AFTER the senseless slump of Apple’s stock in 2013, and the relentless, no-future-for-Apple harping by its naysayers, I would have to say that 2014 saw a pretty spectacular recovery on both of those metrics. But you wouldn’t know it from the look-ahead-to-2015 prognostications of TECHnalysis Research’s Bob O’Donnell, or TidBITS’s Josh Centers.
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First, let’s sample O’Donnell on Tech.pinions “2015 Predictions”:
“If we think about where product design for computing devices has gone, we’ve moved to thin planes of glass, on which you can run all kinds of cool software. And that’s great, but I think they’ve reached the logical end. And we’re seeing this; there’s, all of a sudden, once you get a couple of screen sizes in that space, you’re kinda done. We’ve hit the end of the road. So I think there needs to be some radical changes, and I think people are gonna rediscover analog in a number of different ways. And we’re gonna get some character back, ’cause flat planes of glass, frankly, are boring; there’s no character to these devices. So I think we’re gonna see people start talking more about knobs, and sliders, and buttons, and things that can provide a more physical, tactile experience to their computing devices.”
“We’ve seen the rise of flip-phones again, because the other thing that’s gonna happen is we’re gonna see more dedicated-function devices, simpler purpose. I mean, one plane of glass that does everything sounds good on one level, but in reality, at a certain point it’s just kinda like, yeah, alright, now what? What’s next? What’s new? What’s different? And so I think it’s time for something very new and very different, and that’s gonna be about retro tech.”
Did O’Donnell, perhaps, forget to turn his iPad on? Is he playing with uncharged devices out of the box, and having more fun fondling the plethora of buttons on a “classic” BlackBerry than the sparsity of such controls on Apple’s devices? If that sounds harsh, then let’s reach for another explanation of his critique that makes sense: Maybe he’s expressing boredom with what he can report on, hardware-wise? “Yup, folks, it’s still a capacitive touchscreen. Just like last year.” Sorry, Bob, but Apple’s in this business to delight its users, not technology analysts. None of the millions of Monument Valley players said, “I’m bored, because it’s just a flat plane of glass.”
“We saw the Apple-IBM announcement last year, and that was the beginning of, I think, a major push that we’re gonna see in 2015 for mobile applications. But, I actually think that Android is gonna lead the way here. Despite a lot of the issues and a lot of the challenges, the influence and the amount of pure, physical share in terms of the devices and everything else that Android has, is gonna be important.
And, believe it or not, I think Windows is gonna become a bit of a threat to both Android and iOS in mobile devices, because Windows application developers that work in companies who’ve done Windows PC apps are gonna transfer those skills to do mobile apps, and so I think that’s gonna be important; that’s gonna also influence the market, and, frankly, gonna take some share away from both Apple and Android.
But ultimately I think we’re gonna see that Android becomes the leader for business applications on mobile devices.”
It’s hard to choose between whether O’Donnell really believes this stuff, or is being financially incentivized to pretend he does. Both scenarios seem so unlikely — yet logically one of them must be true. Sadly, we have to wait twelve months to see how truly absurd O’Donnell’s predictions are, and by that time I’m sure he’ll just be busy making new ones.
For now, it will have to suffice to note that in mobile-device use in the enterprise, iOS is currently huge, and Android and Windows are minuscule. O’Donnell is effectively saying that this situation is about to reverse massively, because (a) Windows PC developers who decide to learn a radically different, mobile-device platform, will (out of some misguided loyalty to Microsoft?) move to the Lumia/Surface desert and not to the fertile fields of iOS, then users will follow suit en masse, and (b) Android’s loudly touted majority market share will win the day in the enterprise — even though Android supposedly passed iPhone over three years ago and that hasn’t helped it in the enterprise yet.
Josh Centers paints Apple’s 2014 in a distinctly negative light, and warns Apple’s CEO Tim Cook what he must do to rectify the situation, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE With Gene Steinberg (January 3):
“2014 was a pretty rough year in general. And I think a lot of people became disillusioned with Apple this year for two reasons. The first is software quality; things like iOS 8 and Yosemite were apparently just rushed out the door, and a lot of complaints coming out of those two operating systems. And also, once again we’re seeing wildly inconsistent App Store policies. And it’ll be interesting, as the Apple Watch comes out in 2015, how that’s gonna affect development on that. Because developers don’t seem too stoked to do new stuff for Apple right now.”
“There’s a [custom iOS] keyboard I heard about, and it puts a calculator in the keyboard. I heard that Apple was making them pull that. Uh, they might have changed their mind. They seem to keep flip-flopping on what you can and cannot do with extensions. And it gives me the impression — I think it gives a lot of people the same impression — that there’s some kind of internal conflict at Apple. And it’s just sort-of spilling out into the public. I get the feeling that the folks in charge of the App Store don’t necessarily want the extensions, and things like this, that are offered, and this is sort-of a passive-aggressive way of trying to discourage those. So hopefully in 2015 Apple gets that under control; Apple gets a grip on that. Hopefully Tim Cook can step in and, you know, say ‘enough,’ and get everyone on the same page.”
“Some of these stories from developers, it’s almost sounding like someone from the App Store’d contact them and would say, someone high-up has said no. So that gives me the impression that there’s some sort of higher-up scuffle of some kind. So I’m not sure what’s going on. We may never know. But it’s very annoying, and I can’t help but feel that it’s going to hurt the Apple Watch, because at least in the first stage of development there’s not gonna be much you can do anyway, because it’s just gonna be kind-of a tether for the iPhone. But then on top of that, developers right now are skittish to do anything unique with iOS or Apple Watch because who knows if it gets to stay around or not? So Apple needs to come out and be very clear about what is and what is not allowed.
And there was someone from the App Store review team who told a developer that that was exactly the idea; they didn’t want to codify this stuff. Which leads me to think that it is some sort of conflict between departments, because if the App Store team decided they want to have guidelines for what you can and cannot do, they would have to involve other departments as well, like engineering and all that. So that gives me the impression that there’s someone who doesn’t want to codify things because they don’t wanna actually get the stuff they don’t want allowed by the letter of Apple law. So who knows. It’s very annoying. I would implore Tim Cook to fix this as soon as possible, because it’s really angering a lot of developers. I think it’s going to hurt Apple in the long run, if it’s not fixed.”
When Steve Jobs first announced the App Store, he flashed up a hodge-podge of several things that wouldn’t be allowed, e.g. “porn” and “illegal.” One of those things was “unforeseen” — what does that mean? Of course: it means that Apple can’t (and doesn’t want to try to) predict, much less precisely codify, every off-the-wall thing that any uber-geek developer might try to do with iOS, that Apple doesn’t think is in the best interest of its platform and its users. And a much more likely explanation (than Centers’s speculations of “internal conflict/scuffle”) of why Apple doesn’t want to try to explicitly codify every rule, is because if it does, then the “unforeseen” category becomes a path to developer lawsuits — as in, “You specifically said I could do such-and-such, and I spent X hours coding it; now you’re banning it. I want millions, and my lawyers want class-action billions. (But we’ll settle for less if you’d rather not be tied up in court for years!)”
What about Centers’s repeated claims that developers are annoyed, or un-stoked, or skittish, or angered, in a way that is going to hurt Apple in the long run? It’s just a total loss of perspective. Were the developers of Monument Valley “very annoyed” that they weren’t allowed to put a calculator in iOS’s notifications pull-down? Um, let me guess. I smell a similar motivation in Centers that I detected in O’Donnell: It’s more interesting to report on push-the-envelope system mods than it is to report on the latest games and productivity/creativity titles. Both of these guys, I suspect, want to report on new “technology” — not end-user apps.
I’m a lot less certain that Apple Watch is going to be a big hit than I am that enterprise Android will continue to flop. But still: let’s check back in a year and see if Cook has reined-in this dire problem, and if he hasn’t, how badly it has hurt the company. My prediction: neither.
Update 2015.05.08 — O’Donnell (Techpinions “Microsoft Build and HoloLens, Apple Watch Apps, Apple TV”) talking about Microsoft’s Build conference:
I have to say it was an impressive show. And what it really laid out — it’s funny; I was talking to some people — what was sort-of the #1 take-away — ’cause there was so much going on — and the #1 take-away is that Microsoft has got its mojo back. And they are back, and they are real, and they are somebody that needs to be considered and dealt with. And that, in and of itself, is interesting. They did a whole bunch of interesting things that individually you could argue aren’t that important, but collectively make a pretty strong statement.
Like Rob Enderle, O’Donnell seemingly decided back in the ’90s (when even Apple fans couldn’t conceive ever living to see Microsoft’s tech hegemony succumb) that it was best to go all-in with Microsoft, and just make a career out of enthusiastically assuming the success of everything they do. And he didn’t see how stupid that would one day make him look.
Perhaps he still doesn’t.
It really opens up your eyes to new kinds of possibilities. And that’s the important thing about HoloLens: It’s something that’s new. It’s not at all a replacement for anything. It does not replace anything whatsoever. It’s a completely new vision of computing, and a different kind of model. And that’s what’s so incredibly impressive about it, is that it just kind-of blows your mind as to how different and how unique it is.
Um.. are you sure it isn’t just Microsoft’s me-too answer to Google Glass, under development long before they knew that Google was going to cancel it?
Update 2015.05.29 — On the latest Tech.pinions Podcast, O’Donnell opines:
Another point you brought up that I’m curious about is, Microsoft with Cortana being announced on multiple platforms, and Google announcing more — all of a sudden, it’s kind of interesting but Apple’s becoming even more isolated into their own world. And I wonder, obviously WWDC’s coming up, and we’ll all be there, and it’ll be interesting to hear what they have to say, but it is kind-of interesting that Apple feels a little bit more isolated now.
Apple’s isolated, all alone, with no one to keep it company but.. the most valuable customer base in the computing industry.
Update 2015.07.24 — O’Donnell on the Tech.pinions Podcast again:
I think that we’re gonna see the smartphone market — period, regardless of vendor — start to slow down fairly dramatically. And there’s a lotta signs, if you look at other semiconductor vendors and some of the other component makers, that that could very well happen. And that will be interesting to see how it plays out — again, across the entire industry, no particular vendor being targeted on that one. But I do think we’re gonna start to see it slow down, and as Ben [Bajarin] has talked about, where in the past, when we look at where the growth is gonna be, it’s gonna be in the super-low-end phones.
Let’s keep a close eye on this important prediction over the next few years, shall we? And while we’re at it, take note of what he says later in the same show:
My concern [for Apple] is that at some point, with a company that big, it really does get hard— you know, the law of big numbers — I know Tim Cook says, oh, no, that doesn’t apply to us — I’m sorry, you know, at some point it’s gonna apply to everybody.
The “law of large numbers” predicts that over time, all companies will be driven to the mean. People have been citing this “law” against Apple for many years now, and the company just kept growing the whole time. But hey — maybe if Apple drives all its competitors out of business (or into minuscule share), then Apple will be the mean, and so the law could come true that way!
Update 2015.09.29 — More, from O’Donnell’s latest Tech.pinions:
For car makers, their willingness to just let Apple come in and drive some of the technology themselves is gonna be tough because more and more of the value in a car even if only a fraction of the actual costs are electronics, more of the perceived value, by consumers, is coming from electronics. And so, for car makers to be willing to give that up to obviously an enormous player seems a little challenging as well.
Bob’s being vague enough that it’s a little hard to pin down exactly what he means, but it sure smells like, “Apple succeeds when other companies let Apple succeed.”
Update 2015.10.02 — Bob O’Donnell again, on Techpinions, explaining how it’s OK that high-end (approximately iPhone-quality) Android phones like the Nexus aren’t selling worth a damn, because low-end, low-margin smartphones are the future:
One could argue that, in general, the phone market, as it evolves, is gonna move towards lower prices, so that Google will continue to be in the mainstream, and that the higher end will become arguably a smaller niche of a market when the overall ASP declines. So in that regard, you could argue Google is well-positioned long-term because they’re in the sweet spot that’s gonna be coming down the road, even in more developed markets potentially. The other thing that they’re doing that’s interesting — and I think we’re seeing Apple do this as well — is increasingly focus around the services built into the platform.
If by focusing on services O’Donnell means giving up on selling high-quality, higher-priced hardware, then it’s apparent he hasn’t been paying much attention to Apple lately.
Update 2015.11.21 — O’Donnell’s still at it (Techpinions):
[Smartphone app virtualization] completely, in theory, would upset the apple cart of business models of the app world. Now, I’ve argued for a while that, you know, once you’re at, whatever we are, 1.5 million, some stupid number of applications, it’s, you know, that many apps is actually more of a detriment than a benefit. There’s just way too many. We already know that the vast majority of apps are only used once or twice, and never used again. Our screens get cluttered with icons; it gets messy. Nobody cleans up their apps. It’s just, you know, it’s really not an ideal situation, and there’s a real need to kind-of, fundamentally re-think that.
No disingenuity here: I’m sure Bob felt this way about all those Windows apps in the ’90s. I’m sure he’s not just grasping for a reason to suggest that Apple hasn’t already won.
Update 2015.12.05 — O’Donnell (Techpinions) doesn’t know when to give it a rest. Here he is, talking about Samsung recently replacing its mobile-products CEO because of slacking Samsung smartphone sales:
The reality is, the smartphone market is pretty mature from a hardware development perspective, and it’s gonna be hard for everybody. And Samsung hit this wall first, ’cause they were the first to do big-screen phones, and that was the big innovation people wanted. Since then, it’s been very difficult for them, just as it’s starting to be for other folks.
Samsung’s problems selling smartphones are a bad omen for Apple? Rigghht, Bob.
Update 2016.06.21 — Following Google’s Pichai’s “hardware will fade away” letter, and Exponent’s Allworth & Thompson’s enthusiastic endorsement of the idea (episode #83), what self-respecting Apple disser wouldn’t hop onto the “AI-first, not device-first world” bandwagon, which he dubs the “post-device era” (get it? revenge for Jobs’s post-PC world!):
“Be Prepared: We’re Entering A Post-Device Era”
“While it’s too early to be certain — it’ll probably take 12-18 months before we know for sure — I believe worldwide smartphone shipments probably peaked in the fourth quarter of 2015.”
“[T]he ability to have information delivered — and actions taken — by simply speaking does suggest an exciting new era that’s less dependent on traditional devices. The implications of this shift are profound. For a company like Apple, being the premier device maker in the post-device era is a sort of dystopian nightmare, where the company’s impressive abilities to generate better and better devices will be appreciated by a decreasing number of customers.”
Hmmm. This wouldn’t be just a new skin on the many-years-wrong “Apple will get commoditized” story. Would it?
Update 2017.02.10 — Techpinions again: Ben Bajarin and Bob O’Donnell, while talking mostly about Android Wear, touch on the subject of Apple Watch:
BB: Apple’s pretty clear; they’ve said, look, we’re positioning this within the watch category, which makes a lot of sense. Again, if you understand Apple Watch within the watch category, then we don’t get quite as worked-up over quarterly sales figures; we look more at the cyclical cycle, which is really— there’s only a couple quarters that anybody cares about for watches, if you’re in the watch industry.
BO: I agree with you, but the only thing I’ll jump in is, if Apple’s gonna do that, I’m sorry, they’ve gotta go circular. Has to be done. And I just don’t know if they’re willing to do that.
Now, the context of O’Donnell’s statement here is a little fuzzy. And I certainly don’t pretend to know that Apple will never do a circular watch. But — they’ve gotta go circular? Has to be done? No. Apple Watch is far and away the most successful thing in smartwatches, ever, and is already the #2 watch brand, behind only Rolex. There are a lot of different directions Apple could go with this, and a circular watch is indeed one of them — but they most definitely don’t have to. That’s absurd.
Update 2017.05.12 — After the complete market collapse and de facto discontinuation of Windows Phone, O’Donnell has this to say about it:
Microsoft is in the best position of all the three big players, that being Google, Apple, and Microsoft, to do this [sell cross-platform software] because they have no real agenda with smartphones and — they have some degree with tablets, but the tablet market, again, continues to be smaller — so in a weird way, their failure in smartphones has opened them up to be more inclusive of the other platform devices. Whereas both Apple and Google still are much more focused on their own ecosystem, which I think is gonna hurt them potentially in the long run, and is something they need to really think about, especially in light of Microsoft really, kind-of taking this more embracing attitude.
Well, that’s one way to look at it.
Update 2018.01.12 — Ben Bajarin joins O’Donnell on the latest episode, “CES 2018”:
BB: My overall point for this [article I recently wrote] was just really trying to make a[n] ecosystem observation, was just to say that what you are seeing, right now, is the strength, and growing in breadth and depth, of the Amazon Alexa ecosystem. And we’ll see if, this time next year, we see equal integration with Google. And obviously we’ll see where [Apple] HomeKit aligns with those as well. That’s where I just think— again, we can’t have our heads in the sand about this. I think there’re some bigger industry themes going on. I think the home is a very, very different dynamic, particularly for Apple, than anything they’ve had to deal with, strategically. And again, the evidence is on the wall about where you see ecosystem momentum. And consumers understand that. They see that. When they’re shopping at Home Depot for a fan, or for a refrigerator, or for a washer, or whatever, and it says Alexa on there, and it doesn’t say anything else? That just, to them, says, well, that’s the one I should be getting, because that’s the one that seems to be everywhere.
BO: Yeah. No, it’s a fair point.
It sure sounds like a fair point, doesn’t it? The problem is, we heard the same fair point seven years ago when legions of Android licensees were going to swamp iPhone and iPad out of the market. And we heard it thirteen years ago when a sea of PlaysForSure was surely going to drown iPod. In fact, we’ve been hearing this same song-and-dance throughout Apple’s twenty-year ascendency from near-nothing to most successful company in history.
Maybe, instead of resurrecting it yet again, Bajarin should have written an article about why that argument has been so consistently, massively wrong over the years.