Give it to Apple; the company knows showmanship. Unveiling its new smartwatch and iPhone at a trademark grand press conference —— complete with a performance by rock band U2 — gave the impression that the company was again at the cutting edge of innovation.
As an engineer, I can say that, well, I liked the U2 performance.
The truth is that great marketing is no substitute for great engineering — as Jennifer Lawrence and all of the other stars whose digital photo albums were hacked would probably agree. There is a lot of great engineering out there, and any company that wants to keep its reputation as an innovator is going to have to fight hard for it.
Our digital world is changing so rapidly that one company overtakes another before anyone notices. For consumers, this is fantastic for features, styles, and security.
One news story on Apple’s big iPhone and Apple Watch reveal said right at the top: “Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook seeks to revive the technology company’s reputation as a wellspring of innovation.” That had to hurt, but all tech executives know that no one company is going to be left alone at the top of the innovation pyramid for long. He who innovates best will last longest.
Take the case of the celebrity photo hacking. The stealing of photos by breaking into user iCloud and iPhone accounts is just the kind of event that can turn a company’s fortunes. Just days before its new iPhone launch, Apple announced that scores of celebrity accounts had been hacked, but it assured customers that there was no iPhone or iCloud security flaw.
Nonetheless, a lot of people started to wonder about their data storage options. Could their pictures be that easily hacked on other brands of phones? How safe is their information — bank account passwords, photo albums, social media login info? This was not the best environment in which to unveil a new in-phone payment system, as Apple did. A hip phone is great, but not if it costs you your privacy.
That is how BlackBerry has held onto so many government and corporate accounts as other manufacturers attracted hip, young consumers. Its security features were, and still are, considered very strong. When hackers ravaged Sony’s computer system, the company broke out a batch of old BlackBerries to put together a makeshift, but secure, system to keep operating.
Now others are knocking on BlackBerry’s castle gates. Samsung spent four years developing its Knox security system, and the research has paid off in new government accounts, including the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security. Suddenly, BlackBerry is being seriously challenged in its last remaining stronghold.
That raises the question: What happens to Apple if its users come to doubt the security of their data as BlackBerry’s users came to doubt the functionality of their devices? The easy backdoor access to user accounts through iCloud remains a serious concern. If you cannot satisfy customers’ needs, they will go elsewhere. Just ask Hewlett-Packard, which lost a ton of money with its purchase of once-dominant PalmPilot right as smartphones were taking off.
How easy it is to forget that before there were smartphones there were these things called personal digital assistants, the PalmPilot being the perfect example. People needed both hands so they could use the stylus to clumsily communicate with the thick, bulky device. Good luck if you lost your stylus. Now we can store all that information in a wristwatch, which doubles as a phone. I say “now” because we do not have to wait for Apple’s new watch to hit stores. Samsung is on the sixth version of its smartwatch, and the latest version does not need to be used in conjunction with a phone, as the Apple Watch does.
The company considered today’s leading tech gadget innovator is actually playing catch-up now — finally releasing a smartwatch and a phone with a large screen (a “phablet”), which several competitors such as HTC, LG and Samsung have had released for a couple of years. It seems like only yesterday when everyone was trying to catch up with Apple. Now Apple is trying to catch up with others who adapted more quickly to rapidly changing consumer demand.
In the tech world, there are a lot of highly innovative, nimble companies that spend fortunes on research and development so they can survive in the hypercompetitive marketplace. Brand loyalty is not like it was when our parents stuck with, say, Chevy or Ford for decades. He who does not employ the best engineers and put them to the best uses will soon see a rival zooming ahead. And that is good for you and me. Who wants to be stuck using the last decade’s technology when there are companies eager to give us the next?
Matt Kayrish is a former patent examiner with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is based in Olathe.