MediaFile

Jack Dorsey’s impractical double duty

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared on PandoDaily.com.

Can we finally stop pretending someone can run two companies if they just work hard enough or are brilliant enough?

I’m looking at you, Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Twitter investor Peter Fenton and everyone else who spent years arguing that it was totally doable. In various interviews and private conversations throughout 2011, people close to Twitter consistently maintained it was no big deal that Dorsey could build Square – one of the single most ambitious, capital- and execution-heavy startups of our day – and run product at Twitter – a company that was woefully behind on any meaningful product innovation and desperately needed a visionary leader.

You know what they all said whenever anyone asked whether this was sustainable. And you know it even if you’ve never heard it firsthand. “Well, Steve Jobs did it.”

If there’s one phrase that’s more annoying than “What would Steve Jobs do?” it’s, “Well, Steve Jobs did it.” But here’s the reality: Steve Jobs barely did it, and he was Steve Jobs.

It’s widely acknowledged that Jobs was not nearly as involved in the day-to-day operations of Pixar as he was at Apple. And Walter Isaacson wrote in his biography of Jobs about the toll of filling both positions, saying that Jobs believed his health issues started when he was running both companies. The other example people bring up is Elon Musk, who runs both SpaceX and Tesla. But Musk too has said for years it’s not an ideal situation and is “way past the fun part.” Neither Musk nor Jobs – two of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time – have said it was remotely sustainable.

Apple, Google and the price of world domination

In his first appearance at the World Wide Developer’s Conference as spiritual leader of the Apple faithful, CEO Tim Cook made it clear that he intends to not just further Steve Job’s vision but expand upon it. It’s never been more clear that Apple is intent on world domination.

Conspiracy theory? No. Try inescapable conclusion.

What else are we to make of Apple removing Google Maps from the iPhone? Google Maps was a core feature on the very first iPhone, but it will disappear in an iOS software update announced Monday at Apple’s developer conference.

Apple’s tension with Google is legendary. They began as friendly neighbors in largely complementary businesses – former Google CEO Eric Schmidt was even on Apple’s board. But after the introduction of the Android, Steve Jobs’s anger at Google’s entry into the mobile phone business was palpable.

Apple and the innovation dilemma

Just how long can Apple run the table in the post-Jobs era? It was simply a matter of time before those whispers turned into a question asked out loud. George Colony, the CEO of Forrester, a research and advisory firm that has followed the company as closely as anyone, is taking a particularly dim view of Apple’s future. In a blog post that was guaranteed to spark a conversation, Colony says Apple’s days as a market leader are numbered; its “momentum will carry it for 24-48 months” and then, absent a “charismatic leader” in the Jobs mold, it will devolve from “being a great company to being a good company.”

Colony doesn’t get too specific about what this means, but we know. It’s not just about market cap, or stock price or any other shareholder metric. Colony is talking about that combination of imagination and execution pixie dust that has made Apple the most significant high-tech company of the moment, and one of the most important ever.

It’s a pretty big statement, especially since Apple is on fire: $6 billion earned on $40 billion in revenues in the most recent quarter, the iPhone selling as briskly in the rest of the world now as it did in the United States for years, 65 million iPads sold in two years, more cash than it knows what to do with, and at least one analyst speculating that it’ll be a $1,000 stock before long.

A new iPad, the same iEthics

Several days after the launch of the new iPad 3, HD, or whatever it’s called, we all know about it’s blazing 4G capabilities, including its ability to be a hotspot, carrier permitting, of course. We know about its Retina display, which makes the painful, insufferable scourge of image pixelization a thing of the past. We know about Infinity Blade. We know that to pack all this in, Apple’s designers had to let out the new iPad’s aluminum waist to accommodate some unfortunate but really quite microscopic weight gain. We know the iPad’s battery life is still amazing, and its price point is altogether unchanged. We know Apple has adopted a cunning new strategy of putting the previous-generation iPad, as it did with the iPhone 4, on a sort of permanent sale, to scoop up the low end of the high-end market. (We wonder if this was Steve Jobs’s last decree or Tim Cook’s first.) We know a lot about the iPad.

But what we don’t know: How many of Foxconn’s nearly 100,000 employees will harm themselves, intentionally or inadvertently — or their families or loved ones — in the manufacture of it? And will the developed world ever acknowledge the dark side of these truly transformative technologies, like the iPad, or will we continue to tell ourselves fables to explain away the havoc our addictions wreak on the developing world? Is a device really magic if to pull a rabbit out of a hat, you have to kill a disappearing dove?

Those of us who have been technology journalists have long been subjected to the cult of Steve Jobs’s Apple, and those of us who are fans of technology are mostly well aware of the stark elegance and extreme usability — even the words seem inadequate — that come with using, let alone experiencing, Apple products. But the rumblings about Apple’s manufacturing processes started years ago, and the recent New York Times series on the ignobility of Foxconn as an employer blew a hole in the side of that particular ship of willful ignorance. Few Apple consumers can claim not to understand the human sacrifice behind their glowing screens — the death, diseases, exhaustion, mental and emotional stress, and superhuman expectations placed upon the workers who bring these magic devices to life. It’s not just in the papers — Mike Daisey’s This American Life podcast exposé on Foxconn and Apple is a mere click away, and most mainstream media have given at least passing coverage to the working conditions reflected in the Gorilla Glass on our devices.

Five 2011 tech earthquakes

By John C Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

Pick a year: It’s easy to look back and convince yourself That Was The Year That Was in tech, partly because the pace of change is so rapid and partly because we so readily embrace and then quickly depend on things that are completely different. Consider this: When the class of 2012 was applying to college, there was no iPhone. Until those students were just about at the end of their  junior years, there was no iPad. Both of these nascent devices now define the mobile Internet, which is where all the action is.

But 2011 had some pretty remarkable advances that seem to be the start of inexorable things to come, as well as some surprising and sad examples of demise, whose impact will surely be felt for years to come, in ways that are currently near-impossible to predict.

Some may argue that 2011 was the year of the tablet (redux), because of the spritely launch of Amazon’s Fire and Barnes & Noble’s reboot of the Nook color. I say, it was bound to happen, and that the only really interesting thing is that content companies are giving Apple a bit of competition, and not the hardware bigwigs.

And the Grammy goes to — Steve Jobs!

First it was a bronze statue in Hungary. Now it’s a Grammy.

The accolades for the technology icon who died Oct 5 are still pouring in.

While Jobs is not a musician, his influence on the music industry — good or bad — cannot be denied. And for this, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is giving the co-founder of Apple Inc a Grammy at an invitation-only ceremony on Feb 11.

A formal acknowledgment of his Grammy — part of the 2012 Special Merit Award — will be made during the regular 54th annual Grammy Awards, to be held on Feb 12 at LA’s Staples Center.

“As former CEO and co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs helped create products and technology that transformed the way we consume music, TV, movies, and books,” the academy said in a statement.  ”A creative visionary, Jobs’ innovations such as the iPod and its counterpart, the online iTunes store, revolutionized the industry and how music was distributed and purchased.”

Steve Jobs’ biographer felt lashing of his sharp tongue

Isaacson's Jobs biography in a store (Photo: Reuters)

Getting off a plane earlier this year, Walter Isaacson got hit with what he called “the thing you least want to see on your iPhone”– six or seven missed calls from his biography subject, Steve Jobs.

Speaking to a crowd at the Computer History Museum Tuesday night in Mountain View, Calif., Isaacson described finally connecting with Jobs, who apparently had just seen the book’s proposed cover and didn’t care for it. Jobs let loose a stream of invectives. “He just started yelling,” Isaacson recalled. “You have no taste. The cover is gimmicky. It’s ugly.”

Jobs, who hadn’t asked for editorial input into any other aspect of the book, said he would withdraw his cooperation unless he could have editorial input into the cover. Isaacson said he agreed in a matter of seconds, and then Jobs spent time choosing the two jacket photos— a recent shot on the front, and a younger Jobs on the back– and making sure the cover looked clean and simple.

from Stories I’d like to see:

Romney, Sully, Steve Jobs and The Boss

By Steven Brill

This is the first entry in a new regular column, "Stories I'd Like To See." It's the notebook of someone who still thinks like an editor but is over the thrill of managing a reporting staff – or the hassle of dealing with “great” story ideas that crash and burn when someone actually goes out and reports them and learns anew that even the best editors can’t hit much better than the best ballplayers (meaning three or four out of ten story ideas will actually work).

1. Mitt the philanthropist:

If the excellent New York Times story last month about Mitt Romney’s Mormon Church involvement is correct, he is required to tithe 10 percent of his income to the Church or church activities each year. This would amount to an enormous amount of money when he was running Bain Capital during its highly-successful years. It might even make him the most charitable person ever to run for President (or be President). Is this true? Or did he tithe 10 percent of his “taxable income,” which would have been a lot less, given all the deductions and favorable tax-rate-treatment available to a high-income private-equity earner?

2. Mitt the taxpayer:

On the other hand, this raises the issue of what percentage of his gross earnings Romney paid in taxes during his best years, or even last year, when presumably all of his earnings were capital gains and might also have been subject to all kinds of investment tax credit and other deductions. I know he hasn’t released his tax returns (yet), but can’t someone get access to Bain’s investor reports and an estimate of his gross income, and then extrapolate that into what he actually might have paid, given favorable tax treatment of capital gains and of carried interest payouts to private equity fund managers? Or, at least, can’t some pesky reporter simply pick Bain’s best two or three years when he was running it and ask Romney what percent of federal income tax he paid on his gross income?

Tech wrap: New Nook Color on the way?

Barnes & Noble sent out invites on Monday to a Nook-related event coming up on November 7. Most tech watchers expect the company to use the occasion to unveil a new version of its Android-powered Nook Color tablet e-reader, which could sport a better screen and upgraded hardware.

As CNet points out, the most anticipated question will be how much Barnes & Noble decides to charge for the new device. “With the Kindle Fire on sale at $199 (it ships November 15), there’s some pressure on B&N to come close to matching that price, though Amazon is allegedly losing money on each Fire it sells (our sources suggest the Fire currently costs around $220 to build). With that being the case, Barnes & Noble is more likely to come out with a faster, more powerful Nook Color that costs $249, though we wouldn’t be surprised to see it at $299,” writes David Carnoy.

Netflix has added a slew of new TV show episodes to its streaming video catalogue through an expanded licensing deal with ABC Television Group, a division of Disney. In addition to extending licensing for popular ABC shows such as “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy” that it already offers, Netflix added ABC’s “Switched at Birth,” “Alias” and episodes from past season of Disney Channel’s animated series “Kick Buttowski” to its streaming selection. Amazon.com also unveiled a content agreement with Disney on Monday that will let Amazon Prime subscribers stream shows from ABC studios, Disney Channel, ABC Family and Marvel.

‘Steve Jobs,’ Steve Jobs, and me

I’m only through nine chapters of “Steve Jobs,” the Walter Isaacson biography on recently-deceased co-founder of Apple Computer. But I am already enthralled, way more excited than, say, the New York TimesJoe Nocera (more on that later).

I’m not going to critique the quality of the story-telling, except to say that I am finding it appropriately understated in the way a writer can get away with when the story itself is so compelling. Even though we knew quite a bit about the famously private Jobs, through Isaacson he reveals and confirms things we didn’t know, or only suspected.

This is to be expected in an authorized biography, especially when, as is the case here, the subject approached and then pursued the biographer. It is also to be expected that there would be some tension and mixed feelings on the part of the biographer, even one so studious a journalist as Isaacson. Unless the subject reveals something utterly horrible there is no way to disprove the negative, that you are helping to spin the story, rather than report it.