Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
New: For Your Consideration
I'm thrilled to announce that I've launched a project I've been working on for the last couple of months. For Your Consideration is my attempt to re-think how we interact with information on the Internet.
My goal of For Your Consideration is to slow down, focus on good and interesting things, give them context. It is one posting per day, seven days a week.
Find out more in the FYC Manifesto. Help me get the word out. Tell your friends about it. Encourage people to try it and follow FYC. When you see interesting content on FYC, share it with your friends.
The Gear Bag
You’ll want this
More to Explore
While you're here, check out more of my work. Here are some of my most popular articles:
- Some Thoughts on Lightroom Keywords
- More than you want to know about backups (the 2013 edition)
- Should you consider upgrading your home network to a NAS?
- How not to be a doofus with a camera
- Getting started in bird photography: Choose Your Weapons
- Getting going in Photography on the Cheap
Free to download Wallpapers
New on the Blog
Search This Site
Monthly Archives: August 2011
Amelio is a smart and impressive man, and he’s known for leading the team that developed the first commercial CCD sensors while working for Fairchild Semiconductor. He later became CEO of another chip manufacturer, National Semiconductor, where he was instrumental in restructuring the company and helping it to regain profitability. Amelio was there to give us confidence after Apple had been pretty bruised under John Sculley and Michael Spindler.
It wasn’t an encouraging visit.
I remember Amelio going on and on about the past problems at Apple, and how he was going to fix them. Click here for an Apple video of ‘the speech.’ He had a long list of fixes, but what was lacking was a coherent, compelling vision. He was going to do ‘something’ about the clones, finally replace System 7, and settle down all the politics and warfare between Apple divisions.
I had some specific questions, but he dodged them. It wasn’t convincing, and I wondered if Apple was going to pull itself out of what seemed a certain death spiral. After killing Copland and failing to make a deal for the BeOS, Amelio invested in NeXT and brought Steve Jobs back to Apple. At the end, Amelio got Apple back to making a small profit, after years of losing millions. It was a tiny victory, but certainly not a turn-around.
Amelio was finally ousted from Apple in July 1997 via a boardroom coup engineered by Jobs. The rest is history.
As someone who was there, I don’t think Amelio has gotten credit for what he did, only blame for what he couldn’t. So a few quick words in defense of Amelio might be in order.
Michael Spindler left behind an exceptionally broken company that was bleeding from all pores. Product quality sucked. Morale sucked. Inter-division fights and politics had many company operations almost at a standstill. The company proceeded to lose over a billion dollars in a quarter, which even today is a lot of money.
He fixed a lot of things. He staunched most of the flowing red ink. He restructured QA. He re-arranged the product lines away from Spindler’s ongoing disasters.
He stabilized the patient. He kept it alive until they cold transport the patient to a medical team that could patch it up properly. Without Amelio, Apple would not have lasted long enough to allow Steve to figure out how to turn it around.
One of the things he did was NOT buy Gassee’s company, Be. The general consensus on the inside of Apple at the time was Gassee felt Apple had no other options and got greedy on the pricing. True? I wasn’t there. But the expectation among all of us was that Be and Gassee was coming, and then all of a sudden it was off, and then all of a sudden, it was Steve. And the rest was history. It went against the common thinking of the time, and it can’t have been an easy decision to bring back a company founder and someone who clearly could make a play for control of the company (and ultimately did). It took some serious guts to make that call, and Amelio did it.
Now, there were things Amelio couldn’t do. He was a numbers guy. He tried to connect to the geeks and couldn’t. they never seemed to warm to him, and so he struggled to motivate and work on morale. He wasn’t really a product innovator; the national semiconductor background is as a jellybean semiconductor company where product generations are tied to fairly discrete improvements. The product like didn’t catch on fire as much as it used to, but it still didn’t inspire. He fought organizational intransigence but didn’t seem willing to put heads on stakes; he wanted to convince people to follow him instead of realizing that sometimes, you have to not give them the option of saying no, and killing them if they don’t obey.
That wasn’t a problem for Steve. And it was necessary; a few public beheadings in front of IL1, where division heads who played the “I outlasted the last two CEOs, I can ignore you until you’re gone” game suddenly went away, and all of the other people who were putting their own priorities ahead of Apple either straightened up or ran for the exits.
Steve was the reconstructive surgeon in Tokyo who did the reconstructive surgery and made the patient healthy and pretty again, but Amelio was the guy in the Mash tent near enemy lines who kept them alive long enough to get there. (and if I want to stretch this analogy into silliness, that would make Mike Spindler north korea, not Microsoft. IMHO. but I won’t go there).
So while Steve did a transformation on the company that I still marvel at (even as I watched it happening from the inside), that was possible because of the foundation that was laid before he returned, and that foundation was laid by Gil Amelio. And generally, he doesn’t get much credit for that. Mostly because he’s not Steve, and Steve is a hard act to follow (or precede).
And then there’s that great unanswerable question: what if they had bought Be instead of NeXT and brought in Gassee instead of Jobs? What would Apple be today? Or would it just be a memory of what once was?
If you really want to understand the impact of Steve Jobs on society, try to conceive of what our society would look like today if he had never been returned to Apple and never took it back over. Imagine a world without Apple, not just the products it ships, but the products it’s forced everyone else to innovate to keep upâ€¦.
This world would be a much different place, and it’s hard to see many scenarios where it would be better off without him.
I Â happened to be having coffee today with an old friend today, someone who’d worked with me back at Apple. I got the news on Steve as I left the parking lot just after we’d broken up the party.
I’ve been pondering Steve and his impact on my life since. My direct interactions with him were quite limited; I almost ran over him once outside of Infinite Loop 1 as I was coming in for a meeting and he popped into the street without really looking, Jon Rubenstein and Eddy Cue in tow. He almost returned the favor once as he drove in to work as I was in the same crosswalk headed to yet another meeting on the loop. I spent a number of afternoons in his board room on the fourth floor in customer and vendor meetings, especially when open source companies like Zend were part of the discussion, because early on, I was one of the noisy ones about those technologies. He was never at those meetings, but his presence was.
I remember standing in IL1 one day when Fred Forsyth popped out of the stairwell and hurried out onto the street, and I realized he was using the stairs to avoid ending up in an elevator with Steve. He wasn’t alone. Steve could be — was — tried to be at times — a very intimidating person. His saving grace was that he held himself to the same standards he expected of others. Too few leaders do that.
Mostly, I’ve been sitting back and realizing just want an impact the man has had on my life. not JUST my years at Apple, but all across my life. The Apple II was the first computer I used instead of peeked. I bought an early Mac — a 512K — and later put a massive ten gig hard drive on it via the floppy port, and upgrading it to a huge 2 megabytes of RAM. I never thought I’d fill that drive up.
I did, of course, and many drives since. I’ve spent some time tonight trying to think about how many Macs I’ve owned over the years, and in all honesty, I can’t. My time at Apple spanned the Mac II to the Mac Pro, an just stop for a second to think about how much these computers changed and how much power they gained in that time — and despite that and all of the enhancements added to the system over that time, someone familiar with a Mac Pro would find a Mac II usable, and vice versa. they’re both recognizably Macs.
One of the things that drove me in the last years at Apple was that I was in a situation where I could create things that allowed a company that was reshaping society the ability to do so; how often do you have the opportunity to “move the needle” in a meaningful way?
Steve moved that needle almost routinely. His “one more thing” became a cliche; underneath Â that cliche those one more things have transformed the world we live in.
I am who I am today in large part because of Steve. Not directly, but through the companies he founded and the products he built and the technologies he fostered; even more importantly, because of the people he brought in and mentored who turned into people that mentored me. Because of the thinking and attitudes he promoted and inoculated that became part of what I’ve become.
What makes me melancholy today is that this is clearly the end of an era. Pundits will now start proclaiming this the end of apple, of course, because that’s what pundits do. Eventually they’ll be right, too, because nothing lasts forever. But while there is nobody at Apple who can be Steve, the most important thing he did at Apple was build a team of people who each understand what is needed so that collectively they can carry on what Steve did. None of them alone is Steve; collectively, they have been taught to understand the how and why of Steve, and so I think Apple is going to be fine.
What makes me happy today is something even more important — that Steve chose to walk away on his terms, with his shield and not on it. He’s smart enough to pull back before life does it for him.
Here’s hoping he continue to enjoy his life on his terms without the pressures of trying to run a company like Apple, and be a person like Steve in that goldfish bowl he’s lived in. Now is his opportunity to just be Steve, be with his family and friends, and enjoy life on his terms. I do hope we as a society gives him that opportunity and doesn’t try to peek and peer more than he wishes us to.
So thanks, Steve. I’m the person I am because of you, what you did, the opportunities you created, and the attitudes and expectations you baked into those around you.
When I left Apple, I had a stack of pictures of mine printed, and I wrote up thank you notes to a bunch of people who’d been influences in my time there. the first one I did and delivered was to Steve. No idea if he got it or kept it; doesn’t matter, either. But it was important to me at the time to say thanks to a bunch of folks, and he was at the front of that line.
Tonight, I say thanks again, because you can never say it too many times.
City of Ruins is Kris Rusch’s sequel to Diving Into the Wreck, which I reviewed back in June. It carries forward the story of from Diving into the Wreck, with the Boss now running an organization committed to acquiring as much of the stealth technology as it can to keep it out of the hands of the Empire and maintain the balance of power. There’s are reports that seem to indicate there might be stealth technology on a planet instead of in deep space, and while the Boss is skeptical, she pulls a team together to go and investigate.
To say “it’s complicated” is an understatement. The planetary government has secrets it would rather not be discovered. The Boss and her team make discoveries that include stealth technology, but definitely not the kind of find they were expecting. Rusch weaves in a completely independent plot line, except it’s really not, and I don’t want to say more than that because it’d be a spoiler. There’s a major earthquake, a first contact sequence, one heck of a chase scene with a “nick of time” escape, and what you end up with is a really fun, high energy romp.
The reader (and the Boss) also take big leaps forward in the understanding of the stealth technology and the ancient history that these derelict ships came from, and the history of how things got to this point in time becomes much clearer.
She also does something I love, and which happens all too rarely in series books — she brings this book to a perfectly satisfactory ending while at the same time clearly setting up the structure for future books and showing hints of where this series is going to go in the future. Too often authors fall too much in love with the overarching story arc and forget to tell the series as a set of solid independent stories, but Rusch avoids that trap. Both City of Ruins and Diving into the Wreck are in depending stories within a larger story, rather than extended chapters.
Oh, and Rusch leaves a subtle but clear sign that uber-loner Boss is going to find her reality complicated even more than expected in future books by a personal relationship. How Rusch handles that should be fascinatingâ€¦.
These books are fun, high energy action adventure science fiction. You don’t need to think too hard, but they don’t fall apart if you poke at them and consider what’s going on underneath the chase scenes. Solid entertainment and well worth your time to grab a copy and spend an evening with them. For best results, read them in sequence, but both books do stand alone if you choose not to.
One thing that staggers the mind is the amount of money Apple has on hand. During last Tuesday’s 3Q earnings call, it was announced that the company has US$76.2 billion cash on hand — actually a combination of cash, short-term investments, and other items that would take an accountant to sort out. While Apple CEO Steve Jobs has publicly stated that “we do feel that there are one or more strategic opportunities in the future” as the reason to have all that money on hand, I thought it would be more fun to think about ways to spend $76.2 billion on frivolous things.
Fun article, but Apple doesn’t buy things frivilously. I’ve felt for a while Apple’s cash position had a larger purpose, that larger purpose being that Apple has plans to buy something really, really big — when the time is right.
Think a bit about how Apple has succeeded. It’s succeeded by taking an industry and finding a way to disrupt it; to change the rules such that the industry leaders are weakened and Apple’s position is strong. It did this in computers by taking an industry that was rife with beige boxes and marketing messages around gigahertz and megabytes and convincing consumers it really was about style and looks and getting things done; a computer to use, not a computer to geek, and one that won’t clash in the living room.
Ditto music; it’s hard to remember now, but iTunes and the whole online music thing was a big experiment and risk. But Â Apple is now the dominant player in music sales not because they took on Tower and Wal-Mart directly, but because they disrupted the industry and shifted consumer demand into areas Apple could sell to where the existing players couldn’t tread. By the time the industry reacted, Apple had taken the business away.
If Apple learned nothing else from the Mike Spindler era, it was that standing up to a 800 pound gorilla and expecting to beat it going head to head is a stupid idea. the real profit is in changing the game, disrupting an industry such that the current leaders can’t compete soon enough to keep Apple from taking a chunk of it away.
So if you want to see where Apple is looking to future growth and new endeavours, look both at what it’s strong at (consumer electronics, large back-end infrastructures, style and finish and design, and strong customer support) and then consider what industries might be vulnerable to Apple deciding to come in and take off a hunk in an Apple way.
What industry has a strong consumer component, significant technology needs, huge back end infrastructures and low customer service rankings? Our friends, the wireless carriers (and secondarily our other friends, our ISPs that feed broadband into our houses).
The problem with taking on carriers is they have all sorts of built in chokepoints: it’s a brutally expensive industry to get into, and even if you have the cash, you have the problem of acquiring frequency spectrums (licensed by the US goverment) and cell tower permits (licensed by local governments full of NIMBY no-sayers), and it would take years to build out a network — all the while, the other carriers would ahve time to see you coming and get ready for the fight. You also need a massive back end infrastructure to manage provisioning, billing, customer service and things like email and the like. Â And you need to build up the technology to replace existing carriers SIM cards and the inherent lock-in of devices they cause.
But what if you’re Apple? And you have iCloud, a back end infrastructure already designed to support millions of iPhones and iPads? And you have iPhones and iPads, meaning you don’t need to worry about a handset manufacturer leaking your plans to the other carriers. And you have, oh, $80 billion dollars IN CASH hanging around getting bored?
The SIM lockout issue is a problem, unless you’ve developed your own (which rumors have surfaced that Apple is working on). The other entrance chokepoints — spectrum and cell tower placement?
Apple has $80 billion in cash. Sprint’s market cap is about $16 billion (roughly). Clearwire’s is under a billion. Apple could buy a carrier tomorrow — basically out of petty cash — at a good market bump over the stock value so that Wall Street smiles on the deal. Given Apple isn’t currently in that market, anti-trust issues should be minimal. Given financing is more or less “we’ll write you a check”, they won’t need to spend months building up the financing package — they could decide to do this and get the deal closed in 180 days. maybe 90. So fast no other carrier could even issue a press release complaining about it much less try to shift its business to compete against it.
But if Apple were to just walk into this business and act like another carrier? It won’t bother. It doesn’t just want to be “Sprint as Apple”, it’d be “Sprint as leverage to take over the industry” because that’s what Apple does best. So it won’t just buy a carrier to act like a carrier, will it?
Imagine this scenario. Apple announces a deal to buy Sprint (and for the hell of it, Clearwire). It announces that you will be able to buy iPhones with an Apple custom SIM in them, either on contract/subsidized, or off contract and unlocked. If you want to just buy a sim and put it in some other phone, Apple will sell you service, happily, month to month, pre-paid. whatever works. They add provisioning and account management for this to iCloud. Going to Europe? log in, buy a block of minutes in the countries you’ll be visiting, and Apple acts as the wholesaler for it. (goodbye, evil overseas roaming rates). Make buying minutes as easy as buying the new Coldplay album. if you want subsidized phones and bundles, cool. If you want to pay by the minute or pre-pay. cool. Lots of data? really cool.
Sprint would give them the spectrum to prevent carriers from freezing them out by refusing to let them buy minutes off of the other networks, making them a player in the business. There’s no need for Apple to use that spectrum the way sprint did, they can reshape the business away from the “locked in phone long contract” model endemic in the US in favor the european model. They don’t even care if it’s an iPhone or another model – just plug in the SIM and they’ll sell you network (of course, if you buy an iPhone, they make even more money).
Apple could walk in, buy sprint, disrupt the entire wireless industry and if they do it right, grab a huge chunk before any other carrier could react to the changes. And do it for $30 billion or so, leaving them another $50billion in the bank for investment in the infrastructure or to buy other toys.
If this is such a good idea, why hasn’t Apple done it already? First, they’ve needed to build out the iCloud infrastructure, and that’s still ongoing. That North Carolina datacenter has plenty of cycles, but they need to get the software in place and get it ready for the provisioning. Lion/IO5/iCloud are the first pieces that Â make this possible. They’d have to get all of the infrastructure pieces ready, though.
Second reason they haven’t? It makes no sense to make a move into being a carrier now, at the tail end of the “3G era”. The real 4G (not the faux-G being marketed right now) is just rolling out. My guess would be Apple would do this when it could make a national 4G presence and not worry about a 3G legacy customer base, and put all of its investment in building out and upgrading the 4G network. Even though the first true 4G phones are hitting the market, 4G networking is still not quite ready for prime time in enough cities; but in six months? 9 months? it’s coming. If I were Apple, I’d wait until 4G was reasonably well rolled out and then make a move like this. Not before. but definitely, 2012 is a sweet spot for being rolled out without allowing the other carriers to get entrenched in 4G.
If Apple were to do this right, there’s a huge opportunity to disrupt another industry and make a huge amount of money out of the disruption. Even if Apple maintains most of the existing carrier model — simply having a company with working web sites and billing that’s not byzantine and networks that work would be a huge competitive advantage (and Apple, if nothing else, would not tolerate mediocre networks with its name on it).
But there’s one other opportunity for disruption this would create. Remember I keep mentioning Clearwire? they’re a big piece of Sprint’s 4G buildout strategy, but this is also a “last mile” wireless broadband network strategy as well. Think about one of Apple’s big risks in it’s shift to the cloud — it’s ISPs and the growing shift towards data caps and “managing” network traffic.
So what if Apple not only went into the carrier business, but leveraged that to go into the wireless ISP business? Offered you 4 megabits down for half the price of Comcast, using 4G wireless and with no data caps? You think that might put a dent or two in the copper ISP plans to go to tiered (and increasingly expensive) usage based pricing plans?
do I think this is likely? Absolutely not. This isn’t rumor, this is just raw speculation, based on a few nights talking with friends over some really nice bottles of wine, and a few random intersting rumorlets about Mama Fruit. And, frankly, a wish for a wireless carrier that didn’t make me feel like an enemy, or at best a number. If you look at the wireless carrier industry, it’s ripe for a disruption — but doing so would be exceptionally difficult and expensive. Not many companies could do it, because not many companies have both the technology background, consumer experience, and capital available to make the investments to walk in and deal with the roadblocks in the way.
Apple, and it’s $80 billion dollar war chest, iCloud infrastructure and consumer savvy, seems to be the one company that could do it. If it chose to. And even if it took a $50 billion dollar total investment (more than twice what sprint is currently worth) — it still have a huge cash hoard to do things with.
So, no, I don’t think this is likely. But it’d be fun to watch the screaming if they try it, and I wouldn’t bet against them succeeding. And if nothing else, it’s a fun speculation to try to work out the details and see if it still makes sense when there isn’t a Barolo involved.
(have fun, don’t think too hard…)