Friday, 28 September 2012

The Unanswered Question About Apple Maps

I agree with almost everyone else that Tim Cook was right to quickly apologize for the problems with Apple Maps.  If you're in the US, you can contrast his handling of the situation to the National Football League's handling of its referee lockout.  The lesson: Deny a problem and the public will feed on you like wolves on a crippled buffalo.  Acknowledge the problem and people will give you a second chance.  The apology is especially effective if it comes from a person (not a corporate statement) and sounds sincere.  Most of us want to be nice to one another, and a personal apology taps into that reflex.

So fine, I'm sure Apple will fix the app eventually, and in six months this whole thing will probably be a distant memory.

What I'm wondering about is a much more serious problem that may not be solved in six months, and that (unlike the Maps app itself) threatens Apple's long-term prosperity.  The question:

How in the world did Apple make a mistake like this in the first place?

I'm not talking about shipping an unsatisfying app; that happens to any company.  I'm talking about making an obviously underwhelming and unfinished app a centerpiece in a critically important new product announcement.  If you have an app that isn't perfect yet, position it that way.  Tell people that it's just getting started and needs more work.  Instead, Apple execs gushed about Maps on stage.  Scott Forstall made it the first feature in his iOS 6 demo, and spent more than two and a half minutes talking about it (link).  This sort of mismatch between message and delivery is a sign that Apple's product management and review process failed utterly somewhere along the line.

It's a little bit like NASA launching the space shuttle Challenger when people in the organization knew it might blow up.  The issue is not that there were flaws, it's that they went ahead with the launch despite the flaws.

Of course nobody has been killed by Apple Maps, so it's a very different sort of problem.  But both are related to organizational culture and business practices.  Like NASA's culture of safety, Apple is supposed to have a culture of great product functionality.  It's the center of what makes the company special.  That process failed spectacularly in the case of Apple Maps, and speaking as somebody who spent years reporting into the product management organization at Apple, there is absolutely no excuse for what happened.

Apple's marketing machine is so powerful that any major failure in a marquee feature gets magnified enormously.  Even Google can probably get away with a big feature failure or two; you expect Android to be a bit loose around the edges, and lord knows Google backtracks on initiatives all the time.  But Apple claims that it will amaze and delight us with its new products, and so people naturally expect greatness.  It's what justifies the intense coverage of Apple's announcements.

There are several possible explanations for what went wrong, all of them bad.  Maybe:

--The product managers on Apple Maps knew it had problems but didn't think users would care.  Or

--The managers of Apple Maps knew there were problems, and reported the problems, but were ignored by middle management.  Or

--The middle managers reported the problems, but senior management ignored them.  Or

--Maybe Apple has become so insular and self-satisfied that no one there realized the difference between a good looking maps app and a usable one.

It comes down to this: are you incompetent, bureaucratic, or out of touch?

Screw-ups like this happened occasionally at Apple under Steve Jobs.  Someone once described to me the experience of being in a group that was pulled into a meeting with Steve where he said, "you let me down, and you let the company down."  My friend said it was one of the worst feelings ever, and it also resulted in job changes for the people responsible.  That may be something Tim Cook will need to do.  But he also needs to ask some deeper questions.  Is this just a failure of a particular manager or team, or is there a cultural or process problem that needs to be fixed?  That's a very tough question to answer.  You don't want to mess up the culture and practices that Steve left behind, but at the same time you can't permit this sort of mistake to become a routine event.

When I was at Apple back in the 1990s, before Steve returned, we had a joke we told on ourselves:

Q:  What's the difference between an Apple salesman and a used-car salesman?
A: The used car salesman knows when he's lying.

Apple needs to be sure it doesn't slip back into that old habit.

Monday, 24 September 2012

SQUEEZING JUICE FROM THE ROAD part 3 real angelfire

CONTINUING MY SOLITARY TRAVELS:  Taos, NM ---my friend Jim Jailette has done so great a photographic job of capturing this unique town---that I will just refer you to one of his recent posts:

If you didn't click on it---I will at least give you a glimpse of its style.  This is half of the main square.
The other half---almost.  I can't imagine how rich I would have to be to spend a night here for $250? (that's disrespect for what $250 will buy (maybe it's more I didn't ask) I just flashed on a situation long ago when I was motorcycling cross country and happened to have $15,000 cash in my pocket--I pitched my tent for the night in high grass outside a Motel rather than waste money.  That's how I have managed to live free and travel for 30 plus years.
Taos people know they've got something special here---touches like this are everywhere---makes the town memorable.  But OOOOh sweet people---the real foundation of this art mecca was a most remarkable woman:  Mabel Dodge Luhan---a cultural and sexual whirlwind---read about her:
 And appreciate the fact that PERSONALITY IS FUNDAMENTAL ---to great enterprises.
A hula hoop crossing?? Look at this carefully----I did---Never seen one like it---didn't seem to be fake. I spent the night in a parking lot just two blocks from the central square.
Then on to Angle fire, NM---I have promised to show you the real thing.  This is not it---This is a one man inspired and built---memorial to his son---and all others slain in the Vietnam War.  Beautiful and touching. 
Inside ---a tiny triangular chapel. 
 Then on to Eagle Nest State Park To rejoin my friends.  Mark and Ginger come out to welcome me. You may recall their magnificent Bluebird Motor home behind them.
 Dinner together---perfect---leaving the glories of solitude for the warmth of friendly connection---exactly as I envisioned it 8 months ago.
 And now---sweet readers---I show you the real Angel Fire----a sky phenomenon that happens here with some frequency---due perhaps to the mountain/cloud/elevation/orientation.
(shot by Andrea on her cell phone)
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:   I've enjoyed my solitary travel ---think it's the best way to move.  Even when traveling with  companion vehicles--- each should be alone---free to stop on impulse---without explanation.  Connecting later at a designated spot is a bit of sweetness also.  Yes, I know there is a slight safety factor traveling tandem---but trust me--It isn't worth the hassle.  And anyway---we're usually connected by phone if we need assistance.
As this is the terminus point of our Quest For Community Caravan---I have debriefed some of our members and will soon share their insights. 

Friday, 21 September 2012


"To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you.
To know the universe itself as a road----as many roads---
As roads for traveling souls"   (Whitman)

Like this one. (hwy 64 to Taos) waits for you.  I love this flat plateau--not least because it has attracted clever hippies and other lifestyle engineers.  To the left and right for the next 5 miles---back-to-the-land pioneers have established themselves on a dry desolate (inexpensive) landscape to build their chosen lifestyle.
Many have constructed what I first judged to be a fortress---but later learned that it is a fence to keep the chickens in and coyotes out.
Artistic fantasies like this stand incomplete or abandoned---but I salute the vision.
Some 5 miles further along---fairyland castles appear---a vast field of them---each seemingly more grand than the next.  Here is the engineering and legal breakthrough that reverberates round the world.
RECYCLED materials---EARTH INSULATED----SOLAR POWERED----WATER SELF SUFFICIENT-----SCEPTICALLY SELF CONTAINED.  Pioneer visionaries fought for and won the code variances that make their construction legal.
My Favorite----Oh I would like to know the imaginative soul that envisioned this.
Castle under construction---beer can and concrete walls.
Late evening finds me at the famous high bridge over the Rio Grande.  I'll stay the night.
A well managed, generous, (allows overnight parking) rest area---that asks for feedback. I pushed the yes button.
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: To squeeze the juice from the road, one needs a JUICER----A RIG
of some sort---As I have Poetized in a longer poem: "A FULL SET OF STUFF"
.........Well, you get my point---this full set of stuff
is all I need to smoothe the rough.
I can cook, eat, wash my hair
watch TV or make repair,
sleep, bathe, read or dig
with just the stuff in this small rig.
Where tourist gaze and rush away,
This traveler parks and stays the day.
Down back roads by lazy brooks
I take a nap or read my books;
chase the wind, drift and roam;
let night overtake me everywhere home.
Live my life in a thousand places;
share myself with a thousand faces;
drink in life till I've had enough;
thanks to my rig and a full set of stuff.
Tomorrow I will pick up the story in part 3---Taos and Eagle Nest.


Judging Apple: It's Really (Still) About Steve

It's been interesting to watch the passionate reactions flow back and forth about Apple's iPhone 5 announcement.  Most of them fall into two camps:

-Apple is failing.  The announcement was a boring disappointment, Apple is falling behind on features, and its execution is deteriorating.  Just look at the mapping app in iOS 6.


-The Apple haters don't get it.  Look at the huge sales, Apple has always focused on functionality over feature list, and you have no idea how impressive it is that they packed that much circuitry into something so thin and elegant (link).  Oh, and that map thing is a tactical retreat to get a better long-term future.

Both sides have some valid points, but I think what's driving the peculiar energy in the debate is a question that almost no one's putting on the table, and that no one can answer yet: Can Apple without Steve Jobs still put lightning in a bottle?  Can it come up with that new category-busting product, like the iPhone and iPad, that overturns whole industries and makes us all nod our heads and say, "yes, of course, that's how the future should be"?

I think the Apple defenders generally believe that Apple can do it, and judge the current announcements as the normal incremental steps Apple takes between product revolutions.  The Apple critics don't take it for granted, and are studying each announcement for signs of bottled lightning.  When they don't get it, they feel uneasy, and that colors their comments.

The reality is that we don't know what the new Apple is capable of.  It's unfair (and unrealistic) to expect magic in every announcement.  The market can't absorb that much change, and no single company can produce it.  But until Apple rolls out a new category-changing product, we can't know if it is truly the same power it was before Steve died. 

Apple today is huge, rich company run by a bunch of middle-aged white guys who drive very expensive cars (link).  Like any company run by a homogenous team with low turnover, it makes them potentially vulnerable to getting out of touch with the real world.  That was also pretty much true before Steve died, but most people trusted that he had the mystical power of product design that enabled him to discern new product categories and make brilliant decisions about feature trade-offs.  We don't know if his acolytes can do that.  Is there a process for brilliance, or did that pass away with the founder?

When Apple made mistakes in the past, people trusted that it was an aberration that Steve would soon fix.  Now when there's a mistake, I think there's fear in many minds that this isn't an aberration, it's the new normal for Apple; that the company is turning into a big successful outfit that often does good incremental work but also makes big glaring errors because of inertia or internal politics, and is too self-absorbed to see them before they go splat in public -- like the abortive decision to withdraw from Epeat green certification (link), like the rescinded staffing changes in the Apple stores (link), and like the mapping situation.

Apple's success makes it a target for huge, powerful competitors: Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and others. Its ultimate defense has always been its ability to change the rules, to alter the competitive landscape in ways that put the other guys at a lasting disadvantage.  If Apple has lost its ability to change the world, the fear is that it'll become the business equivalent of the battleship Bismarck: a stationary target as more and more business firepower is concentrated against it.

We don't yet know what the new Apple can really do, and it'll take another two years or so to find out for sure.  Until then, we should expect the passionate debate between the faithful and the skeptics to be renewed every time Apple announces anything.  Just keep in mind that the debate won't really be about the products.  It'll really be about Steve.

Thursday, 20 September 2012


"Each man and each woman of you, I lead upon a knoll.
 My left hand hooks you round the waist
my right hand points to landscapes of continents
and a plain public road.
Not I or anyone else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
It is not far---it is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.
Shoulder your duds, and I will mine and let us hasten forth.
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go."  (Walt Whitman) 

It's time to leave this beautiful Lake---I've been here 3 weeks----feel the urge for some solitary travel---make arrangements to meet my companions in Eagle Nest, NM.

Life is lived in moments---and before I go-- reflect on some of them here.  A fearless little girl picks up a snake in danger of being run over---takes him to the safety of the bushes.
A proud fisherman shows off his catch.
A kind and gentle vet puts a friend's suffering dog to "sleep".  I witnessed the whole proceedure and wished that my passing would be as humane.
Another touching moment in Chama, NM:  Man collapsed---medical personnel attend him---my companion immediately stops to pray for him.
My oldest friend---Bushrod---brings his boat to the lake and takes us sailing.
That's Wayne Wirs up front---an expert at enjoying moments.
A visit to the famous 3 Ravens Coffeehouse in Tierra Amarillo.  Paul--the owner--on Bass.
And then---as easily as I came---I left---choosing scenic route 64 across the high country.
In 15 miles I will climb 3000 feet.
Up where everything is cool and beautiful.
And then---and then---I saw this.
And a mile ahead----this.
And a mile ahead---this.  Of course I got the story--I think---- (they kept jogging as they explained)
This is an Indian initiated relay run to Guadalupe?
Then down from the pass to this (famous?) intersection.  My mind flashes on the many times I have been here---a different person each time. Across that road---I know---begins a landed counterculture that has influenced the nation.  I will show you when I pick up the story (tomorrow?)
RANDY REFLECTS:   Moments like the rivers will
brush us by---then down the hill.
I let them go--- without delay-----

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


They stormed our embassy---killed our people---the crazy Islamic fanatics in Libya.  A very great evil.
Millions will deplore their action---and--(verbally) hack away at this BRANCH of evil that grew out of the tree of Islam.  Very few, however,  will hack away at the ROOT of the evil:  ISLAM itself.  But that is exactly what I wish to do.

A billion or so people believe that God sent an angel to dictate the Koran to Mohammed.
A billon or so people, therefore, believe it to be the infallible word of God.
A billion or so people are thereby captured by its 7th century ethics and vision of the world.
They wish to convert us all.  They wish to impose theocratic government everywhere---supress women--kill homosexuals---install sharia law---and God knows what else.

DO YOU SEE THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM?  BELIEF IN THE KORAN. (believing that God sends messages)  Let us hack away at THAT  root---quit believing that God sends messages. (Believe---if you must---that there is a God----just quit believing in MESSAGES from God--Inspired authoritative books--and your personal religion will not likely turn crazy.)

Muslims---like Christians, Mormons, Jews, Hindus---INDOCTRINATE their children---and children are programed to believe their parents--- that is how religions persist.
Some people, however, (as high as 20 % in the US) seriously question their indoctrination and CAST OFF their indoctrination or modify it.

People who seriously question their indoctrination often discover a daunting truth:  THERE IS NO (written) ABSOLUTE TRUTH.  That existence is a mystery and the best we can do is TEMPORIZE with THEORIES. They then live life with a more open mind---hopefully tweaking their personal theories as new insights come.  Serious questioners are  heroes-- hacking at the roots of evil---(BELIEF WITHOUT EVIDENCE.) These golden people develop what no Muslim on earth has---A TOLERANCE FOR AMBIGUITY.