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Apple Watch has incited more mocking disbelief, concerned handwringing and passionate prognostications of doom— for Apple, for its buyers, for society in general— than any product since iPhone, with the potential exception of iPad. Maybe Apple is onto something here.
Big Hero 8.3
When I first heard that Apple was working on a watch, it immediately seemed sensible to me from a business standpoint. Everyone knows how cool wearing a watch used to be, even if relatively few people are wearing them anymore in this age of smartphone computers in your pocket.
Hipsters, fashionistas and egregiously rich people all wear watches more than the rest of us, mostly as an expression of how cool they are. Up until Apple Watch, there's been nothing really new or novel about watches; they either involve impressive but archaic mechanical movements that belong in a museum next to the Hope Diamond, or convey the retro-cool of the 1980s, back when having a calculator on your wrist had never been done before (I was one of those nerd kids with a solar Casio ready to help you with your math).
We can now tap a button and ask Siri to do our math. At the Spring Forward event, when Apple's demonstration team quizzically asked among themselves what the new 2 pound MacBook weighed in grams for the benefit of the foreign press, I asked Siri for them and got an instantaneous answer ("about 907 grams"). The only way it could have been easier is if I hadn't needed to pull my iPhone 6 Plus out.
Everyone already has an iPhone, an iPad while on the couch, and a MacBook when they're working, so having a peripheral device attached to ones' wrist is the next logical step in Apple's efforts to armor and weaponize our fragile, mortal bodies (and brains) with iOS devices in a sort of real world "Big Hero 6."
Apple Watch Raison d'Ãªtre
Being encouraged to regularly send whimsical doodles to the people I care about, being coached to exercise vigorously enough to win another fitness micro-reward, and being upgraded into a classier level of 007esque style— created for me by fastidious materials experts who play the role of a real world Q— are all more important to me than being able to check the time on my wrist (which is why I haven't previously worn a watch since the 1990s).
And the fact that Apple implemented this technology on a state-of-the-art micro-scale of electron gates measured in nanometers, rather than using mechanical parts measured in 18th century increments of archaic ligne, is to me a positive, not a negative.
I enjoy museums of old contraptions, but I really want to avail myself of the best, most powerful technology I can afford. And starting at $349, I certainly can afford an Apple Watch. Even the $549 stainless steel Apple Watch is very close to the inflation-adjusted ($526) debut price of the $399 5GB iPod in 2001.
Having to charge Apple Watch after 18 hours of use is also not a distressing concept for me, because I have been daily charging every bit of technology I've fallen in love with since my first Motorola StarTAC, my Diamond Rio, my Palm Pilot, my iPod and the iPhone I use today.
I certainly prefer regularly plugging in these devices compared to the alternative offered by my hydrocarbon burning car, which rudely sucks down gasoline in $60 tankfuls, even if not every 18 hours (unless a road trip is involved). There's a rumor Apple is going to address that issue, too.
Segue to Apple Watch
Sensible and cool aren't the same as "neat." If you want to impress old media sources like Wired, you have to describe things that aren't quite sensible, aren't necessarily cool, but are entertaining to engineers and their nerd fans. In a word: neat.
For example, the Segway was nearly sensible, not very cool at all, but very neat for nerds to learn about, at least while it remained novel. It didn't become popular, partly because of its breathtaking entry price (starting at about 20 times the price of today's Apple Watch) and partly because it was designed by engineers, not designers.
That resulted in making Segway sort of neat but not very cool. "I think it sucks," Steve Jobs reportedly said of the original Segway. "Its shape is not innovative, it's not elegant and it doesn't feel anthropomorphic."
The media loved Segway until conservative old San Francisco hastily wrote laws to make sure nobody could operate them on the sidewalks. Without any cool to coast on, Segway's nerdy "neat-o" angle quickly became a target for mocking. Today, the primary market for Segways seems to be nerdified walking tours, with all the allure of a tour bus, but requiring a helmet.
The next major product idea to really capture the "nearly sensible, not cool, mostly neat" aura of Segway was Google Glass, a contraption designed by engineers who didn't care about appearances, just as with the original Segway. It was all about technology, albeit smartphone tech from a couple years ago. Once again, San Francisco ruined everything.
In part, this was because it has grown fashionable in the City to despise anything associated with "tech people" (apart from their taxes), and in part because Glass Glass played an instrumental role in fostering that contempt by empowering anyone with a disposable $1,500 for an "explorer ticket" to feel comfortable with pointing their Glass camera in anyone's face, anytime, anywhere, and then asserting their rights to be a "Glasshole" while assuring everyone in the bar that the resulting video would be on YouTube by morning.
The intersection of Technology and the Liberal Arts
One of the last deep impressions Steve Jobs imprinted on the world before he left it was the idea that Apple was positioned at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.
That idea was conveyed on a slide he depicted in nearly every one of his final event appearances. This is a simple concept, but is also a profound idea, a core secret in Apple's DNA that Jobs advertised around as if inviting others to join his company's advanced level of evolution: move to this crossroads with us.
It could be interpreted as a ding against the artless anti-cool of Microsoft, but by the time Jobs was expressing it Steve Ballmer's street address wasn't even anything anyone cared about. It was more clearly expressing the difference between Apple and Google, a relatively close Silicon Valley neighbor that is years behind Apple as an evolving corporate being.
Google has done nothing to impose any minimum standards for workers rights or environmental protections under Android, even though something like 80 percent of the world's production of mobile devices use Google's platform.
Google has done nothing to impose any minimum standards for workers rights or environmental protections under Android, even though something like 80 percent of the world's production of mobile devices use Google's platform
An even greater proportion the world's low end, razor thin margin products run Android, yet Google isn't doing anything to leverage Android for good, despite being most culpable as the cheapskate platform that's all but encouraging low wages, shoddy treatment of workers, toxic shortcuts and illicit sourcing of conflict materials in its race to the bottom in aggressively under-pricing its iOS knockoffs.
That's partly because Google is powerless to affect change among its cat herd of Android licensees and forkers. The company can't even enforce its suggested 18 months of software support for new, full priced Android products under its Update Alliance. Google is also powerless to impose any minimal standards for physical product quality or to even certify Android software as safe on any level.
Google doesn't even care to address many serious address bugs it knows are affecting millions of existing Android users (the majority of its user base), because it doesn't see an ROI in doing so. If you want new Android software, throw your year and a half old device away (it's not worth anything and isn't easy to recycle) and buy a new one, just like Microsoft PCs.
When experts at Bluebox Security examined a series of holiday-promoted Android products being sold in the U.S. at major retailers including Target and Walmart, it found that virtually every one of them was contaminated by malware or wide open vulnerabilities, in some cases with apparent malice involved, in the same fashion as Lenovo's intentional, ROI-motivated installation of Superfish advertising malware on its Windows notebooks.
It should come as no surprise that Google has positioned itself in the same art-less address as Microsoft, far removed from reality at the deadend of the Technology cul-de-sac, far from the Liberal Arts highway. Google is populated with many former Microsoft engineers, but also many former Microsoft leaders, as is evident in its trajectory, both planned and inadvertently achieved.
Google has the money to task ad designers to craft the same kind of heartfelt videos that tug at your emotions, but that injection of humanity is conspicuously missing at the top of Google's hierarchy, where real decisions are made.
A Revolution of Regression
Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt has regularly scoffed, in public, at the notions of individual privacy, and claims an edge in security for a platform that other corporations and even governments (including the U.S.) are avoiding expressly because of its sloppy security. That's not a secret, and it's obvious in hard data from many sources, no matter what sort of story Google feeds the media.
Just like Microsoft following the collapse of its Windows monopoly, Google has pursued a phony sort of "openness" for show and its own convenience. Google is a company founded by software patent protections, even while pretending to hate patents. No company could possibly be more hypocritical in its expressions of a righteous "do no evil" motto.
Google's answer to the iPhone was to tweak phones made by HTC, the company that, until then, had been mostly cranking out hardware instances of Microsoft's terrible Windows Mobile platform.
Before ever getting the Android 2.0 phone finished, Google next jumped to Android 3.0 Honeycomb in an effort to copy iPad— working with Motorola, Samsung and a variety of other hardware companies that had previously failed to implement Microsoft's Tablet PC in a usable form— in order to slop out tablet sized computers running Android, without any real thought or art or craft.
Like the old Tablet PC models such as Samsung's Q1 (above), Google's Honeycomb partner tablets were priced significantly higher than Apple's iPad. It's only been Android's complete failure to raise prices as planned that's resulted in the company's new marketing spin that claims Android exists to deliver low priced products for the "rest of us," as if the company set out to spark a revolution in affordability by abandoning Capitalism rather than simply retreating to a Plan B after Honeycomb bombed as badly as the expensive Google TVs had before it.
For some reason, Honeycomb attracted the pure adoration of the old media tech crowd— without any regard for the terrible, unfinished, poorly performing, dysfunctional products it debuted on.
After Google twisted its high Honeycomb pricing retreat into the "wait, Android is actually cheap!" battlecry, it attracted a volunteer army of new bloggers expressing their contempt for Apple while enlisting in the ideological struggle of Google's open promise of paradise, one where the proletariat could qualify for "reasonably priced" phone and tablet devices socialized by the anti-capitalist revolutionary one-world-order imposed under the ad banners of Google.
While Google successfully Jim-Jonesed members of a young generation into signing up for an wonderful open world where everything would be free, the membership of its "peoples platform" is now finding that in reality, Google is just screwing everyone, for free, in a camp offering little more than increasingly squalid conditions. It's only missing the Flavor Aid.
All the neat gadgetry Google promised is turning out to look like Trabants and Sputniks. Google's centrally planned Android party has achieved occasional bragging rights to technical "firsts," but is generally falling its users in areas where it matters, such as in the barren assortment of good apps in Google Play, the years of disfunction haunting Google Wallet and Nexus 7, and the general focus on cheap, flawed products that are as clearly inferior to the iOS world as East Germany's were to those escaping the Iron Curtain.
The only thing Google seems to have left is an ideological hammer it's now using to bash Apple as "decadent Western imperialism"
At this point, resting between a couple embarrassing years of Android Wear watch deployments and the availability of Apple Watch, the only thing Google seems to have left is an ideological hammer it's now using to bash Apple as "decadent Western imperialism."
Which is a new level of outrageous hypocrisy coming from an advertising company that is also run by billionaires, albeit with less class and appreciation for the liberal arts.
Champions of Failure
The only thing more superficially clowney than Google's phony-righteous hot air is its financial results. Even its once doe-eyed investors have lost their faith, with the stock remaining flat since the beginning of 2014 (it's down 6.5 percent over the past year). Since 2009, Google's stock has even been out performed by the NASDAQ Composite, S&P 500 and RDG Internet Composite (not to mention Apple, as Google doesn't in its 10K, below).
This does not really convey the extent of the issues Google is facing, however. As it notes in its SEC filings, 89 percent of Google's 2014 revenues were from advertising. That's a lot of eggs in one basket, in a world where there are as many companies trying to poach those eggs as there are commodity hardware makers trying to compete with the iPhone.
While the media focuses on Apple's supposed "dependance" upon iPhone sales (after previously worrying about how much of its revenues came from iPods), a much larger percentage of Google's business is, as the company itself states, "from advertising, and a reduction in spending by or loss of advertisers could seriously harm our business [...]
"Our advertisers can generally terminate their contracts with us at any time." Google warns. "Advertisers will not continue to do business with us if their investment in advertising with us does not generate sales leads or brand awareness, and ultimately customers, or if we do not deliver their advertisements in an efficient and effective manner. If we are unable to remain competitive and provide value to our advertisers, they may stop placing ads with us, which would adversely affect our revenues and business."
Losing customers is a risk for anyone, but in Google's case, it's actually happening. Google is now facing greater threats than just Microsoft and Yahoo, with Facebook not only eating up ad revenue share, but also maintaining more information on users than even Google, and doing a better job of keeping users logged in to track them across the web, particularly considering the failure of Google+ to replicate Facebook's voluntary surveillance initiative.
There's also the new world of mobile apps, where Twitter, Amazon, Pandora, Yelp and others are establishing beachheads in an online ad world that Google once essentially monopolized. That's making Google's core business of selling ads in the desktop web browser less lucrative. The company notes that its growth in paid clicks is slowing (from 25 percent in 2013 to 20 percent in 2014) while the cost-per-click it can charge advertisers is shrinking: down 8 percent in 2013, and down another 5 percent in 2014.
We hear a lot about how iPad sales are collapsing when Apple sells 4 percent fewer devices year over year, but nobody seems to care about the fact that Google's core business is not only slowing down, but is losing its earning ability while being pinched by the growth of mobile startups that Google isn't even capable of copying, despite many tries.
And despite having given away Android software on so many devices worldwide, Google has been completely blocked by the world's second largest economy, China. Every time somebody mentions Xiaomi, remember that Google's share of the market in China is actually circling the drain at zero. Xiaomi isn't directing its Android users to Google; they're plugged into Baidu, the "Xiaomi of Google," albeit profitable and competitive, unlike China's iPhone copycat.
Outside of ads, things are looking even worse in the Google Playland. Between 2012 and 2013, Google says its "other" revenues from "digital content products, such as apps, music, and movies," grew by $2,619 million. But between 2013 and 2014, there was only an increase of $1,973 million. That's a drop in Google' s non-advertising growth of 24.6 percent as Google Play grew from 2012's $2.3 billion to $4.97 billion in 2013 to $6.95 billion in 2014.
If Google Play growth doesn't shrink any further, it will take at least three years for Google Play to catch up to where the iOS ecosystem was in 2012
In contrast, Apple's "tiny" global market share with iOS contributed $12.89 billion in comparable iTunes revenue in 2012, $16.05 billion in 2013, and $18.06 billion in 2014. If Google Play growth doesn't shrink any further, it will take at least three years for Google Play to catch up to where the iOS ecosystem was in 2012. And by 2017, if Apple also maintains its current pace, iTunes will still be twice as large as Google Play in terms of revenue.
These issues explain why top talent and smart money is fleeing Google, but it also explains why the adoring tech media is playing the role of Pravda in seeing to divert attention away from the real troubles at home and toward the supposed blunders of the decadent imperialist cranking out (gasp!) a watch line ranging from the $349 that Google would love to be able to fetch for its own tuna can Android Wear placeholders, to the $17,000 price anchor of solid gold that Apple will offer to a select few that bang down its doors to obtain it.
Clowns on parade
Kevin Rose slightly increased the correlation between his name and "douchebag" in Google's search results by printing a tirade for TechCrunch insisting that the gold Apple Watch was "perfect for douchebags" because it offered neither a technical differentiation for "The Technologist" nor a perpetual heirloom for "The Collector."
Let's ignore the fact that original Apple computers from just 40 years ago now sell at auction for over $900,000, a pretty steep appreciation in comparison to typical collector watches. Let's also not speculate about whether a similarly low production of today's Apple Watch Edition might also be worth something in 2055, given that it's made out of solid gold, rather than commodity parts soldered onto a board sitting on pine dowels like Apple I.
Instead, let's look at how people who actually know something about watches and style define "douchebag watches," which was a thing before Rose weighed in on the subject (suggesting that, instead of solid gold artisanship, he'd prefer an Apple Watch with a gold-colored veneer for which he said, apparently unaware of the irony, "I'd happily pay an extra $500-$1,000 for that upgrade.")
AskMen more precisely defined "douchebag watches" as including those with "exceptional large watch cases" like the Italian U-Boat with its extended fold out crown arm; watches encrusted with diamonds as "a way to show you have more money than brains" like one Breitlings Chronomat or anything aftermarket-bedazzled with diamonds (even a Rolex); retro styled gold-colored Casio models that 'look like they belong on your uncle' and Hublot's bizarre camouflage bezel. "Wearing this watch is like wearing a pair of sunglasses at night," wrote author Robert-Jan Broer.
In stark contrast, Adam Fields, writing for Medium (apparently something anyone can do), complained that at the release of the Watch, "Apple died," replaced by an decadent imperialist monster (my phrase) offering "a gold version whose only substantial differentiating feature is that it's more expensive."
Well, that, and that it's made out of solid gold (which is expensive), developed using entirely different construction methods, hand polished and accompanied by upscale bands that people in the industry are describing as high quality but not really ostentatious. If it were actually only "more expensive," then nobody would buy it, because that's how capital markets work.
Remember "I am Rich," the $999.99 app that weaseled into the then-new App Store in 2008? It didn't actually sell in any meaningful quantity, and those that did buy it on a lark mostly demanded their money back, sparking the app approval guidelines of the Walled Garden.
Just ask Mark Gurman, who as a 15 year old boy decided to copy the non-functional "I am Rich" app a couple years later. Apple had already decided to remove the original worthless 'souvenir of personal wealth' app as it developed its App Store policy to reject garbage, but Gurman thought he could make money selling a copy cat title "You Are Rich" priced at $99.99, which also actually did nothing.
The ploy didn't work. Enraged at Apple (and AppleInsider, for opting not to promote his effort as news), Gurman teamed up with notorious Apple critic Seth Weintraub to create a website to promote Android while delivering misinformation and contempt about Apple and its employees.
This has made the duo a pair of heros to some in the tech media tasked with issuing contempt for the decadent imperialism of Apple, even though its obvious that it's not Apple that the media kowtows to, but Google.
The seething contempt for Apple and virtually everything it does— from giving users a free U2 album to developing a classier watch than anyone else in the tech world even knew how to conceptualize— runs in stark contrast to the excuses made on Google's behalf as it tramples users' privacy, churns out failed, charmless and faulty products and then drops support for them on a whim.
Criticizing Google is like criticizing Putin, while criticism of Apple is like criticizing the leader of the free world: inversely proportional to its rational merits.
Reading the claptrap spewed about Apple from virtually every columnist or blogger with a spleen to vent, you'd get the idea that Apple's nearly 40 percent margins are grotesque and unconscionable, that it carelessly abuses workers, that it's a one trick company living on borrowed time due to commodity competitors and that, as Gurman alleged, it warps reality by dictating to the media what to say. That's all completely backwards.
The reality is that Google's margins are actually 60 to 70 percent, achieved entirely through one trick (it actually does warn its investors that its new experiments won't be able to match those ad monopoly margins, even if nobody reports that) and it quite obviously does actually tell the media what to say and even what not to say.
Chokes on Luxury Cokes
Fields, writing that epitaph for the 'Apple that Died' upon releasing Apple Watch, added, "my fundamental problem with this — the traditional way of doing things equates exclusivity with luxury, while Apple has always seemed to champion that luxury is a factor of excellence of experience. It is disappointing to see them put forth a product that shows otherwise."
What he pushes aside is the entire avenue of the Liberal Arts. Like virtually everyone else living on Google's Internet, there's no value placed on craft or artisanship.
On the web, it's always about how cheap Amazon can hook you up with Chinese knockoffs of real products, how you can read a book without paying for it, how you can stream music in exchange for sitting though an ad you ignore, or a variety of other ways to you can scrape other people's content for free, with nothing more than Google's ads paying for it all. Except that those ads are collapsing, because they don't really pay for anything other than free lunches in the Google-plex, Schmidt's jet trips to see Burning Man and those massive cash bonfires like Motorola, Google+ and Glass.
Fields cited an historical Andy Warhol quote recently applied to the diamond bedazzled, $6,000 Vertu Android smartphones (by Jon Gruber of DaringFireball), expressing the idea that in America, everyone drinks the same CocaCola, from the president to Liz Taylor to the bum on the corner.
What that sociological analysis misses is that there is still a price disparity between the price of a Coke, whether you grab a can from a vending machine (around $1), order one in a crystal glass at a five star hotel (maybe $5), fill up a paper cup full of 3 Cokes in a Super Big Gulp at 7-11 ($1.50) or order a similarly sized beverage at a movie theater (around $10).
You can also walk into a grocery store and buy a 16oz (473ml) Coke for around $2, or opt to take home a 2L bottle for typically $1. These prices make no sense if you only think of Coke as a commodity product that delivers the same mix of sugar, acid and effervescence no matter where or in what quantity you consume it. But the price of even commodities like soda are based on the value they convey to the drinker, not just "feature quantity."
It's ostensibly a "better deal" to buy a 2L bottle of Coke and take it home and refrigerate it, but if you're pressed for time and don't want to consume a full 2L of toxic, bone-robbing obesity fuel, it's more convenient to buy a chilled, smaller bottle, even if it costs more. For some reason, this concept is impossible for Windows-Android fans to grok, even though most of them have experienced both grocery stores and Cokes.
When it comes to gigabytes, chip cores counts and MHz, the web tech media has clearly concluded that end user pricing should be set at whatever price Google thinks it can reach, even if that price is achieved using sloppy shortcuts and misleading marketing hocus pocus that has nothing to do with real world capabilities.
Android, for example, has historically required more RAM and faster clocked chips to perform nearly as well as an iOS device, even with encryption turned off. This is not a feature, it's a flaw. Yet the web-based media draws lots of attention to the idea that with Android, you're getting a huge, albeit warm, 2L looks-like-Coke beverage, rather than paying a little more for what you actually want.
When Google's Motorola subsidiary launched its Moto X in 2013, it bragged up the device as being powered by an "8 core" system on a chip, a dummy number achieved by counting its two processor cores, along with 4 GPU cores, and two other logical units. This is like a minivan being sold as "powered by a V8" because it has a 4 cylinder engine and four cup holders.
Lying about specs wasn't the reason the Moto X flopped, but it's indicative of the mass delusion that permeates everything about Google and the cheapskate web media it monetizes with ads. Phony bologna that cheapskate charlatan "journalists" inhale and regurgitate without any apparent sentience, like PR piranhas that will gobble up anything once somebody else has taken a bite.
As Google's influence over the web wanes the same way Microsoft began to lose its monopoly over PCs a decade ago, Apple will continue to be able to assert the vision Jobs expressed of a commercial powerhouse that recognized not only the power of technology, but also the humanity of the liberal arts, and a respect for craft and effort and excellence.
Nothing exemplifies that intersection better than a product that seamlessly integrates the design skills of Jony Ive's team with the software of Craig Federighi's team, the watch-specific platform contributions of Kevin Lynch's team, the operational prowess of Jeff Williams' team, the retail organization led by luxury maven Angela Ahrendts, and the contributions of the rest of Apple's more than 100,000 people working to deliver the kind of decadent imperial technology that also happens to be broadly affordable to the middle class.
It's no wonder why Google— and its Android Enthusiast media partners— are so terrified of Apple Watch. It won't be easy to rip off.