North by North Korea

There was a sense of outrage about it...

Outrage that these women had been victims of a hack—a breach of privacy.  Just a few weeks ago we were all talking about it: “the celebrity nudes."  A horde of pictures that hackers had somehow foisted their hands on—private photos taken by individuals in the privacy of their own homes.  Targeted by hackers because these individuals were celebrities.

The breach echoed around the Internet.  We heard from security researchers.  We heard from technology bloggers.  Was Apple to blame?  Were all of our pictures at risk?  Should I change my password?  Should I go through the complicated handshake of enabling two-factor authentication?  Should I heed the warning of moralizing morons who suggest that I not do or say or even so much as think anything I don’t want going public?  

But finally, the story settled around us and our reaction.  There were those on the Internet who looked at the photos.  There were those on the Internet who refused to look at the photos.  And then there were the victims: "how dare you,” they said.  And they were right.  We all knew they were right.  How dare you look.  Respectable news publications refused to print the celebrity photos.  It wasn’t a hard decision to make: nude photos aren’t usually printed.  But it was a decision and it felt like the right one.  

Flash forward a few weeks and we find another hack.  This one larger—but no less private.  Here are the private emails, the private email addresses—the private thoughts and statements of celebrities.  Everything, that is, except their privates.  And suddenly: it’s fair game.  Everyone is looking.  Everyone is printing.  Nobody—or at least, very few of the victims are standing up to say: “how dare you.”  Respectable news publications even defend their actions: the breach of privacy isn’t a breach of privacy, they say: it’s a leak.  Leaks are important.  Leaks are in the public interest.  

The story once again ricochets from topic to topic: is Hollywood racist?  Are women underpaid?  Is Scott Rudin an asshole?  The tech crowd speculates on the hackers and their “demands” that a new film on Kim Jong-un be scrapped.  Are they linked to North Korea?  Yes?  No?  Maybe?  Who cares: Angelina Jolie was called a brat by a movie producer.  Breaking news!  

Today, we learn it was North Korea.  We learn that theaters are refusing to show the film.  We learn that Sony is caving to these rogue demands—the film will be canceled.  And now—just as before—the story is shifting back to us.  How are we reacting?  Should we really cave to terrorist demands?  Don’t we believe in freedom and democracy and standing our ground?  Is this what it means to be an American?  

And yet—before we caved to those demands, before this story was about America’s eminence, before—even—the funny PPTs spilled across the Internet, somebody’s privacy was violated.  Lots of somebodies, in fact—and like gleeful little second graders, we squealed with laughter at the victims of a crime.  I’m not saying that right now—as Sony pulls the film—we shouldn’t be asking ourselves what it means to be an American.  All I’m saying is: why weren’t we asking ourselves that when the story started?  Why weren’t we treating this breach of privacy—this crime, this terrorist attack—with the same respect and moral certitude that we applied to the photo hack?  

This is the beginning of a new era of hacking.  Hacking to fulfill every political, social, and personal aim you can think of—from the basest to the most ideal.  And we’re going to see a lot more of it: technology is simply moving too fast to keep intruders out.  So they’re going to get in; they’re going to get their hands on what they want—but whether they get what they want will depend in large part on us.  On how we react.  

It won’t always be easy—it won’t always be a clear-cut decision: with the Pentagon Papers on one side and celebrity nudes on the other.  But in the future, as we get better at this, my hope is that we realize every hack is a test.  It’s a test not of our security systems or our forensics teams or our national security policy: it’s just a test of us.  Who do we want to be?  The squealing second grader, gleefully poring over stolen goods?  Or a more mature citizen of society—someone who recognizes that there’s a victim’s world at stake here.  Even if the victim is a brat.  Even if the victim is an asshole movie producer—they deserve better from us.  We deserve better from ourselves.   

On Platforms and Transitions

Where were they?  For years, Gene Munster—a prominent financial analyst—has been on the Apple TV bandwagon. And why not?  In interview after interview, Tim Cook has told us that television is broken.  It’s like something from the 70s!  And yet, year after year passes—keynote after keynote—and we’re no closer to that revolutionary product.  Revolution, it seems, is in transition. 

Then the excuses come.  A tide of Apple commentators washes in: 

  • Deals with content providers have fallen through
  • A Retina-quality screen is supply-constrained
  • TV is a bad market.  People replace their phones every two years, their TVs every seven. 

And anyway, Apple already has a TV product.  It’s called Apple TV.  But at Apple's last keynote, it didn’t event get a modest update.  What’s the story? 

I think it’s a story of platforms, and a story of transition.  Not just on the TV—on all of these products that are so important—and yet, strangely, missing. 

  • Apple TV 
  • iTunes 
  • iPod 
  • iPad Pro  


Shortly after Steve Jobs’ passing, there was fear that Apple couldn’t change, couldn’t innovate.  That maybe it would stagnate; we’d see slow, incremental improvements to each product line, but no new product lines themselves.  We’d see, maybe, great design changes, but fewer and fewer grand strategies.  We’d see only the shadow—the shape—of what Steve Jobs had envisioned before he died.  Everything new and good we could attribute to his final product road map.  Everything old and bad we could attribute to the rudderless ship he left behind. 

But that’s not the story at all.  Apple, it turns out, is under completely new leadership with Tim Cook.  In fact, the more I see it, the more I feel like the transition between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook is greater than the transition between George W. Bush and Barack Obama. 


Leaders tend to build organizations in their own image.  Open and friendly leaders try to foster open and friendly workplaces.  Forceful and opinionated leaders foster structured and rigid workplaces.  Apple is more open under Tim Cook than it was under Steve Jobs.  It’s welcoming journalists in through the front door at events, instead of the side entrance.  Its executives are speaking out—at conferences, in interviews, on Twitter.  But all of this isn’t just about style; it’s about strategy. 

Steve Jobs was fundamentally a product designer.  He wanted to make great products: the Mac, the iPhone, the iPad, the Pixar Campus and Apple itself.  What is a product?  It’s a thing.  Something you can hold in your hand, or put on your desk, or walk around.  It’s a noun. 

But there are limits to products.  Products age.  They feel heavy.  They fall out of fashion—like a building falls out of style.  New technologies and new priorities leave them behind.  You can’t use the new Handoff feature on old Macs because they weren’t built with Bluetooth 4.0.  You can’t roll a wheelchair down into the New York Subway station because the Subway system wasn't built with accessibility in mind.  These aren’t failures of design; they’re the reality of design.  Of designing products—things—nouns.

But Tim Cook?  Tim Cook isn’t a product designer.  And Apple, fundamentally, is no longer a product company.  Apple, today, creates experiences.  An experience is an action, a verb.  I need to go from home to work—get me directions.  I need to switch from writing this email on my iPad to my Mac.  I need to pay for this with my phone—with my fingerprint.  With my watch.  What is an Apple that fundamentally designs verbs, instead of nouns?

  • It’s an Apple that recognizes music is no longer about iPods.  It’s about access.  And selection.  And curation.  
  • It’s an Apple that recognizes that an "iPad Pro" is no longer about bigger screens.  Or keyboards.  Or even pro-apps.  It’s about partnerships with enterprise.  
  • It’s an Apple that recognizes a great TV as more than a great user interface. Or a Retina display.  

This isn’t to say that Apple never developed verbs.  The experiences of iCloud and Siri are verbs.  Rip, Mix, Burn are verbs.  “It just works,” is a verb.  But these were features—not the product’s fundamental value.  Today, however, Apple’s value is increasingly in selling verbs, not nouns.


I'm writing this on my iPad.  I mean, right now, as I type this sentence, I'm on my iPad.  When I started, I was on my Mac.  Both times it was in an app called Pages.  Not "Pages for iOS" and "Pages for Mac"—just Pages.  This wasn't possible just a few years ago. 

The Mac was the first with Pages, Apple's alternative to Word.  When the iPad debuted, Apple built a word processor application for it, with the same look and feel—and the same name—as its PC software: Pages.  But Pages for the iPad was the same in name only.  It used a different file format and had fewer features.  But you know what?  Pages on the Mac worked flawlessly.  Pages on the iPad worked flawlessly.  It just worked

The only problem?  They didn't work together.  To work between your Mac and iPad, you were constantly converting from one file format to another—just as if you were working between Pages and Microsoft Word.  

This is what happened in a world where products were king.  The iPad was great.  The Mac was great.  And never the two shall meet.  This may sound overly dramatic, but from everything we know about Apple’s internal structure, it was true in practice.  There was an iOS team and a Mac team—so distinct and so far from one another that, as John Siracusa has noted, they might as well have been in different companies. 

For users who only had one Apple product, this was a great time to be a customer.  Pages operated without a hiccup.  Scrolling was fast.  Waiting was non-existent.  My iPad 3 felt consistently faster than my Mac because it wasn't working on Mac-sized applications and files.  Everything was bite-sized on this bite-sized device. 

Through this lens, the Mac and iPad are for completing fundamentally different jobs:

  • My iPad is for browsing the Internet and answering email.  Creating digital artwork.  Playing games.   
  • My Mac is for video editing.  Photo editing.  Getting work done.  

In this world, what I want to get done determines what product I use. 

But that's not the world we live in anymore:  The iPad is a joy to edit video on.  And Internet browsing is still immersive on a Mac.  I'm not trying to do different things on different devices anymore.  I'm trying to do the same things in different contexts.

What do products look like in a world where I need to get the same job done on my Mac as on my iPad?  Yes—what does a world look like when the size of the screen doesn't determine what you can get done on that screen?

It's a world where you can pick up where you left off on any device.  Answer the phone with your Mac.  Edit a photo on your iPhone.  Reply to a text message on your iPad.  It's a world where the product doesn't define your experience.  It's a world where the value is in verbs.

  • Handoff
  • Continuity 
  • Extensions 

These all describe actions—experiences that will define the next era of computing.  The Apple Watch isn't about putting a computer on your wrist—it's about extending your particular computing experience to new contexts.  And a new, refocused Apple is working around the clock to establish the new structures and bridges—the new platforms—to get you there. 


That's the long term vision.  In the short term, it sucks.  For the experience to truly be seamless, it helps if the capabilities of these devices are seamless, too. But they're not. The reality is that the iPad—now on its 6th generation—is just beginning to reach the computing power of traditional PCs.  The iPhone is still a few steps behind. The Apple Watch?  A few paces

But that's not the only reason why Pages on my iPad Air crashed three times while writing this blog.  That's not why a note I wrote on my phone has taken more than 24 hours to sync to my Mac.  Today's products weren't conceived as part of a seamless experience—they were conceived as stand-alone devices.  And the unfortunate fact is that it's going to take a few more years to get them on the right track.  In the meantime, things are going to suck. 

Pages for iOS and Pages for the Mac can communicate now.  And that's great. But neither of them work as well as they used to when they were designed to be perfect for their perfectly singular products.  They've found middle ground...and for a while they are going to be middling experiences. 

We're in transition. 

Einstein the Nimrod

Einstein is a nimrod. 

At least in the future.  Yes, there’s E = MC squared yes, yes.  But nobody remembers that.  Not here.  Not in this future place.  Call a person Einstein, everyone knows, and you’re calling them stupid.  Stupid, but feigning smarts.  Stupid, but deluded.  Stupid as Einstein.  

Today, of course—today being today, not the future—Einstein is a man and an insult.  Einstein is the person who redefined our sense of the universe.  Einstein also happens to be any person who tries to be brilliant and fails brilliantly.  

Point the hose the wrong way: "Great job, Einstein!"

Burn yourself getting the toast out of the toaster: "Nice work, Einstein!"

Back your car into the mailbox—

Well, you get the idea.  It’s sarcasm, of course—but sarcasm can be very dangerous to history.  Or at least, what we remember as history.  Ask any kid who Einstein is and you’ll understand what I mean.  Or, better—ask Bugs Bunny.  

Bugs is the one who suggested this post in the first place.  Bugs himself is a very astute historian—which is no surprise considering he’s living history.  It was back in 1937—sarcastic as ever, that Bugs first began bending the historical imagination.  And it was with a simple jab at Elmer Fudd.   

Fudd’s a buttoned up little man—hat down, gun up—ready to fire at a moment’s notice.  He’s a sportsman—a hunter, or so he tells us.  A hunter of great caliber, he considers himself to be.  Like a Daniel Boon, a fierce warrior, a hunter-king.  

But Bugs Bunny, of course—Bugs won’t stand for it.  Bugs has to cut him down to size—what small size Fudd has—and so he calls him out: “A poor little Daniel Boon!” Bugs might say.  “A poor little hunter.”  But he does better than that—he reaches all the way back to one of the earliest greats of hunting, straight back to the Bible, to the great grandson of Noah himself: a regular hunter-king—Nimrod.  

Yes, Nimrod was a great hunter.  Not like the nimrods we know today, no.  Nimrod; the King who built the Tower of Babel.  A hunter of high stature, however lost in translation he may have been.  A fine, genuine example of sportsmanship to sarcastically compare Elmer Fudd to.  

Again.  And again.  And again.  For 70 years, in fact!  Elmer Fudd has been—sarcastically—called a Nimrod.  Until Nimrod wasn’t sarcastic at all anymore.  Until Nimrod wasn’t a hunter or a king, or a historical figure of any importance beyond the stain of his own name.  Until Nimrod was himself a nimrod.  

Reputations rise and fall, meanings shift—they even reverse with the passage of time.  It’s good to know that, to take a moment and consider it now and then in the blur of daily crises.  In the flash of familiar worries, when you’re thinking all so much of how much you’re being thought of.  Are you remembered as smart?  Thoughtful?  Kind?  Maybe.  Maybe that’s what people will walk away with.  Maybe that’s what they’ll remember.  

Or, maybe—like Einstein—they’ll think the exact opposite.  Maybe they’ll think you’re a nimrod.  Maybe they already do.  

But who cares what they think?  Einstein didn’t.  Let the world think what they want.  Let the bunnies have their sarcastic fun.  Let your reputation go, and hunt your quarry.  Find your MC squared.