Saturday, March 2, 2013

What's next for Apple?


With Apple being the most valuable company, more or less, one has to wonder how it can top its previous tricks. Bob Cringely asked this question, and got me thinking.

Honestly, it is hard to expect any growth at all. Given its already enormous size, the most likely path goes down, not up towards a future where Apple would become lord and master of the business world.

Nevertheless, what could be next? How can they top their megahits of iPod, iPhone, and iPad? They have made a science of striking a consumer category ripe for computer-i-zation with a fully-formed solution that transcends what others have imagined and melds design, computerization, and cloud services into all-too convenient ecosystems. As an example of bad timing, Apple first offered a tablet computer way back in 1993- the Newton. It was an amazing achievement, but far before its time. At which point Steve Jobs finally pulled the trigger a second time, and the iPad arrived.

What other area of our lives are ripe for this kind of treatment? Where have nascent computer-consumer interfaces been lurking, ready to inspire an Apple-style invasion and makeover?

I think it is robots. Admittedly, invading this area would be extremely ambitious, involving far more moving parts than Apple is used to dealing with. But the field seems to be in a perfect state. There is an active industrial sector with usable, worked-out technologies. There is a nascent consumer sector, in a few specialized niches- cleaning and telepresence robots (which are even based on the iPad). Autonomous cars seem to be imminent as well.

The potential is clearly very high. Just as desktop computers took over areas of our lives and previously separate jobs that no one imagined, (secretaries, music production, guitar hero, postal service, phone calling), so robots will doubtless work their way into innumerable areas of our lives, limited only by their intelligence and design.

For running a household, the electrical revolution has left a great deal undone. Compared to having a house full of servants, having a washing machine leaves quite a little to be desired. So does having a microwave, compared to having a cook. So does having a vacuum cleaner, compared to having a maid. Could robots bridge this gap between dumb machinery and true service?

It is going to be a very long road, but with real uses already here, it is the kind of market that may be ready for exploitation, and for unimaginable growth.

Could robots take over these tasks without also taking over and ruling the world? I think so, given that we design them. But in any case, it is a world we are headed towards, and Apple would be well-positioned to help design it.

  • Oh, robots do interpretive dance, too.
  • Is the thrill gone at Apple?
  • Henry Ford- another visionary / megalomaniac, building the future.
  • Telecommuting rocks.
  • Christian martyrs: a mess of legend.
  • Christian church- right or wrong, the tribe is most important.
  • IBM, Circa 1970's-80's. "Every IBM employee’s ambition is apparently to become a manager, and the company helps them out in this area by making management the company’s single biggest business." Also ... how the world ended up using the "quick and dirty operating system".
  • Why priests? ... indeed.
  • The sequester ... is what it's like being ruled by the stupid party.
  • Solow on debt. And some MMT corrections.
  • Economics graph of the week- sectoral balances in the US, since 1952. Note how the household sector was in a highly usual deficit since roughly 1998, up till the crisis.

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