Freely speaking

Phil Robertson got kicked off Duck Dynasty (at least for a little while) because of something he said. What he said really isn’t important to this discussion, but A&E felt sufficiently disturbed by it to give him the boot. 

And instantly, everyone lost their shit.

Fox News and their ilk cranked up their industrial-scale outrage machine and cried to the heavens about the sorry nature of “free speech” in our culture. Except there’s nothing in this event that suggests there’s anything at all wrong with the price of speech in America.

Consider…

  • Robertson was asked by GQ what he thought to be sinful and he was able to answer, presumably, from his heart.
  • GQ was able to publish the account (to great effect, undoubtedly).
  • A&E was able to exercise their right to expression by canning Robertson.
  • Due to the massive popularity of Duck Dynasty, Robertson will undoubtedly have the opportunity to return to television (assuming he’s permanently off the show and the show falls apart without him) when another network exercises their right to free expression and picks him and his family up.
  • Fox and the rest of the media nabobs are contributing mightily to the problem of greenhouse gasses by talking this thing into its atomic sub-particles.
  • Several friends I have on Facebook have an opinion on the matter and are not shy about sharing it freely (let alone how the kerfuffle has added to the Twitter firehose of expression).
  • Lastly, remember that our Supreme Court have elevated money to be the equivalent of speech and Robertson is terrifically wealthy meaning he has more potential “speech” at his disposal than likely all the people who will read these words combined (yeah, I don’t get a lot of traffic). Nothing that has happened will materially change his fortunes for very long (if at all).

The First Amendment restricts the government’s ability to stifle speech, not citizens and their corporate counterparts. A&E is freely enjoying their speech now as much as Robertson was in the GQ interview or MSNBC was when they canned Martin Bashir and Alec Baldwin (where was the outrage over free speech for Bashir, I wonder?).

“Free speech” isn’t freedom from having to deal with the consequences of what you say. It isn’t carte blanche to say whatever you want wherever you want regardless of your relative visibility in the media. It is not a freedom to be bigoted with no strings attached. It never has been and was not intended as such.

So, as far as I can tell, speech it still free as a bird here in the USA.

Siege this

The New York Times Magazine is out with a piece documenting the development and unveiling of the original iPhone (coinciding, I presume, with the second anniversary of Steve Job’s death). I’d like to say that overall it’s a great piece, but I can’t since I had to stop reading it at the tenth paragraph. I suppose I’ll get back to finishing it after I write this post.

Up until the tenth paragraph (and the three that follow), it’s really awesome stuff. I totally get off on these behind-the-scenes kind of long reads, regardless of the company or product they’re covering. It’s fascinating to see how different companies and different personalities birth products. This account seemed just as compelling right before the author veered off into the land of unfounded popular opinion.

And yet Apple today is under siege.

Oh, god. Really? The most profitable electronics manufacture in the world? Under siege? Every company in the civilized world would like to be as under siege as Apple.

From the moment in late 2007 that Google unveiled Android — and its own plan to dominate the world of mobile phones and other mobile devices — Google hasn’t just tried to compete with the iPhone; it has succeeded in competing with the iPhone.

Just because another company has found a way to compete in the same marketplace doesn’t mean you’re “under siege.” Is Ford under siege by Toyota? Or McDonald’s by Wendy’s? Last I heard, they’re all doing well. But not as well as Apple, the assumed siege victim here. Why must Apple have north of a 70% marketshare to be deemed as succeeding? What other company is held to this standard?

Android has exploded in popularity since it took hold in 2010. Its share of the global smartphone market is approaching 80 percent, while Apple’s has fallen below 20 percent.

Which means nothing, really. Note that Google makes more money from their apps and services on iOS than they do on their own platform. Note that, in fact, the company that’s really found a way to compete with Apple is not Google as much as it’s Samsung. And when I say “compete” I mean “mindlessly copy.” But whatever. It works for them. They and Apple are literally making all the money in the smartphone marketplace.

The better comparison for Apple is the often-made example of BMW. Tiny marketshare; Lots of mindshare and profits. Companies that make premium products are not often (if ever) the ones that make the most of those kinds of products.

A similar trend is under way with iPads: in 2010 the iPad had about 90 percent of the tablet market; now more than 60 percent of the tablets sold run Android.

How many Android tablets do you see in the wild compared to iPads? I know they’re selling a lot of these things, but to whom? Where are they being used? Are they basically zero margin, low-end products? Or, as in the case of Amazon’s Kindles, just low-margin storefronts? Remember, Apple doesn’t work for marketshare. They work for profit share. In that regard, they’re killing it.

What worries Apple fans most of all is not knowing where the company is headed.

This “fan” didn’t know where they were headed under Jobs, either.

When Jobs died in October 2011, the prevailing question wasn’t whether Tim Cook could succeed him, but whether anyone could. When Jobs ran Apple, the company was an innovation machine, churning out revolutionary products every three to five years. He told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he had another breakthrough coming — a revolution in TV. But under Cook, nothing has materialized, and the lack of confidence among investors is palpable.

The presumption regarding the TV product is that the content owners can’t figure out terms that would let Apple have access to their shows that Apple wouldn’t be a fool to accept. These are the insightful and innovative head cases like those running CBS and Comcast. Having a platform that works is not the same as having a product absent the content it needs to be relevant. Unlike other companies, Apple doesn’t release half-baked concepts into the marketplace and expect people to buy them.

With regard to investors, I’d suggest they never understood why Apple was successful in the first place, so I wouldn’t read too much into their confidence issues now. Except that I have a substantial (for me) position in AAPL, of course.

Apple product announcements used to routinely send its stock soaring.

That’s just totally false. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Expectations have, since the iMac’s introduction, always been totally unrealistic. When they don’t announce anti-gravity solar-powered bread slicing iPods, the stock slides. Every time.

When Cook presented the latest smartphones in September, the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s, Apple’s stock fell 10 percent.

Right. Like I said…

A year ago the company’s stock price was at $702 a share, making Apple the world’s most valuable corporation. Today, it’s down more than 25 percent from that peak.

Keep in mind the stock went up to $702 under Tim Cook’s watch, not Jobs’.

Comparing anyone with Steve Jobs is unfair.

Of course it is, but you’ll do it anyway.

To me, this little foray into the land of crappy insights and apparent inability to fact-check (i.e., use Google) reads like an editor falling into a kind of false equivalency trap. The story was perhaps too positive toward the company or Jobs. It didn’t fit the lazy media narrative regarding Apple. These couple of paragraphs read like a last minute, ham-handed insertion to “toughen up” the piece. Too bad. It makes me question the accuracy of everything that follows.

Forgive me, Guillermo

Danger, Gypsy

When I first saw the trailer for Pacific Rim, I thought it was going to be horrible. Even though Guillermo Del Toro directed it and he’s awesome (still waiting for the third Hellboy movie, BTW). I was thinking, Guillermo, meet shark. Nobody’s perfect.

Man, was I wrong. Totally and completely. Pacific Rim is fantastic. All the way down. Unlike so many summer movies that are half action and half impossible to follow, totally implausible exposition (looking at you, Red 2) and characters you actually start hoping will get stepped on by 700 foot monsters, this movie makes sense. Once you buy off on the giant monster/robot concept, of course. Absolutely awesome. Truly.

The relatively weak box office would normally put this film into the “man, I wish they’d make more of those” category, but apparently they’re making a sequel. Can’t wait. I’ll see it opening day.

Not before Hellboy 3, though. First things first.

Things I do in the morning

  • Catch up on Facebook
  • Catch up on Twitter
  • Catch up on Tumblr
  • Catch up on my RSS subscriptions
  • Look at few blogs I like enough to check-in on but not enough to add to my RSS subscriptions
  • Catch up on unread emails
  • Look at my calendar, think about my day
  • Eat a bagel

All while listening to NPR. Even though it’s begging for money.

Is it any wonder I hardly ever read the NYTimes anymore?

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.

FPS

I’ve seen several blogs mention in the past day or so the news from Instagram that their users are now uploading 25 photos every second (even prompting Gruber to note that’s more frames per second than a motion picture). It is, truly, a lot of pictures. But, to put this in perspective, Facebook back in April of 2009 said their users were uploading 220 million photos every week. That’s almost 22,000 a second. A year and a half ago.

My latest Instagram masterpiece

This isn’t a “neener neener, your social site sucks” kind of observation at all. I love Instagram. Instead, it’s a “OH MY GOD, FACEBOOK IS HUGE” kind of observation. So. Frickin’. Huge.

CNN buries the lede

CNN seems to think their job is to play highlights of the big game like ESPN when, in fact, it’s to make sure those who want to run the country aren’t lying and/or distorting the truth to suit their needs. It’s the fundamental role of the Fourth Estate in modern society to act as a check on those in power. Running highlight reels of the best zingers and constantly focusing on the strategy and mechanics of electoral politics does not fulfill that responsibility.

Obviously, I think the position of those two stories should have been switched.

Bird food

Upon further reflection, as much as I enjoy the Newsweek Bachmann cover from a purely visceral standpoint, it probably won’t do anything at all to stem her popularity. In fact, it may only increase it.

Instead of reading the content of the article and judging her to be a dangerous candidate and representative based on her positions and statements, people will look at the picture and decide that Newsweek has unfairly published the most unflattering and stereotypical photo of her it could in order to score a cheap shot. The left will point to it and say, “Look at her! She’s crazy!!” (just like I did) while those on the right will use it as further proof that the media is liberal and biased (which it demonstrably is not). And, at the end of the day, Bachmann will simply regurgitate it down the throats of all the baby bird Tea Partiers already sitting in her nest.

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.