Getting It

To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that. Steve Jobs

When I read that quote on Quoth Steve today, I thought about this series on Apple's recent announcements and the ongoing discovery that many in the industry are communicating as the Apple WWDC continues this week. It underscores a key differentiator between Apple and most of the rest of the technology industry. In doing so, it also illustrates why so many in the technology press are fundamentally confused about both why Apple does what it does and why people buy Apple products.

Back when Japanese cars first began to gain a real foothold in the US, there was a similar dichotomy: Japanese cars had virtually no "options," while US cars were effectively custom built for each customer from an extensive list of options. Since I grew up in Michigan, the capital of the car industry in the US, I remember the derisive laughter about the limited options, the lack of this or that feature, and the expectation that the Japanese manufacturers would have to abandon the US or offer a better Chinese menu.

In retrospect, all of those observations and expectations were completely wrong. It turns out that the consumers appreciated the simplicity of getting a car without having to decide what to get on it -- and without having to wait for it to be built to their specifications. In fact, I lost out on a Pontiac Trans Am when my order turned out to have a very limited edition engine and the dealer decided he could get more for it from someone else, even though I had ordered it and waited for months.

1986 Trans Am

Today in technology, we have a similar situation: Apple is working on design in a way that Jobs thought about it. Most companies don't. Most put in a faster processor, more memory, more pixels, and expect those changes to compel purchases. Even customization is touted as a primary desire for consumers when that's not the case for many who just want to purchase a system that is ready to go, isn't bloated with a lot of distracting extras, and is designed in a way that allows it to disappear with use.

How do you want the products you purchase to be designed?

Invisible Technology

As is often the case, immediately after I posted my thoughts about Apple's announcements yesterday (The Next Technology Shift), a number of my friends reached out (especially on Facebook) to point out that other companies and technologies had similar features (like Android, Microsoft Surface 3, and so on). Because they did, I fear that I wasn't as clear about the major shift as I could be, but I also became aware that it is a paradigm shift, and as such will require explanation and expansion. One aspect of my perspective that isn't universal and is often misunderstood is that I am primarily a futurist. I am looking at where we are headed as a society and how technology can help us to become more human and to experience greater joy in life. Although I have spent most of my working years as a technologist, I have not done so from my love of technology. I have done so from my love of people and my desire to see them benefit personally and corporately from what it can do for them.

It is from that paradigm that I approach the recent Apple announcements.

Before I say any more, let me be clear: nothing Apple announced is entirely new. Most has parallels elsewhere on the technology landscape. However, that fact is entirely meaningless from the perspective of what these announcements mean for individuals, for corporations, and for the software development community. The importance of the announcement boils down to the facts that Apple is doing it and combining the technologies and devices together into a single, unified, simple offering. It is those facts which will change the world.

Over the next few days I will unpack the elements of the announcement from this perspective.

The Next Technology Shift

Apple's WWDC announcement usher in a new era of integrated mobile and desktop computing poised to change the way people interact with their technology. Again.

On Monday, Apple announced the new versions of their two operating systems: OS X 10.10 Yosemite for Macs and iOS 8 for iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch). There were a number of interesting components to the upgrades, and I have installed Yosemite on one of my Macs to begin testing and exploring a bit, but the real shift is in the integration of the two worlds. While this is only a first step, consider two aspects of the new awareness:

  • Your Mac will know when your iOS device is near, and will allow you to transparently continue on one something you started on the other. Start an email on your iPhone, finish it on your Mac. Start writing a document on your Mac, finish while on the go on your iPad.
  • Your Mac becomes an extension of your iPhone, allowing you to make and receive phone calls and text messages (SMS) directly on your Mac via your iPhone, even if it's charging elsewhere in the house (I'll leave mine up in my bedroom where it gets decent cellular signal!).

Now, add to that updates to iOS like:

  • Family sharing, allowing up to 6 family members to share purchases, location, and iCloud data like reminders and calendars simply and transparently,
  • Health, to integrate all of the great health monitoring and management that is now available,
  • HomeKit, allowing developers to create integrated apps and hardware for keeping your house safe and automated to do what you want it to do.

When I look at this set of new capabilities, I see an incredible opportunity for Apple as a company, and those who align squarely with these new initiative and build hardware and software that aligns to it, and even for individuals to navigate a new career.

Apple introduced an entirely new programming languages called Swift that is designed with mobility, touch, and common development of iOS and Mac apps as core architectural points.

If technology is your business or career, pay attention and strongly consider a shift in how you're doing what you're doing.

If you are a user of technology, be prepared to shift away from thinking about your various devices as individual points of interaction to a world where they are each simply windows into your information that have different characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses.

Keeping Account: Accounting Software for Small Business

Yesterday, I heard from David Matthew after he completed a very thorough review of small business accounting systems from Intuit (the company that brings you the venerable QuickBooks) and Peachtree, a long-time PC-based accounting system that has played second-fiddle to QuickBooks. His review includes a couple of very useful charts to compare the two, giving you a very good way of selecting between the two.

In our conversation, I mentioned to him that I'd encourage an expansion to include my current tool, Less Accounting (http://lessaccounting.com/), which is a hosted solution that I find exceptionally productive.

Check them out and let me know what you think!