(You're reading all posts by Mike Elgan) Mike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
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In the past three years, Apple has dared to be dull.
During Apple’s best years, between 2007 and 2010, Apple introduced the first iPhone and the first iPad, two world-changing products that now define the company (and bring in most of its revenue). These products, along with their touch interfaces and apps stores, were a shock to the industry.
That’s great, Apple. But what have you done for me lately?
Here’s one theory about how Apple works: The company finds a horrible content consumption experience. They figure out how the experience can be made wonderful. They work on the products until they’re ready, both from product quality and price perspectives. Then they ship it and spend the next few years refining and perfecting the original vision.
If that oversimplification about how Apple works is accurate, then Apple isn’t really in full control of when its groundbreaking new products ship. They have to wait for technology, such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), or for various industries to come around to making a critical mass of content deals.
In the past three years, every Apple announcement has been preceded by speculation and rumor that Apple would at long last announce an iWatch, an iTV set and other products that would signal a radical new product category for Apple. And every announcement ended in disappointment. Every announcement was about refinement of old products, rather than bold launches of new products.
Will Apple ever enter new markets again, including the ones perennially rumored?
I say they will. The fact that they haven’t shipped the long-rumored iWatch or iTV, for example, makes perfect sense from a readiness perspective.
In fact, I think the next three years will be twice as awesome as the iPhone-iPad years, in the sense that Apple will break into four new businesses. Why? Because the technology and content deals will fall into place during this time.
Here’s what I think is going to happen.
Apple is still moving forward to build its $5 billion, 176-acre campus Cupertino “spaceship” Campus 2 headquarters, expected to open in three years.
Critics have been attacking it since Steve Jobs first proposed it to the Cupertino City Council.
And since that poignant moment, which was Jobs’s last public appearance, the campus project has evolved and changed and, as I write this, the old HP buildings on the property are being demolished.
Here’s what we know about the spaceship campus so far, and also what the critics have been saying.
The property will be capable of holding 14,200 employees. Some 12,000 of those will be in the circular mothership building, and the rest in 600,000 square feet of office, research and development buildings along one of the adjacent streets. Due to ballooning costs, the extraneous buildings have been delayed for phase 2 of the project, to come later. So the initial project will include only the giant bagel and supporting infrastructure at a cost currently estimated at $5 billion.
The spaceship building will be four stories high, but continue underground. The radius of the underground portion will be much wider than the visible above-ground part. In fact, so much of the campus, parking, underground tunnels and facilities will be underground that trucks will be removing soil 24/7 for six months in order to make space for these structures.
The main building will be a marvel of innovation in heat and energy. The roof will hold 700,000 square feet of roof-mounted solar panels. That energy source, plus a natural gas facility, will provide most of the campus’s electricity. Combined with solar and wind contracts, the building will achieve a net zero energy state, meaning that it will consume the same amount that it produces.
Because the building’s exterior walls will be all glass, a crazy computerized temperature control system will open and close giant shutters and windows. “Solatubes” will pipe sunlight throughout the structure to reduce the need for electric lights.
The campus will have a four-story garage that’s massively larger than the largest parking structure in the city of San Francisco — the one at Moscone Center where Apple will stop holding announcements in favor of an underground 1,000-seat amphitheater at the new campus. The total campus will support 10,980 parking spaces.
The giant spaceship building was originally white. It has since been upgraded to black (no “gold” or “champagne” option has yet been proposed).
As Jobs emphasized at his City Council product announcement, the building will feature a historically unprecedented use of glass. The building will have nearly 4 miles of curved glass, manufactured and bent in Germany, then shipped to California in 40-feet by 26-feet sheets. These panes are being manufactured with a very sophisticated process that cold-bends them and laminates them to prevent clouding.
In the City Council rollout, Jobs said: “It’s a circle, and so it’s curved all the way around. As you know if you build things, this is not the cheapest way to build something. There’s not a straight piece of glass on this building, it’s all curved. And we’ve used our experience in making retail buildings all over the world now, and we know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use.”
What the Critics Are Saying
The New Yorker suggested Apple’s plans are a sign of “imperial hubris,” a “twenty-first-century version of the Pentagon.”
Gizmodo said it will be “ridiculously lavish.”
And one Apple investor publicly said, “It would take some convincing for me to understand why $5 billion is the right number for a project like this.”
These neatly summarize the criticism. Basically, what they’re saying is that it’s too awesome, too far-reaching, too ambitious and too expensive. It would be better to build another set of cookie-cutter boring buildings that blight the Silicon Valley landscape.
To these critics I say: You’re wrong.
Why the Critics Need To Calm Down
The critics on this project are dead wrong, and for four reasons.
1. Utopia fuels genius. By creating a breathtaking architectural wonder, Apple will inspire its employees. You know, the people who are the sole source of everything that Apple imagines and builds. One good example of this phenomenon is Google, which smartly creates corporate campuses that are equal parts playground, Disneyland and City of Tomorrow.
2. Utopia builds the brand. Apple is an aspirational brand. Apple’s amazing spaceship HQ will become part of the iconic nature of the Apple brand, driving sales just by its very existence. When Apple announces new products, the invited press will gape at the wonder of it all, and this will ignite their worshipful gushing over whatever Apple announces. And good press is good business.
3. The new campus honors Steve Jobs. The spaceship campus was Jobs’s last vision for the company, one meant to last. While his direction and input into the iPad will quickly fade away, to be replaced by democratic decision-making and possibly a slouch toward mediocrity, the campus will serve as a reminder of the uncompromising visionary who made Apple what it is today. Who would deny this to Jobs, really — especially investors, whose wallets are burdened by the man’s vision. Besides, if you don’t want to be involved in a visionary company, sell your Apple stock and buy Exxon Mobile.
4. A visionary campus attracts top talent. It’s really hard to recruit and retain top engineering and design talent in Silicon Valley. Apple’s HQ will provide one additional incentive for the best people to stay with Apple.
Apple’s Campus 2 budget has ballooned from $3 billion to $5 billion and, guess what? It will probably grow to as high as $10 billion.
This is a company with $150 billion in cash, all of it generated by the executives and employees, many of whom will work at this campus. The new campus is good for Apple’s business, good for the environment and good for Silicon Valley.
It’s time for the critics of Apple’s spaceship Campus 2 to pipe down and marvel at Steve Jobs’s last breathtaking visionary gift.
Don’t look now, but kids want iPhones for Christmas. Well, a third of them do, anyway.
A survey of 12- to 17-year-olds conducted by Ebates found that an iPhone tops the wishlist. One third — specifically 32% — of those surveyed want an iPhone. (Some 12% want a Samsung Galaxy phone.)
Ho, ho, hold on a second. Is this a good idea? Should children “own” wireless gadgets?
If not, why not? And if so, which one?
Well, I’m going to tell you.
Apple’s product announcements used to be the most exciting events in technology. Nowadays they’re boring, awkward and cringeworthy.
The prospect of a shiny new Apple TV product makes everyone think of a radical new Apple TV box with crazy new user interface options, or an actual Apple TV set, both of which people have been predicting for years.
And then that Scrooge MG Siegler comes along to say he’s hearing that the Big Apple TV Update has been delayed, and that maybe there will be a minor update to the existing product.
Whether something grander has been delayed or not, I think TV will be the most interesting product at the Tuesday announcement — not because of hardware, but because of a new software interface and new deals I think Apple will announce.
For years, home automation has been the exclusive province of the very rich or extremely technical.
Companies you’ve probably never heard of, such as AMX, Control4, Crestron, Elan, HomeLogic, Colorado vNet, Vantage and Zenpanion have provided the platforms and many of the fundamental products, while integrators took care of the installation and service for many people.
Or, very dedicated and technical DIY enthusiasts have cobbled together their own ingenious solutions.
Recently, the major phone carriers have gotten into the act, and rumors suggest Google, Apple, Microsoft and other consumer electronics companies are working on home automation.
The reason everybody’s jumping is that home automation is in the process of making a transition from “hardly anybody” to “pretty much everybody.” So everybody wants a piece of what will definitely be a massive new industry.
In five years, the majority of homes in the United States are likely to have significant home automation happening in their homes — voice-controlled thermostats, Bluetooth-unlocking door locks, lights on self-learning timers, automated pet feeders, doorbells that ring your phone rather than a bell in the house and much more.
The reason? Kickstarter, mostly.
Apple bought the Google Now-like app Cue this week. The reason has a lot to do with Apple’s strategy to out-Google Google in the coming war over wearable, and also the future of mobile.
Here’s why the Cue acquisition is really going to matter.
FaceTime just keeps getting better. The recent addition of audio calls in iOS 7 is great news, right? Well, sort of.
There are plenty of apps in the App Store that let you make calls over your data connection rather than through the carrier’s phone network.
FaceTime audio calls are great — something that Google+ Hangouts have had for a long time. (Hangouts actually lets you add a voice call to a group video Hangout.) They enable free international calls, for starters. The protocols underlying FaceTime enable high-quality audio calls.
More importantly, they give users one more reason to get into the FaceTime habit.
Unfortunately, FaceTime has a fatal flaw. It’s still — inexplicably — an exclusive phone system for Apple customers to call each other. What kind of phone system is that?
The din of offhand, dismissive criticism from the Android fan base that Apple never innovates should be silenced, at least for awhile, given that Apple now sells the only dual-tone LED flash; the only 64-bit mobile CPU; the only 64-bit OS; the fastest touch-screen performance phones by far; the only wide-scale deployment of Multipath TCP; and the only useful, usable and widely used fingerprint scanner ever placed on any consumer electronics device.
Yes, there’s plenty of petty grousing. And who knows what competitors will ship tomorrow?
But today, it’s clear that Apple rules the smartphone market.
The Android fan critics now also have to contend with a razor sharp, concise rebuttal to the cacophony of general criticism of Apple by Apple VP Craig Federighi: “New is easy. Right is hard.” He said that after referring to Samsung by saying that Apple “didn’t start opportunistically with 10 bits of technology that we could try to find a use for to add to our features list.” Ouch!
Unfortunately, iOS 7 is going to cause some huge problems that nobody is talking about yet, but will do when the unwanted bricking epidemic starts.
Apple disappointed Wall Street by announcing an iPhone 5C that isn’t cheap. As a result, Apple’s stock price took a hit.
That’s the polite way to say it. Let’s usher all the financial industry people out of the room so I can tell you the blunt truth. Ready?
Wall Street has systemic blind spots and institutional biases that make it incapable of appreciating where Apple is headed. And they demonstrated all that this week by focusing on all the wrong things.
In general, analysts were expecting a $400 iPhone 5C. But Apple announced one starting at $549 — not a budget or low-cost phone by any measure. Apple’s stock price dropped about 5% and stayed there.
Overemphasizing the wrong information — whether or not Apple would compete in the budget smartphone category — speaks volumes about Wall Street’s myopic, misguided and clueless understanding of consumer electronics and Apple’s role in it.
Here are the five reasons why Wall Street is wrong about Apple.