Sunday, October 9, 2011

Looking back on what I liked about Apple and what I think they can do better looking forward.

Appledots “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
- Steve Jobs

Like many people this week, I too am reflecting on the death of Steve Jobs. Death is a sobering event when someone close to you or your are aware of passes away. It scares you because all the sudden you realize this might be all there is… and it is, biologically speaking, all there is. Steve was a master at connecting ideas with technology, but not biology unfortunately. I think though, maybe in 100 years, Steve Jobs and Apple’s innovative approach of making technology accessible to people for a modest fee will enable the next technology revolution, the one where biology and technology are at the center. The key will be to enable creativity between the field of biology and technology and simplify the complexity between the two, thus allowing for human art to emerge.

The story begins though around 1983, that is when I went to high school. Prior to high school, I had access to two computer platforms. Atari and Intellivision. My mother gave me the Atari three years earlier and my half-brother Troy, who lived with our Father had the Intellivision. What was funny was I think I wish I had the Intellivision, and I think he wished he had the Atari. The Atari had more games, the Intellivision had slightly better graphics. Still this early exposure to computer games, fueled both of our desires to learn more about them. We just took different paths since we went to different schools. In 1983, I managed to take my first classes that had Apple 2E computers in them. I loved working on the Apple 2E even though I didn’t know the first thing about it. The reason why is because it had some cool games and a word processor, so I could write some papers on it, and then play different types of games not available on the consoles. I even learned how to enter source code to program my own games. I never really wrote my own code, like many people, I would steal bits and pieces of other peoples code to form a synthesis of my own. A lot of time, I would focus on the input form, and output format (Look and Feel), and then use other peoples base algorithms slightly modified to produce my own work. My desire was to have my own Apple 2E computer one day though. Unfortunately the cost were prohibitive for my family situation at the time. Still the first thing that Apple did well, was make it affordable for public schools and community colleges to purchase their computers.

My step-father did his best to inspire me though, he got a TI-99 computer for going to one of those all day time-shares up in Pa. He eventually bought the memory expansion for it so I could run more advanced games, but I had to program them either by data entry or playing a cassette tape. Apple 2E computers usually came with a floppy drive, and if you were rich, you could have dual floppy drives that could read both sides of the disk without flipping them over. The floppy drive allowed for me to exchange bits of code with other students much faster then the serial tape delivery method. It was worth the extra money to have access to the speed. So the second thing that I liked about Apple is they valued speed when it mattered.

My second personal computer after the TI-99 wasn’t an Apple though, it was a Commodore 64. The C64 was a great affordable little machine that had separate processors for graphics, music, processing, that used 64K of memory. Many of my friends had C64s so we could buy and swap games. What was really cool was you could buy a telephone modem for it and then use dial-up software to call up bulletin board systems (BBS) to play online text games, post messages, and most importantly, trade software. Even though I had this great computer, my desire was always to be able to own my own Apple 2E computer… and a Suzuki Samurai Jeep. In college my desire came true and so my 3rd personal computer was finally an Apple 2E. Unfortunately I still couldn’t afford it out of pocket though. I had to sell my mother on the virtues of investing her savings to buy it for me, but it was worth it. Since we both went to college around the same time and at the same school we were able to share time on the computer. For me, it let me write papers faster and save travel time. For my mother it enabled her to do the same, but she also started to become creative with it. She would start to transcribe her poetry on it and give it as gifts to people. The third thing I liked about Apple is their mastery of materials. The Apple 2E lasted forever performance wise compared to computer life cycles today. It was expandable as newer technology came out like 3.5 inch portable disk drives which were more sturdy then floppy drives, faster modems, and even additional memory.

I pretty much skipped the entire Macintosh era though. I guess since I had to suffer making lesser quality technologies work I became more fugal, so my fourth and subsequent computer purchases were all IBM compatible PC’s that were initially premade, but then I built myself. With the IBM compatible PC, I built a career and competency by simplifying the network architecture and services offered. There was greater money to be made setting up and configuring Microsoft servers then managing Apple workstations. I worked so hard at making PCs work though that I lost touch with my creative pursuits and extra curricular activities. Then came the iPod , which I skipped the hard drive version, because I knew eventually they would come out with an affordable flash version, Nano. The 4GB flash player was to me the initial dominate design. Six generations later, I have the one no bigger then a watch face with 8GB of storage and a iPad as well. Flash storage is king, as is the retina display, long battery life, and the new Application Delivery method of iTunes for mobile and collaborative devices that encourage low price applications. So the last thing I will praise Apple about is their commitment to make small powerful devices that allow for powerful cheap applications to be marketed and quickly delivered to them. A lot of these new generation of apps allow for a lot of creative and collaborative interaction.

Apple has been through a lot, it has always been the David of the tech industry’s Goliath with a passionate following. It has revolutionized the music and communication industries by creating a dominate design of features packaged into devices and standardized content delivery to these devices. It is enjoying it leadership position while under constant attack. Apple is pretty good at keeping secrets on what their product roadmap is until they are ready to announce it to the world, this gives them about a year head start to milk their vertical market without much fear of competition. The next seven years will be important as Apple’s leadership team strategizes on ways to keep making technology smaller, faster, and easier to use, while also making lucrative content deals to drive their device and services sales. But what about the next 14 and 21 years? If Apple falls in love with its new found Wall Street wealth and once again loses focus, it might once again find itself on the brink, dying of a thousand paper cuts the industry is known for doing.

The biggest threat to major corporations is stealth attacks by their competitors or more importantly small companies that they are unaware of. The stealth attack strategy is easy to execute but doing so requires secrecy and commitment to the overall simplified strategy. Cost controls are important, so focusing on the bottom line is necessary because margins will be thin. More importantly though, its got to be a common sense purchase. Apple is pretty good at keeping secrets as long as they don’t go out to the local bar. They have learned to set affordable consumer price points and negotiate heavily to maintain them. They also seem to have developed some common sense and humility as well, making the best of breed devices like music players and phones with rich applications, and publically addressing a crisis when needed.

Stealth Attacks requires launching an attack at a low end segment that the bigger players in that market are ignoring, and building your next products off what you learned previously. Apple stealth attacked the music industries distribution channel with a player that was affordable and high quality initially, then built iTunes to deliver cheap music cross platform. It kept refining that player to transform its size and integrated video. The industry then standardized on 8 GB to be the starting point for the next revolution, which was the merger of phone with killer cheap productivity applications and games. This lead to the touch enabled tablet with better collaborative capabilities that is fueling the wide adoption of cloud services today. The question is, what’s next? Is Apple keeping a secret from us?

With the death of Steve Jobs and Apple’s recent phone announcements, people are wondering if this is all there is, small product upgrades each quarter? Is Apple’s death next? Just in case it is it, and Apple’s management team is paralyzed or more importantly their consumers are, I will offer my services free of charge to inspire those who are afraid, paralyzed with the fear of uncertainty, and have doubt of Apple’s future.

First, take the opening quote of this blog post. Steve wisely said, you have to believe in something. Living in fear is no way to experience life. You have to know in your core that what ever you are doing will eventually lead to prosperity. As you move forward, you need to measure your performance by connecting the dots from the past to help you adjust how you move forward. You at times might be inspired with a vision based on a opportunity, but most often you should just be managing your life in the moment and practice nurture your immediate and distant relationships by sharing your joys and vulnerabilities. You have to have passion balanced with compassion and know when to be dispassionate when dealing with the Bozo’s you encounter along the way. If you have seen Steve speak or read anything written by him or about him, you must know belief is important. If you are a skeptic or a contrarian who thinks these statements are just hyperbole meant to inspire weak minded people, I offer these books as leading pseudo-scientific evidence that human beings are wired to believe. The first is Dr. Hamer’s The God Gene , where he speculates and offers antidotal evidence that there are sequences of genes that can identify traits like homosexuality, and claims we are wired to believe in things, hence God. (Yes I opened with a controversial book that lacks decent evidence) Then there is Jonah Lehrer’s synthesis on neuroscience in How We Decide, and Michael Shermer’s synthesis of skepticism and scientific method’s value in testing beliefs in The Believing Brain that demonstrate how experience and accurate measurements are important in developing and nurturing beliefs. Finally there is Ben Goldacre and Dr. Frances Collins epidemiology work on how it is important to look back and include as much evidence as possible to develop beliefs based on statistics that lead to health and prosperity. The best part of all these references is you can develop you own beliefs based on a synthesis of ideas not only from the materials themselves, but the reviews on  So what does Apple as a company believe in?

The first belief Apple seems to have is that their device OS and Application experience must be tightly controlled. They feel it must be run on hardware they control and content delivered through applications they develop. This makes their products a bit exclusive and gives them the ability to maneuver a lot quicker then their competitors. Unfortunately for enterprises though, it creates two classes of workers. The mass audience that consume cheaper Microsoft desktops, applications, and services verses the minority who seem like rebels trying to get their odd ball devices connected to the corporate infrastructure. I think Apple should change its belief and make enterprise client server technology to allow for virtualized Apple desktops and applications in enterprises. They could partner with CISCO to use their UCS solution if they want to set the standard for hardware, and CITRIX to set the standard for network delivery to create the Apple Mainframe. Jobs death frees them from having to control everything, and allows them to just manage things now.  I am sure the fear is they might lose sales from their hardware cash cows, but it is time to let that belief go as well.

If Apple is scared of losing their hardware business again, like when they allowed clones, this is where they need to let go of the past and realize their strength is designing consumer devices that people trust. Their consumer base is getting older, richer, and unfortunately more vulnerable to disease and aging. The medical community is run by a large number of doctors and professionals who love using their Macs but are forced to buy non-Apple monitoring equipment and prescribe expensive monitoring devices to their patients that are complicated to use and interface with. Getting accurate healthcare information is difficult and unobtainable for some. Human healthcare cost are high on the US task list to get under control. Conditions cause by things like stress, diet, and lack of exercise are on the rise and at epidemic proportions. Apple could develop healthcare products focused on reducing the cost for treating patients and collecting data to identify variances to develop more accurate treatments that patients and doctors can trust. Apple needs to start learning about science and medicine to become better artist.  The need to go back to school and finish medical school for Steve.

Apple needs to embrace education again. The reason so many young people are protesting on Wall Street today is because they can’t get jobs after running up education debt.  25 years ago Apple enabled me to be both creative and ambitious and while there systems were expensive, they were a fair market value. According to Jobs “Creativity is just connecting things”. I think it is true, but what fuels creativity to be meaningful is ambition. My life lesson earlier taught me we need better tools to help us create synthesis. We need access to these tools no matter what our social or economic situation is. To really put a dent in the universe, everyone should have access to information and to teachers that will shape us to become better. We need access to more then one English teacher for a year that is burnt out because they work in crummy conditions with outdated text books. We need to eliminate the scam that punishes Non-Conformity through standardized tests. Jobs didn’t finish college because in order to do so would have bankrupted his parents. We need education we can trust, that unlocks passion, that identifies strengths, and accurately measures peoples contribution and offers guidance through compassion on how to improve performance. There should be an affordable “App for that”, if not a technology. Everyone can be an artist, they just have to learn how to connect and build synthesis.  They shouldn’t be saddled with crushing debt chasing their dreams of becoming artist. 

I think it is more important to celebrate Steve’s life and legacy then morn his death. Everyone one dies, but not everyone lives their life to the fullest.  The same goes for companies, eventually everyone will cease to exist.  Companies at least can outlast humans if they embrace change and learn from their mistakes quick enough.  Even if Apple can’t do all these things over the next 100 years. You can at lease start, there is nothing holding you back other then yourself. Go out and live your life to the fullest now. Embrace Steve Jobs life lessons as your own. He doesn’t need them any more. It is free after all, paid for in advanced. Build from it a better world that will eventually seed the universe, and make Steve’s vision come true. Or just click on the next link in your browser like a Bozo. Your call, but after reading this, you are now accountable for your next actions in life. Stop making excuses, and get on with it already.  The end of the blog post might lack the compassion you were hoping for, but I said it before “hope is for sissies”.  Belief is for winners.  What I mean by that is, hope by itself, with no trust, stability and compassion is for sissies but, belief can stand on its own.  So are you winning or losing?  Remember the following quotes if you ever find yourself procrastinating or feel you need something to believe in.

“This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time.”
- Fight Club

“Time is the fire in which we all burn”
- William Shakespeare & Soran from Star Trek Generations

What will your legacy be? More importantly, how will your dot’s connect when people look back on your life?