The Macalope Weekly: From bad to worse
This week?s journey of adventure in bad Apple coverage takes us from the lofty pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal down to the gutter of Gizmodo, which lovingly opens its virtual arms to an angry screed by Newsweek?s Dan Lyons. Technology coverage is not pretty, dear readers.
Not that interesting
You?d think that if Steve Jobs called you ?a slime bucket? for talking out of school about his cancer that you might have the good taste to not presume to lecture on how Apple would be doing if Jobs were still alive.
Well, then you?re not Joe Nocera!
Writing for The New York Times, Nocera asks ?Has Apple peaked?? (tip o? the antlers to pretty much everyone).
Wasn?t the Macalope just complaining about people not doing the required reading? Come on, New York Times! We thought that time you don?t spend putting a comics section together was devoted to editing and research and being respectable! Now we have no idea what you?re doing.
If Steve Jobs were still alive, would the new map application on the iPhone 5 be such an unmitigated disaster? Interesting question, isn?t it?
No! It?s not! If only because it?s been asked by every Apple-hating rube who can string two sentences together for the last 12 months. Steve Jobs?s death is just another in a continuing series of imaginary brass rings on the merry-go-round of Apple doom.
But more importantly, it?s an asinine question.
As Apple?s chief executive, Jobs was a perfectionist. He had no tolerance for corner-cutting or mediocre products. The last time Apple released a truly substandard product?MobileMe?
Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop right there.
MobileMe. Which was released under ? who? Yeah, right. ?Steve Jobs never would have released a product as shoddy as this product released under Steve Jobs!?
No one read that at the Times and thought ?Wait a minute ??? Arrgh.
No doubt, the iPhone 5, which went on sale on Friday, will be another hit.
Yes! And the Maps issue will fade with time like Antennagate, Glassgate, HandicappedParkingSpotGate, and JobsWithAMustacheGate.
So, to answer your question again, no, this is not an interesting question.
Apple?s halo remains powerful. But there is nothing about it that is especially innovative.
Sadly, it has become a cliche to say one is typing slowly so the slower students can understand, but the Macalope hopes Nocera will take the time to read this next part slowly and digest it. Apple reinvented the personal computer with the Mac, it reinvented the music player with the iPod, and it reinvented the cell phone with the iPhone. It did all that over the last 28 years. To expect the company to come out with another product as ground-breaking as those in the year since Jobs died is simply absurd.
You can argue that the iPad should be included, but the Macalope doesn?t put it in quite the same pantheon of products. As pundits at the time of its release were so fond of pointing out, ?It?s just a big iPod touch.?
In rolling out a new operating system for the iPhone 5, Apple replaced Google?s map application?the mapping gold standard?with its own, vastly inferior, application?
Vastly inferior at some things?albeit very important things?and better at others.
?which has infuriated its customers. With maps now such a critical feature of smartphones, it seems to be an inexplicable mistake.
If you find it inexplicable then you?re either not paying attention or being willfully obtuse. Don?t know if you?ve noticed, but Apple and Google aren?t exactly on the best of terms these days. Sitting down to a negotiation over mapping data right now would take someone with the patience of Job, something Jobs with an ?s? certainly did not have.
And maybe that?s all it is?a mistake, soon to be fixed. But it is just as likely to turn out to be the canary in the coal mine.
Once again the Pundit Ouija Board is pressed into action! Not surprisingly, the board has well-worn grooves leading to the ?APPLE DOOMED!? answer.
How long do you think it takes to come up with a new maps app, from soup to nuts? The Macalope doesn?t really know, but he wouldn?t be surprised to hear that it takes more than a year, particularly if you?re starting without any data. The point is, Jobs probably not only knew they were going to do this, he was probably a proponent of it.
Apple?s current executive team is no doubt trying to maintain the same demanding, innovative culture, but it?s just not the same without the man himself looking over everybody?s shoulder.
Uh, yeah, but the real problem with the app as it stands isn?t so much the part that Apple built as it is the data. Jobs may have been a very intimidating presence standing over your shoulder and slowly strangling a kitten, or whatever pundits like to fantasize about, but he could not magically make map data appear from thin air.
It?s interesting that Nocera doesn?t get at the one thing Jobs might have done better, which is selling it. But even Jobs couldn?t fool all of the people all of the time. (See: Apple?s original ?sweet solution? for iOS development.) Still, as Jean-Louis Gassee notes, Apple should have done a better job on communicating that there would be problems.
Now it is Apple?s turn to be king of the hill?and, not surprisingly, it has begun to behave in a very similar fashion. You can see it in the patent litigation against Samsung, a costly and counterproductive exercise that has nothing to do with innovation and everything to do with protecting its turf.
Counterproductive?! In what wacky alternate timeline is forcing your biggest smartphone competitor to hand over $3 billion and getting a ban on its products counterproductive? Oh, you can say it?s a waste of time, you can say it?s beneath Apple, but counterproductive? No.
?Oh my god,? read one Twitter message I saw. ?Apple maps is the worst ever. It is like using MapQuest on a BlackBerry.?
MapQuest and BlackBerry.
Uh-huh. Well, let?s not let ?anonymous Twitter guy? have the last word. Let?s let this guy on Twitter have the last word:
Should I write an article about what Steve Jobs would have done?
A match made in heaven
OK, who got Dan Lyons in the Macalope?s Gizmodo?! Who got Gizmodo in the Macalope?s Dan Lyons?! Yes, it?s two horrible tastes that go terrible together!
?Steve Jobs? Reality Distortion Field Lives On? (Gizmodo and Dan Lyons? Oh, you?d better believe there?s no link to that, but tip o? the antlers to AgentKyle).
Trite Apple meme in the headline? Oh, you know it, girl.
The Macalope is confused because he thought Lyons wrote for Newsweek. It seems he still does, according to his bio on the piece, but Newsweek apparently won?t let him publish his personal vendetta notes, so he must turn to Gizmodo?and possibly the Weekly World News?to lash out at his critics, of whom MG Siegler and John Gruber are just two.
The rule of thumb for following Apple is that if you want to know what Apple PR?s official line is, you just need to read the top-tier Apple apologists like John Gruber and MG Siegler.
And if you ever want to know how to get a situation exactly backwards, read low-tier sensationalist rags like Gizmodo, now with more no-tier writers like Lyons!
They?re pretty much operating as unpaid Apple spokesbots.
Unpaid?! Has Lyons seen how much Gruber reportedly makes?
Apple briefs these guys, but instead of having the balls to do it on the record?
Stop the way the technology industry works, Dan Lyons wants to get off!
If we could Dan, we would love to so we could be rid of you.
?Apple feeds them some spin with the condition that they will write it up while attributing their info to ?sources who are familiar with the situation.?
As opposed to the other publications that got information from Google ?sources who are familiar with the situation and vewy, vewy sad about how mean Apple?s being [pouty face],? who are impeccably unbiased.
Both fail to discuss the suckiness of the maps app itself and instead spin the story to one about timing.
There?s no spin here. Both Gruber and Siegler have acknowledged that the data stinks; they?re answering the question of why Apple would use it. This offends the tender sensibilities of the artist formerly known as Fake Steve, because the only rational reaction is for us to all lose our foul-word-for-composure because the data on one app on Apple?s latest mobile operating system isn?t accurate in many instances. Someone needs to be frog-marched out of One Infinite Loop!
And, of course, in this version of events, Apple is doing the right thing. And, of course, the villain is Google.
Lyons pulls no quotes from Siegler or Gruber and offers no refutation of points either have made. Lyons just says ?Of course they come down on Apple?s side because they?re in Apple?s pocket.? Ipso facto ergo sum allakazam! They?re guilty.
Here?s an actual quote from Gruber:
Apple wanted turn-by-turn and vector map tiles. Google wanted more control over the Maps app, more branding, and more identifiable location data. So Apple moved.
Apparently, laying out what was a business decision by both Apple and Google is shilling in Lyons?s book.
Let the Macalope be clear (again): Bad on Apple for shipping an app with crappy data. Discussing the very real business reasons why the company did so, however, does not make someone a shill.
It?s called misdirection, and it?s mostly used by magicians and PR people.
Yes! Understanding why things happened is misdirection! Don?t try to understand things, just brow-beat Apple!
See, this is how it works. When you?re foisting a turd off on your customers, you don?t call it a turd. You cover it with shiny sparkly fake jewels and call it a tiara.
Lyons is shocked?SHOCKED!?to find there is marketing going on here! It?s a good thing Google would never do anything like that! Like, say, faking an address in an ad to make Apple?s map data look worse than it is.
Fortunately Apple still has shills who will carry water for them.
The crazy thing is (as if there is just one crazy thing in this piece), Gruber agrees with him:
Under-promise, over-deliver. Apple usually does a good job at that, but I agree with [Jean-Louis] Gassee: they did not set expectations properly for the new Maps app.
For what it?s worth, there?s still no word from Gruber and Siegler on how they never noticed any problems with maps when they were writing their original reviews.
It?s completely easy to not notice any problems, particularly after only a week of use. The Macalope?s been using iOS 6 for more than a week and he?s not seen any. Meanwhile, he can detail any number of times he got lousy directions from Google?s map data ? because he used it for five years and in a variety of locations.
Sadly, the Venn diagram circles of ?reasonable expectations? and ?Dan Lyons screed? do not intersect.
Steve is dead, but the reality distortion field lives on.
And Fake Steve is dead, but the self-important drama queen lives on.
Saturday Special: There?s never anything good on
Let us turn now to the hallowed pages of The Wall Street Journal to get away from all this ?Steve Jobs would never?? hooey and instead look at some other hooey.
Apple had snafus under Steve Jobs?antenna-gate, MobileMe, the frequently obtuse Siri.
Yay! Finally someone?s not desperately shoving things under the couch cushions in order to make an incorrect, hackneyed point about things that ?never would have happened under Steve Jobs.?
However much it might benefit Apple?s business model to force users to patronize its own maps app, the company won?t get far in trying to deny them Google?s far superior app.
Again, though, the conflation of ?data? with ?app.? The current Maps app is quite nice. The data stinks. When Google gets around to shipping its own app, what you?ll get is the opposite: great data with a lousy app.
Apple is frustrated because there is no solution to TV that will let Apple keep doing what it has been doing.
Well, there is a solution, it?s just a question of when the studios will see that.
Apple?s fans imagine the company can do for TV what it did for music: breaking up the existing distribution model. Forget about it.
Jenkins does not exactly say why the two are so different. They just are. And you Apple fans are dumb to want things. And Apple?s dumb to try to do them. The end.
Video-content owners aren?t looking for a savior and ultimately won?t be satisfied with anything less than an open ecosystem accessible by any device.
Uh, no. Actually, what they?re interested in is making you watch ads or making you pay for crappy content by bundling lousy shows together with good shows. In short, they?re interested in foisting a sub-par user experience on their ?consumers? because their ideal of how this should work is best exemplified by that eyeball scene in A Clockwork Orange.
God forbid someone try to fix the situation.
Apple?s rejection of Google?s superior maps is an obvious example, but it goes with the turf. Apple?s spectacular success with devices naturally led to the temptation of a network-effects empire. To such empires, maps are just too important as a way to gather information about users and hit them with ads and e-commerce opportunities.
This is so backwards it?s hard to know how to unpack it. One of the major reasons Apple and Google failed to come to an agreement on continuing to license map data was because Google wanted more user data and Apple didn?t want to provide it.
This piece reads like Jenkins ate about 19 different columns about Apple, jumped up and down for a bit and then threw them back up on the page. He?s forced to recognize that Apple has a strong commitment to open access to the Web so he plays it off as something that?s happening at a team level and doesn?t really have the support of upper management.
Right, because Apple?s so decentralized.
The time to worry will be if Apple?s quixotic quest for TV leads it to block more realistic solutions that emerge on the open Internet. When Apple admits defeat about TV, that may be the best sign for the company?s future.
Apple already allows content providers to make their own apps for iOS and has partnered with some to make them for the Apple TV. Except for specific content like sports, it?s a crappier solution than accessing everything centrally from iTunes, but it?s there, so the Macalope really has no idea what Jenkins?s complaint is about. Apparently Apple trying to improve the user experience is a big mistake, and the company should just roll over and let content providers continue to screw everything up.
Well, isn?t not trying new things what made this country great?
[Editors? Note: Each week the Macalope skewers the worst of the week?s coverage of Apple and other technology companies. In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]