Some Tech Critics Are Like Eunuchs In A Harem

Some Tech critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They see it done, they see how it should be done, but they can’t do it themselves or derive any pleasure from it, so they conclude that it’s a waste of time and effort. ((Inspired by: “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They’re there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can’t do it themselves. Brendan Behan, quoted in M. Sullivan, Brendan Behan: A Life (1997)”))

The Premise

Christopher Mims, writing for Quartz:

2013 was a lost year for tech

All in, 2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry

[pullquote]Oh, look! A dead horse! Where’s my stick?[/pullquote]

Mim’s article has already been critiqued, in detail, by the likes of John Gruber, Apple 2.0, and Daniel Eran Dilger. But never let it be said that I’m above piling on. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker: “This is not an article to be tossed aside lightly. Rather, it should be thrown with great force.”

For that reason, I present to you (some of) what’s wrong with Christopher Mims’ critique of tech in 2013.


2013 was the year smartphones became commodities…

Prices for good tablets have similarly collapsed.

What Mims claims is fine and all except for one thing — it just ain’t true.

A commodity is a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. A commodity has full or partial fungibility; that is, the market treats its instances as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them.

Phones and tablets are anything but commodities. I could prove that in some detail, but I don’t need to. One can tell that phones and tablets are not a commodity simply by looking at the wide disparity in their prices.

To miss something that obvious isn’t easy to do, but Mims — in this article, at least — seems to be up to the challenge.


If you don’t know the proper definition of a term, don’t use that term to support your argument.

Creative Destruction

Mims cites all of the following as signs that ‘2013 Was a Lost Year for Tech’:

Microsoft lost nearly a billion dollars on the Surface RT tablet…

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be pushed out…

Microsoft bought Nokia‘s devices business….

The outlook wasn’t much better for Intel…

BlackBerry…proved to be a near-total loss.

(T)he best that can be said so far (of Hewlett-Packard) is that it’s gracefully managing its own decline.

[pullquote](E)very wrong attempt discarded is a step forward. ~ Thomas Edison[/pullquote]

In viewing the above, any student of economics would come to the exact opposite conclusion that Mims did. 2013 was not a lost year. Far from it. It was a year of turmoil and turnover — the very embodiment of creative destruction.

“Creative destruction is a process through which something new brings about the demise of whatever existed before it. The term is used in a variety of areas including economics, corporate governance, product development, technology and marketing. In product development, for example, creative destruction is roughly synonymous with disruptive technology.” ~ Wikipedia


If you don’t know the proper economic theory, don’t use it to support your argument.

Planned Obsolescence

(Apple) crippled many older iPhones and led to complaints of planned obsolescence.

John Gruber refutes this argument, in detail, here.

[pullquote]People everywhere confuse what they read … with news. ~ A. J. Liebli[/pullquote]

Mims’ naked assertion that iOS7 crippled older iPhones is particularly grating. If you’re going to build an argument, you have to build it on a firm foundation. And if you’re going to make an extraordinary claim, then you have to provide extraordinary proof to support it. Instead, people like Mims simply make spurious claims and then build elaborate arguments on top of virtually nothing. It’s the equivalent of building a skyscraper on quicksand.


If you can’t support your facts, don’t use them to support your arguments.

Making Us Sick

(Apple introduced) animate(d) 3D effects that make some users feel ill…



[pullquote]Little things affect little minds. ~ Disraeli[/pullquote]

This is one of the buttresses Mims uses to support his contention that 2013 was a lost year in tech? Would he have similarly claimed that the Model-T, and every car that succeeded it, was a failure because it made some people car sick?

This is a textbook display of the cognitive distortion known as all-or-nothing thinking:

“All-or-nothing thinking: seeing things in black or white as opposed to shades of gray; thinking in terms of false dilemmas. Involves using terms like “always”, “every” or “never” when this is neither true, nor equivalent to the truth.”

Yes, some very few users of iOS 7 did suffer from motion sickness. Yes, Apple immediately released an update to remove the offending motion, if desired. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bath water. Mims discards all that is good in iOS 7 because he detects one trivial, easily correctable, flaw.

If Mims believes that progress comes without problems — and that any problem, no matter how trivial, outweighs all of progresses’ benefits — then he’d better get used to disappointment. And he’d better stop writing about tech.


One should never make a mountain out of a molehill.


If it’s in the nature of progress to move in leaps, there are necessarily lulls in between. …2013 was a great big dud for technology as a whole.

[pullquote] We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. ~ Bill Gates[/pullquote]

Lull? Lull? Does Mim even know what a lull is?

Geez, get some perspective man. 2013 was anything but a “lull”. Rather, it was a rapid acceleration of some important trends — like a car accelerating from 30 mph to 60 mph. Technology moved so fast in 2013, it was like trying to read Playboy magazine with your wife turning the pages.

Millions upon millions of people who never before had access to cellular or WiFi data connected in 2013. Millions upon millions of people who never before owned a computer bought one in 2013. Millions upon millions of feature phones were converted into smartphones in 2013.

More smartphones – which is A COMPUTER THAT FITS IN YOUR POCKET – were sold in a single quarter of 2013 than PCs were sold all year.

Perhaps Mims’ world wasn’t rocked in 2013 — but the worlds of tens of millions of ordinary folk was, and the world, as a whole, was changed forever.


If you don’t know the difference between gliding and accelerating, then stop criticizing the racers and stay safely on the sidelines.

No Breakthrough Products

Not a single breakthrough product was unveiled…

Apple’s new iOS7 mobile operating system…felt “more like a Microsoft release”…

(A) faster processor in the iPhone 5S…

(A) fingerprint sensor that solved a problem that wasn’t exactly pressing.

[pullquote]What? No unicorns in 2013? All of 2013? Shame. ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco)[/pullquote]

Mim’s whining that there were no tech breakthroughs in 2013 comes off as childish, impatient, petulant. He’s the worst kind of critic — having accomplished nothing himself, he demands annual miracles from others.

But that’s not the worst of it. Mim’s true sin is that he exposes his embarrassing lack of competence for all to see.

The role of the critic is to learn more, know more, understand more about their chosen field and to expose the unseen and explain the misunderstood to his audience. Even more, excellent critiquing consists of seeing what everybody else has seen and noticing what nobody else has noticed.

Does Mims do that? On the contrary.

Big things start small. The gardner sees the giant oak tree in the smallest acorn. Mims, on the other hand, expects the oak tree to appear fully grown.

LESSON #6: The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes


[pullquote]You are not superior just because you see the world in an odious light. ~ Vicomte de Chateaubriand[/pullquote]

If one looks for the bad in tech, one will surely find it. But is that the proper goal of tech journalism?

It seems to me that our job is to illuminate the fog. And while some use the light to illuminate, others use it to obscure.

Some people seem to think that innovation means change. And some think that change means innovation. But innovation doesn’t just mean change, it means making things better. And if you measure 2013 by that standard, then 2013 wasn’t a lost year, it was a year of change and change for the better.

And that’s worth writing about.

Apple Maps: Still a Disaster

I was hoping that with the official release of iOS 7, Apple would finally produce some major improvements in Apple Maps. But for all the attention Apple has lavished on other parts of the new OS, Apple seems to have given Maps the Find My Friends treatment. It looks like an iOS 7 apps, but that seems to be about it.


The worst problems continue to be in the map database. I know that in some places, such as the San Francisco Bay area, the maps are pretty good. But in my neck of the woods, they stink.

Consider the image to the left. A search for a Bethesda, MD, high school found it at its correct location, more or less. But look to the right, across Old Georgetown Road. There’s another Walter Johnson High School that is a permanent feature. And wrong.

In fact, there are at least three other errors in this one little panel. That street south of Democracy Boulevard is Bells Mill Road, not BeVs Mill.  The Giant Food is on the wrong side of Rock Spring Drive. It should be next to the Chipotle, where both are part of an otherwise missing shopping center.

In fact, just about every map screen I look at in my neighborhood has a mistake of some sort. A nonexistent school shows up a few blocks from my home, several miles from the school’s actual location. The National Institutes of Health Bethesda main campus, not exactly a minor landmark, is not indicated on the map. (I reported both of these errors to Apple a year ago.) The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is shown as the national Naval Medical Center, a name dropped two years ago, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and Howard Hughes Medical Institute are missing.

Apple has still not done what is needed to improve the shortcomings of the apps itself. There are still no public transit directions, one of the more useful features of Google Maps. Switching between driving and walking instructions remains awkward.

At least the driving directions from my home to Dulles Airport no longer terminate at the side of a highway next to a security fence, as they did originally. But the instructions come with a curious warning that the route requires tolls. It does’;t and the app ought to know it, since it correctly routes me onto the free Dulles Access Highway rather than the parallel Dulles Toll Road.

Fortunately, for the past several months, we have had an excellent version of Google Maps for the iPhone, so I rarely use Apple’s offering. But if Apple wants to be a serious player in this important part of the mobile business, it will have to do better–eventually.

The Second Most Important Failed OS

There’s little doubt that NeXTSTEP was the most important failed operating system. Though it went down with the overpriced and underpowered NeXT computer, it evolved into Mac OS X when NeXT was acquired by Apple and NeXTSTEP architect Avie Tevanian went there with Steve Jobs.

But honors for second place should go to WebOS, the operating system developed for the Palm Pre. Struggling Palm never had the resources to develop WebOS to its potential. Acquirer Hewlett-Packard had big ambitions, but corporate turmoil caused abandonment of the project before it got off the ground.

But while WebOS may be dead (LG now owns whatever is left of it), it influence lives on. iOS 7, announced by Apple today, shows more than a few traces of WebOS, especially in the user interface for multitasking apps, where a user can scroll through cards representing running apps and flick away cards to kill apps that aren’t needed. Google Now, which uses somewhat similar gestures to look through and dismiss notifications also shows lingering WebOS influence.

Software comes and software goes, but good ideas have a way of living on.

iOS 7: A New Beginning for iOS

It took only a few minutes of seeing the iOS 7 preview for me to sarcastically say to myself “yep, Apple’s done innovating.” Something of course I would never be foolish enough to believe, yet so many people seem to. ((There was certainly more meat in the keynote than iOS 7 to prove to people Apple is not done innovating. Mac Pro anyone?)) I did make a key observation, however, as I watched the video and the demo of iOS 7. I became convinced that iOS 7 marks a new beginning for iOS.

Sophisticated Simplicity

When Apple first launched iOS on the very first iPhone, it took the world by storm. Apple, for arguably many years, had what nearly everyone would consider the most powerful mobile OS. Android has taken great strides to compete for the title, but I think with iOS 7 an incredibly strong argument can be made that iOS 7 is without a doubt the worlds most powerful mobile OS. ((I’m sure many will claim that Android is the most powerful OS, but I have been speaking with developers and gaining data that shows many limitations in sophistication in Android. More to come on that later)) And as I am fond of saying, it accomplishes this with unparalleled levels of sophisticated simplicity.

iOS 7 brings with it many new design, and user-interface elements that add new dimensions of visual appeal to iOS. Things like the depth of feel of the dynamic backgrounds that move with the gyroscope as you move the device. Or the new translucence of many apps allowing you to get greater context within an app. But it is the functionality of the overall experience in which iOS 7 breaks new ground.

Multi-tasking for example has taken a huge leap forward. Android users have argued for years that multi-tasking was better on Android and it was. But now even the most casual observers must admit iOS multi-tasking is on par, if not better. The ability to jump back and forth quickly between applications is a key task of a powerful and efficient mobile OS and iOS 7 does it simply and elegantly. ((The multi-tasking app card view is strikingly similar to webOS. This is a huge compliment to what was briefly one of the best mobile OSes around))

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 2.09.20 PM

Multi-tasking itself has not just gotten functionally better but also intelligently more effective. Things like intelligently updating some of the apps you use most often in the background so they are up to date when you open them. Facebook, for example, can stay up to date without the need to constantly refresh to get new data every time you open it. Twitter or news apps will all be able to automatically update while adapting to network conditions. Your most used apps, and the data within them, kept up to date intelligently.

Control Center is another good example that is enabled by swiping up from the bottom. A simple yet efficient difference from competitors who have all notifications and controls swiping from the top down. For many reaching their thumb to the top to swipe down is hard or clumsy, especially on large screen devices. Yet for everyone, swiping up to access some of the most used controls is easily within reach. This is a great example of thoughtful functionality being added to iOS 7. [pullquote]iOS 7 is not just visually more appealing, but also functionally more useful[/pullquote]

The camera app has been redesigned to not just look great but also to be more functional. Siri, Safari, the Music app, Photos are now organized by moments, all have been re-designed from the ground up and are not just visually more appealing but also functionally more useful.

There are more new improvements in both visual appeal and function than I can get into. But all of these and more create such a fresh experience with the iPhone that when you get your hands or eyes on the new iOS and in particular when you get it on your iPhone or iPad, I am confident it will feel like an entirely new iPhone or iPad. iOS 7 is a new direction for the next generation.

Anything But Flat

I’d rather not get into a long debate of design philosophy but many rumors were circling about iOS 7 moving to a flat design look and feel. From what I saw iOS 7 is anything but flat. Rather, it was full of depth and vitality. Particularly the dynamic backgrounds with an image set is something that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. But flat design is a philosophy and those who debate these things can argue whether some of iOS 7 is flat or not. My opinion, for what its worth, is that the feel and the experience of iOS 7 is anything but flat.

There are layers to iOS 7 that give it such a rich and dynamic feel. After seeing it, it is hard to be content with iOS 6 (as great as iOS 6 is). This again, is part of the conclusion, of why I believe iOS 7 is a new beginning for iOS.

This transition from iOS 6 to iOS 7, is as big for the iPhone and for Apple as the transition was from OS 9 to OS X. OS X marked a new era for the Mac and I am confident that iOS 7 marks a new era for iPhone, iPad, and whatever else Apple lets it run on. ((Like a TV)) iOS 7 is a new foundation to Apple to build upon, reach new consumers, and bring mobile computing into a new era. They have upped the bar in what a mobile computing OS is with iOS 7.

John Gruber wrote a great post yesterday where he stated:

The primary problem Apple faced with the iPhone in 2007 was building familiarity with a new way of using computers. That problem has now been solved. It is time to solve new problems.

The training wheels can now come off. That’s what I think Apple’s going to do tomorrow

The training wheels are certainly off. iOS 7 has set a foundation for Apple to tackle and solve new problems in mobile computing. The software experience is what makes the hardware. I have no doubt iOS 7 will give any hardware it runs a new beginning.