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Can Apple Still Amaze and Delight Without Surprising?

Apple fans are spoiled. For many years now, the company has delivered cutting-edge products that amaze and delight customers, if not always tech pundits.

Until the death of co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, one of the highlights of an Apple event was the trademark “one more thing” reveal. Iconic products like the original iMac, iPod, iPhone, and the MacBook Air were all introduced by Jobs at the end of his “Stevenote,” sometimes pulling them from his back pocket seemingly as an afterthought. Of course, they were anything but and the crowd would go wild.

Despite the fact that some products (like the original iPhone) were widely predicted, their full outlines and specifications were rarely known in advance. Apple’s legendary penchant for secrecy, coupled with its track record of setting new benchmarks for design and performance, created an anticipatory frenzy that contributed to the company’s historic rise from nearly bankrupt computer maker to global consumer electronics behemoth. Eventually Apple’s product launches became genuine pop culture happenings.

While Apple continues to create great products that customers clearly love, the method of its product introductions has changed dramatically. It had to. To his credit, the low-key Tim Cook, Job’s successor as CEO, has not attempted to do a Steve Jobs impersonation. He is no impresario and he knows it. Cook – by all accounts an exceptional executive – instead prefers to set the stage for others to make the big reveal. The message is clear: this is no longer a company led by a single visionary, it’s an entire company with a shared vision.

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Your Personal Data – As Transparent as a Cloud

It seems like everywhere we turn, someone, somewhere, is getting hacked. Never mind the entire LinkedIn password debacle that occurred long enough ago that it’s fallen off the world’s collective e-memory, usurped by the latest and hottest hacking. Yahoo, eHarmony, Billabong, FormSpring… the list goes on and on. Just today, the game developer Activision Blizzard – the developer of the oh-so-popular World of Warcraft –  announced that someone managed to hack into its systems and steal contact and password information from many of the game’s players.

Every minute, we’re changing passwords, entering illegible CAPTCHAs, coming up with random security questions, all in the hopes that these steps will secure our online worlds of bank accounts, credit card numbers, and personal Amazon choices that unwittingly get shared on Google+ accounts (which is okay, since no one ever uses Google+ anyway).

All these cloud-based services, from iCloud to Gmail to Amazon and beyond, have become household names for anyone who uses a computer nowadays.  Is it ironic – or maybe a tad bit scary – that what has been designed to make life more efficient is actually putting us at higher risk?

Wired author Mat Honan’s article “How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking,” details how his “entire digital life was destroyed” because hackers accessed his Apple ID account, which allowed them to access and delete his Google account, compromise his Twitter account and remotely erase all of the data from his iPhone, iPad and MacBook. His article has led to security-policy rethinking in Apple and Amazon, and has brought cloud-security issues to the forefront of conversation. In response to his hacking, Apple put a 24-hour suspension on over-the-phone password resets while the company scrambled to identify new security policies, and Amazon restricted people’s ability to call in and change account settings. Unfortunately these changes came after Honan lost more than a year’s worth of photographs of his daughter and documents and emails he hadn’t stored in other locations than his computer.

So what can one do to avoid a future debacle? As Honan says, cloud-based systems need security measures above and beyond the old password-based ones, which can be relatively easily compromised. But until Apple and Amazon and the like get going on patching up these security holes, there are some steps that you, as a consumer of cloud services, can take to lessen the chances of being hacked:

  • Back-up your data. This is the best way to ensure there is an easy way of ensuring you have it if your hard drive crashes, your computer is stolen or there’s an unexpected system failure. Right now, there may not be much faith in general-purpose cloud services offered by Google, Amazon, Apple, etc. But if you do need to store your data via the cloud, the best way to store your data is on different services. And with the security breaches that seem to be sweeping the cloud services, there will most likely be a resurgence of interest in offline backup, such as USB hard drives.
  • Use secure passwords. A no-brainer, of course, but for your 80-year-old grandmother, “password123” is not a secure one. Use different passwords for different accounts.
  • Be careful with what accounts you link together. Honan daisy-chained two of his main accounts – his Google and his iCloud accounts – which allowed the hackers even more access to more of his data.
  • Create an email address for password recovery that is used for that sole purpose – and nothing else. Make sure that it’s not used for any other services, like banking or correspondence.
  • When services offer extra security measures – USE THEM. Don’t put them off; take the time to go through the steps you need to in order to activate them. It might take some time and it might be a pain, but you’ll be glad when the world around you falls prey to hackers. Google, for instance, has offered a two-step verification process that reduces the chance of hackers accessing your Google account.
  • Basic awareness in your Internet habits is key. Be aware of what computers you log in to, how secure your connection is, and whether a browser is storing your passwords. Be careful of who you give personal information to – if you’re shopping with a new online retailer, make sure they are legitimate.

Unfortunately, the cozy sense of security doesn’t come without some effort. As my colleague, Dave and I struggled to make sense of Gmail’s new two-step verification process, we realized that maybe our accounts were safe because, after all, if we couldn’t figure out how to sign into our own accounts, then maybe hackers would be just as befuddled, too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go pour myself a strong drink while I change my myriad passwords, unlink some of my accounts, and dream of the days when clouds referred to “visible [masses] of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere.” This definition of “cloud,” by the way, has come up second in my Google search. Can you guess the first?

Jennifer Kincaid can be reached at jkincaid@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @jennlkincaid

Image from FastCompany.com

 

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Lies in the service of the truth? Or just lies?

Mike Daisey is a liar.

He may not see it that way, but no reasonable person can hear or read the misrepresentations and outright fabrications in his stage act, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” without concluding that he has a problem with the truth. A rather big one.

Daisey’s veil of lies was ripped to tatters when he allowed the NPR program “This American Life” to air an excerpt of his stage play earlier this year. Asked direct questions by the program’s producers about the details of his polemic, Daisey could have easily admitted that he embellished and fabricated certain facts and events and that would have been that.  The show wouldn’t have broadcast and he wouldn’t have come under the journalistic scrutiny that ultimately (albeit somewhat tardily) revealed his falsehoods. Instead, Daisey doubled down and vouched for the authenticity of his “facts,” even going so far as to invent new lies  to make it harder for the program’s producers to independently verify his story.

It all came apart when the China business correspondent for American Public Media’s Marketplace, Rob Schmitz, noticed inconsistencies between Daisey’s alleged experience and what the correspondent himself had seen in the course of his own reporting. So Schmitz decided to do some digging. It quickly became obvious that Daisey simply couldn’t have experienced some of the things he claimed to have seen and heard first-hand. And the details of some of his stories bore a striking resemblance to news reports of incidents that happened thousands of miles from the factories Daisey claimed to have visited. It just didn’t add up.

Because it wasn’t true.  In a startling and painful retraction segment last weekend, This American Life’s host Ira Glass tried to get at the root of why Daisey lied. Daisey hems and haws, offers a half-hearted apology, cops to being afraid of the reaction if people knew he was dissembling, talks about art versus journalism, of a desire to provoke an emotional response in his audience in the service of a greater truth. Ultimately Daisey argues that it’s OK for him to lie because his purpose is noble.

Daisey goes further with this line in a couple of  posts on his own blog. Apparently immune to irony, he even hints that the retraction segment on This American Life was creatively edited to make him look worse.  It’s … infuriating.

That Daisey thinks his lies are excusable because he is attempting to shed light on an often-overlooked problem – the harsh working conditions endured by many Chinese factory workers – is beside the point. That he characterizes his lies as “dramatic license” is convenient and equally irrelevant. What matters is that Daisey lied – and continues to lie – to US, to his audience, to the people whose sympathy he is trying to gain. He lies because he doesn’t trust us with the truth. And because the truth is complex, messy and not at all conducive to simple, black and white storytelling about good vs. evil, wealth vs. poverty, or corporate greed vs. basic human rights.

Then there’s the simple unfairness of his screed. At one point in his monologue, Daisey claims to have met a 13 year old girl and her friends outside of a factory. He quotes her as saying that not just she, but lots of underage workers are employed building Apple products. Then he asks the audience a rhetorical question: “Do you really think Apple doesn’t know?”

The implication, of course, is that Apple does not just callously disregard the deplorable working conditions in the factories that make its products but essentially condones the use of child labor. They are not just tolerating this illegal activity, but complicit in it. It’s a serious charge. If true, it’s a black mark not just on Apple’s brand but on the very integrity of the people who run the company.

And once again, Daisey lies. He met no such underage workers. He channels his inner Stephen Glass and simply makes them up. For the story. For the cause.

He uses fake people to impugn the very real reputations of Apple executives. Never mind that Apple is considered a leader in pushing its foreign suppliers and partners to improve working conditions. Or that, long before Daisey came along,  the company published its own reports on working conditions and child labor violations and its efforts to eliminate them. All that matters is Daisey’s narrative. Facts be damned.

The thing is, despite his protestations to the contrary, Daisey’s lies will hurt his cause. People tend to turn their backs on those who dupe them, to be skeptical when somebody cries wolf. The next person who comes forward with criticisms about Chinese factory working conditions will have to bear the weight of Daisey’s lies. They’ll have to overcome a wariness that we’ve heard it all before. And it wasn’t true.

Lies in the service of the truth are still lies. They don’t serve the truth so much as they obscure it. Ultimately, they diminish us all.

Kevin Pedraja can be reached at kpedraja@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter @kpedraja.

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What Is the Media Predicting for 2012?

Panelists at the PRSA Media Predicts 2012 event

"Media Predicts: 2012" Photo by Marie Domingo

It takes a brave soul to sit in front of a room of people and predict the future. Wednesday’s Media Predicts: 2012 event sponsored by the PRSA Silicon Valley gathered a constellation of stars in tech reporting to find out what Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others may have in store for the masses next year.

The panelists making their predictions included:

Here’s a quick rundown of predictions from most of the panelists, broken into categories.

Executives:

  • Meg Whitman faces a tough decision regarding WebOS (now expected in less than two weeks).
  • Unfortunately, few panelists had any conviction that Whitman was the leader to deliver a stellar product that captured the imagination of consumers.
  • Female executives at IBM, Xerox, and other large tech firms are coming into their own. 2012 may prove to be the year that their gender is no longer the news hook.
  • Bill Gates may have to step back into the company. Windows 8 is a radical departure from previous versions of the Microsoft operating system and needs a better leader, though several panelists thought Gates would never return.

Devices:

  • An ecosystem of devices will form to remember who we are, and save our preferences.
  • A new category of devices may appear that uses sensors everywhere.
  • Panelists were split on whether an Apple television would make an appearance in 2012.
  • Tablets with Windows 7 will be a huge competitor to Apple.
  • We will see an Amazon phone.
  • The Kindle Fire will be popular — maybe more so than the iPad — because of the price.
  • However, if Microsoft succeeds at positioning Windows 8 as an OS for computers and tablets, Apple will become the number-one computer manufacturer in the world, topping HP, when iPads are counted in the stats.

Operating Systems:

  • 2012 will be the year of voice. Apple’s Siri will lead the way while Google will push more aggressively into voice space.
  • Siri comes to the iPad.
  • Windows phone will take a distant third to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS in mobile operating systems.
  • Android will “come apart at the seams” in 2012. (The Carrier IQ tracking scandal may be evidence of that now.) “Android is a mess” and companies such as Amazon are going to fragment development further.
  • Android won’t be the only vulnerable mobile operating system. Apple’s iOS will be hacked.
  • Google’s Chrome OS will die.

Acquisitions:

  • Juniper Networks will be acquired.
  • Apple will buy a small enterprise company.
  • Oracle will buy HP.
  • More foreign companies will buy US-based companies.

Companies to Watch:

  • Apple, Amazon.com, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft — as usual — probably in that order.
  • Square and Zynga will experience major re-evaluations in the market.
  • Nintendo will explode (in a good way).
  • Companies who felt pressured to integrate Facebook and Twitter will start feeling the repercussions of tying their fortunes to the social networks.
  • And there didn’t seem to be a panelist who wasn’t severely impressed with the learning thermostat Nest. The company and product seemed to represent a compilation of several predictions, including:
    • an Internet of things,
    • the spillover of Apple’s design philosophy (how the product works, not just how it looks) into new industries hitherto deprived of elegance,
    • predictive software, and
    • green technologies that actually matter to consumers.

What are your thoughts on these predictions? Any predictions of your own? Sound off in the comments or feel free to contact me via email or Twitter.

Kawika Holbrook can be reached at kholbrook@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter @kawika.

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Open the Door

We’re an all-Mac shop at Sterling Communications. We’re big fans of Apple even when one of their computers isn’t a fan of us. So when Steve Jobs resigned as CEO from Apple, we (like most in the tech world) were caught up in the moment, wondering:

And so on.

But the stories that interest me the most have been the smaller but more personal ones. Here’s a short tale of mine when I worked at Apple: (more…)

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All I want for Christmas…is Apple’s new tablet

Apple has done it once again; piqued my interest before the new product is on the market. No, I don't know exactly when to expect it or even what it will cost, but, darn it, I want one. Yes, we have a Kindle 2 in our house and it even gets lots of regular use and sits proudly on the nightstand in the master bedroom. My guess, however, is that our Kindle 2 will be transferred to my parents shortly after the Apple tablet arrives on the scene. Time to get busy writing my letter to Santa, I guess.