“Samsung is now more profitable than Apple, according to second-quarter financial results released by Samsung on Friday in Seoul.”

From the New York Times, apparently forgetting or not caring that Samsung makes a few other things besides phones (like televisions and boats) and thinking a comparison of Apple’s earnings and Samsung’s is somehow relevant.

Crazy ones

I’ve seen many, many comparisons of Steve Jobs to the likes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison in the past few days, but only one so far to the guy I think he most closely resembles in American life: Walt Disney.

Surely, Ford was an innovator as was Jobs. Edison was an inventor as, in a different way perhaps, was Jobs. But neither of those men, with their impressive catalog of achievements, had the same kind of emotional connection that Jobs seems to have had with the world. Facebook on Wednesday night was like one big Steve Jobs tribute site. People I never would have expected to were posting their reminiscences about their first Apple products or how Steve’s aesthetic impacted their lives, both professionally and otherwise. You have to go back to 1966 to see a moment where the death of a business leader had the same kind of impact.

Both Walt and Steve (besides being known worldwide by their first names) were the embodiment of the companies they founded. They were equal parts celebrity, business leader, and inspirational innovators. Walt turned our perception of animated film on its head and advanced the art, both technically and artistically, more than any other person before or since (though John Lassiter is giving him a run for his money). He turned his enthusiasm and attention to detail to motions pictures, television, theme parks, and even urban planning and revolutionized them all. He would have fit perfectly into Apple’s “Think Different” campaign had his likeness not been locked in a steel vault under the Matterhorn. Steve of course “ignited the personal computer revolution” (as the Apple press releases always say), and radically impacted the entire entertainment business, from music to movies to gaming. His devices made possible the explosive rise of such diverse interests as social media, photography, and even filmmaking, from guys in their bedrooms to guys like Peter Jackson. His influence on design and manufacturing will be felt for a decade, at least. The mobile device industry is nothing at all like what is was only four years ago. All because of Steve’s vision.

Both Disney and Jobs pushed to create idealized realities. Steve’s very much in the present through a fanatic attention towards experience design, both virtual and physical, and Walt by representing both the past and the future as how he’d like them to be rather than how they were or would be. Their visions, based solely on their own internal ideals, were wholeheartedly embraced by millions. We not only loved what they created, we loved how they saw us in their creations.

They’re very different in what they left behind, however. When Disney died, he left a company that couldn’t replace him. Not only was there no heir, there was no interest in finding one. They went along for years thinking “what would Walt do?” and ended up nearly being consumed in the process until another leader came along and (for good or ill) started to create a new vision for Walt’s company. Steve, however, has done much to leave Apple in the best possible spot it could be. All the assets that make Apple great are still there. He even oversaw the creation of an internal Apple University to distill the qualities he led with and to ensure they’re passed on to others. Where the Walt Disney Company wandered and became diminished in the years following Walt’s death, Apple seems poised to continue its remarkable ascension specifically because of its founder’s vision and commitment.

Walt always acted like his company was there to enable him to follow his passions. In the case of Jobs, Apple was his passion. His single greatest creation. And that will make all the difference in the world.

Fingerprints

It’s an odd thing, shedding tears at the death of someone you didn’t know.

We have this chair. An old oak, mission style rocking chair. We bought it years ago in terrible shape and took it to be reupholstered. At the shop, the upholsterer told me about the thumb prints he’d often see inside hundred-year-old pieces. The prints of their makers, long dead. In these inanimate objects, you could see the literal fingerprints of the people who created them from raw wood.

Of course, most things today aren’t like that. They’re made by teams of people. Hundreds of them. But there are still a few things we get to use — even those that are the result of the talent and labor of hundreds — that bear the obvious fingerprints of a singular talent. And as you use them, you get to know that talent.

So maybe, in a way, I did know him. Maybe we all did.

Steve Jobs, dead at 56. Too damned soon.

The magical slab of glass

Stephen Hackett said:

Apple has released an iPhone every summer since 2007, except for this year. WWDC came and went with no new hardware.

Since then, many people have claimed — including myself — that Apple can’t release a spec-only update to the iPhone 4, since the device has been on the market for 16 months. It would be a let-down, a disaster, a failure.

This, of course, is just based on our own expectations. We expect that — given the extra time — Apple’s hardware team has whipped up something shiny and new, far removed from the iPhone 4s we’ve all been carrying around for so long.

Whatever Apple announces tomorrow, some people are bound to be disappointed. That’s what expectations do when they grow out of control. Apple doesn’t owe us anything. Remember that as you pre-order your new phone tomorrow.

Thing is, I love the iPhone 4 form factor. Not just like, love. I love how it feels and its heft and its total lack of tapered edges. It’s a magical slab of glass. Like something from a science fiction movie. Like the illicit love child of a new iMac and an old titanium PowerBook. It is timeless and classic. I would mourn its passing.

Of course, I know I have it bad and will end up ordering the next iPhone because it is the next iPhone (all the while holding up the tattered fig leaf of  “professional necessity” to justify my actions), but I don’t want the next iPhone to look like anything other than the old iPhone. If the rumors are true and the iPhone 5 is a mirage and the iPhone 4S is the spitting image of the iPhone 4, I will be overjoyed.

Now if it only had a larger screen…

Jobs and the average man

In my last missive, I mentioned that Steve Jobs’ appearance at the iPad 2 event played upon my sentimental side. Therefore, it should not be a surprise when I take umbrage at this statement buried in the story I linked to before:

But the health of Apple’s chief, who runs the most highly valued tech company in the world, is more important to shareholders than it is to most of its customers, said Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester Research analyst focusing on personal computing.

“I don’t think the average person cares what’s going on with Apple’s leader,” she said.

Seriously?

There have been, in the history of American industrial culture, a large number of extraordinarily talented leaders, but some rise above all the rest (for good or bad): Henry Ford, Bill Gates, John Rockefeller, Mark Zuckerberg, and Walt Disney just to name a few that randomly pop into my head. Certainly prominent among those would be Steve Jobs, the guy who founded not one, but two wildly successful companies with high profiles in our popular culture. He’s the guy who’s fronted every significant introduction of game-changing products from Apple over the past 27 years, from the Mac, to the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad. He not only embodies the creative genius and charisma of someone like Walt Disney, who reshaped the entertainment industry multiple times, but the business acumen of someone like Bill Gates or Henry Ford who both had clear visions of the future and the sheer willpower to make them happen. He is, without doubt, the single most talented CEO in America today (and maybe the world).

So yeah, I think the “average person” is aware of and cares about what’s happening with Apple’s leader. But, you know, that’s just a hunch. I don’t know that many average people.

150

One hundred and fifty. That’s approximately how many days away we are from iPhone 5 (assuming Apple sticks to it’s mid-summer refresh scedule), yet as mainstream a website as CNN.com (via Mashable) is already posting “rumor round-up” stories.

Crazy.

The tone of the story (reported there and elsewhere) is that Apple will be making changes to the iPhone in order to somehow squash the raging bull of Android sales. I don’t think that’s quite right. I think Apple makes products they think will sell like crazy and very purposefully doesn’t fixate on the competition. I’m not saying nobody over there thinks about market share, but it’s not the way they measure success. Apple likes to be insanely profitably and insanely great. Market share’s for show-offs.

So anyway, here are the new features the new Jesus Phone will supposedly have:

  • A higher megapixel camera. Maybe. The iPhone already has a kick-ass camera. Megapixels aren’t everything. The lens and processing software are arguably more important than the size of the image being recorded. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more MPs in the next phone, but not because Apple’s playing a “who’s got the best specs” game.
  • Larger screens. Again, maybe. There was a rumor a little while back that the iPhone would be losing it’s home button, but I think Gruber nailed it. I don’t expect that button to be going anywhere. So, if the screen’s physically bigger, it will not get that way by stealing space away from the phone’s “chin”. It’s possible they’d steal space from it’s “forehead”, but it seems to me that the screen would still need the same number of physical pixels as the current screen (only larger). One of the things that makes the iPhone easy to develop for is that it’s screen comes in two sizes: 640 x 960 for iPhone 4 and exactly half that (320 x 480) for all the others. It seems to me they wouldn’t want to introduce a third size not based on those proportions. Besides, the Retina Display is not even a year old and massively beautiful. Seems early for a big shake-up around the screen.
  • Slide-out keyboard. No. I think Jobs would have to be way more than just on medical leave for that to happen. He’d have to be stone-cold dead and five years buried. Plus, Jonathan Ive would have to have been kidnapped by Chechen rebels and held in a mountain top lair. I just can’t see this happening ever.

There’s also a rumor of a smaller “iPhone nano” floating out there again. Not sure about that. Seems to me the icons and other chrome on the current phone is about as small is it can get and still be useable. Unless they’re dreaming up a non-app phone, like an iPod nano with a phone attached as opposed to what we have now which is like an iPod Touch with a phone. Not sure moving away from the App Store ecosystem is a direction they’re likely to go. Also smells too much like a feature phone.

I guess we’ll know in about 150 days (assuming one doesn’t show up in bar first).

A slice of Apple’s pie

Today, Apple finally announced their subscription model. As with other transactions in which Apple is the middle-man, they’re requiring a healthy chunk of the resulting revenue:

“Our philosophy is simple—when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “All we require is that, if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app. We believe that this innovative subscription service will provide publishers with a brand new opportunity to expand digital access to their content onto the iPad, iPod touch and iPhone, delighting both new and existing subscribers.”

I think that’s emminently reasonable. Apple’s iOS is, after all, a very large and generally self-contained ecosystem that’s already made many, many people rich (I’m looking at you, angry red bird). The potential to sell to these consumers is proven. And Apple isn’t calling this a “transaction fee” or in any other way sugar-coating it. It’s an access fee. The toll for the road. You, as the developer or the content creator or whatever, would not have access to the roughly 160 million iOS devices (and their owners) had Apple not created them.

I’m sure a lot of people will look at these terms and thing they’re onerous, but nobody has to play by them. Publishers could always create web apps to deliver content. But then they’d be bypassing the App Store and all those people who habitually use it to find new things to keep their fingers and eyes occupied. Or, they could focus on Android and their subscription payment option (as soon as it’s developed, anyway).

In the mean time, I look forward to seeing what content creators do with this new lease on life. The New York Times, in particular, seems well positioned to make itself in to a new kind of news delivery service that could dominate marshmallowy players like CNN and Fox.

 

Chrome is where the heart is

Recently, the pinheads at Google decided to drop support for h.264 video playback by changing the way the <video> tag works in future versions of the Chrome browser. It’s not that I think Google’s pinheads are more or less pinheady than anyone else’s, but this is an especially egregious sin since we were just beggining to see some sanity taking shape regarding video playback online, across all devices and browsers. Instead of leading us into h.264 nirvana, they split off for no other reason except they wanted to screw iOS and prop up their own “standard”. But I’m not here to argue the politics of their decision.

Chrome had been, up to that point, my default browsing axe. I liked it because it was standards-compliant, fast as all hell, and cross platform. As a person who makes a living developing for the web, I like to support tools that work the same way everywhere. Since I use a Mac, Internet Explorer is not an option. Since I like tools that work everywhere, I have traditionally eschewed Safari. Firefox was my go-to tool for a long time, but it started to feel a little crufty to me and didn’t seem as fast as Chrome. So anyway, I was so pissed at the pinheaded change of course at Google that I jumped ship to Safari (being the best of the two real options available). I used it for about three weeks. Tonight, I jumped back to Chrome. Not for any big reasons, but for all the small ones that make a tool feel well-worn and comfortable.

First off, I appreciate Chrome’s combination of URL and web search in one field. I got so used to it that, even after three weeks, I couldn’t remember to use the search field in Safari. Not even once. It’s such a logical and useful way to approach search that needing two fields seems silly to me now. Second, Chrome has a far larger universe of extensions. There were a few in particular that I used daily and could find no substitute for in the far smaller Safari stable. Third, Safari, while a nimbly renderer, presented me with several endless spinny beach balls every day. It was infuriating. There seemed no rhyme or reason and the app was essentially useless until it worked itself through whatever internal quandary was facing it. Lastly, I kept running into small inconsistencies with how Safari handled long text fields (like this one). Gmail, Squarespace, WordPress, etc. It was like they all kinda worked, but not quite. As a guy who lived through the dark and dismal days of the late-90’s on the Mac, I have zero tolerance for things that kinda work. I’m sure I’m disappointing some associates, but at the end, I just didn’t find Safari to be flexible or reliable enough to be the one app I use more than 90% of the time I’m facing a computer screen.

Regarding my original complaint, the <video> tag still plays h.264 for the time being. I’ll cross that bridge when Google forces me over it.