Worry warts: Apple’s supposed software problem


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By the end of the month Apple will have released vastly improved updates to all three of its operating systems but, of course, the real takeaway is how Apple can’t do software as well as its competitors.

Writing for Quartz, software engineer Jon Evans says “Apple should be worried — the future of tech is in software, not hardware.” (Tip o’ the antlers to @CaffeineAndHate.)

Apple is, when you think about it, not unlike a tiny kitten, stranded on a small rock in the midst of an entire ocean of lava. This is verifiably true.

A specter is haunting Cupertino, California…

A specter of savings! That’s right, come on down to Cupertino Cars, the Valley’s largest collection of used cars, where we pass the savings on to… boo! [points into camera]

…the specter of a world increasingly defined by software.

And Apple has never designed software before, so… spooky.

Behind the rote glitz and pizzazz of Apple’s iPhone 7 announcement last week lurked unspoken acknowledgements of an uncomfortable truth.

Phil Schiller is simply not that good at Super Mario Run.

The advantages that drove Apple to become the biggest publicly traded company in the world are beginning to disintegrate…

Software guy says software is the only thing that matters. In related news, fish say life can only be maintained by breathing water.

Once upon a time, Apple had massive advantages in hardware design, UX design, and hardware manufacturing. But its competitors are catching up in all three fields…

Where they’re not catching up is in being able to integrate those fields. Because they can’t, they don’t control the whole stack like Apple does.

More and more, every tech company’s competitive advantages lie not in its hardware, but in its software.

Which is why Microsoft is scrambling to get into hardware.

If Evans’ argument is true then, because everyone is simply giving their operating systems away these days, that means the only way to make money in technology is by monetizing your user base through ads or selling their information. Gross.

If you looked closely, this new focus on software was very apparent at Apple’s recent event.

In other words, if you only look at the software parts of the event, software is very important. Evans’ example is the machine learning used by the camera in the iPhone 7. Why, Apple shouldn’t have even bothered adding a larger aperture, motion sensor, dual cameras or any of that other garbage when everything can be done in software these days through the use of “programming magic.”

Let’s assume for a second that software is the biggest differentiator in camera design these days. Well, Apple just made the best smartphone camera system available. And, yet, Apple’s supposed to be the one that’s incredibly vulnerable because they’re not good at software.

Pretzels are delicious. Pretzel logic, not so much.

…other flagship Apple software products range from the clumsy (iCloud and Siri) to the embarrassing (iTunes).

These criticisms are completely fair. iTunes is a bloated whale carcass slowly bobbing up and down in the surf. Just as years ago the government forced Microsoft to decouple Internet Explorer from its operating system, so now it should force Apple to break up iTunes into separate apps. Not for antitrust reasons, just as a favor to long-suffering Mac users.

But as the Macalope types these words, Gmail is down in the U.S. and Europe. It’s not always sunshine and adorable Miffy-themed clothing and dinnerware using Google’s software (before you even discuss Apple’s security advantage) but there is definitely a distinct tendency to overplay the purported lead of Apple’s competitors.

Will Siri and AirPods be better than Amazon’s Echo and its inevitable EchoPods?

The Macalope doesn’t know, but he can tell you that AirPods will be better for anyone who isn’t American since the Echo is, to date, English-only and can only be set to a location inside the United States.

Look how well this three-legged dog plays dead! Your greyhound isn’t even interested in playing dead! Stupid greyhound!

Will people choose to use FaceTime rather than Facebook Live…

Facebook, which just happens to be a client of Evans’ company.

If the iPhone 7 is Apple’s first step toward a virtual-reality strategy, as Stratechery suggests, its seems to fair to ask how it will compete with Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Indeed! How will Apple’s product that you can get on Friday compete with Microsoft’s product that will come out, er, some time in the indefinite future, probably not for many months if not years? These are the important questions we should be asking ourselves.

Eight and a half years ago pundits were saying that the iPhone was doomed by Windows Mobile 7. It never shipped. And still today we see that future Microsoft products beat current Apple products every time.

As fun as skewing this all in favor of Apple’s competitors is, there is an immediate example where Apple has utterly trounced the competition and this week serves only to exacerbate the beating they’re taking, and that is in smartphone software. watchOS 3 is legitimately a home run for the Apple Watch. Android Wear, meanwhile, is an abject failure (partly because Samsung has its own platform). Sure, you can argue it’s finally what it should have been in the first place, but it’s really good now.

Strange how pundits only want to talk about other devices like the Echo, even though the Echo has probably at best sold a tenth as many units as Apple has sold Watches.

As of this year, Apple may be the underdog—again.

If that’s true then good. They do pretty well as the underdog.

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