Newcomers to Apple products, both customers and developers, sounded off recently about Cupertino orphaning their investment in iOS peripherals using the 30-pin dock connector, and complained loudly about the abandonment of support for Google Maps.
Longtime Mac users would advise advise them to get used to the change and enjoy the roller-coaster ride.
According to generations of economists, "creative destruction," is the term that describes progress in an economy. Things change and there are structural winners and losers. What's good for some is bad for others. There's a rabbinic saying on the subject: "A heavy rain may be good for the fields, but is bad for the roads." And this concept is now applied to everything under the sun, including your iPhone.
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The complaints about the introduction of the iPhone 5's new Lightning connector keep coming daily. Hotels that recently purchased mass quantities of clock radios with 30-pin docks reportedly are freaking out about the obsolescence. If you've owned several iPhones or iPods, you likely have a drawer full of adapters, cables and iOS peripherals, such as speakers, cases, boom boxes, and automobile systems. All use the now-orphaned connector.
No doubt, Lightning is better. It was necessary to make the iPhone smaller, but it has more technology built into it. According to Apple, the new connector is faster, bidirectional and more robust. You can see the giant, old and tiny, new connectors in this image from the iFixit teardown of the iPhone 5. Apple Insider reports that the connector will support connections to USB devices such as keyboards and cameras similar to the iPad's Apple Camera Connection Kit. Interesting.
It's a bit bewildering to hear the complaints from retailers, business owners and developers. The iPhone 4S is still being sold with the older connector. Apple in its July fiscal Q3 earnings call with analysts said that a total of 410 million modern iOS devices have been sold over time, and 45 million sold in Q3 alone. Certainly, the dominant installed base of iOS users will be using the older connector for a long while.
Meanwhile nobody is happy with the sub-par performance of the Apple Maps app, which is variously described as a "failure," "headache" or a "buggy wrong turn." All negative descriptions are clever and correct.
At the New York Times, Joe Nocera calls forth the mythos of Steve Jobs in a rant about the Maps performance as well as saying there's nothing new or innovative with the iPhone 5. Worse, he says, the move from Google Maps to Apple Maps is counterproductive and protectionist.
And you can see it in the decision to replace Google’s map application. Once an ally, Google is now a rival, and the thought of allowing Google to promote its maps on Apple’s platform had become anathema. More to the point, Apple wants to force its customers to use its own products, even when they are not as good as those from rivals. Once companies start acting that way, they become vulnerable to newer, nimbler competitors that are trying to create something new, instead of milking the old. Just ask BlackBerry, which once reigned supreme in the smartphone market but is now roadkill for Apple and Samsung.
Even before Jobs died, Apple was becoming a company whose main goal was to defend its business model. Yes, he would never have allowed his minions to ship such an embarrassing application. But despite his genius, it is unlikely he could have kept Apple from eventually lapsing into the ordinary. It is the nature of capitalism that big companies become defensive, while newer rivals emerge with better, smarter ideas.
While Nocera's thesis may be proven over the course of many years, it's doubtful that it can be seen in the short term. There are many question behind the "embarrassing application." Is Apple being "defensive," or is it implementing a technology extension that will be necessary for its future integration and quality? Or that it doesn't want to rely on an aggressive competitor its future product plans?
Protectionism isn't always bad. I've been to industry standards meetings and it's hard for the layman to imagine the minute engineering details that companies seek for their products, on the hardware side and for APIs. One of Apple's advantages in the market is its control over integration and the changeover for Maps may be seen in that light. There's a lot more to Maps than just the map on the screen: there's connecting the user to the map, the hardware to server-side network and to the advertisement network, and so on.
I would add that users and pundits become jaded over time and find it difficult to judge the impact of technology announcements at introduction. Of course, an evolutionary product doesn't have the same wow factor with each new iteration. Or we can't imagine the real-world use from a technology demo. I've heard this same complaint with Macintosh models, software introductions and operating systems.
Worse, it's sometimes hard to tell what is amazing. I recall watching an early demo of what became Google Maps (or something like it) at a JavaWorld San Francisco some time in the early 2000s — a script returned a map. It was shown in a small mini-booth by a couple of programmers. Cool. But when that map was tied in with GPS, a smartphone and apps, the whole thing became a fantastic solution.
A bit of history: Apple Board vacancy: Good riddance to Eric Schmidt
Longtime Mac users have had experience with "quick" hardware and software changes. For example, over recent years, Apple has been stripping away classic Mac vestiges for its now-OS X machines. And we are mostly happy with the result: faster and more robust machines, more powerful expansion and interesting new services.
Certainly, Jobs knew that change was hard and disruptive, but sometimes needed to be suffered. He killed the Mac licensing program in the late 1990s. He moved the platform to Intel. Apple has been aggressive in performance and compatibility
Apple keeps pushing hardware transitions such as the Lightening iPhone connector, or from FireWire to Thunderbolt, Core Duo to Core 2 Duo, and changes in the MagSafe connector. Or on the API front with the end of Rosetta (ask a Quicken for Mac user). This is a much different situation than on the Wintel platform.
What is the most strange part of Nocera's rant is his invocation of what Jobs would and wouldn't want. There's a good chance that this switch was green-lighted by Jobs, even in its current lackluster state. Such decisions aren't taken quickly nor lightly, even knowing that there was a slim chance that Apple could make up Google's technological lead of almost a decade in several years. It was Jobs who went ballistic over Google's invasion into Apple's turf and he knew that this fight wouldn't be easy.
Yes, Maps sucks right now. It will likely improve. Users should understand that creative destruction is a part of Apple platforms.