How A Steve Jobs Blind Spot Is Costing Apple Tens Of Billions Of Dollars

Apple’s Twitter

[I]n short, the hardest, most expensive technical part of building a web-scale Twitter competitor already exists in Apple’s infrastructure. What’s missing, in an odd reversal of Apple’s usual pattern, is a well-designed, simple user experience that makes people want to participate.

Why hasn’t this happened?

I haven’t really thought about Apple in terms of entering what is, right now, seen as Twitter’s turf. But perhaps more than any other company, Apple could kill Twitter. And I do mean kill. Leave it with so few remaining users that it screams for a buyer who will then pick it up for fractions of pennies on every dollar that’s been sunk into it.

Apple out-Twittering Twitter would also give people who haven’t yet bought an iPhone a must-have reason for getting one too.

Just look at how the revolutionary way iPhone 1.0 handled email alone — inline photos, OMFGZ!!11 — that made people wet their pants and want to have one.

The same thing could happen with social.

So why hasn’t this happened?

It’s because of Steve Jobs.

Apple will pay attention only to what Steve Jobs is paying attention to. (Note that I am now arguing against a stance I took in this post.)

And this is going to sound mean, but Jobs has just become too old to understand the revolution that’s taking place around him. He sees “social” as just another feature, as an item on a checklist: “Oh, people will want those things called Facebook and Twitter, so let’s put them in. And let’s add some ‘social’ stuff to iTunes and call it Ping.”

When I say “too old,” I don’t mean as in doddery or stodgy. It’s just that he has reached a certain stage in his life that most adults find themselves in: Overwhelmingly their time is dedicated to the job at hand. He no longer has the unconstrained time that people in their teens and twenties have. His relationship to what’s happening in the world around him has become like my relationship to the telephone (dcdr: loved it, now hate it).

As you get older, the Been there, done that bank account of experience tends to create blind spots. This is the fundamental exploit the eager young always use to overthrow the entrenched old. It’s how Apple itself came to exist!

Plus, well, he’s also Steve Jobs. Being social for him isn’t really possible any longer — because he is Steve Jobs. Being social quickly devolves into people wanting stuff from him. So why should he be social or pay attention to it? He’s no longer part of the “We’re all in this together” spirit of the young.

So Steve Jobs’ blind spot is social.

But this is not to say he’s never understood the value of collaboration. He understood it brilliantly in that post I did of his demonstrating NeXT’s software.

However, notice that everything in that video revolves around delayed-time. Notice there is no real-time stuff — no chat, for example! That would have been very easy to add too, given the way the NeXT machines were networked. It didn’t have to be group chat — and probably couldn’t, given the scheme shown — but there wasn’t even one-to-one chat.

Which makes me wonder if even back then, even when he was younger, he felt about real-time communication as I do today about the telephone.

Twitter has many shortcomings. It’s a flood, it’s ephemeral, it’s unreliable, it’s incomplete, and more.

If Steve Jobs ever has his Lightbulb Moment about social, he’ll gut Twitter.

Because he will start doing what his trademark thinking does, asking, “Hm, wouldn’t be it be neat if it could …?”

And then he’ll finally have more uses for those large data centers he’s been busy building. As well as another — and more sensible — use for iAd. And more uses for Ping, for iCloud, for Facetime, and for all those location-based ideas he has in the wings. And there would also be a multitude of spin-offs that would be birthed by adding a social dimension to Apple’s iOS.

All of that would make Apple just about unstoppable too.

Previously here:

Only An Idiot Would Buy Advertising On Twitter
Twitter’s Out Of Control Spin Continues
Twitter: Still Unfocused And Flailing
Twitter Still Doesn’t Get It
$#*! Twitter Hype Says
Twitter Truth!
Another One Gunning For Twitter
Twitter As It Stands Is Still A Waste
Bin Laden’s Doom Tweeted Live
More About Twitter
Facebook Wakes Up While Twitter Snores
Twitter’s New Sign-Out Page
Bailing On Twitter: Timing!
Another Lost Opportunity For Twitter
Now Only Here


Filed under Apple: The Company

41 responses to “How A Steve Jobs Blind Spot Is Costing Apple Tens Of Billions Of Dollars

  1. Anne Droid

    Mike, Are you trying to put thoughts into His Steveness’ head?
    Does Apple suffer from NIH syndrome, or is it open to suggestions?

  2. Paul Johnson

    Show me the money. Not Apple’s business model.

  3. Phillyg

    You are singing to the wrong Steve. Doing something just because there is lots of money to be made is a job for Steve B.

    • mikecane

      Hahahahaha. I used the money angle as a hook. Plus I’m not sure, given what we’ve seen of Ping, that Apple understands just how valuable social can be for them. Well, *real-time* social.

  4. Shashi P

    According to your argument and others admitting “blind spots”- it is not just Steve – it is Eric Schmidt, Steve Ballmer and the list goes on… Also social is not Apple philosophy- the carefully crafted and controlled experience is far away from the wild social scene. Apple in the end does things to make it pleasant for you to do what you want to do including social.

    • mikecane

      Blind spots come with age, as I stated in the post. So yes, it applies to everyone, as you say. Social is not pleasant right now. Apple could make it so.

  5. So far, the only tens of billions of dollars in social software is in venture capital. These things have a lousy ROI if you consider the cost of implementing and scaling them. Which is inevitable when you consider that they don’t generally have anything resembling a business model.

    So I completely disagree with you. It’s not a blindspot but a sensible avoidance of a money-sucking black hole.

    • mikecane

      And how is Apple making money with email on the iPhone? Answer that question first.

      • E-mail is a 20 year old standard that requires no expensive innovation, design or infrastructure. The two are not alike in any way.

      • mikecane

        And yet Apple had to have spent money — real money! — to change the way YahooMail — not even their own service! — displayed images in-line in the iPhone 1.0 app. So I repeat my original question.

      • You completely underestimate the financial and engineering requirements behind a large-scale social service like twitter or facebook. Nothing Apple has ever implemented server-side comes even close to it.

        It costs a lot lot more than you think and earns a lot lot less than you assume.

        E-mail clients are old tech (40 years actually, not 20) and a known problem, even with the intricacies of dealing with various service providers. E-mail is also standardised on every level. Implementing just a client (and deploying known server tech to a small subset of your whole customer base) is a completely different proposition from designing, implementing and scaling a social service for millions of people.

        Add to that the fact that its business model is completely unproven and I think the only sensible move is to wait and see.

        A good idea would be to hedge your bets and integrate client support for Twitter/facebook into the OS.

        Which, coincidentally, is exactly analogous to bundling an e-mail client with iOS.

        Creating a social network platform is like trying to invent e-mail, e-mail servers, e-mail proxies, and e-mail clients with just string and empty cans. Integrating twitter client services into iOS, OTOH, is exactly like bundling an e-mail client with the OS.

      • mikecane

        And yet Apple went and created the entire iTunes music-buying infrastructure despite the failures of others — and succeeded. And now they have gargantuan data centers that are basically parking lots for static electrons they will feed out to people wanting video and audio. I’ve left Twitter. You’re still there. Why?

      • The columns are getting a little bit too narrow.

        In any case: The iTunes Store had an obvious business model from the start. Social software doesn’t. It makes sense to use those data centres for things like syncing, cloud storage, etc. which are actual pain points in using iOS devices. A lack of a hypothetical Apple social network isn’t a flaw that threatens device sales. Crap syncing and such, is.

        And I’m still on twitter because it’s still moderately more fun than it is a hassle. I keep it that way by only following about 150 people. Any more than that and it becomes useless.

        I have no idea how people manage to use twitter and follow any more people than that, let alone follow extensive lists and such.

      • mikecane

        I think the Comment system will break the thread and make the columns wide again. Or so I hope.

        What about how much effort they put into iChat and Facetime? And the bubble-threaded SMS (is it SMS?) in iPhone 1.0? This is all like a seed Apple has planted and then forgot to water and grow! It’s almost GOOGLE of them, FFS. Except, unlike Google, the products are finished and not Forever Betas.

        EDIT: I’ve changed Comment indenting to stop after 3 levels. How’s that?

      • This width looks great.

        IM. SMS. Facetime. It’s all client software using already implemented server software/standards. (Jabber for iChat and SIP+extensions for Facetime). Apple does client software very well and doesn’t need much of a reason to implement them, provided they don’t have to do much innovation server-side, which is exactly what they’d need to do with a large social network.

        Making a twitter or a facebook that scales for millions of users is beyond anything they’ve done in software before. They have other problems they need to solve first.

        I’m not saying they couldn’t do it. What I’m saying is that creating a world-class multi-million user social network is bloody difficult, and too bloody expensive to do just for a hypothetical halo effect. This all changes, of course, if they figure out a logical and frictionless business model for it. If that happens, then all bets are off.

      • mikecane

        See, you’re not think of all the possible ramifications from *doing* it. Nor do I think is Apple. Just one word: Groupon. Dendrite it out from there.

      • Chris C

        Apple isn’t making any money on email on the iPhone. Apple is making money from selling the hardware of the iPhone. But to get people to buy the phone, it has to have compelling software including a good email client. Apple doesn’t make much money on developing OS X and bundling iLife with computers. They do it because it makes people buy the laptops/desktops which have high margins. Apple doesn’t make an insane amount of money on iTunes store content, it sells things on iTunes to drive sales of the hardware devices that consume it. People don’t ever really seem to get that Apple is a HARDWARE company at it’s core.

        If a twitter killing service helps them sell more iPhones, Desktops, and iPods, then maybe they’d do it. I don’t see how that helps them.

      • mikecane

        >>>People don’t ever really seem to get that Apple is a HARDWARE company at it’s core.

        So, you’re telling me that Steve Jobs himself saying that Apple is a software company is wrong?

      • Chris C

        No, Steve Jobs would call Microsoft a software company. He would call Apple a company that makes compelling products which have tightly integrated hardware and software for a seamless user experience. On an earnings call however, they talk about numbers of Macs, iPods, and iPhones sold. Not how many boxed copies of OS X, iWork, Final Cut Studio, etc, because they don’t make their profit margins on those products. Either way let’s face it. Apple SUCKS at online services. It’s just not in their DNA at all. MobileMe, ping, etc. However tying into OTHER people’s services, they do real well. And again, why destroy Twitter when you can just integrate into their services so well that people will say “That really integrates well with my Twitter account better than the Android phone I was looking at. Let me buy that.” I don’t get why everyone uses the Highlander mentality that for anyone to exceed in a space in the market that THERE MUST BE ONLY ONE. Why does everything have to be The (insert product/service here) Killer.

      • mikecane

        Listen, how stubborn do you intend to be? Here is STEVE JOBS HIMSELF saying Apple is a SOFTWARE COMPANY, see third video:

        Are you really going to argue with Jobs, who created Apple and who should know WTF he’s saying?

  6. Viswakarma

    Short-term Money vs. Long-term Vision!!!

    Watch the film “The Pixar Story” on Netflix, using Apple TV, to get an idea of what Steve Jobs approach is!!!

    • mikecane

      I don’t have Netflix and have never heard of that movie, but thanks for the tip. And social is the longest-term vision Apple could have. They might find that out too late.

  7. Shock Me

    I suffer from the same blindness. I just don’t grok twitter. Even seeing its impact in the recent uprisings in the Mideast I still can’t wrap my brain around why it matters.

    I do find some really side-splitting one-liners on the few twitter streams I have seen though.

  8. jbelkin

    Yea, you are 99.9% off base here on several levels. The most important is it’s not in Apple’s culture to run a social network of any kind. Fortunately for Apple, they have world class ideas to make hundreds of billions dollars already. Not every company can make every product and be successful – why doesn’t Apple just go into the fruit business – clearly they could make money on that but that’s NOT who they are and ultimately hurts them – just like Cisco or Microsft trying to be a consumer brand – they just don’t have the company culture for it … just look at Google – you would think by reaching BILLIONS of people worldwide every second, they could get some of the people to form a more cohesive social network but they can’t because they are a bunch of engineers – great at search, math, etc but they also presume everyone can tinker and solve all the problems. Hence, Android – a DI kit of an OS – to them, it’s all anyone could EVER want – an OS of building blocks you tinker with and finish yourself – that who Google is so they cannot fathom building a walled in structure like FaceBook or even IOS. It’s like people presume if Apple had licensed MacOS way back when they might rule the world but that’s like saying if Steve Jobs met Ballmer at Harvard and Bill Gates met Wozniak in SJ, what would be different? What would be the same? It’s impossible to say. Apple would never have launched Twitter nor even invest in it but how many companies decided to upend the mp3 player market, the smartphone amrket & the tablet market just in the past 10 years?

  9. Darwin

    You have come up with some pretty odd nutty ideas Mike but this one takes the cake. Facebook hasn’t even figured put how to make money let alone Twitter.

  10. Must be the hot topic of the day…
    Don’t think it has anything to do with a Jobs blind spot – he probably monitors what his kids do – He just doesn’t do much that won’t sell (or enhance) products.
    The only blind spot I see is yours Mike

    • mikecane

      You shouldn’t call others blind when you can’t see the fucking link to Dash’s post AT THE START OF MY POST.

      And GigaOm? Really? Srsly? You asshat. You wouldn’t know foresight if you needed a cure for it to keep your dick from falling off.

      • Mike Bee

        “And GigaOm? Really?”

        Mike, did I miss the posting where you got another 6 million funding this week? Personal insults aside, it looks like Om is making more sense, and employs more people than you.

      • mikecane

        Yeah, Om, who destroyed JK on the Run after buying it. Go away, troll.

  11. Well, as the world’s greatest and most famous voodoo economist, I’m gonna defend my man Mike C. What some don’t get is he is the Oracle of Satan Island. People read mike like they used to check out that tricky hoe at Delphi.

    Mike C spins out the riffs, blending conscious and subconscious mentation… it’s wild and it’s free. And his words have the embedded subtlety of John Lee Hooker’s vocal and guitar riffs.

    It’s all about reading between the lines… and see where it takes YOU. That’s the point. It’s catalyst writing. And very few others are saying it with such gusto. Most are scared what people think, so it is all watered down.

    Not with Mike C – the MC of the techno/publishing apocalypse.

    As to Apple, who knows? They gonna do and be what works and what fits the ever-changing market. Maybe Jobs and co should bring in some young guys, like the Japanese used to do, put ’em in a room and send ’em out on the streets developing whatever the hell they like…some crazy social thing…but with their ears to the ground.

    • mikecane

      >>>People read mike like they used to check out that tricky hoe at Delphi.

      Sometimes, Doc, your recommendation comparisons aren’t exactly helpful. LMAO!

  12. Anne Droid

    Where is this going Mike?
    I thought Apple was dead to you.
    And yet here you are, what, playing with a figurative corpse?

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