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An Optimistic View of The Apple Re-Org

November 1st, 2012 No comments

Some background links here:

Apple’s Press Release

Gigaom:
From inside Apple, the Scott Forstall fallout which includes links worth following for more good commentary.

I’m optimistic. Very optimistic. Note the headline of Apple’s Press Release, it’s telling: “Apple Announces Changes to Increase Collaboration Across Hardware, Software & Services”

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed several opportunities to work pretty closely with various people and teams at Apple, in particular the QuickTime team but others I can’t mention and in all those experiences, I’ve found Apple to be staffed by shockingly smart people. Smart in ways that, to my mind, are vastly superior to the obvious brilliance of the Google and Microsoft employees I’ve worked with.

Anyone fairly senior in a tech company, especially in engineering, has to be smart and often a hell of a lot smarter technically than me, but smart is a much deeper thing than the ability to calculus in your head or or keep a mental map of all the personal information Google can collect about you and how it can be used to exploit you, provide you better services. The smart people I’ve enjoyed working with at Apple (and some at Microsoft too actually) play musical instruments, cook gourmet food, race cars, do creative and challenging things deeper, more personal interesting than just code. The smart people I hire when I make my better choices are content-smart, user-smart, life-smart. Apple is overwhelmingly well staffed by this more well rounded kind of smart, the better kind of smart.

What’s always stymied these smart people I’ve worked with, and some have told me outright and others done a great job of ‘not telling me’ by answering questions with the word “So…” followed by a long pregnant pause and careful control of eye contact when the answer in an officially acceptable way is that collaboration is a problem between teams at Apple.  They tell me, particularly since the return of Steve, the policies of secrecy and the inter-group competitiveness engendered by Steve’s style made collaboration difficult. I’m bound by personal NDA’s (as in, ‘don’t talk about this or you breach our personal trust’ NDA’s which are far more binding than the NDA’s of ‘don’t talk about this or I’ll sue you’ NDAs) not to be specific here but if you read between the lines in interviews with and even sometimes in public documentation, one group who relied on another for the ‘plumbing’ didn’t get to see the actual plumbing until late in the game and the product suffered for it or was unable to get the resources to invest in plumbing that an App needed to function.

‘Increase Collaboration’ Sure, sounds like corporate-speak. Apple’s not normal. They don’t tend to do ‘corporate-speak’. Read their contracts. Read their PR. Listen to them in interviews. There’s always the overt and the veiled message. The veiled message is often quite clear if you pay close attention. Here, the surface and underlying messages are congruent completely and that makes the message all the louder and, therefore, likely sincere: “We’re done with infighting and jockeying for position. We’re done with the platforms and system services groups having to compete with the applications groups for resources.  We’re done core services groups having to justify their own bottom lines when they are essential to initiatives that serve the whole bottom line. We’re done with MBA-old-school approaches to retail staffing and management. We’re going to work together to do what we do best starting right-the-#$%^-now.”

Now, I see a plan. I see Tim Cook saying “These guys (and it’s a shame it’s all guys and no women) are large-and-in-charge and they are the adults. They can and will work together and enjoy doing it and our products will be better for it. When our products are better, customers are happier. When customers are happier, we make more money. When we make more money, shareholders are happier and we keep our jobs.” I see Tim being the adult supervision and choosing people with visibly impressive track records for being capable,  mature and collaborative to act as his lieutenants in making Apple better.

I’ve met with Phil Schiller several times and even had to go to him once to pitch him with a problem I saw and while we didn’t agree when we spoke, I’ve seen the feedback I’ve given him (and no, it wasn’t just me, I was one of hundreds of people Apple was working closely with at the same time were saying the same things privately) manifest itself as positive changes every user saw and benefited from. I’ve met Bob Mansfield and he’s a very reflective and deep thinking guy. Those are the two I’ve met and can tell you from my gut are brilliant, effective at their jobs and genuinely interested in doing ‘the right thing’ for customers as the means to make Apple succeed.

I see meaningful thoughtfulness in every word I’ve read and heard from Jony Ive. He passes my bozo-stink test even as he waxes rhapsodic about idealistic views of design. He’s the real deal. I’ve been told by people I trust who work with him that Eddy Cue is surreally capable and a truly decent guy in a meaningful way. (Apple doesn’t need iTunes U as a profit center. Why do they bother?)

It’s clear to anyone who regularly engages with Apple Retail that John Browett was screwing that operation up badly and making employees miserable. Miserable people who’s entire job is representing the company face to face with customers can’t be fully effective no matter how hard they try. I’ve actually been amazed at how good the Geniuses I’ve dealt with as things were getting rough managed to be but there was increasingly visible strain on their faces and in their tone.

My wildly optimistic and likely to be mocked by my ‘in the know friends in the industry’ predictions are as follows:

1- We’ll see long-standing broken things start to get fixed. Think of the evolution of FinalCut X from innovative and interesting but customer-alienating-disaster to iteratively improving new tool. Think of that incremental and positive attention starting to get applied to OS X and OS X Server. Consider that it’s already started. Mountain Lion is the “Oops, we’re sorry” follow-up release to Lion in much the same way Snow Leopard was to Leopard. Here’s hoping the next big cat won’t need an “I’m sorry” release. We’ll see Apple do a better job of keeping the software up to the same standards of ‘build quality’ they have for the hardware.

2- We’ll see changes in how Apple manages secrecy. No, Apple will never do the kinds of roadmap press events and developer briefings Microsoft does but we will see them bringing back some of the kinds of programs they used to have that had selected customers briefed under ironclad NDAs. We’ll see indications that within Apple, teams can actually talk to each other in ways that improve the products.

3- We’ll see Apple do more for the Enterprise. We’ll see another Mac Pro with Thunderbolt because Apple recognizes that low volume ‘pro’ products keep them from being forced out of managed I.T. environments. We’ll see Apple act like they know I.T.-friendly, Pro-Friendly tools and give them much needed toe-holds in the “I use it at home and I use it work” two way street that made Windows the dominant platform and continues to make it the market leader today.

That’s my optimism about the meaning of this management re-organization.

Ok, I lied, I’m not quite as optimistic as I seem. Yes, I do see real hope from this management change, but really this piece is my little foray into the game of two messages in one. The first is to you, dear readers, to inspire you to look for the positive and also demand it from Apple, the second is to Tim Cook begging him to make me right.

P.S. It’s weird to me that nobody in the press I’ve read so far seems to have twigged to the fact that if Bob Mansfield was ‘un-retired’ he must have been somebody very highly regarded. It’s spun negatively that he had announced leaving and is now an even bigger kahuna but I see this is an indication of Tim Cook’s strength as a manager. Be willing to make it worthwhile for a good person who could retire to stay on and do more.

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Apple Tax My Eye

August 27th, 2012 No comments

If you read the WSJ and NYT and a few other sites with paywalled content I won’t link to, you’ll hear about the ‘fear of an Apple tax’. The idea is that, because Apple won the lawsuit, Samsung and others will have to pay Apple to license patents and the cost of your phones will go up.  The anti-Apple angst in this argument  is absurd on it’s face because:

1) Apple pays license fees to Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and countless others who have IP in the wireless telecom business now as part of the price of every chip they buy.

2) Apple pays a “Samsung Tax” now because Apple buys components from Samsung that Samsung makes a tidy profit from selling to Apple. It’s naive and childish to imagine the idea that any product as complex as a smart phone isn’t already ‘taxed’ in a very tangled web. You may say Apple’s IP will be additive but even if it is, it’s just so much noise below much louder signal.

3) The patents in question are not difficult to work around at all, that is unless you want to make product that looks and feels like an iPhone.

Beyond this Apple Tax hogwash is a segment of the internet’s population that wants to make Apple the villain and Google the great ‘Open Source Savior Of Our Freedom’.  They loathe Apple, they want to make Apple a villain that goes and whines to the courts. They cite history they don’t understand to paint Apple poorly.

Unfortunately the only legitimate thing they can cling to as proof of Apple’s evil is the infamous quote:

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong,” Jobs said. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

“I don’t want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won’t want it. I’ve got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that’s all I want.” - Steve Jobs Via Walter Isaacson

Well fine, be mad at Steve for his typical tone. When you’ve been in any kind of meeting where there is a multi-million dollar argument going on and you haven’t heard somebody take that tone, or, the more dangerous one, the quiet calm and subtle one, get back to me.

That quote is what we in the business call… business.

Remember that Apple has been on the receiving end too: ZDNet: Nokia likely netted $600 million plus in Apple patent settlement.

A few things these great “Message Board Marauders” should probably know before they step up to paint Apple the big bad wolf in an industry full of sweet warm fuzzy sheep:

- Apple’s ‘look and feel’ lawsuit against MS was because MS agreed to licensing terms with Apple when they launched Excel.  Excel, for those who don’t know, was a Mac *first* application built with Apple support and (according to Apple) licensing for MS to use some UI functionality) and Apple objected to MS’s taking license (poetic not legal) in MS’s interpretation of the agreements around Excel by using them in Windows. And..  before you jump up and down and say “Apple ripped off what they saw at Xerox PARC!” remember, Apple paid for that (in advance, not after getting sued by the way).

- The lawsuit settled in 1997 with the patent cross licensing agreement with Microsoft was not the ‘look and feel’ license suit but another one over QuickTime and Video For Windows sharing some of the same actual code because MS used the same company to support VfW dev as Apple had used for the QuickTime port to Windows.

- Apple did try to negotiate with Samsung before filing suit.

- Samsung countersued trying to use patents that fall into a class many courts have described as “standards essential” and therefore must be licensed under “Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory” (FRAND) terms. and, in this case, were “exhausted” because Apple had paid for the chips from vendors who had paid already to license Samsung’s patents. In other words, iPhone buyers were already paying a “Samsung Tax”,

You can have all the opinions you like about which company in the shark lagoon of the tech industry  is the poor persecuted underdog worthy of your activist support but make the arguments you use to support your opinion with some awareness not only of the facts but their historical context.

As I might actually agree (and I do) that the US patent system is a disaster in need of reform the intent of the patent system is a good one, a necessary one:  ”if you invent something, you should have a reasonable period of time to make money off your efforts before others can use what you invented without paying you.” or.. as it’s said in the US Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”

Here’s my take on the current state of affairs:

- Samsung nakedly ripped off Apple in several small but important ways and got spanked for it.

- Google bought Android they didn’t ‘innovate it from whole cloth like conquering heros’ and Android is not, in any practical way like Linux or other FOSS because the carriers maintain control of most Android devices in the wild and they do it in cahoots with the Samsungs and HTC’s of the world. Thinking Android protects your rights as a consumer is delusional at best.

- Until Apple managed to cut their deal with ATT for the original iPhone exclusive, phones in the US were positively buried in crap designed to preserve and extend carrier revenue.  Verizon locked out Bluetooth and wire-connected contact syncing direct to the device so you had to use their online service to manage your contacts off the phones on *many* models of phones. They all had horrible and little ‘carrier branding animations’ at phone startup and ugly badging on the phones. They all  set it up so ringtones were things you could only buy from a carrier at absurd pricing. If a phone had any ‘smart’ at all, it was crammed full of bundled ‘crapware’ even less removable than the junk you find on el-cheapo consumer PC’s.

Apple did more for your ‘freedom’ in that deal they cut with ATT than Android ever has.

If you love Google so much, instead of whining on message boards about ‘big bad Apple’  think about this; Google could use this situation as an opportunity to fix the Android ecosystem and we’d all win.

How?

Google licenses “Official Android” branding and access to Google’s Android marketplace to phones that meet certain hardware and openness standards including:

- Users can upgrade to new versions of Android from *Google* not at the carrier’s whims.

- Google will indemnify handset makers from lawsuits from Apple and anyone else over the software.

- Google will “badge” phones that meet minimum specs for current and roadmap Android versions so customers know they won’t have a locked down phone with hardware quirks that make Android development both absurdly complex and profitless.

Google then innovates Android away from Apple’s patents or, if you think they can’t manage that, or that Apple’s patents are bull#$%^, Google can sues to invalidate those patents.

If Google did that? Android would get better. Windows Phone would get better. iOS would get better and the carriers would be left to compete on their quality of their service to attract and retain customers instead of thinking they had any business in the content game that kept them wasting money, and crapping up your phones, hoping to cash in on the next ‘flash of cultural lunacy’ that was the ringtone market.

For more from somebody far more ‘in the know’ on this see: Jean-Louis Gassée’s:  The Apple Tax, Part II

And… in the pity for Samsung department, see the previous post below.

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Samsung?

August 7th, 2012 No comments

The Kernel: SAMSUNG: POWER, CORRUPTION AND LIES

Bonus link: Peanutbutter Egg Dirt: Apple vs. Samsung: A Visual Guide to Apple’s IP Claims 1: Hardware Design 

Edited to add: Ars Technica: Apple’s case that Samsung copied the iPhone and iPad—in pictures

In the above link, Samsung shows 2006 images of iPhone-like designs as a defense but note these designs were produced with Samsung having seen Apple prototypes as a major manufacturing provider for Apple and the time-frame was very much within the window of prototyping for iPhone. We can’t know Samsung’s designers saw the iPhone prototypes but it sure would have been interesting to find out at trial. Both Apple and Samsung were found to have destroyed evidence. Put whatever color you like on the order and nature of the filings to that effect: The Mac Observer: Judge to Tell Jury that Both Apple & Samsung Destroyed Evidence

 

 

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