Notes for Apple Commentariat

Paul Krugman wrote up some notes for the Apple commentariat. Okay, he didn’t. But what he said easily applies.

My view, however, is that you don’t just want to look at whether people have been wrong; you want to ask how they respond when events don’t go the way they predicted.

After all, if you write about current affairs and you’re never wrong, you just aren’t sticking your neck out enough. Stuff happens, and sometimes it’s not the stuff you thought would happen.

So what do you do then? Do you claim that you never said what you said? Do you lash out at your critics and play victim? Or do you try to figure out what you got wrong and why, and revise your thinking accordingly?

Exercise for the reader: go to your favorite Appleverse sites and search for the phrase “I was wrong”; categorize them using the questions in that last paragraph quoted from Krugman. Post your results in the comments.

(Yes, I know I haven’t stuck my neck out lately either. Sorry.)

John Gruber is a Smart Guy (Or, Maps)

John Gruber, on May 11th, 2012:

Here’s the thing. Apple’s homegrown mapping data has to be great.

Mapping is an essential phone feature. It’s one of those few features that almost everyone with an iPhone uses, and often relies upon. That’s why Apple has to do their own — they need to control essential technology. I suspect Apple would be pushing to do their own maps even if their relationship with Google were still hunky-dory, as it was circa 2007. (Remember Eric Schmidt coming on stage during the iPhone introduction?) But as things actually stand today between Apple and Google, relying on Google for mapping services is simply untenable.

This is a high-pressure switch for Apple. Regressions will not be acceptable. The purported whiz-bang 3D view stuff might be great, but users are going to have pitchforks and torches in hand if practical stuff like driving and walking directions are less accurate than they were with Google’s data. Keep in mind too, that Android phones ship with turn-by-turn navigation.

In iOS 6, Apple shipped a Maps app that has regressed. It is far from the greatness it has to be. No surprise, users got their pitchforks and torches out. All of this is, by now, old news.

What is surprising is the number of Maps defenders that have risen. Kontra resorts to misleading screenshots to argue that, hey, Google Maps SUX 2! Jean-Louise Gassee seems to think the issue is largely one of messaging, not of substance. Aaron Mahnke admonishes users and critics for their “sense of entitlement”.

They’re all wrong. (The May 2012) Gruber is right.

The issue here is not one of messaging, but of substance. The Maps app is important because it is an essential phone feature, a feature that almost everyone uses. Insofar as users have expectations, it’s shaped by how much they’ve come to rely on the app in their daily lives. What is bad about the new Maps app is how much it disrupts those everyday uses. (Public transit comes to mind, especially.) These users are entitled — to a product that they bought to help them with these daily functions. Their criticisms are not ones from a position of privilege, but a position of desperation. It is because Maps is so essential that it — in Gruber’s own words — has to be great. Anything short of that counts as a failure. And as Tim Cook acknowledges, Apple has failed us users with its new Maps 1.0.

One last thing: features and versions. I’ve said before that OS versions are themselves rather meaningless. There is no point to talking about how many iOS users are on the latest version and how many Android users are not. What matters are the features that a user has access to. The Maps situation is a case in point. The Android user has had turn-by-turn since, what, version 2? On the other hand, the iOS user who upgraded from 5 to 6 may have “caught up” to the latest version, but also lost out on some useful features, like transit, in the process. Maybe that loss is offset by other feature gains. But, to make that argument is to acknowledge — as we should — that versions don’t matter, and features do.

Feel free to talk to me on Twitter: @RagingTBolt.

Unconscious Incentives

Marco Arment writes (and John Gruber links approvingly):

Big “gadget” blogs depend on maintaining very friendly relationships with the companies whose products they cover so they can continue to get exclusives, interviews, press badges to events, and early access to products. Maintaining these relationships while retaining credibility isn’t always an easy choice for many sites, and many choose poorly.

Meanwhile, in a widely-circulated Business Week article:

Last year, Apple inducted Gruber into an elite club of outsiders who get access to products before they hit stores, a group that includes Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal and David Pogue of the New York Times. The strategy has paid off for Apple. In Gruber’s breathless review after his meeting with Schiller, he wrote: “He is every bit as articulate, precise and rehearsed as he is for major on-stage events.”

Arment’s criticism is sound, in one part. Unconscious incentives influence the behaviors of every one of us. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive about human psychology.

So, it’s a mistake to think that the unconscious incentives criticism only applies to “big ‘gadget’ blogs”. It applies to everyone, from “independent” bloggers to developers of apps that rely on and profit from iOS’s continuing success.

P.S. I forgot this initially, but credit where it’s due: @gregminton first charitably interpreted Arment as talking about unconscious incentives. He probably does not endorse the rest of this post.

Feel free to talk to me on Twitter: @RagingTBolt.

Twitter’s Free Playground

Ben Brooks says

All Twitter will be in a few months is Spammers, people following Bieber, and Kardashians. Yuck.

Maybe. So App.net won’t have spammers because no spammer would pay $50/year. But here are some other accounts whose owners are unlikely to pay that subscription fee:

@BPGlobalPR
@FakeAPStylebook
@Horse_ebooks (an actual spammer!)
@StealthMountain (a bot!)

These accounts are much more likely to be found on Twitter’s free playground than in App.net’s walled garden. Free is not just a price. Free also enables some surprising sources of entertainment, however ephemeral. Free allows for risk-taking and creativity. Free allows for a potential large audience, even if that potential is rarely fully actualized. Free has costs, but it also has benefits that shouldn’t be forgotten.

I am not certainly defending Twitter wholesale. I am not being contrarian for contrarian’s sake either. I am just pointing out some things that get lost when the playground becomes a walled garden. How much they’re worth is up to you.

Feel free to talk to me on Twitter: @RagingTBolt.