Why Tim Cook is a better CEO for today’s Apple than Steve Jobs would have been

New Apple didn’t need a reset. New Apple needed to grow up. To stop behaving like an insular underdog on the margins and start acting like the industry leader and cultural force it so clearly has become.

Apple has never been more successful, powerful, and influential than it is today. They’ve thus never been in a better position to succumb to their worst instincts and act imperiously and capriciously.

Daring Fireball: Only Apple.

Customer-thievin’ varmints

Apple Launches Evil Plan to Steal Carriers' Customers

Apple’s upgrades to the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, announced Monday, are focused on tightening integration of those three products into a unified universe. That’s both an opportunity and a threat for carriers.

The more useful Apple makes its mobile products, the more customers use them. That makes money for carriers.

The threat is that customers are loyal to Apple, rather than the carriers. Customers think of themselves as Apple customers, and the carrier is just a provider of the dumb pipe that connects their Apple devices to each other and the world.

– Me on Light Reading.

“Why Apple’s PR strategy frustrated tech media for almost a decade”

Terrific analysis of how Apple’s PR team under Katie Cotton (who retired this week) successfully played tech journalists in the pageview-hungry environment of the post-2000s:

Apple rumors, no matter how silly, got clicks. Apple announcements, no matter how incremental, got clicks. Anti-Apple screeds, no matter how righteous the rant or obvious the troll, got clicks.

That last point is important: There is a perception among Apple-haters that people write fawning Apple articles to generate pageviews. That works — but it also works to write an irrational anti-Apple rant. That’ll get you lots of pageviews too. The Internet is an echo chamber, and people click on the headlines that reinforce their views.

Which isn’t to say that Apple is above criticism. There are legitimate reasons to criticize Apple, and to hate it too.

And Apple events — those carefully orchestrated infomercials/passion plays that are as much as part of Jobs’ legacy as any single product — were year-making page-view generators for tech-media publications. No one was more aware that the vast majority of these tech publications were — and many still are — dependent on page views driven by any kind of Apple coverage to sell advertising than Cotton and Apple’s public relations team.

Entry into those events could make or break a quarter’s traffic goals, even for publications that weren’t necessarily gadget-oriented. And for those that were, the ability to send multiple staffers to live blog Apple events and generate dozens of SEO-friendly stories in the immediate aftermath became an essential part of their business plan. Whenever Apple announced an event every single publishing organization with even a tangential angle on technology scurried to get a seat in the auditorium because their readers demanded Apple coverage in ever-growing numbers.

Also:

[A]pple’s PR strategy merely parlayed the intense interest in its products against an extremely competitive tech media landscape with a business model oriented around page views. This strategy surely did not make it many friends in the media world, but for a very long time, media companies needed Apple more than Apple needed media companies.

Someday that relationship will come more into balance. And whoever steps into Cotton’s shoes is going to have some interesting decisions to make should Apple decide it needs to court the media, after more than a decade of animosity.

That’s going to be an interesting transition to watch. Everything that rises inevitably comes down; Apple will inevitably start shipping some dud products and hit unprofitable quarters. What happens when the press turns on them? I’ve seen companies go through that transition — their executives and PR people don’t give interviews, they just scold reporter for failing to see how wonderful the company is. Eventually, the company either turns itself around or gets acquired at a discount and the name is all but forgotten. IBM did one, Digital Equipment did the other.

I covered Apple as a big part of my job 2007-2009. It was a wonderful and frustrating experience. Obviously, I still follow the company. But I’m glad my paycheck no longer depends, even in part, on covering them.

On the other hand: I’m glad I got to see an actual Steve Jobs keynote live. It was a minor keynote, introducing the MacBook Air in 2008. But I got to see it. It’s like having seen Hendrix perform “All Along the Watchtower” or Olivier do Hamlet.

Why Apple’s PR strategy frustrated tech media for almost a decade — Tech News and Analysis

Apple to unveil iPhone 6 in August, earlier than expected

4.7-inch version in August, 5.5-ish-inch model in September, according to the Economic News Daily of Taiwan.

A 5.5-ish-inch phone sounds good to me. Often my iPhone, which has a 4-inch screen, seems too small and the iPad, with a 10-inch seems too big. If we had Carlos-Slimian fortunes I’d get an iPad mini and full-size iPad. But we don’t have that kind of money, so a 5.5-inch phone seems just right.

And yeah I made fun of phablets when Samsung did them and now that Apple is rumored to be doing one I’m all shut up and take my money.

Apple to unveil iPhone 6 in August, earlier than expected -report | Reuters

Should Steve Jobs be in prison today if he weren’t dead?

Steve Jobs Defied Convention, and Perhaps the Law

He flagrantly violated antitrust laws that carry explicit criminal penalties. 

Of the three instances cited in this article:

The ebook case is just stupid. Apple was simply not a monopolist in the ebook market. Amazon came closest to that title by that time, and the federal prosecution of Apple arguably sealed Amazon’s monopolist status. So, thanks, Justice Department!

The options backdating scandal was like cheating on taxes — wrong, but I can’t get worked up about it. 

But the no-poaching agreement among Silicon Valley tech firms that resulted in depressed salaries — that was shameful and a blot on Jobs’s legacy. 

Steve Jobs had a famous reality distortion field; he believed the rules of the world did not apply to him. That allowed Apple to create brilliant, impossible products. But reportedly the cancer that killed Jobs is actually fairly straightforward to fix, but Jobs believed the laws of medical science did not apply to him. He thought he could heal himself using quack dietary cures, and by the time he learned better, it was too late. If that is the case, then Jobs fits the classic archetype of the tragic hero, a great man whose greatest strength is also his fatal flaw. 

 

My 16 favorite iPhone apps of 2011

These are the apps I find most useful. I compiled the list just by reading the app icons off the first and second screen of my iPhone. The only apps on this list are ones that I’ve been using more than a month, to prevent infatuations from getting listed.

Social

Tweetbot ($3). My favorite Twitter client. Mac bloggers can get rhapsodic and precious in their Tweetbot reviews. I just like Tweetbot. It’s fun and easy to use.

Instagram (free). My love for this free social photo-sharing app snuck up on me. I thought I was just trying it out, and then I tried posting a couple of photos, and a few months later I was hooked. Whereas Flickr seems to have gotten crustier over time with useless features, while failing to keep up on essential capabilities, Instagram does everything a photo-sharing site should and very little that’s unnecessary. Using Instagram, you can post photos, write captions, share with other people, view photos from other people, Like photos, leave comments, share on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social networks, and that’s about it. It’s like Twitter for photos. Oh, crap, now I’m the one sounding precious, aren’t I?

I can do without the filters on Instagram, but everybody else seems to like them.

Foursquare (free). I check in regularly. I don’t know why. I never get any offers. Rarely, someone I know has checked in at the same location, but if they’re there I almost always know it already. And yet I still keep tapping that button.

Facebook (free).

Fitness

Lose It! (free). Keeping a food and exercise journal is key to losing weight and getting fit; you need to write down every bite you eat, and every time you work out. That’s important for two reasons: For controlling the amount of food you eat, of course, but also to become conscious and mindful of what and when you’re eating.

Most fat people aren’t mindful; they just eat compulsively and automatically. Keeping a food journal requires you to be aware of what you’re putting in your mouth.

I weigh and measure every meal and snack. I take precise measurements with a scale when I’m home, often down to the gram. When I’m out, I estimate. Lose It tracks the calories of those foods, and also the calories burned exercising, and does so with an easy-to-use and attractive interface.

This year, Lose It added a bar code scanner, which has proven very useful; when I’m eating packaged food like a frozen dinner, I just scan the barcode with the iPhone camera and Lose It automatically tallies the calories.

Lose It’s database and calorie calculations aren’t the greatest. I find that most of the foods I eat aren’t in the database; I have to add them manually. Fortunately, I only have to do that once for each food; after that, Lose It remembers. Likewise, I’ve had to adjust my daily calorie budget; Lose It’s recommendations are way off. But Lose It makes it easy to do those things.

I use Google to find the calories of any foods that aren’t in the database. For example, Google grilled turkey and brie sandwich and you’ll get several entries; I just pick the median amount and enter it in to Lose It.

RunKeeper (free). I use it to track the duration and distance of my daily walks.

Both Lose It and RunKeeper have social features and badges that I don’t pay any attention to, with the exception of posting my RunKeeper results each day to Facebook.

Weightbot ($1.99). Lose It lacks a good diary for keeping track of your weight over time; it’ll tell you what you weighed last time you weighed yourself, but not what you weighed six months ago. That’s what Weighbot is for. It’s less important now that I’ve hit my goal weight, but I keep it up anyway.

Media

Podcaster ($2). I listen to hours of podcasts every week, and Podcaster does a better job managing them for me than the native iPod app. Podcaster does automatic, over-the-air updates of new podcast episodes, and lets me create a playlist and listen to one podcast after another without having to manually start each one.

Audible (free). Audiobooks.

Productivity

OmniFocus ($20). The iPhone version of the ultimate to-do-list management app. I also use the iPad and Mac versions. Mainly, I use the Mac version, and use the iPhone version to add new items.

Due ($5). Reminders and timers. I use it instead of the built-in iPhone timer for a couple of reasons. One is because it supports pre-set alarms. For example, I have a pre-set configured at 5 minutes to time steeping tea, and another at 32.5 minutes for the turnaround point on my walk.

The other reason I prefer Due to the built-in timer is you don’t have to press a button to turn off; it rings for a second or two and then shuts off on its own.

Since this fall, iOS 5 has its own reminders app; I haven’t compared Due with that.

Due has many other capabilities, but I don’t use most of them.

Other

GV Mobile+ ($3). My preferred Google Voice client for the iPhone. I bought it before Google had its own, official client. It’s not so much better than the official client that I’d recommend others pay for it.

Soulver ($4). Better than the iPhone’s built-in calculator; it displays results adding-machine-tape style. You can also include words in your calculations.

TomTom USA ($40). GPS and turn-by-turn directions.

1Password ($8.99). Password management. One version runs on the iPhone and iPad, and it syncs with a version for the Mac. Essential for generating secure passwords, and remembering my hundreds of passwords for Web sites and networks.

Chipotle (free). Very nice mobile commerce app; it remembers our weekly order, and, with a couple of buttons, we order, pre-pay,then I drive over, cut to the front of the line (without making eye contact with anyone in the line — that’s important), pick up and go. I’ve been trying to get an interview with Chipotle about this app for The CMO Site for months; if you have any connections over there please let me know.

My 3 favorite gadgets of 2011

iPad 1: We got ours the day they came out, and we’ve used them for hours every day since. Primarily I use mine for reading Web articles through a variety of interfaces, mainly the Web browser, Instapaper, and Reeder. I also use the iPad a lot for Twitter and Facebook.

I skipped the iPad 2 because it didn’t seem to offer enough bang to be worth the upgrade. There’s a rumor of an iPad 3 coming in the spring, with a faster processor and Retina display. My mind isn’t made up whether to upgrade; we’ll see what else it offers.

I’d love a 7-inch iPad, about half the size of the iPad’s current 10.1-inch display. There are rumors that’s coming in a year. I don’t know whether to believe the rumors. A year is a long way away; I’m not going to worry about it.

iPhone 4: It’s never far away from me, not when I’m sleeping, not when I’m working at my desk, not when I’m out and about. I use it to track meals and exercise for fitness, to participate in social media, to listen to podcasts and audiobooks, to get directions where I’m going, as a camera, to write notes and to-dos for myself, as an alarm clock and, incidentally, as a phone. I didn’t go for the 4S for the same reason I didn’t buy the iPad 2: Not enough of an upgrade to be worth spending money on.

Kindle 4: I bought one of these in October when they came out, and it’s fantastic. I switched to ebooks when the Kindle app came out for the iPad, and didn’t look back; I’ve bought a couple of dozen ebooks in the past year, but only two print books, in both cases because they weren’t available electronically. The Kindle is lighter and more comfortable than reading on an iPad, plus it holds a charge for about a month. Julie has a Kindle Touch, which is the same as mine but with a touchscreen.

Not on the list: We watch a fair amount of TV at our house, and we have a DVR issued from our cable company, Cox Communications. We loathe that DVR. We miss our old TiVo, which, alas doesn’t support HD programming. And a new TiVo that supports HD would be too expensive. I’m thinking we might want to do something homemade with a Mac Mini configured as a server, either running iTunes or Myth TV. But there’s a question of (a) Time to set it up and (b) Expense.

I suppose I might want to put our new Samsung TV on this list. We certainly use it every day. But it’s just a TV; it’s not that interesting. If we put the TV on the list, we’d have to also add the microwave, toaster-oven, and electric water kettle, and where does it end?

Trying out The Hit List as a possible OmniFocus replacement

I’ve been getting dissatisfied with OmniFocus for months now. It’s just too complicated. And it’s too rigid in some ways.

OmniFocus is a high-maintenance app. I was spending too much time working on my to-do lists, and not enough time getting things done.

What I’m looking for is something much simpler.

I’ve looked at a few Mac and Web-based to-do apps recently and none of them seemed satisfactory. Then I saw this recommendation for Potion Factory’s The Hit List ($50). I spent a little while Saturday afternoon copying my tasks from OmniFocus to The Hit List, and now I’m trying it out. So far I like it.

The plus side:

  • The Hit List is much more flexible than OmniFocus about the order in which you display tasks. I can easily create a list of things I want to do today, put the list in the order I want to do them in, and then get to work. I haven’t found a good way to do that in OmniFocus.
  • The Hit List supports tagging, which OmniFocus does not. Tags are a good way of organizing tasks, although you have to watch out you don’t go crazy with them.
  • The Hit List has an iPhone app and over-the-air synching.
  • It has a nice-looking user interface. It reminds me a lot of Cultured Code’s Things. Actually. I can’t remember why I gave up Things.
  • The app makes extensive use of keyboard shortcuts. I’m not usually a big fan of keyboard shortcuts; I have trouble remembering them. But The Hit List does a good job with them. And The Hit List has a hints bar at the bottom of the app window that displays the most common keyboard shortcuts. I love this. All apps should have it.
  • When you create a new task, it appears at the top of the list. In OmniFocus, new tasks appeared at the bottom, and I couldn’t figure out a way to change that. For me, more recently created tasks are likely to be more urgent, and therefore should be at the top of the task list.

The minus side:

  • No iPad app. I can live with that.
  • No Outlook integration. Outlook is my company standard mail and calendar client. I can work around the lack of Outlook integration.
  • Poking around the Web site, I see users complaining that development is extremely slow, and that the developer is unresponsive to support requests and bug fixes. In particular, there seems to be an ongoing bug with recurring tasks and the iPhone app. Over the air synching seems to be problematic.
  • The Hit List, like OmniFocus, has a quick entry window. You type a keyboard shortcut, and a little window pops up that you use to type in a task when it occurs to you, without breaking flow of whatever else you were doing. That’s great. But the quick entry window doesn’t let you link to email messages. You have to do that from within the application window itself. That’s inconvenient; I create to-dos to respond to email a lot. I found this script to add email messages as tasks with links to the original mail message in Mail.app (rather than Outlook). I tested it and it seems to work; we’ll see how well it serves in real life.

Fortunately, there’s a two-week free trial of The Hit List, and I plan to give it a good workout. If it works for me, I’ll buy it, and won’t expect any upgrades anytime soon.

If it doesn’t work, well, I guess it’s back to OF. Maybe I can make OF work for me. Or I’ll take another look at Things, although I’m not optimistic about that app’s future. I hear good things about Remember the Milk, too.

First impressions of iOS 5

I upgraded my iPhone 4 and first-generation iPad Wednesday morning as soon as iOS 5 became available. I like it a lot. Here are some random first impressions:

I like the tabbed Mobile Safari browser on the iPad. I hadn’t read anything about that feature on the previews. Tabs reduce the hassle of changing between open browser windows by many taps. I’ve switched back to Mobile Safari as my main browser; previously I’d been using the Atomic Web Browser, mainly because it has tabs.

Speaking of the browser, I like the new Reading List. I hadn’t thought I’d use it, because I’m a devoted Instapaper user. But I’m using the Reading List for a completely different purpose. When I visit a site like Techmeme, which has a lot of links, I queue up links in the Reading List, and then read each of them one by one. Because of the iPad’s limited memory, that’s better than just opening all the links in separate tabs, which is what I would do on the desktop.

I like the split keyboard on the iPad. It makes it much easier to thumb-type while holding the iPad in portrait mode between my palms, which is how I often enter text into the iPad. I wish the keys were a little bigger, though.

On the iPhone, I love that the Personal Hotspot feature is now surfaced in Settings. I wish they’d also surface Bluetooth, because I frequently have to fiddle with Bluetooth settings to keep my Bluetooth earpiece working. Bluetooth earpieces are a cruel joke by the electronics industry.

I like that I can now flag messages in mail. For years, I used Gmail as my primary email account. When I was mobile, I’d access Gmail with my mobile browser, mark everything as read, and star messages requiring attention at my desk. Now, my primary email is a corporate Exchange account, which I need to access using the iPhone and iPad’s Mail client. I didn’t realize how much I missed being able to flag messages.

I had a bit of trouble migrating to iCloud. When I entered my MobileMe credentials, I got an error message saying, “Move your MobileMe Account to iCloud: Go to me.com on your computer to move your information to iCloud.”

Turns out that’s not quite right — you need to go to iCloud.com first, log in with your MobileMe credentials, and then you’re directed to Me.com to complete the job. And I couldn’t access Me.com from Chrome; I had to use Safari to get in.

Steve Jobs is going to come back from the dead to kick some ass over this.

I can’t access iCloud from my Mac, because my Mac is still on Snow Leopard.

Altogether unsatisfactory — but I hope the problem will be quickly resolved.

I like the new Notification Center a lot. I gather it’s unpopular among the respected Mac blogs; I haven’t had a chance to read up to find out why.

On the other hand, Settings for Notification Center are a mess. To configure Notification Center for any individual app, you need to look in three places: The Notifications area of the Settings app, the app’s own area in the Settings app, and the settings area of the app itself. I know that sentence is confusing to read; it’s equally confusing to do. Apple needs to crack the whip on developers and enforce a consistent way to manage settings. I don’t care if settings are inside the app or in the Settings app, but they all need to be in one place.

I wish that apps like OmniFocus and Podcaster could sync in the background. Every day when it’s time to check my to-do list, I have to walk across the house to get my iPad and sync OmniFocus manually, then sync it on my iPhone, and sync on the Mac. It’s like living in primitive conditions.

Because I have an older iPhone, I don’t have Siri. I’m looking forward to getting it with my next upgrade, which I expect will be spring or summer when the next generation of iPads or iPhones come out. I had hoped that the iPhone 4 and iPad would support dictation at least, if not full-blown Siri support, but that’s not the case. Oh, well.

I like shortcuts. I can now type “mmw” to spell out my whole name, and “cmosig” for my work email signature. I’m sure I’ll come up with more.

Here’s an annoying bug: When I went out walking yesterday, far away from a Wi-Fi connection, I found I had to redownload all my podcasts. Same thing with Instapaper articles. Instapaper developer Marco Arment explains the problem.

All in all, a solid upgrade to the iOS line. Nothing I can think of that’s magic, but many improvements.

The day Steve Jobs hung up on me (Warning: This story is less interesting than you’d think)

It was 1992 or so. Jobs had been out of Apple for years. Apple was a struggling vendor with a couple of niche products. Jobs was now CEO of NeXT, which made a $10,000 workstation that looked a lot like the Mac would ten years later. But at that time it was an expensive white elephant. The NeXTstation ran an operating system based on software called Unix, and I was a senior editor at a publication called Unix Today.

I was scheduled to do a phone interview with Jobs about something NeXT-related. It was going pretty well. He then mentioned something about NeXT earnings, which was a slip on his part. He said, “That was off the record.” I said, automatically, “I’m sorry, but going off the record is an agreement, and I won’t agree to that.”

He said, “Then this interview is over.” And he hung up on me.

See? I told you this story is a lot less interesting than you’d think.

I was shaken up by the event, and I think the PR person on the call was too. We talked about it a while, and she said, “Don’t worry about it. Steve can be like that.”

And Steve and I never talked again. And I started following Apple closely 15 years later, and had trouble getting access to them. But I don’t think that had anything to do with my earlier encounter with Jobs. Apple is like that. Maybe that will change under new management, but I don’t expect it to.

I may have interviewed or met with Jobs at other times earlier in my career. I don’t recall. I started covering technology a couple of years after Jobs had already been kicked out of Apple. Jobs wasn’t STEVE JOBS!! back then. He was an impressive figure, but he was also kind of a has-been, a one-hit wonder. He was an important person, but I’ve interviewed a lot of important people, and very few of them intimidate me. The ones who intimidate me tend to be personal heroes, and often less famous and admired generally than some celebrities I’ve interviewed.

Later on, of course, Jobs became one of the greatest businessmen to have ever walked the Earth, and one of my personal heroes. But that was later. And one of the things that made him one of my personal heroes is that he came back from being a has-been. It gives hope to the rest of us underachievers.

I handled that interview badly. Later, when in the same situation, I just keep my mouth shut until I decide whether I even want to use the information. Because I never did use that earnings information; it wasn’t something our readers at the time were interested in.

My two cents on the new Kindles

I expect the tablet will finally be the one to grab some serious market share from the iPad.

People talk about the “tablet market,” but there really is no “tablet market.” There are iPads, and then there are a million other tablets, none of which have sold any significant market share.

I expect the Kindle Fire will change that, because of the Amazon brand and the low price. I haven’t played with it myself, or read any credible reviews, so I can’t speak to the quality of the product — whether it’s a well-designed machine or shoddy merchandise like all the other iPad competitors. But Amazon did a great job on the Kindle, so we can be optimistic that the new tablet will be a good machine too.

We’d already decided Julie is getting a Kindle reader (she seems to be leaning that direction at the moment, rather than a tablet). She has trouble holding the iPad for long periods, because of its weight. Because mostly what she does on the iPad is read, a Kindle is a natural choice for her.

And I think I’ll get a Kindle reader too (not the tablet), for similar reasons. Unlike Julie, I am comfortable holding the iPad for long periods, but a lighter-weight and smaller device would be even more comfortable. Like Julie, I mostly use my iPad for reading. So a Kindle seems like a natural choice. I’d been holding out because of the price, and because the keyboard strikes me as a waste of real estate. Both of those problems seem to be fixed on the new Kindles. I’m not sure which model I’ll get, but I’m leaning toward holding out for the high end, which I think comes out in November (?).

All in all, an exciting announcement. And Apple’s new iPhone comes out next week! A great month for personal tech.

So far, of all the endless speculations about the iPhone announcement, this SplatF post seems to be the only one worth reading. It’s a short post, with three questions of things to watch out for. Two questions are interesting to me:

(1) Will Apple even mention iAd?

(2) Will there be an Apple TV announcement?

If there’s a new software update, I’ll be doing the happy dance. New software is always fun! If it’s new hardware, I’ll be a bit frustrated, since we just bought an Apple TV. But on the other hand, the Apple TV is cheap.

If Apple announces the rumored flatscreen Apple TV, well, I’ll just be weeping like a character in The Oatmeal, because we just shelled out large coin for a 52″ flatscreen TV and it’ll be at least seven years before we’re due to buy another one.