Thursday, July 26, 2012

Riches Made them Dumb?

I basically agree with Jeff Bakalar’s lukewarm assessment of Mountain Lion in yesterday afternoon’s column for CNET Update. However, we definitely differ over criteria. Bakalar is disappointed by “a lackluster gamecenter and a dictation feature that requires an internet connection.” I could care less about games; and, while I can believe that voice recognition is likely to take too much out of most local machines, I am not convinced that connecting to a remote server is going to make it any better. Meanwhile, the amusement factor of getting Siri to say stupid things seems to be wearing off; and I am not sure it will catch on with those in the non-mobile world.

Bakalar counts cloud functionality as one of the great assets. I cannot buy this. I have yet to trust any of my writing to the cloud, particularly when it is in draft form. Most important is that I worry about getting to it when I have suddenly been hit by a flash of insight requiring my updating one of those drafts. Murphy’s Law predicts that cloud response will be sluggish (if at all) during such periods of urgency; and Apple just does not have the track record to convince me that their infrastructure software will be up to this kind of challenge.

This brings me to my major disagreement with Bakalar, regarding what he calls “useful updates to some core apps.” Thus far my biggest beef is that Apple took a barely manageable iCal and made it worse by peeling off Reminders as separate software. I suppose that both Bakalar and everyone working at Apple uses Outlook for time management, so this may be a matter of colluding with Microsoft to get more Mac users to go over to their product. It may work. The fact is that the old iCal offered a passable display of what you needed to know at the beginning of each day. This has been relegated to an unwieldy display that now shoves your working area off the screen in Dashboard style. It would not surprise me to learn that no one at Apple has ever bothered to study how iCal is actually used on Macs and simply wants things to look more like they do on an iPhone.

This has led me to reconsider that great 1984 commercial heralding the “first coming” of the Mac. We no longer have a vast audience of mindless zombies staring at a big-screen image of Big Brother. The zombies are still there, but now they are all staring at their personal iPhones and iPads. Were the girl with the sledge hammer to appear, they would never notice her, let alone her revolutionary action.

I am also reminded of the song lyrics that Maria Irene Fornes wrote for the musical Promenade. In particular, I think of the ostinato on the text:
Riches make you dumb.
Apple has become very rich, so much so that shareholders now start to worry when the quarterly numbers do not grow fast enough. Wealth has come from “pushing” (in the addicts’ sense of the word) mobile products with great success, while ignoring the rest of the user community. Has Apple’s riches made them dumb?

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