Episode One Hundred And Ninety Eight: What Apple Is 

by danhon

0.0 Sitrep

12:38pm, lunchtime, with a couple slices of pizza on Wednesday 25 February, 2015.

1.0 What Apple Is

For what it’s worth, I think I finally have an unsolicited opinion about all this business about whether Apple is making a car or not. Trying to untangle the thought process here, I think somewhere in one of the many streams that I follow (or more accurately, occasionally dip into when I’m either being interrupted or interrupting myself), I saw a link to the Six Colors story The Apple Car: Destination Unknown[1] which I have to point out, I didn’t even *read* – I just saw the headline.

And the thought was this: that Apple isn’t just a technology/bicycle-for-the-mind company anymore, but now with their potential car, it’s a way-of-doing-things with tech company?[2] This was put in another, more succinct way, by Boris Anthony over Twitter as:

makes products
that Deliver [a] Platform
into [several] Markets
at [massive] Scale[3]

If I can expand on what I think Boris is getting at, there’s a particular part about the “Product” bit that makes Apple, Apple, and that – I think – can act as the internal justification for them getting into different markets that wouldn’t otherwise have made sense if you think of Apple as being a corporate entity that doesn’t evolve. If there’s one thing that it looks like Jobs *did* teach Apple upon his return (if it wasn’t necessarily a sense of the aesthetic value behind certain skeuomorphic textures) it could be seen as a willingness to change what you do and, where needed to sacrifice your babies. Building a car isn’t sacrificing babies, and I’m not going to get into any Innovator’s Dilemma thing. But, here’s the narrative that I’m making in my head.

The thing that Apple appears to be doing right now – that they started with the iPod, that they honed with the iPhone and again with the iPad and now with WATCH – is putting compute-and-connectivity bits in *things* to make them, well, smarter. The phone, smarter. The, er, tablet, smarter and usable. The watch, smarter. Well, we hope. Maybe. We’ll see. Combined with this they have quite possibly the most enviable supply-chain and manufacturing experience *in the world* right now for churning out high-quality, premium (or, in the case of WATCH and its EDITION version, luxury) products. We’ll come back to the luxury/premium distinction later on, thanks to prompting by Chris Heathcote[4].

So, this is what I think Apple is. It looks like with what we’ve seen with iOS given its appearance in the Apple TV, and its frankly abortive attempts with CarPlay is: what are the things that could be better with compute-and-connectivity in them, and that fit into Apple’s platform and ecosystem?

Perhaps another way to look at this is that computing-and-connectivity is a property, not a thing in and of itself. This is probably just another rearticulation of Smart Things/Internet of Things thinking, in that for every time that we recite the “computers as bicycles for the mind” line, we’re reinforcing the idea that computers are *the* bicycle for the mind, and the thing that we’ve learned about the itty-bitty places where we can now put compute-and-connect is that hey, turns out we might be able to put bicycles everywhere. Like, some people think, on our wrists. Or in lights. Or in refrigerators. Or in cars. Or in doors. Or in smoke alarms.

The question is: what products? It’s easy to post-rationalise and explain things away, but I feel like you can construct a narrative around things like Apple dropping the word “computer” from their name in 2007[5]. At the time, the thinking around a move like this was that, as Jobs pointed out, “The Mac, iPod, Apple TV and iPhone. Only one of those is a computer. So we’re changing the name,” Apple was becoming a consumer electronics company, but that, I think as well, belies the era before compute-and-connect in so many more places. A consumer electronics company brings to mind someone like Sony or Samsung: discrete electronic – it’s in the name – components that don’t really do *computing*. And arguably, the iPod (and I suppose the Apple TV) are both outliers, in that in the continuum of computing, they’re less-computing as opposed to more-computing platforms like the Mac, iPhone and iPad. And, it seems, Apple Watch might sit somewhere between the iPhone and the Apple TV in terms of “the kind of computing you can do on it”.

I suppose what I’m saying is that, like how Boris was pointing out, you have enough pieces – the iOS and OS X application ecosystem, where it feels like the OS X side is the “pro” side and iOS is the “24th Century Computing” Star Trek: The Next Generation “computing for the rest of us” side, with the trade-off being a kind of locked-down access versus significantly increased accessibility in terms of take-up and utility for that very audience.

Let me try again: if early Apple Computer and its computing *computer* products were bicycles for the mind, then the post 2007 era “Apple”, sans Computer, is figuring out the entire rest of the transport ecosystem. Taken to its conclusion, you could say that this is a prediction that Apple could, or might, get into fridges, televisions, kettles, anything that you could conceivably put compute-and-connectivity into, when as we’ve seen, one of the things that they *are* good at (or at least, have been good at so far) has been focussing on just a few things at a time. They didn’t try, it looks like, to do a Watch *and* a TV *and* a phone at the same time, for example.

If Apple were – just for the sake of argument – to do a car, in the same way that designers all around the world like to stick up imaginary pieces for the books, you could imagine what an Apple car might be like. It might, actually, end up looking a lot like a Tesla S. You might imagine a smoke alarm or a home surveillance system or any other number of things. Part of the reason, I think, *why* it’s easy to imagine those things is that Apple’s product influence has indeed spread far and wide and all of those examples I mentioned employee either significant numbers of Apple alumni, or employ Apple alumni at significantly senior positions. But. If I’m to argue with myself, the thing about the car is that it isn’t quite bicycle-for-the-mind *enough*. An Apple Car might have a great user experience, and we might all crack jokes about only being able to use certain service stations and approved tires on it or whatever, but is there something uniquely Apple about it in terms of the way that it extends what people are, and can be, capable of? When it comes to it, this is one of the arguments that those who’ve grown up with general purpose computing devices make, and the worry that we have, in terms of what might be lost (hat tip: Greg Borenstein) if we continue more down this path of a sort of managed-computing. The argument being made *right now*, that Apple continues to make in its advertising, that Apple is still investigating in terms of whether – as rumoured – it will release a larger, “pro” iPad, is about whether this iOS class of device can demonstrate that it can do everything that our general purpose, non-managed computing devices can do. Time will tell on that front, I suppose.

There’s a last point, which I said that I’d get back to about a distinction between Apple-as-luxury and Apple-as-premium[6] and as prompted by Chris Heathcote. I think from my point of view is that yes – the super expensive Apple Watch Edition, er, editions, are *clearly and unambiguously* luxury. Currently, best guess is that the Gold Apple Watch Edition, seeing as it’s made of *gold*, is probably going to cost around, or at least, $9,999 unless Apple wants to do something really weird and lose money because it turns out that gold is pretty expensive to make things out of. My question in that Twitter thread was more along the lines of: if Apple *were* going to make a car, would we see them come in at the BMW 1, 3, 5 or 7 series price range (or even Tesla S price range), to which what we’re definitely seeing instead is an upper price range for a *watch* which is at least the amount of money you could *buy a car for*. I guess the thing for me is, again as pointed out by Heathcote: will the APPLE-ICON prefix for WATCH now be an indicator for a product line that includes luxury at the high-end? Is this going to happen to their other product lines? I don’t know! It’ll be exciting (for certain values of exciting) to find out!

[1] The Apple Car: Destination unknown – Six Colors
[2] https://twitter.com/hondanhon/status/570688843906748416
[3] https://twitter.com/bopuc/status/570689394589470721 (such tweet licensed by Boris as CC-BY-NC-SA)
[4] https://twitter.com/antimega/status/570692034048217089
[5] Apple drops ‘Computer’ from name – Mat Honan, PC World
[6] https://twitter.com/antimega/status/570692034048217089

OK! Wow. Lots of Apple reckoning. No Internet of Things reckoning. Thinking about what sort of other things I can have reckons about. 8:53pm, we’re sitting on the couch surrounded by *literal mountains* of folded and unfolded laundry that needs to be put away, and I’m admitting that whilst there may be vast tracts of SNL that just make no sense and aren’t funny to me, Jimmy and Jason from SNL 40 are *definitely* pretty good.