Apple has two "traditions" that are celebrated every January. This year, during the second of these, Steve Jobs, the company's CEO, went somewhat off piste and described Google's overblown, ludicrous and utterly debased corporate mantra "don't be evil" as "bullshit." Martyn Warwick reports.
Apple's premier January ritual is that the company's founder, CEO and saviour, Steve Jobs, deigns to descend from his Californian Olympus to walk among mortals for an hour or two and introduces a new piece of kit that may (or may not) be of some use to the worshipping masses. The second is that, on return to his cabin in the sky, the great one makes himself available (virtually, of course) to answer questions posed by Apple staffers.
This year Mr. Jobs took the opportunity to lambast Google's much-vaunted and oft-derided corporate motto "Don't be evil." Obviously exercised and perhaps even spooked by Google's temerity (and, dare one add, success) in elbowing it's way into the phone market, Mr. Jobs let rip saying "We didn't get into the search business, they entered the phone business. Make no mistake, they want to kill the iPhone. We won't let them."
Given that Mr. Jobs claims to such a supporter of - and believer in - competition and the American way, (and that the iPhone has been and still is a massively important, world-beating and iconic device that is not going to suffer a painful and lingering death at the hands of Google) his reaction seems a tad excessive. But then, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. When you're way up there the distance to fall is so much the greater.
And isn't it interesting to observe how quickly friendship can turn to enmity? This time last year Apple and Google and Jobs and Schmidt were the best of pals - indeed, Google's CEO was a member of Apple's board of directors for three years and Google was installed on Mac computers (and also on the iPhone) as the default search engine. The two companies also had an agreement not to poach one another's employees.
Ah, but that was then and this is now. Eric Schmidt was ousted from the Apple board in August last as it became apparent that the two companies were becoming serious competitors and that Google had plans to play in the telecoms space. Then came the Android mobile operating system and and the Chrome OS for laptops and netbooks that caused the major rift in the lute.
As friendship warped into increasingly bitter rivalry, Apple also refused to allow the Google Voice app to go on the iPhone. And, now that Google's Nexus One handset is a reality, word has it that Apple is so green-eyed with jealousy and riven with paranoia that it is actually negotiating a deal with Microsoft the upshot of which would be to see Google deposed as the iPhone's default search engine. Now that's what I call sleeping with the enemy whilst cutting off your nose to spite your face.
According to reports, during his time responding to staff concerns Steve Jobs was so obsessed with hammering Google that he kept returning to his theme even when the question asked had nothing whatsoever to do with relations with the rival company. Talking to one employee, he allegedly said, "I want to go back to that other question first and say one more thing. This 'Don’t be evil' mantra is bullshit, it's complete crap."
Google's response has been muted. Indeed, by comparison it has been almost statemanlike.
And, not content with putting the boot into Google, Steve Jobs also had a go at Adobe's Flash.
The well-liked, well-proven and well-used software is conspicuously absent from both the iPhone and the iPad and this, according to the Gospel of St Steve, is because Adobe is "lazy". The CEO says, "They [Adobe] have all this potential to do interesting things, but they just refuse to do it. Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy, whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. Soon no one will be using Flash, the world is moving to HTML5."
Really? Says who - apart from the sainted Steve? And how's that for hubris and holding yourself hostage to fortune?
And what about the iPad? I was abroad and out of reach of modern telecoms services when the news of the iPad broke but Jobs' claim that the device is a "magical and revolutionary product" seems to smack more of hype than reality.
The first iteration of the device is sans Flash (of course), sans camera, sans a USB port (for heaven's sake) and, most importantly of all, can't multi-task. Given these glaring omissions one may fairly ask : What's the point?"
Apple's CEO claims that iPads will be "the salvation" of print because people will use the devices to read newspapers and magazines and the content will be paid for because the price of access will come bundled with the iPad itself and will therefore be "hidden" from view and "invisible" to the user.
Talk about wishful thinking. Business Week has just been forced to admit that after a massive and massively expensive campaign to get subscribers to pay for access to its content online, just 35 (35!!!) punters signed-up for the privilege.
The web just doesn't work the way traditional print publishers want it to. If surfers can't find what they want on one site they go to another - and seldom return to erstwhile favourites. The business model that applied to 20th Century print simply does not apply to 21st century virtuality and in trying to replicate the old model in a new world, traditional publishers are on a hiding to nothing and the iPad isn't going to take over from newspapers and magazines any more than the Kindle is. These devices are novelty alternatives for a tiny subset of monied consumers. Are they going to be the norm in India, China, Indonesia let alone the US or Western Europe? No they are not.
We already have Kindle but we still have books. By the time Apple launches a (hopefully) better version of the iPad, Sony, Samsung and others of that ilk will have come into the market with their own slates, tablets, pads, blackboards, whiteboards and who knows what else. Presumably Steve Jobs will vent his spleen against these as well - but they'll still be there and competition isn't going to go away.
Having watched, read about and researched iPad at a distance and well after the event itself, it strikes me as an incomplete beta product that was launched too soon and in a panic because the market (and investors) expected something special by the traditional January date. Truth is that truly revolutionary devices like the iPod and the iPhone come along in their own time and are few and far between. Apple was brilliant with these but surely has to learn that innovation can't set to a timetable and forced like a few etiolated and flavourless sticks of rhubarb.
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