Posts Tagged: apple


16
Mar 12

Apple’s momentary lapse of reason

As we all know (and Wall Street knows), Apple is a well-oiled machine these days. Unfortunately, there seems to be a screw loose down in the shipping dept.

This is the story of my friend Sam in Tucson, who was anxiously awaiting the scheduled March 16th delivery of his gorgeous new personalized iPad.

On March 14th, just two days before his delivery date, Sam received the above email from Apple. Even after he read it a few times, he was scratching his head.

For starters, it was riddled with typos. Not one or two, but six. Given Apple’s perfectionist standards, surely someone’s head would roll as a result. (Just three hours later, Sam received another email owning up to the errors. Continue reading →


15
Feb 12

And now, a different kind of Apple book

True confession time:

I’ve written a book.

Something tells me you won’t be surprised when I tell you it’s about Steve Jobs and Apple. But this book is different. Really.

That’s because (a) I had a unique vantage point to some pivotal events in Apple history, and (b) this book focuses on one thing alone — the core value that has driven Apple since the beginning.

Insanely Simple is about Apple’s obsession with Simplicity.

You can see Simplicity in everything Apple does: the way it organizes, innovates and communicates. In fact, one could argue that it was Steve’s unrelenting passion for Simplicity that helped Apple rise from near-death in 1997 to become the most valuable company on Earth in 2011.

My observations come from over 12 years of experience as Steve’s agency creative director, from NeXT to Apple. Also relevant to my story are the years I spent on the agency team during John Sculley’s rule at Apple. And then I had some interesting (and often excruciating) experiences in the worlds of Dell, Intel and IBM — which made me even more conscious of what sets Apple apart.

To Steve Jobs, Simplicity was a religion. But it was also a weapon — one that he used to humble competitors once thought to be invincible.

Apple’s devotion to Simplicity is the one constant that can be traced from the first Apple II computer all the way to today’s iPad. Though the company’s success is built upon engineering and design skills, it’s the love of Simplicity that truly powers Apple, revolution after revolution.

Technically, this is a business book. The idea is that in a complicated world, nothing stands out like Simplicity. If you better understand how Apple’s obsession has driven its success, you can adopt the same principles to boost your own organization — or your own career.

That said, Insanely Simple is a general interest book too. It’s a fun read for anyone who’d like to know what it was like to work in Steve’s world during the rebirth of Apple. It will give you a better understanding of what makes Apple Apple.

Crass salesmanship alert: I think you’ll like it. In my book, as I do in my blog, I use my personal experiences with Apple, NeXT and other companies to illustrate the power of Simplicity — and to warn of the evils of Complexity. Many of my stories have never been told publicly, so you’ll find more than a few surprises.

There’s a bit more about the book here.

Insanely Simple is available April 26th, but you gain extra appreciation points if you pre-order — which you can do at iBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and 800-CEO-read.

Last, I invite you to join my new mail list over there in the sidebar. I promise not to abuse the privilege, and I’d love to make you part of my secret club.

Thanks all!


6
Jan 12

Apple’s predictable unpredictability

First of all, welcome to 2012. Okay, so I’m a little behind the rest of the world, but I finally made it.

The new year actually makes a perfect topic for Week 1. As you probably noticed, this week we got a mini-flood of articles about what we can expect from Apple in 2012: iPad 3, iPhone 5, Apple TV, slim MacBook Pro. To which most of us would say:

Duh.

Of course that’s what’s coming. It’s hardly news. I’ll tell ya, secrecy just isn’t what it used to be.

Though Apple continues to be thought of as one of the most secretive companies on earth, the truth is, they’ve lost the ability to surprise us like they did in the good old days.

The products are still amazing. The announcement events are fun. We still get surprised by the details as they are unveiled. It’s just that we know in advance what the products will be.

It wasn’t always this way. When Steve returned to Apple in 1997, secrets were secrets. His onstage announcements were real surprises (for the most part). The look of iMac was a shock. You had no idea that Apple was going to enter the consumer electronics market with iPod. You weren’t sure which Apple technology would be the focus of each event.

Breaches of secrecy were a scandal. Several days before the introduction of the first multicolored iMacs, the official family photo of all five models escaped from a printing facility in Germany, where a version of the multipage insert was being printed. It took the steam out of Steve’s big announcement — which was a crime punishable by death. (Or something close to it.)

As Apple has grown, and more people are exposed to the deep, dark secrets at various stages of product development, that kind of secrecy doesn’t exist anymore.

People were talking about iPhone — and calling it by name — months before it appeared. The name iPad was a surprise, but the device wasn’t — it was also widely expected months before, and its features accurately predicted.

This isn’t a terrible thing. It’s just a different thing. The new “iTV” (or whatever it will be called) will get the same attention this year. There will be buzz for months ahead, because Apple shaking up a new category is a great story. Journalists will hang on every word at the announcement event, even if many of the details become known before.

The only difference between now and then is that we know it’s coming. At least in the broad strokes.

I do find myself wondering about one thing this year. What’s next for Mac Pro? While it has grown in power, no product in Apple history has gone this long without a major overhaul. Mac Pro can now be officially classified as a “workhorse.” We’ve come to expect internal improvements only, but no major conceptual rethinking.

Will Apple demonstrate a new commitment to the pro market? Or will Mac Pro get upgraded the way Final Cut Pro did? Does Apple still love the high-end pros, or is it really just focusing on different levels of consumer now?

While it may be easier to predict Apple’s hardware these days, predicting its intentions is a different matter.

Happy 2012.


19
Dec 11

Santa gets his Siri on

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. A holiday commercial from Apple. It’s a heartwarming time of year.

While the Mac vs. PC animated holiday ads always added a unique twist to that campaign, these days Apple has to dig a little deeper.

Fortunately they have Siri to play with, and it makes for a cheerful, happy holiday spot.

Love the voice they’ve given Santa (even if his little laugh doesn’t seem to be quite in sync with his cookie-chewing mouth). And the end joke is as charming as they get —  very much in the spirit of the humor Siri normally displays.

The only thing I wondered about was the timing. Running a holiday spot one week before the holiday seemed like it was cutting things a bit close. Seems like Santa could have enjoyed at least a two-week run, maybe more.

But then I noticed that in three years of Mac vs. PC holiday spots, they debuted on the 19th, 13th and 16th of December. So either the guys have been consistently late in the production department, or this is the way Apple likes to roll.

And the truth is, the short run makes these spots feel even more special, so it’s all good. And I’ll bet more than a few last-minute shoppers start seeing visions of iPad dancing in their heads.


28
Oct 11

Isaacson: What made Steve Steve

Stop pressuring me. I’m reading as fast as I can.

I have to say, I’m thoroughly enjoying Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Even more impressive than the writing (which is great) is Isaacson’s ability to weave an incredible number of interviews into one coherent story.

I’m not nearly done yet. But what interested me so much in the first half of the book are the early behaviors/experiences that helped form the mature Steve.

Stop here if you don’t want to hear any spoilers.

1. Visiting a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Steve witnessed a newborn calf struggle to its feet. He thought it was remarkable that she was “hardwired” to accomplish this instinctively. Somehow the brain and body were engineered to work together from the start. Ordinarily, I’d say it’s a stretch to tie this to Apple’s hardware and software working together — except that this story comes directly from Steve. The fact that he remembered it so distinctly is interesting, to say the least.

2. Steve’s father taught him a lesson in craftsmanship when they built a fence together, paying attention even to the details that no one would ever see. Many years later, in creating the first Macintosh, Steve demanded that the internal circuit board be better looking, even though no user could ever see it.

3. Of his time in India, Steve observed that the locals used their intuition more than their intellect. Steve said, “Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than any intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.” I’ll say.

4. Steve was barefoot when he pitched the Apple II to Atari’s president, Joe Keenan. He put his feet up on the desk while they talked and Joe didn’t like it one bit. Some 20 years later, I had the pleasure of seeing the same routine at one of our agency meetings, right there in the Apple boardroom. We weren’t grossed out, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen the bottoms of any other CEO’s feet.

5. In 1981, Steve had a “father figure” in then-CEO of Apple Mike Markkula. Steve said Mike is the one who taught him all about marketing — which is a huge deal, since we all know how Steve’s marketing sense permeates everything Apple does. Mike crafted a one-page paper entitled “The Apple Marketing Philosophy.” Isaacson summarizes its three main points. Empathy: establishing an intimate relationship with the feelings of customers. Focus: eliminating unimportant opportunities so they could do a good job of the things they wanted to do. Impute: ensuring that products are presented in such a way that people perceive quality. The 1981 Apple sounds suspiciously like the 2011 Apple.

6. Steve signed up for a booth at the West Coast Computer Faire, where the Apple II would make its debut. He shocked Woz by paying $5,000 for the best location in the hall, next to the entrance. Woz: “Steve decided that this was our big launch. We would show the world we had a great machine and great company.” Of course, over the years Steve would make sure Apple had a commanding presence at every show — until the company was successful enough that it didn’t even have to show up.

7. Everyone knows about Steve being inspired about the graphical interface and mouse he saw at the Xerox PARC facility. The part I never heard before was that Xerox’s mouse had three buttons and cost $300. Steve went to a local design firm, demanding a single-button mouse that cost $15. Not surprisingly, he got it.

Not that I ever suspected that the modern Steve magically appeared from nowhere — but it’s interesting to see how many of his famous behaviors and beliefs were evident so many years ago.


25
Oct 11

Siri makes her TV debut

Welcome to Steve Jobs Authorized Biography Week. Shame on me for not writing about the Isaacson book today — but hey, that thing is long. Meet me back here in a few days.

For now, let’s talk Siri, which is shaping up to be a giant leap for such a “disappointing” iPhone 4S.

What better way to celebrate a giant leap than with a TV commercial. And the verdict is…

Excellent.

Like Siri, this spot feels new. The music track has a sense of magic. What we see is simply a sequence of different people interacting with Siri in different ways. It may be an obvious way of demoing Siri, but when you have an extraordinary feature, obvious is your best friend.

Siri comes off like the practical application of the technology we’ve seen forever in movies like 2001 and Star Trek. (With slightly better results than 2001.) It feels like the cast is talking to a person rather than a computer, which of course is the whole point of Siri — and what makes it such an “on-brand” technology for Apple.

There are nice touches in the writing that add to the humanity. Like “How do I tie a bow tie again?” Siri doesn’t particularly care about the “again” part, but that’s how people talk. In the last clip, we get more of a lament than a question or command: “I’m locked out of the house.” Siri seems almost empathetic.

If Siri is a world-changing feature, Apple could have run a grand manifesto ad to boldly proclaim the beginning of a new age. Instead, they went the quieter route, demonstrating how Siri fits into our lives. We hear Siri speak only once — which is another part of the crafting, as too much of Siri’s voice would only draw attention to one of her weaker areas.

So congrats to Apple and Chiat for a job well done.

Anything to quibble over? One small thing. In a spot where “human and natural” is the theme, the shots of Mr. Hand holding an iPhone (first and last scenes) feel unnatural — because they are lifeless still images of a hand rather than film. I’m sure this makes it easier to add the screens in post production, but surely the technology exists to do the same with real film. I think I know what Siri would say:

“I’ve found three digital effects studios fairly close to you.”

Conan O’Brien has already done his version of this commercial. See that here.


18
Oct 11

iPhone’s Magic 8-Ball

Human beings have this built-in need to be fascinated.

In the past, Apple’s iDevices have done a pretty good job of seducing us simply by their elegance and simplicity.

With iPhone 4S, however, Siri is doing the job all by itself. Or, should I say, herself. Simultaneously, Siri manages to appeal to both our adult lust for coolness and our inner 12-year-old.

I might look scornfully upon those spending valuable time asking Siri silly questions if I weren’t so busy doing it myself. People actually search the Internet to find new Siri jokes, just so they can ask the same question and see the answer again on their own phone.

Siri is the Magic 8-Ball, redesigned for the 21st century. She’s mysterious, intelligent, witty and displays a charming robotic arrogance. Oh, and she also has some seriously productive uses.

Siri mysteriously stopped working for me after a few hours, then sprang back to life hours later. I wasn’t aware that Siri required a connection to Apple’s servers, and those servers are being overworked by the hordes seeking Siri’s wisdom. The initial frenzy will die down soon enough.

I’m sure Apple will keep the numbers secret, but during this “getting to know you” phase, it’s not hard to imagine that the comedic uses of Siri at least equal the serious ones. Not only do people amuse themselves, they then feel compelled to entertain friends, family and colleagues.

Part of the fascination of the old Magic 8-Ball was watching it work. Out of that murky black fluid inside, amazing answers would come into focus. Like Reply hazy, try again. Or Signs point to yes. Or Don’t count on it. It knew everything.

The fascination of Siri is that she has more answers than a three-dimensional triangle. She can be outright verbose too. Plus, she has a robotic awareness of human weakness and doesn’t hold back. Unless, of course, she doesn’t have the answer in her database.

While the Magic 8-Ball quickly landed on our bookshelves gathering dust, Siri is looking like she’ll become part of the family. Once you become more acquainted, you get why she’s still a Beta. However, you can also see her amazing potential. Obviously she’ll sprout new voices (the real HAL will be a must-have) and she’ll learn to interact with more apps.

Will Siri change the way we interact with all of our devices, including our computers?

It is decidedly so.

 

 


3
Oct 11

iPod’s last gleaming

Damn, I love product announcement weeks.

The joy of the big reveal. The expert over-analysis. The traditional pouncing upon Apple for some perceived infraction.

But in all the guesswork going on about iPhone 5, I’m struck that there’s so little attention being paid to our old and dear friends, the iPod family.

Since the beginning of time, Apple has thrown a party every September to celebrate the annual refreshing of the iPod line. For Apple fans, the September iPod event has been the starting bell for the holiday gift-buying season.

This year, we didn’t get a September event. I didn’t see a lot of grousing about that from the press or the bloggers, which probably just reflects the reality. It was fun while it lasted, but iPod isn’t the big attraction anymore.

Recent rumors have it that the iPod shuffle and iPod classic will soon be sent to iPod heaven. This makes perfect sense. There really isn’t much point to the shuffle now that the nano is almost as tiny, attaches with a clip, and actually has a screen. A touch-screen, no less.

The classic is practically creaking with age, and could easily be replaced by an iPod touch with beefed up memory.

So it seems that this year’s iPod announcement will be more about end-of-life than new life. And if that’s the case, it hardly deserves a big party. In fact, it’s really more deserving of a demotion to One More Thing status.

Surely Tim Cook is looking for some fun and respectful ways to echo his mentor, and this would make perfect sense. With some cool improvements to the surviving iPods, he could present them as being so good that the other models aren’t even needed anymore. It’s either that or use the iPod news as part of the warm-up to the main event.

The real story, of course, is that with the widening audience for iPhone, iPods have simply become less important. The numbers are declining. Apple isn’t even advertising them anymore.

In fact, it’s not hard to envision a time when iPod nano becomes the last iPod standing. It can do the one thing iPhone can’t do — go anywhere, including the gym. Seems that one day iPod touch will just be an iPhone, with the option of activating the phone part.

If it’s true that the iPod line is contracting, we should have a moment of silence out of respect. It’s almost hard to remember now, but iPod is the device that changed everything. It was the first of Apple’s modern trilogy of revolutions, paving the way for iPhone and iPad.

So thank you, iPod, for everything you’ve done. See you again next September. Maybe.


27
Sep 11

Apple’s occasionally annoying need to change

Apple has always been terrifically good at changing things. Their list of firsts in hardware and software is as impressive as it gets.

Sometimes, change feels awkward. Then the more you live with it, you realize it’s a better idea and you need to just get with the system.

Other times, the more you live with it, the more you want to find the guy who dreamed it up and slap him around a bit.

Natural Scrolling had the potential to be annoying in this way, but Apple had the good sense to make it optional. Personally, I turned it off. “Natural” is whatever feels natural to you. The old way felt natural to me, so I unchecked the option and never looked back. (Or is it that I never looked forward?)

But there’s one change in Lion that I can’t turn off, and it frustrates me every time I use it. Which is often. I’m talking about the death of Save As… and the emergence of Duplicate and Save a Version.

The problem is, now it takes me twice as many steps to accomplish the same thing.

My needs are simple. I write. I assume there are a lot of people out there like me. Oftentimes, before I perform radical surgery on a document, I’ll want to make sure I keep the current version intact. In Snow Leopard, I’d use the Save As… command. I’d give the document a new name and continue writing. Two steps. Fast.

With Lion’s “improvement,” now I have to choose the Duplicate command. This opens a new document with the word “Copy” appended to the title. I hit Save. Give it a new name. Then I close the original document, which hangs around hoping I’ll pay attention to it. Four steps. Not fast. Annoying.

This perplexes me on two levels. First, I don’t understand why a company that lives to make things simpler would choose to make something more complicated. Second, I don’t understand Apple’s thinking about where this fits into computing in general.

Do they intend to create a new standard that will become ubiquitous? Will Adobe and Microsoft follow Apple’s lead? I wouldn’t hold my breath. So now we’ll just have to remember that when you’re in iWork, you’ll have to think different.

I do understand that there are some reasons why this might be a good idea for certain types of users. You can find a long, intelligent discussion of the facts here.

I also get the argument that the new Versions feature negates the need to ever use Save As… again. Versions works fine if you’re looking for one image or one paragraph you used previously. But most writers make tons of small changes throughout their documents. To find these types of changes, you’d be searching Versions forever. It’s vastly easier to just save a new version of a document with a name that will help you find it later. Which you can still do under the new system — it just takes twice as many steps as it did before.

Versions, by the way, may not even solve your problem, should one ever arise. It saves a Version only once per hour. So unless you’ve manually saved a Version of something you’re looking for, it’s possible that it won’t be there. (You won’t find this little fact in Pages Help or in the iWork section of apple.com — it’s buried a few levels down in the Lion section.)

To me, these types of things are more evidence that Steve Jobs has been pulling back on his involvement in certain areas, probably even before his medical leave. One of his greatest talents was his ability to take one look at something people have been working on for months and say, “Kill it.”

The elimination of Save As… strikes me as change for change’s sake. It’s not better than what we had before.

Can I have it back please? Let’s call it “Natural Saving.”