world more beautiful.  I do think it surprising that the world’s largest company by market cap does.  Also, it’s not like they are foisting pretty devices that are built to fail after the average 18- to 24-month device life cycle of the average consumer.  These things are generally built to last compared to the average plastic Android platter.
  • Devices with mass market appeal and accessibility: it’s not hard to create an appealing car that only 1% of the developed world can afford (Porsche).  What’s hard is creating a device that appeals to the 1% but can be bought by a significant portion of the market.
  • Well-oiled supply chain operations: they are putting capital to work strategically by buying up manufacturing capacity their competition can’t; they are investing in the tooling for their manufacturing partners in order to reduce risk and cost in difficult to build processes; they are producing more of their own strategic components (e.g., chips) and both capturing more of the BOM’s margin, and de-risking their sourcing; and they are making very subtle product decisions that cascade down through their whole production process even though it’s mostly outsourced (like screen sizes that allow them to get more yield out of LED panels).  If you think Apple is all pixie dust, marketing and glitz, you couldn’t be more wrong.
  • Nearly flawless ecosystem development: great developer tools, relentlessly maintaining the most homogeneous device base, upgrading iTunes slowly but surely to keep it as the single most productive and lucrative distribution vehicle for developers, quietly evolving iCloud (and our dependence on it), etc.

They are a US company making mountains of cash by providing a product that has best in class beauty, quality, usability, and that we simply LOVE.  That’s why we enthusiastically buy it even though it costs quite a bit.

About some of those negative themes directly:

  1. “just” incremental improvement: the only things incremental about the iPhone 5 are the things that should be.  Like the overall design.  Thinness and weight reduction done right, is HARD.  With the iPhone 5, it was achieved by developing a high volume, sturdy, cost-effectively machined unibody enclosure that components can be affixed w/o a separate armature.  This is incredibly innovative at this scale — but largely gets a yawn from people.
  2. The Lightening connector: I agree that it’s a pain in the ass, and that most people have been proven smart enough to not need a reversible plug, but it was the only way to get to thin.  If you don’t care about thin, then it will seem frivolous at best, and cynical at worst.  But at least they got a decade out of the previous version.  There are a lot of hotel rooms and cars that will require adaptors, and I might be pissed if I were them, but neither of those industries can complain about saddling consumers with old tech (think low-def pictures stretched across your hotel room’s flat panel). The reason most of us have tons of these 30-pin cables conveniently at hand is simply that Apple was disciplined about it for a long time.
  3. Apple late to the party on technologies again: I think there is a subtle thing going on here: are people bothered by Apple not shipping battery killing LTE before its time?  Or, are they bothered that Apple wraps an entire device roll out event with “magic” and “revolutionary” tags and thus seem to imply that they are the first to ship certain things when they’re not.  I think it’s the latter.  I think they like to look at the device, in totality, as a game changer.  Gadget geeks like to deconstruct a little more, and look at feeds and speeds, and aren’t forgiving.  It would be more forthright for Apple to say, “Hey, others have had LTE for awhile, but we’re getting to it now because we curate technologies for customers, and we think the chip sets and batteries are ready for it.”  I’m not sure though that that’s better marketing, since 99% of the people who will ultimately buy the iPhone are not watching the event, or reading the blogs.
  4. The iPhone 5 is behind on certain technologies: it just depends on how you define behind.  Could they ship NFC, inductive charging, haptic screen taps, fingerprint readers, OLED, etc.?  Sure.  Does anybody really think that Samsung or Motorola really have, at this point, technological capabilities that Apple and $120B in cash couldn’t procure?  No, I think Apple fundamentally doesn’t care about any other judgment about who is ahead than their own.
  5. Apple slipping:  I think some of the superficial criticism is of course well observed.  There are a lot of leaks, but that has to do with such a massive supply chain that is orders of magnitude more difficult to maintain secrecy in than it was before.   Does it seem more artificial and wooden?  Yeah, it does, but probably because Tim, Phil, Greg, Scott and the rest are just not as good as Steve Jobs at presenting exhaustively rehearsed material in a natural way.

They are absolutely killing it, and I hope they continue to.