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My post yesterday saw action on Techmeme (as I write this, it’s at #2) and on Twitter (from Don Marti, Augustine Fou, et. al.), and in thoughtful blog posts by John Gruber in Daring Fireball and Nick Heer in Pixel Envy. All pushed back on at least some of what I said. Here are some excerpts, plus my responses. First, John:

Doc Searls:

Here’s what’s misleading about this message: Felix would have had none of those trackers following him if he had gone into Settings → Privacy → Tracking, and pushed the switch to off […].

Key fact: it is defaulted to on. Meaning Apple is not fully serious about privacy. If Apple was fully serious, your iPhone would be set to not allow tracking in the first place. All those trackers would come pre-vaporized.

For all the criticism Apple has faced from the ad tech industry over this feature, it’s fun to see criticism that Apple isn’t going far enough. But I don’t think Searls’s critique here is fair. Permission to allow tracking is not on by default — what is on by default is permission for the app to ask. Searls makes that clear, I know, but it feels like he’s arguing as though apps can track you by default, and they can’t.

But I don’t think Searls’s critique here is fair. Permission to allow tracking is not on by default — what is on by default is permission for the app to ask. Searls makes that clear, I know, but it feels like he’s arguing as though apps can track you by default, and they can’t.

Let’s dig down a bit on all this.

What Apple has here is a system for asking in both directions (apps asking to track, and users asking apps not to track). I think this is weird and unclear, while simply disallowing tracking globally would be clear. So would a setting that simply turns off all apps’ ability to track. But that’s not what we have.

Or maybe we do.

On your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings—>Privacy—>Tracking. There you will find a single OFF/ON switch to “Allow Ads to Request to Track.” By default, it is set to ON. (I called AppleCare to be sure about this. The guy I spoke to said yes, it is.) Below that setting is a bit of explanatory text with a “Learn more” link that goes to this long column of text one swipes down some number of times (four on my phone) to read:

Okay, now look in the fifth paragraph (three up from where you’re reading now). There it says that by turning the setting to OFF, “all apps…will be blocked from accessing the device’s Advertising Identifier.” Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but it seems plain to me that this will at least pre-vaporize trackers vectored on the device identifier (technically called IDFA: ID For Advertisers).

After explaining why he thinks the default setting to ON is the better choice, and why he likes it that way (e.g. he can see what apps want to track, surprisingly few do, and he knows which they are), John says this about the IDFA:

IDFA was well-intentioned, but I think in hindsight Apple realizes it was naive to think the surveillance ad industry could be trusted with anything.

And why “ask” an app not to track? Why not “tell”? Or, better yet, “Prevent Tracking By This App”? Does asking an app not to track mean it won’t?

This is Apple being honest. Apple can block apps from accessing the IDFA identifier, but there’s nothing Apple can do to guarantee that apps won’t come up with their own device fingerprinting schemes to track users behind their backs. Using “Don’t Allow Tracking” or some such label instead of “Ask App Not to Track” would create the false impression that Apple can block any and all forms of tracking. It’s like a restaurant with a no smoking policy. That doesn’t mean you won’t go into the restroom and find a patron sneaking a smoke. I think if Apple catches applications circumventing “Ask App Not to Track” with custom schemes, they’ll take punitive action, just like a restaurant might ask a patron to leave if they catch them smoking in the restroom — but they can’t guarantee it won’t happen. (Joanna Stern asked Craig Federighi about this in their interview a few weeks ago, and Federighi answered honestly.)

If Apple could give you a button that guaranteed an app couldn’t track you, they would, and they’d label it appropriately. But they can’t so they don’t, and they won’t exaggerate what they can do.

On Twitter Don Marti writes,

Unfortunately it probably has to be “ask app not to track” because some apps will figure out ways around the policy (like all mobile app store policies). Probably better not to give people a false sense of security if they are suspicious of an app

—and then points to P&G Worked With China Trade Group on Tech to Sidestep Apple Privacy Rules, subtitled “One of world’s largest ad buyers spent years building marketing machine reliant on digital user data, putting it at odds with iPhone maker’s privacy moves” in The Wall Street Journal. In it is this:

P&G marketing chief Marc Pritchard has advocated for a universal way to track users across platforms, including those run by Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, that protects privacy while also giving marketers information to better hone their messages.

Frustrated with what it saw as tech companies’ lack of transparency, P&G began building its own consumer database several years ago, seeking to generate detailed intelligence on consumer behavior without relying on data gathered by Facebook, Google and other platforms. The information is a combination of anonymous consumer IDs culled from devices and personal information that customers share willingly. The company said in 2019 that it had amassed 1.5 billion consumer identifications world-wide.

China, where Facebook and Google have a limited presence, is P&G’s most sophisticated market for using that database. The company funnels 80% of its digital-ad buying there through “programmatic ads” that let it target people with the highest propensity to buy without presenting them with irrelevant or excessive ads, P&G Chief Executive Officer David Taylor said at a conference last year.

“We are reinventing brand building, from wasteful mass marketing to mass one-to-one brand building fueled by data and technology,” he said. “This is driving growth while delivering savings and efficiencies.”

In response to that, I tweeted,

Won’t app makers find ways to work around the no tracking ask, regardless of whether it’s a global or a one-at-a-time setting? That seems to be what the
@WSJ is saying about  @ProcterGamble ‘s work with #CAID device fingerprinting.

Don replied,

Yes. Some app developers will figure out a way to track you that doesn’t get caught by the App Store review. Apple can’t promise a complete “stop this app from tracking me” feature because sometimes it will be one of those apps that’s breaking the rules

Then Augustine Fou replied,

of course, MANY ad tech companies have been working on fingerprinting for years, as a work around to browsers (like Firefox) allowing users to delete cookies many years ago. Fingerprinting is even more pernicious because it is on server-side and out of control of user entirely

That last point is why I’ve long argued that we have a fundamental problem with the client-server model itself: that it guarantees feudal systems in which clients are serfs and site operators (plus Big Tech in general) are their lords and masters. Though my original metaphor for client-server (which I have been told was originally a euphemism for slave-master) was calf-cow:

Here’s more on that one, plus some other metaphors as well:

I’ll pick up that thread after visiting what Nick says about fingerprinting:

There are countless ways that devices can be fingerprinted, and the mandated use of IDFA instead of those surreptitious methods makes it harder for ad tech companies to be sneaky. It has long been possible to turn off IDFA or reset the identifier. If it did not exist, ad tech companies would find other ways of individual tracking without users’ knowledge, consent, or control.

And why “ask” an app not to track? Why not “tell”? Or, better yet, “Prevent Tracking By This App”? Does asking an app not to track mean it won’t?

History has an answer for those questions.

Remember Do Not Track? Invented in the dawn of tracking, back in the late ’00s, it’s still a setting in every one of our browsers. But it too is just an ask — and ignored by nearly every website on Earth.

Much like Do Not Track, App Tracking Transparency is a request — verified as much as Apple can by App Review — to avoid false certainty. Tracking is a pernicious reality of every internet-connected technology. It is ludicrous to think that any company could singlehandedly find and disable all forms of fingerprinting in all apps, or to guarantee that users will not be tracked.

I agree. This too is a problem with the feudal system that the Web + app world has become, and Nick is right to point it out. He continues,

The thing that bugs me is that Searls knows all of this. He’s Doc Searls; he has an extraordinary thirteen year history of writing about this stuff. So I am not entirely sure why he is making arguments like the ones above that, with knowledge of his understanding of this space, begin to feel disingenuous. I have been thinking about this since I read this article last night and I have not come to a satisfactory realistic conclusion.

Here’s a realistic conclusion (or at least the one that’s in my head right now): I was mistaken to assume that Apple has more control here than it really does, and it’s right for all these guys (Nick, John, Augustine, Don, and others) to point that out. Hey, I gave in to wishful thinking and unconscious ad hominem argumentation. Mea bozo. I sit corrected.

He continues,

Apple is a big, giant, powerful company — but it is only one company that operates within the realities of legal and technical domains. We cannot engineer our way out of the anti-privacy ad tech mess. The only solution is regulatory. That will not guarantee that bad actors do not exist, but it could create penalties for, say, Google when it ignores users’ choices or Dr. B when it warehouses medical data for unspecified future purposes.

We’ve had the GDPR and the CCPA in enforceable forms for a while now, and the main result, for us as mere “data subjects” (GDPR) and “consumers” (CCPA) is a far worse collection of experiences in using the Web.

At this point, my faith in regulation (which I celebrated, at least in the GDPR case, before it went into force) is less than zero. So is my faith in tech, within the existing system.

So I’m moving on, and working on a new approach, outside the whole feudal system, which I describe in A New Way. It’s new, small, and local but I think it can be big and global: much bigger than the existing system, simply because we on the demand side will have better ways of informing supply (are you listening, Mark Pritchard?) than even the best surveillance systems can guess at.

This piece has had a lot of very smart push-back (and forward, but mostly back). I respond to it in Part II, here.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch Apple’s Privacy on iPhone | tracked ad. In it a guy named Felix (that’s him, above) goes from a coffee shop to a waiting room somewhere, accumulating a vast herd of hangers-on along the way. The herd represents trackers in his phone, all crowding his personal space while gathering private information about him. The sound track is “Mind Your Own Business,” by Delta 5. Lyrics:

Can I have a taste of your ice cream?
Can I lick the crumbs from your table?
Can I interfere in your crisis?

No, mind your own business
No, mind your own business

Can you hear those people behind me?
Looking at your feelings inside me
Listen to the distance between us

Why don’t you mind your own business?
Why don’t you mind your own business?

Can you hear those people behind me?
Looking at your feelings inside me
Listen to the distance between us

Why don’t you mind your own business?
Why don’t you mind your own business?

The ad says this when Felix checks his phone from the crowded room filled with people spying on his life:

Then this:

Finally, when he presses “Ask App Not to Track,” all the hangers-on go pop and turn to dust—

Followed by

Except that she gets popped too:

Meaning he doesn’t want any one of those trackers in his life.

The final image is the one at the top.

Here’s what’s misleading about this message: Felix would have had none of those trackers following him if he had gone into Settings—>Privacy—>Tracking, and pushed the switch to off, like I’ve done here:

Key fact: it is defaulted to on. Meaning Apple is not fully serious about privacy. If Apple was fully serious, your iPhone would be set to not allow tracking in the first place. All those trackers would come pre-vaporized. And Apple never would have given every iPhone an IDFA—ID For Advertisers—in the first place. (And never mind that they created IDFA back in 2013 partly to wean advertisers from tracking and targeting phones’ UDIDs (unique device IDs).

Defaulting the master Tracking setting to ON means Felix has to tap “Ask App Not To Track” for every single one of those hangers-on. Meaning that one click won’t vaporize all those apps at once. Just one at a time. This too is misleading as well as unserious.

And why “ask” an app not to track? Why not “tell”? Or, better yet, “Prevent Tracking By This App”? Does asking an app not to track mean it won’t?

History has an answer for those questions.

Remember Do Not Track? Invented in the dawn of tracking, back in the late ’00s, it’s still a setting in every one of our browsers. But it too is just an ask—and ignored by nearly every website on Earth.

Here is how the setting looks, buried deep on Google’s Chrome:

It’s hardly worth bothering to turn that on (it’s defaulted to off), because it became clear long ago that Do Not Track was utterly defeated by the adtech biz and its dependents in online publishing. The standard itself was morphed to meaninglessness at the W3C, where by the end (in 2019) it got re-branded “Tracking Preference Expression.” (As if any of us has a preference for tracking other than to make it not happen or go away.)

By the way, thanks to adtech’s defeat of Do Not Track in 2014, people took matters into their own hands, by installing ad and tracking blockers en masse, turning ad blocking, an option that had been laying around since 2004, into the biggest boycott in world history by 2015.

And now we have one large company, Apple, making big and (somewhat, as we see above) bold moves toward respecting personal privacy. That’s good as far as it goes. But how far is that, exactly? To see how far, here are some questions:

  • Will “asking” apps not to track on an iPhone actually make an app not track?
  • How will one be able to tell?
  • What auditing and accounting mechanisms are in place—on your phone, on the apps’ side, or at Apple?

As for people’s responses to Apple’s new setting, here are some numbers for a three-week time frame: April 26 to May 16. They come from FLURRY, a subsidiary of Verizon Media, which is an adtech company. I’ll summarize:

  • For “Worldwide daily op-in rate after iOS 14.5 launch across all apps,” expressed as “% of mobile active app users who allow app tracking among uses who have chosen to either allow or deny tracking” started at 11% and rose to 15%.
  • The “U.S. Daily opt-in rate after iOS launch across all apps,” expressed as “% of mobile active app users who allow app tracking among users who have chosen to either allow or deny tracking” started at 2% and rose to 6%.
  • The “Worldwide daily opt-in rate across apps that have displayed the prompt,” expressed as “% of mobile active app users who allow app tracking among users who have chosen to either allow or deny tracking” started at 31% and went down to 24%.
  • The “Worldwide daily share of mobile app users with ‘restricted’ app tracking” (that’s where somebody goes into Settings—>Privacy—>Tracking and switches off “Allow Apps to Request to Track”), expressed as “% of mobile active app users who cannot be tracked by default and don’t have a choice to select a tracking option” started and stayed within a point of 5% .
  • And the “U.S. daily share of mobile app users with ‘restricted’ app tracking,” expressed as “% of mobile active app users who cannot be tracked by default and don’t have a choice to select a tracking option” started at 4% and ended at 3%, with some dips to 2%.

Clearly tracking isn’t popular, but those first two numbers should cause concern for those who want tracking to stay unpopular. The adtech business is relentless in advocacy of tracking, constantly pitching stories about how essential tracking-based “relevant,” “personalized” and “interest-based” advertising is—for you, and for the “free” Web and Internet.

It is also essential to note that Apple does advertising as well. Here’s Benedict Evans on a slope for Apple that is slippery in several ways:

Apple has built up its own ad system on the iPhone, which records, tracks and targets users and serves them ads, but does this on the device itself rather than on the cloud, and only its own apps and services. Apple tracks lots of different aspects of your behaviour and uses that data to put you into anonymised interest-based cohorts and serve you ads that are targeted to your interests, in the App Store, Stocks and News apps. You can read Apple’s description of that here – Apple is tracking a lot of user data, but nothing leaves your phone. Your phone is tracking you, but it doesn’t tell anyone anything.

This is conceptually pretty similar to Google’s proposed FLoC, in which your Chrome web browser uses the web pages you visit to put you into anonymised interest-based cohorts without your browsing history itself leaving your device. Publishers (and hence advertisers) can ask Chrome for a cohort and serve you an appropriate ad rather than tracking and targeting you yourself. Your browser is tracking you, but it doesn’t tell anyone anything -except for that anonymous cohort.

Google, obviously, wants FLoC to be a generalised system used by third-party publishers and advertisers. At the moment, Apple runs its own cohort tracking, publishing and advertising as a sealed system. It has begun selling targeted ads inside the App Store (at precisely the moment that it crippled third party app install ads with IDFA), but it isn’t offering this tracking and targeting to anyone else. Unlike FLoC, an advertiser, web page or app can’t ask what cohort your iPhone has put you in – only Apple’s apps can do that, including the app store.

So, the obvious, cynical theory is that Apple decided to cripple third-party app install ads just at the point that it was poised to launch its own, and to weaken the broader smartphone ad model so that companies would be driven towards in-app purchase instead. (The even more cynical theory would be that Apple expects to lose a big chunk of App Store commission as a result of lawsuits and so plans to replace this with app install ads. I don’t actually believe this – amongst other things I think Apple believes it will win its Epic and Spotify cases.)

Much more interesting, though, is what happens if Apple opens up its cohort tracking and targeting, and says that apps, or Safari, can now serve anonymous, targeted, private ads without the publisher or developer knowing the targeting data. It could create an API to serve those ads in Safari and in apps, without the publisher knowing what the cohort was or even without knowing what the ad was. What if Apple offered that, and described it as a truly ‘private, personalised’ ad model, on a platform with at least 60% of US mobile traffic, and over a billion global users?…

Apple has a tendency to build up strategic assets in discrete blocks and small parts of products, and then combine them into one. It’s been planning to shift the Mac to its own silicon for close to a decade, and added biometrics to its products before adding Apple Pay and then a credit card. Now it has Apple Pay and ‘Sign in with Apple’ as new building blocks on the web, that might be combined into other things. It seems pretty obvious that Privacy is another of those building blocks, deployed step by step in lots of different places. Privacy has been good business for Apple, and advertising is a bigger business than all of those.

All of which is why I’ve lately been thinking that privacy is a losing battle on the Web. And that we need to start building a byway around the whole mess: one where demand can signal supply about exactly what it wants, rather than having demand constantly being spied on and guessed at by adtech’s creepy machinery.

Sometimes you get what you pay for.

In this case, a good microphone in a bluetooth headset.

Specifically, the Bose Soundsport Wireless:

I’ve had these a day so far, and I love them. But not just because they sound good. Lots of earphones do that. I love them because the mic in the thing is good. This is surprisingly rare.

Let’s start with the humble Apple EarPods that are overpriced at $29 but come free with every new Apple i-thing and for that reason are probably the most widely used earphones on Earth:

No, their sound isn’t great. But get this: in conversation they sound good to ears at the other end. Better, in my judgement than the fancy new AirPods. (Though according to Phil Windley in the comments below, they are good at suppressing ambient noise.) The AirPods are also better than lots of other earphones I’ve used: ones from Beats, SkullCandy, Sennheiser and plenty of other brands. (I lose and destroy earphones and headphones constantly.) In all my experience, I have have not heard any earphones or headphones that sound better than plain old EarPods. In fact I sometimes ask, when somebody sounds especially good over a voice connection, if they’re using EarPods. Very often the answer is yes. “How’d you guess?” they ask. “Because you sound unusually good.”

So, when a refurbished iPhone 7 Plus arrived to replace my failing iPhone 5s two days ago, and it came with no headphone hole (bad, but I can live), I finally decided to get some wireless earphones. So I went to Consumer Reports on the Web, printed out their ratings for Wireless Portable Stereo Headphones (alas, behind a subscription wall), went to the local Staples, and picked up a JBL E25BT for $49 against a $60 list price. I chose that one because Consumer Reports gives it a rating of 71 out of 100 (which isn’t bad, considering that 76 is the top rating for any of the 50 models on the list)—and they called it a “best buy” as well.

I was satisfied until I talked to my wife over the JBL on my new phone. “You’re muffled,” she said. Then I called somebody else. “What?” they said. “I can’t hear you.” I adjusted the mic so it was closer to my mouth. “What?” they said again. I switched to the phone itself. “That’s better.” I then plugged the old EarPods into Apple’s Lightning dongle, which I also bought at Staples for $9. “Much better.”

So the next day I decided to visit an Apple Store to see what they had, and recommended. I mean, I figured they’d have a fair chance of knowing.

“I want a good mic more than I want good sound,” I said to the guy.  “Oh,” he replied. “I shouldn’t say this because we don’t sell them; but you need a Bose. They care about mics and theirs are the best. Go to the Best Buy down the street and see what they’ve got.” So I went.

At Best Buy the guy said, “The best mic is in the Bose Soundsport Wireless.” I pulled my six-page Consumer Reports list of rated earphones out of my back pocket. There at the top of the ratings was the Soundsport. So I bought a blue one. Today I was on two long calls and both parties at the other ends said “You sound great.” One added, “Yeah, really good.” So there ya go.

I’m sure there are other models with good mics; but I’m done looking, and I just want to share what I’ve found so far—and to implore all the outfits that rate earphones and headphones with mics to rate the mics too. It’s a kindness to the people at the other end of every call.

Remember: conversations are two-way, and the person speaking has almost no idea how good they’re sounding to the other person over a mobile phone. So give the mics some weight.

And thanks, Bose. Good product.

crysalisIn The Adpocalypse: What it MeansVlogbrother Hank Green issues a humorous lament on the impending demise of online advertising. Please devote the next 3:54 of your life to watching that video, so you catch all his points and I don’t need to repeat them here.

Got them? Good.

All of Hank’s points are well-argued and make complete sense. They are also valid mostly inside the bowels of the Google beast where his video work has thrived for the duration, as well as inside the broadcast model that Google sort-of emulates. (That’s the one where “content creators” and “brands” live in some kind of partly-real and partly-imagined symbiosis.)

While I like and respect what the brothers are trying to do commercially inside Google’s belly, I also expect them, and countless other “content creators” will get partly or completely expelled after Google finishes digesting that market, and obeys its appetite for lucrative new markets that obsolesce its current one.

We can see that appetite at work now that Google Contributor screams agreement with ad blockers (which Google is also joining) and their half-billion human operators that advertising has negative value. This is at odds with the business model that has long sustained both YouTube and “content creators” who make money there.

So it now appears that being a B2B creature that sells eyeballs to advertisers is Google’s larval stage, and that Google intends to emerge from its chrysalis as a B2C creature that sells content directly to human customers. (And stays hedged with search advertising, which is really more about query-based notifications than advertising, and doesn’t require unwelcome surveillance that will get whacked by the GDPR anyway a year from now.) 

Google will do this two ways: 1) through Contributor (an “ad removal pass” you buy) and 2) through subscriptions to YouTube TV (a $35/month cable TV replacement) and/or YouTube Red ($9.99/month for “uninterrupted music, ad-free videos, and more”).

Contributor is a way for Google to raise its share of the adtech duopoly it comprises with Facebook. The two paid video offerings are ways for Google to maximize its wedge of a subscription pie also sliced up by Apple, Amazon, Netflix, HBO, ShowTime, all the ISPs and every publication you can name—and to do that before we all hit Peak Subscription. (Which I’m sure most of us can see coming. I haven’t written about it yet, but I have touched hard on it here and here.)

I hope the Vlogbrothers make money from YouTube Red once they’re behind that paywall. Or that they can sell their inventory outside all the silos, like some other creators do. Maybe they’ll luck out if EmanciPay or some other new and open customer-based way of paying for creative goods works out. Whether or not that happens, one or more of the new blockchain/distributed ledger/token systems will provide countless new ways that stuff will get offered and paid for in the world’s markets. Brave Payments is already pioneering in that space. (Get the Brave browser and give it a try.)

It helps to recognize that the larger context (in fact the largest one) is the Internet, not the Web (which sits on top of the Net), and not apps (which are all basically on loan from their makers and the distribution systems of Apple and Google). The Internet cannot be contained in, or reduced to, the feudal castles of Facebook and Google, which mostly live on the Web. Those are all provisional and temporary. Money made by and within them is an evanescent grace.

All the Net does is connect end points and pass data between them through any available path. This locates us on a second world alongside the physical one, where the distance between everything it connects rounds to zero. This is new to human experience and at least as transformative as language, writing, printing and electricity—and no less essential than any of those, meaning it isn’t going to go away, no matter how well the ISPs, governments and corporate giants succeed in gobbling up and spinctering business and populations inside their digestive tracts.

The Net is any-to-any, by any means, by design of its base protocols. This opens countless possibilities we have barely begun to explore, much less build out. It is also an experience for humanity that is not going to get un-experienced if some other base protocols replace the ones we have now.

I am convinced that we will find new ways in our connected environment to pay for goods and services, and to signal each other much more securely, efficiently and effectively than we do now. I am also convinced we will do all that in a two-party way rather than in the three-party ways that require platforms and bureaucracies. If this sounds like anarchy, well, maybe: yeah. I dunno. We already have something like that in many disrupted industries. (Some wise stuff got written about this by David Graeber in The Utopia of Rules.)

Not a day goes by that my mind isn’t blown by the new things happening that have not yet cohered into an ecosystem but still look like they can create and sustain many forms of economic and social life, new and old. I haven’t seen anything like this in tech since the late ’90s. And if that sounds like another bubble starting to form, yes it is. You see it clearly in the ICO market right now. (Look at what’s lined up so far. Wholly shit.)

But this one is bigger. It’s also going to bring down everybody whose business is guesswork filled with fraud and malware.

If you’re betting on which giants survive, hold Amazon and Apple. Short those other two.

away2remember2manytabsFor today’s entries, I’m noting which linked pieces require you to turn off tracking protection, meaning tracking is required by those publishers. I’m also annotating entries with hashtags and organizing sections into bulleted lists.

#AdBlocking and #Advertising




applebutton1The headline above came to me this morning after reading Walt Mossberg’s latest, titled The post-Jobs Apple has soared financially, but lacks a breakthrough product.

Because the main things Apple makes are extensions of ourselves. That’s what our phones and laptops have become. They are things we almost wear, like our clothing.

Is it just coincidental that Apple Stores inhabit shopping districts also populated by upscale clothing retailers? Or that Angela Ahrendts, who runs those stores, came to the company from Burberry? Or that its Watch, sold as what the fashion business calls an accessory, clearly matters far more to the company than what we used to call “peripherals” (screens, printers, drives, etc.) and that Apple hardly seems to care at all about the latter?

And is it coincidental that Apple has lately clarified how it differs from nearly every other tech company by caring almost absolutely about personal privacy?

Apple’s Jobsian obsession with design (and, one might say, fashion), while interesting, also misdirects attention away from the company’s deeper focus on enlarging its customers’ capacities in the world.

Dig this: Apple cares so much about the bodies using its products that Tim Cook recently said this to Rick Tetzeli of FastCompany: “When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”

With all that in mind, it’s easy to understand why Apple’s product lineup looks stale. Shirts, skirts and hats are stale too. They’ve also been around for thousands of years, and we’ll never stop wearing them.

It took me a long time to come to this realization. Here’s what I wrote in Apple Rot, a post here in January 2013, and repeated in Proof that Steve Jobs is dead, posted May 2014:

…look at what Apple’s got:

  • The iPhone 5 is a stretched iPhone 4s, which is an iPhone 4 with sprinkles. The 4 came out almost 3 years ago. No Androids are as slick as the iPhone, but dozens of them have appealing features the iPhone lacks. And they come from lots of different companies, rather than just one.

  • The only things new about the iPad are the retina screen (amazing, but no longer unique) and the Mini, which should have come out years earlier and lacks a retina screen.

  • Apple’s computer line is a study in incrementalism. There is little new to the laptops or desktops other than looks — and subtracted features. (And models, such as the 17″ Macbook Pro.) That goes for the OS as well.

  • There is nothing exciting on the horizon other than the hazy mirage of a new Apple TV. And even if that arrives, nothing says “old” more than those two letters: TV.

Since then Apple has come out with the Watch (points for originality with that one), introduced the hardly-seen (but cool-looking) Mac Pro (now also very stale), killed its Thunderbolt display, held its Time Capsule to a paltry (and damn near useless) 3Tb, done little to improve its AirPort Wi-Fi base stations — and has iterated its desktops and laptops so minimally that you can get along for years without a new one. Kinda like a good pair of jeans.

So maybe all that matters for Apple is that it accessorizes its customers better than everybody else.

You can hear a hint toward that from Tim Cook in this recent FastCompany report: “Our strategy is to help you in every part of your life that we can…whether you’re sitting in the living room, on your desktop, on your phone, or in your car.”

Here’s betting Apple’s announcement on Wednesday will be all about stuff meant to be a part of you. And not much that sounds like the rest of the personal computer business. (Which, we might remember, Steve Jobs pretty much invented.)

The rap on Apple for years was that it made gear just for hipsters and schools. But that’s no longer the case. yourbizhere copyIt’s kicking ass in business now too, and in a way that may end up being more dominant than IBM and Microsoft ever were.

A refresher…

From the mid-’80s to the mid-’00s, Microsoft and Windows ruled the business world. To a huge extent they still do. A Windows box is to a corporate desktop today what an IBM 3270 Display terminal was to the same in the Mainframe Age. And countless ATMs, airport displays and PoS (Point-of-Sale) systems run on Windows.

But executives like their Macs and their iOS mobiles, and both kinds of devices are now becoming common, if not quite ubiquitous, on corporate desktops, in the hands of waiters in restaurants and workers in the field — and even at PoS locations.

And Apple has the huge advantage of total vertical integration: they make and run the hardware, the software, the app platform and the company store. Not saying that’s a good thing, but it is a major thing.

The iPad Pro has the look and feel of a design machine: it’s easy to work on, especially with its Pencil, and has a beautiful screen and UI. But it’s also good just for display. And will be handy in the field both for doing business work and for showing that work off.

Any company dealing in stuff that needs to look good to B2B clients or B2C customers will find the iPad Pro is an invention that mothers necessity: now ya gotta have one. Or a few.

I mean, they’re so much better than whipping out a laptop. There’s something about opening one’s laptop for others that feels like you’re letting them into your bedroom, with all this personal stuff laying around. It’s not pretty. Or easy. Or simple. On a slab like the iPad, drilling down to the pix you want is almost artful.

Anyway, watch the space. It’s a lot bigger than it used to be.

And think twice before buying the current inaugural model. Always best to wait for the next version, which will have lots of V1bugs and design errors worked out.