June 13, 2013
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It’s Not The Surface

Almost all reaction to this week’s new Apple announcements has been about graphic design. It’s literally superficial. We’ve heard a lot about font choice and color palette.

That’s the surface, and the surface doesn’t matter to you and me. It matters to Apple, because some people buy phones the way they buy jewelry, and Apple needs to impress them, too. But you and I have work to do. What matters in an operating system is, simply, how it operates. What services does it provide to your applications? Are those services easy to use? How many advanced degrees do you need to get stuff done?

And, most significantly, when someone else does something wrong, how badly will your application be hit?

The big difference between iOS and Android revolves around different philosophies of law enforcement. Apple has stringent regulations and fences off lots of risky behavior. For example, your application must always be ready to respond to the operating system police immediately, whatever else it’s doing. You’ve got three seconds, top. You’re busy? Tough. The operating system police looks at you, you answer “Hello there, officer!” right quick, or it’s off to the pokey for you.

This is often a pain in the neck. It makes some things impossible, and it makes some things difficult. But it also means that you don’t need to worry that some other app is going to swerve into your lane. That other app might be crazy, or it might be misguided, or it might be some kid at the NSA: doesn’t matter. It’s not eating your time or your battery.

The big news might not even be the new operating systems. What’s going on with that Mac Pro. It’s got an intriguing physical design. It actually exists, which is interesting itself: Apple is effectively reentering what we used to call the workstation market. Oh, and it’s going to be built in the USA.

Why build in the US? Politics, perhaps, and PR. Maybe. But I don’t buy it. Apple’s built a supply chain in China. Apple’s incredibly good at managing it.

There are two reasons to move production to the US:

When Timbuk2 makes computer bags in San Francisco, they’re doing it to your specifications and they’re sewing it here because it’s faster to make your bag here than to send the specs to China, explain what you wanted to a Chinese seamstress, and then ship the bag back. Even there, it’s a close call: when Eastgate ordered a rush batch of custom USB sticks last month, the sales organization was in Pennsylvania and their art desk was in New York, but the sticks shipped from Shenzen. And when Timbuk2 wants a bunch of identical bags, they run them up in China, too.

The story with the Mac Pro, I think, has got to be faster model revision: getting new chips into production with less delay. Customization makes less sense: potential Mac Pro users are accustomed to doing their own customization under the rubric of “expansion.”