The big Apple news today (masquerading as not-big-news) was a game of Musical Job Titles. A Senior Vice-President of Operations is now Apple’s Chief Operations Officer. Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing, used to be “as good as” in charge of the whole App Store. Now, he’s officially so, because that particularly parcel of the empire no longer overlaps with Eddy Cue’s (President of Internet Software and Services).
There were a couple of other moves. Check out what Rene Ritchie has to say about it for the full scoop.
The news has the familiar perfume of a “week before Christmas” news dump. The kind of thing where an organization has to make an announcement, but the news isn’t sufficiently good or sufficiently bad that they should particularly care how much or how little attention it gets.
Of course, we’re all provoked to speculate about what all of this means and what might have motivated any of it.
Phil’s move would seem to address two problems at once. Nobody who uses Apple Music is hearing this news and thinking “Oh, no…the executive in charge of it no longer has split his time between Apple Music and running the App Store.”
Meanwhile, verymuchmany developers are verymanymuch irked with the App Store these days. This displeasure has the sort of mainstream, populist appeal that would make even Jimmy Fallon envious. Developers’ gripes about specific shortcomings have, over the past couple of years, metastasized into dissatisfaction with the App Store in general. None of this malaise has (as far as I’ve ever been aware) been related to Eddy Cue’s involvement, but I’ve already heard from devs who see this move as a sign that Apple’s thinking about big fixes, as opposed to minor tweaks. It might be wishful thinking on their part…but there it is.
Someone far more knowledgeable about the business end of the business than I am is leaning back in his or her chair and examining these executive moves with the same grave intensity with which the fortune tellers of Ancient Rome used to prod at the liver of a sacrificial lamb. I suppose both of these kinds of people know/knew what they’re doing. It’s all a little baffling to me. To say nothing of “messy.” At least when the haruspex wraps up his or her report and collects their fee, they still have all that fresh mutton left over. Ever try to roast an Excel spreadsheet? It isn’t even half as easy as it looks on “Iron Chef America” and no amount of cumin can cover up the stink of electrons that have dripped onto the floor of the oven and burned into a leathery resin.
But, yes: a big restructuring provokes one to think about what Apple’s restructuring itself for. For instance: the company’s obviously serious about making cars. Which executive would “own” that product? And if we conclude that it can only be [name], does his or her title mean that Apple’s clearly designing a self-driving car to be sold as a part of city or corporate infrastructure, instead of something more consumer-oriented, like the current Tesla or Nissan Leaf?
Again, that’s above my pay grade. I’ll eat the lamb roast if you’ve got an empty seat at the table, though.
These days, I find myself dialing my ego back down to a new level of humility, where Apple’s future is concerned. Until fairly recently, their schedule of hardware and OS releases was steady and predictable, and their past behavior was a reliable indicator of what moves and markets they seemed likely — or unlikely — to make. Sure, the Beats acquisition came as a surprise. But after brief contemplation, it seemed like something Apple would have done: buy out a company to quickly acquire talent and technology that would have taken them far longer to develop themselves.
I still have no idea why Apple wants to get in the car game. But clearly, they do and they are. They’ve shown their cards to some top-level executives in the automotive industry, and those people have been so impressed with what they’ve seen that they’ve abandoned important careers with established carmakers to work on a project at a fruit company whose last foray into transportation was a windsurfer with an Apple logo on the sail. And yes, that was an actual product from their merch catalogue.
(The Eighties was a very strange time, kids; it was an era when Annie Lennox and Cyndi Lauper reached international prominence, but there was a dark side to the era as well. Never forget.)
(Sorry for bumming you out. Here, watch an Annie Lennox video and a Cyndi Lauper 80s video. That’ll put things right. These two talented ladies helped Young Andy to get through what Doonesbury aptly termed “a kidney stone of a decade.”)
Anyway. Apple cars.
I’ve had to stop even trying to figure it out. Fortunately, I don’t work the entrails-sniffing side of this line of work and I can keep myself quite busy just thinking and writing about stuff that’s actually shipping.
I have, however, taken away an important lesson. We’re clearly entering a new phase of Apple’s development and a change to the company’s identity. In 2010, we would have laughed off the idea Apple making a $16,000 solid gold gadget watch because the idea was completely ridiculous. Apple Watch Edition is still a ridiculous idea, but (dear God) in 2015, it exists.
We need to throw away all of our old expectations and understandings. Two or three years ago, I delivered a conference keynote in which I noted that Apple traditionally organizes their product lines into “Good/Better/Best,” and laid out my theory that Apple was changing how they market their biggest iOS device: the iPad Air is no longer the “Best iPad,” but the “Good MacBook/mobile productivity computer.”
There’s still some sense to that. But if that thought had come to me today, I’d ask myself if “Good/Better/Best” was even still part of Apple’s vocabulary. The presence of both an iPad Pro and a MacBook Nothing in the product line would have seemed like proof-positive that one, or even more, existing productivity devices would soon get axed. Now, I don’t believe that a “many products with broad, overlapping audiences” is the third rail at One Infinite Loop that it once was.
During this week’s MacBreak, Leo, Rene, me, and special guest Jim Dalrymple talked about the rumor that Apple is thinking about buying GoPro. That move doesn’t make much sense to me. GoPro cameras are a great fit for the retail Apple Stores, but why would Apple want to own a company like that? They already design, manufacture, and sell one of the most popular and successful cameras on the market, and they give away a free cellphone with each one. It seems pretty clear to me this is either analyst speculation that got out of hand, or maybe even someone’s attempt to kite up the value of GoPro stock.
But something stopped me from dismissing the rumor out of hand. I don’t think Apple would buy the company. Still…I don’t know that they wouldn’t.
There’s something about Google that isn’t part of the usual conversation about the company: they’re huge investors in other companies. Google Ventures has put $2 billion into play since it was founded in 2009, and their goal isn’t to grow tech companies into future Google (now “Alphabet”) subsidiaries. They’re actual investors. They own pieces of Uber, Slack, Medium…supposedly, they were the fourth most active venture capital firm in the world last year.
So there I was, thinking that no way does GoPro sound like the sort of company that Apple would acquire. My hand was hovering over the “this is such bullspit” button.
Then I thought, well, what if Apple believes they can make a pile of money by buying the company, maintaining it as a separate brand and company, and just adding some of their own operational and marketing expertise?
Or, what if a compact, super-rugged 4K video camera is a perfect component for the Apple Car, or an As-Yet Not Even Rumored product, and the valuation of GoPro is low enough that it makes sense just to buy ‘em and acquire of their intellectual property?
I’m not suggesting that either one of those is the actual truth. The rumor really does sound like speculation (either of the Rumor or the Stock Manipulation variety). I base this conclusion not on my flimsy knowledge of business maneuvers, but on my familiarity with the tone and velocity of these kinds of rumors.
Still, it points out how much the terrain has changed around our feet. Maybe I was foolish to ever think I could predict what Apple would or wouldn’t do under certain circumstances. Maybe not. I do know that I’m too smart to think I can predict what they’ll do today.