Thoughts On Apple

on September 22, 2014

Let’s start with the bad news: The Apple Watch. This beautiful, technological marvel is, in my view, the device our future selves point back to as delineating when Apple changed forever.

Not necessarily for the good.

The company long known for delivering absolutely amazing computing devices, so perfect, so uncannily universal that often times, one device, one product line, one price point is sufficient, is no more. The new Apple Watch starts out with three distinct variations and what appears to be a near-infinite number of eye-catching bands.

This feels wrong.

Tim Cook said the Apple Watch is the company’s most “personal device yet.” Maybe so. At present, my take is thus: The Apple Watch is a pricey talisman, one certain to accelerate the top-line yet with only marginal tangible benefit to Apple’s existing customers.

Have we crossed a line?

The Strange Changes

Yes, change is necessary, often good. I realize this is Tim Cook’s Apple, not Steve Jobs’ Apple. That’s both obvious and expected. What I find so troubling is that I no longer know if this is my Apple. Having defended Apple for years against the silly, baseless charge that “Apple is a marketing company,” I woke up last week to discover that, as John Gruber flatly stated, “Apple is not a tech company.”  

I am at a loss to adequately explain why anyone would pay $349 for this device. Indeed, $349 just gets you in the door. Yes, many analysts made similar declarations about the iPhone and the iPad. Fair enough. The Apple Watch may prove transformative. Still, Apple was able to fully, succinctly proclaim exactly how we could and would all benefit from those earlier products. This is much less so with Apple Watch:

It’s the most personal product we’ve ever made, because it’s the first one designed to be worn.

Yes, but what does it do? And why should I buy one?

A device you wear is vastly different from one you keep on a desk or carry in your pocket. It’s more than a tool. It’s a very personal expression. 

Yes, but what does it do?

Apple Watch combines a series of remarkable feats of engineering into a singular, entirely new experience. One that blurs the boundaries between the physical object and the software that powers it.

I do not understand.

Apple Watch also presents time in a more meaningful, personal context by sending you notifications and alerts relevant to your life and schedule.

Such as?

Apple Watch is right there on your wrist, so it makes all the ways you’re used to communicating more convenient. 

Tell me one!

Don’t Want To Be A Richer Man

Most of the world could never afford Apple products, be they Macs or iDevices. This was, frankly, because the costs of quality, usability, integration and reliability necessitated those high prices. True, Apple margins on iPods, iPhones, iPads and some Macs are sizable. Prices can be lower, in theory. The bargain between Apple and customer, however, is we accept these large margins knowing that year after year after year Apple products will get better, without fail, until a completely new magical device takes flight. That’s money well spent.

Will this be so with Apple Watch?

I think not.

Based purely on the company’s marketing messages, the various Apple Watch(es) appear priced primarily for reasons almost fully extraneous to its technology or functionality. I find this disconcerting, to say the least.

For most users, Apple offers the very best smartphone, tablet, MP3 player and laptop available anywhere. The Apple Watch changes this equation in no way. Still, I can’t help but wonder if my relationship with Apple will change now that this “non-tech” company so proudly offers what we assume will be, per Gruber, gold bands on deluxe watches that retail for an astounding $10,000 or more. 

I don’t even go into those stores.

Time May Change Me

Throughout its history, Apple has gifted us with numerous incredible devices. Recall the iMac, the iPod (classic) or the very first iPhone. We never envisioned such a device, then quickly wondered how we ever lived without it. It was as if someone from the future left this marvel behind, perhaps accidentally, perhaps as a test. But always, magic, always liberating. 

The Apple Watch feels the opposite of this. Lock-in is not liberating. With Watch, Apple has created a mobile computing device with a small screen which requires another mobile computing device with a small screen, the iPhone, before it can function properly. 

I can’t help but think how much better it would be — for us, the users — had Apple taken all that Watch work, all those Watch resources, and made the iPhone, iPad and Mac even better, more magical. This applies to the iPhone, in particular. The fact is, I believe Apple and iPhone are on the cusp of remaking everything and I selfishly do not want Apple to blow this opportunity by getting sidetracked with a watch.

And now the good news.

Change Their Worlds

In his long interview with Charlie Rose last week, Tim Cook stated it’s important to think about long term, big picture ideas. One of these, he said, is what comes after the Internet?

I suspect Apple is not merely thinking about what comes after the Internet, but actually working toward this. What is it? My prediction: The entire Internet done right. That is, a secure, family friendly, screen-optimized web paid for by all of us — with our money not our privacy.

Google should be very concerned.

With iTunes, apps, Apple Pay, Apple TV, iCloud, continuity, inter-app communication — now available across all screen sizes and devices — we can finally have our “web” the way we’ve always wanted, the way we’ve always deserved, before we foolishly allowed it down that horrible path back in the 1990s, funded by pornography, data tracking, unceasing ads and content “aggregation” that bordered on theft.

Apple has developed the tools to make these bad bits all go away. We get what we want, reliably, securely, privately, by paying for it, not by having bits of us taken, not by having our eyes and ears assaulted with unwanted garbage.

This will change everything. It cannot come soon enough. 

Oh, and the company is not just remaking the digital web and e-commerce. Apple is helping to re-configure offline retail, making it better, faster, more personal. Consider its currently available toolkit:

  • Apple Pay (money and credit)
  • Touch ID (security)
  • iPad (cash register)
  • iBeacon and Passbook (for deals and rewards)
  • AirDrop (peer-to-peer sharing of money and benefits)

No one else has anything like this.

Perhaps I’ve been unfair to the not-yet-released Apple Watch. But, companies can’t do everything. The iPhone is literally helping us to change the world. It is re-making commerce, the web, play, learning, work. I don’t want to lose this opportunity.

I fear the Apple Watch has captured Tim Cook’s focus and consumed the best of the company’s design, hardware and software skills. If so, while Watch may be great for Apple I believe it is detrimental for the rest of us.