“i” is for Jobs, “A” is for Cook, and Other Thoughts about Time

Two days after the big Apple announcement event in Cupertino I’m was just beginning to digest all of the content. One of the things that hit home was subtle, meaningful and very much Apple. Amidst the hundreds of rumors and musings about what would be coming, the iWatch and a wallet of some sort were the headlines.

As it turned out a watch was announced and so was a wallet, but they weren’t iWatch or iWallet. Steve Job’s owns the “i” and it’s sacred territory. The iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac all these inventions and ways of changing so much belong to Mr. Jobs. Was Apple making a conscious separation from the Jobs era and the Cook era? So we have Apple Payments and the Apple Watch. Mr. Cook and the design team took the iPhone to a new plateau as only they can. Engineering, materials, technology and assembly all combined to give the world the next generation of iPhones.

Then came the Apple Watch announcement.

Apple Watch

The Arrow of Time

I fancy myself a watch guy. A serious, but not showy watch collector, as in I own watch winders. Why? Well, the necktie is long gone (thank you), which means men have fewer accessory choices in our wardrobe. Actually that’s not the reason I like timepieces. Mostly it’s likely due to a hardwired XY chromosome thing. I own more than my share of watches. Most of them are very modest in price, but I do have a few gems. Watches are similar to wine. You can get a great one without overspending. But 99.9% of all watches do exactly the same thing. They provide a window into the arrow of time.

Sean Carroll, a senior research associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, studies dark energy and general relativity. He describes the arrow of time.

There’s something called “the arrow of time” and it is simply the direction in which time passes from the past to the future. There are many ways in which the past and future are different: things become messier toward the future; we remember yesterday and not tomorrow; actions we take now affect the future but not the past. All of those reflect the arrow of time.

Now, the origin of the arrow of time is a mystery. Based on the laws of thermodynamics, we understand how it works. But we don’t understand why there is an arrow. It comes down to conditions near the Big Bang; the universe started out highly organized and has been becoming more random and chaotic ever since. The universe is like a mechanical toy that started all wound up, and has been winding down for the last 14 billion years.

Watches don’t keep time, or track time, they simply tell the time. providing the illusion you are in control even when it’s obviously in question. They fix you in the time-space continuum and of course, remind you there’s yet another meeting to attend. According to the arrow of time, things are now more difficult today than they were yesterday. That’s somewhat true I suppose, but the arrow of time does not take into consideration we become smarter over time, even as things become more complex.

There are tens of thousands of watch designs, faces, bands, shapes and sizes. Despite varying features, they are all essentially built to do one simple, singular thing. Display the time.

It’s Time For a Smartwatch Conversation

A classic line from a Mad Men episode, slightly altered, but completely relevant today. The smartwatch began to gain momentum and my attention over the last few years. There are essentially two flavors of them. One is health related. It tracks steps, elevation, etc. and oh yes, it has some kind of timekeeping device inside. The other is a concept watch that tries to combine the utility of a smartphone onto the small but infinitely complex wrist watch.

I got sucked into the Tik Tok and Luna Tick hype. A Kickstarter project that created watch bands for the iPod shuffle. At first glance it was kind of cool, but the more you looked into it or wore it, the more you realized it was wrongheaded in so many ways. I have a smallish wrist and this solution turned out to be  larger than I usually wear. But still, I was drawn in by the concept and of course, the potential for exciting convergence.

Next I learned of the Cookoo connected watch. The makers said that “it’s a wearable extension of your smart phone that helps manage your connected life.” Sounded interesting. It was not usable for a watch person like me. I couldn’t read the watch face and couldn’t use it to tell time. A problem? Yes. They only updated their app features once over the eight months I used it off and on. It was not an “extension” of anything and completely “unmanageable.”

Then I got a Pebble watch. Much lighter and more comfortable to wear. It has a lot of watch faces but none of them appealed to me except the Text Watch. I felt like I was wearing a wanna be Smart Watch.

3 Smart Watches

Then I bought a Martian Passport. This one looked like a standard watch with a small window below that displayed texts and @twitter notification to my personal handle. It was the best of the bunch so far. The microphone / speaker integration with Siri worked seamlessly. I got excited about it in the morning. Alas, both these devices were battery hogs and required me to charge much more often than i wanted.

When you look at your watch, which, in the days before smartphones existed, occurred up to 50 times per day, your mind raced back and forward across that arrow of time. Take this test.

If you’re wearing your watch right now, close your eyes and answer these questions. Does the face of your watch have numerals? Are they at all twelve intervals? Are they Roman are Arabic numerals? Are there slashes instead of numerals? Do you have a calendar window? Does it also show the day of the week?

Chances are you can’t answer most of these questions with any confidence despite the fact your watch face never changes and you look at it so many times per day. We have been trained over our entire lives to use a watch in a rote fashion. Raise your wrist or steal a glance under the table to get a marker. Is time running out or dragging? The seconds tick away with consistent precision, but our state of mind swerves from guardrail to guardrail.

The Apple Watch

I predict that the Apple Watch will be the bestselling technology device of 2015. It’s light years beyond anything else that’s been developed and will only add to the genius and essential nature of the iPhone. Will you hand down your Apple Watch to the next generation to be cherished as an heirloom? No. We’ve got those analog models for that. What it will do is start others working on challenging and improving what Apple has done. That’s a very, very good thing.

Memo to the Afterlife: Steve Jobs is Yours Now. Get Ready for 2.0.

I did not meet Steve Jobs, but I feel as if I knew the man. I did not work with him, but I am embedded in each one of his products. Everything he created was built for humans, for himself, and for all of us. Steve was driven to excellence in every way, and I believe his example has made many of us better. He has planted seeds all over the world and the forest has yet to sprout. It’s going to be amazing.

I have written several times on this blog about Mr. Jobs and Apple. But today it is not about devices or operating systems. Today, this is my reflection.

And when shall we come round to ourselves?

When shall we be ourselves again?

Ourselves in the round climate,

in the murky dark.

Ourselves soaring on the

marvelous syllable of the wind.

Ourselves in the boundless stream of time.

Ourselves as if we were stone.

We say, Oh anything but ourselves

in this vanishing skin.

But our true self. Unwinding, always moving.

Not beyond us, but right here.

Fast and forever.

You will be missed Steve.

Apples will Continue to Fall from Trees

It’s not so much that Steve Jobs has stepped down as the head of Apple that saddens me, it’s the reason why he is stepping down. Cancer invades so many people’s bodies and it’s a ruthless scourge. Regardless of which side of the technology war you are on, no one should be happy about the fate that has befallen Mr. Jobs. Go ahead and despise Apple, but keep Mr. Jobs on the good side of your thoughts. I had a brush with cancer a couple of years ago, but was one of the lucky ones. I am completely cancer free now and expect to remain that way for a very, very long time thank you.

With or without Steve, Apple will continue to grow and thrive. It’s not simply a computer manufacturer any longer. It has evolved well beyond the days when Macs were found in the occasional household. Apple has transformed the music industry and the personal computer industry, redefined the handset into a smartphone, remade retailing and introduced the tablet.

How did they do it? They broke with conventional wisdom and overcame the inertias that weigh down firms and industries. But the main ingredient of success in my opinion, is they made products that worked with people’s daily lives. Seamless integration and updates. No tribal language code. A near flawless user experience that are beautiful to look at. Not always plug and play, but pretty close. If you make products that people can use and fills a desire they have, you are more than halfway there. Apple actually went the full mile, closing the last 50% by making what they delivered emotional. They then amplified those products with superior positioning and marketing.

But most of all, they never gave up. No matter how dark the investor and pundit predictions were, or how large and dominant Microsoft became, they came in everyday and worked at it. Admirable.

Remember when no one wanted to copy Apple? Now everyone covets and races to copy them. Was this in large part the work of Super Steve? You bet. But there is no way he did this alone. It takes a village, and he has built a really big one.

Tim Cook, now the leader, did some amazing things. He got Apple’s on hand inventory down from months to days and is credited with being the supply chain wizard that allowed the firm to bring out so many products so often and quickly. Does he have the vision of a Jobs? No, no one does. But he does have a vision, and Steve is not walking out the door. He will be around and he will have more ideas and the wise folks in Cupertino will listen. His fingerprints will be on things for quite some time. It’s quite possible that not being CEO will give him even more time to be creative. That could actually accelerate Apple’s momentum. Perhaps he should have resigned sooner.

Don’t write off Apple or Mr. Jobs.

The iPad Experience will be the Difference

The last thing the world needs right now is another blog post about the just announced iPad from Apple. But I feel compelled to put in my two cents, and here’s why. Newly announced Apple products are typically polarizing. The enchanted swoon and the disenchanted spew bile. It happened with the iPhone and it happened again yesterday after Steve Jobs left the stage. I reviewed the blogosphere at length and noticed there was a new and sizable population of neutral observers. They pretty much said that it looked like an enlarged iTouch, and asked, “What’s the big deal? One of my staff told me that he believes that it really was an iTouch and Steve Jobs had shrunk himself to make it look larger.

Like all exceptional Apple products, and they aren’t all fantastic, it’s about the experience. When they get it right, like they did with the iPod and especially the iPhone, it delights beyond imagination. I truly believe that the reason some people felt it was a let down yesterday is because it looked too familiar and too simple. They were expecting a miracle (the danger of hype) and felt cheated.

Apple engineers and design experts think deeply about how humans use products and software in their daily lives. But they don’t stop there. What sets them apart is their products are designed for their place in space and time. Mr. Jobs fully expects his products will become obsolete, that’s why he keeps reinventing them. He matches evolution with revolution. Macs continue to sell and gain market share because they fit naturally with how people live their lives today. Photos, movies, social connections, calendar and the web all converge in people’s lives. Having a device that can work seamlessly to help you organize and optimize a complex world is very attractive.

When you listen to Jobs describe the iPad and he says “It’s the best browsing experience you’ve ever had,” he means it. Simple is always better and unique experiences are valuable. That’s Apple. They live on the corner of main and main. I say wait till it comes out and give it a try. Then fall in love or not.

Will Apple lose its Muse?

Steve Jobs with the Macintosh 128k
Steve Jobs with the 128k

I’ve purchased seven Macintosh computers, three iPods, one iPod shuffle and an iPhone so far in my life. Each time I bought a new computer the older one was passed along to my son. None of them ever stopped working. Each one as well as the operating system was an improvement on the one before. We all know what the iPod and iTunes has done for the music industry, and the iPhone has redefined the portable handset.

Seems like almost everything Steve Jobs has touched since returning to Apple’s helm has turned to gold. Obviously it’s not him alone. He has no doubt assembled a talented team of executives and managers in Cupertino that have played critical roles in Apple’s success. But there is no denying that Mr. Jobs is the visionary. It’s his company, his strategy, his legacy. When Pixar was purchased by Disney, it wasn’t Disney execs that were asked to join Pixar’s board, it was Jobs who was asked to join Disney’s board.

There is a lot of talk out there right now about Mr. Job’s health, and whether or not he will return to Apple after the recently announced 5 month break. If he doesn’t return, Apple will go on and continue to be successful. Large corporations like governments are engineered for transition. It’s a necessary and inevitable aspect for longevity. But it definitely won’t be the same.

I sincerely hope Steve Jobs is able to weather this storm. I so much appreciate his vision and through his products share in it every day. But all that stuff is only software and hardware. That’s not what has meaning. It’s the mind, heart and soul of Steve Jobs. Get well soon! That’s all that matters.

Photo Credit: The New York Times