Robert X. Cringely

Why Apple doesn't sell televisions

"Apple TV" parody set (semi-original art by Scott Fulton)

At least twice over the past decade Apple has been close to announcing its own television. Not the Apple TV set top box but actual big screen TVs with, well, big screens. But both times I’ve heard about this Apple backed away at the last minute. And the reason why they did was because even an Apple television would be just another television with an Apple logo. Steve Jobs realized that TVs had become a commodity and there didn’t seem to be an obvious way to make Apple’s television special.

I’m not here to say Apple has finally found its TV design path as suggested in Walter Isaacson’s book and will be doing a big screen TV after all. In fact I’m pretty sure Apple will never sell its own TVs. But I think Cupertino has finally figured out a way to grab an important and profitable part of nearly all TVs, controlling the future of video entertainment in the process.

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Amazon bookstores: It’s the drones, stupid

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Remember the motto of the Clinton Presidential campaign back in 1992: "It’s the economy, stupid!" That election was about the economy and Clinton won as a result. Well Amazon.com this week let slip its plan to open 300-400 bookstores in U.S. cities, sending Wall Street analysts into a tizzy because bookstores look to them like a lousy business even for the world’s biggest bookseller. But this isn’t about selling books. This Amazon plan -- if it happens at all -- is about creating bases from which to fly delivery drones.

Delivery drones are to me a stupid idea except in certain rare circumstances like flying prescriptions to people living on remote islands. But Amazon is acting like it actually means it. And if it does mean it, then it’ll need a place from which to fly those drones.

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Personal computers approach retirement age

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My birthday was this past week. When I came to Silicon Valley in 1977 I was 24 years old. Thirty-nine years later I am 63 and a lot changed around me in those four decades. I went from young to old. The personal computer industry, of which I consider myself to be a part, went from being two years old to 41 -- an even greater change than I have experienced.

And the point of this column is to write a bit about how personal computers have matured and where they are going, because I am pretty sure the PC is going away. And I have figured out why.

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Final Prediction #10: Apple will buy Dish Network

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A third of the people who read this column don’t live in the USA so maybe this prediction isn’t interesting to them, but I think Apple will buy Dish Network, the American direct satellite TV broadcaster. It’s the only acquisition that will give Apple the kind of entry point they want into the TV business, allowing Cupertino to create overnight an over-the-top (OTT) Internet streaming video service -- effectively an Internet cable system.

Buying Dish would be a bold move for Apple because all the benefits Cupertino seeks aren’t obviously available. True, Dish has 14 million U.S. subscribers (I am one of those) who get 100+ channels of TV from the sky. True, Dish has an existing OTT streaming service called Sling that already offers a subset of the company’s cable channels. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that Dish could simply transfer its satellite content to the Internet, at least beyond what it does already with Sling.

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Prediction #9: Intel starts to become irrelevant

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I know I promised that my next 2016 prediction would be Apple’s big acquisition, and I will publish that prediction soon as my #10, but right now I just have to say what a perilous position Intel is in. The company truly risks becoming irrelevant, which is an odd thing to say about a huge, rich outfit that would appear from the outside to pretty much dominate its industry -- an industry the company created. Intel won’t go away, I just think there is a very good chance it’ll no longer matter.

We’re approaching the end of the closed, proprietary, single source technology era. ARM processors are freely licensed, more open, and much more cost competitive than similar products from Intel or AMD. If you need 10 million chips for your next product do you buy them from Intel? Or do you get a license from ARM and hire a foundry to make them for you?

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Lost Prediction #4 -- My Steve Jobs movie returns to Netflix

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At least one reader pointed out that I somehow missed 2016 Prediction #4, so let me throw something in right here. Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview will shortly return to Netflix worldwide!

Our movie was on Netflix in the USA and Canada for a couple of years (it’s still streaming on Netflix in the UK) but the North American deal ended sometime in November when rights reverted from Magnolia Pictures back to John Gau Productions. The film had already disappeared from iTunes and Amazon, etc., but we hadn’t noticed because, well, Magnolia didn’t bother to mention it and we’re only pretending to be movie producers.

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Prediction #8: Apple WILL NOT buy Time Warner

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If my last prediction about the Internet of Things becoming a security nightmare seemed a no-brainer to half of my readers, as some commenters suggested, this prediction that Apple won’t buy Time Warner will probably be a no-brainer for the other half, simply because it is always easier to say an acquisition or merger won’t happen than that it will. But I think there is something to be learned from why I don’t think this acquisition will take place -- something that says a lot about Apple as a company.

That this topic comes up at all is because, as frequently happens these days, activist investors are trying to bully Time Warner into selling all or part of itself, this after having already bullied the company into spinning-off its cable TV operation and then its print publishing operation. So now what’s mainly left at Time Warner are cable TV networks, TV and film production and distribution, and a modest online operation. All of this, but especially premium cable channel HBO, is supposed to appeal to Apple’s eye for quality.

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Prediction #7: Internet of Things becomes a security nightmare

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This one is simple -- a confluence of anti-hacking paranoia combined with the Internet of Things (IoT), which will lead to any number of really, really bad events in 2016.

Remember how the CIA or the NSA or whatever agency it was hacked a few years ago the Iranian nuclear centrifuges making enriched uranium? The centrifuges updated their software over the Internet, loading doctored code that eventually caused the machines to overspeed and shake themselves to pieces, putting the Iranian nuclear program months or years behind.

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Predictions 5 & 6: Drones and driverless cars? Not this year

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When it comes to predictions it is often easiest just to take some really popular new technology and point out the obvious time it will take to be actually adopted. You could say I’m doing that here with drone deliveries and driverless cars, but I like to think my value-added is explaining why these will take so much longer than some people expect.

Amazon.com has been making a lot of noise about using small helicopter drones to deliver packages. I’m not here to say this is an impossible task or that drones won’t at some point be used for this purpose, but what I am saying is that it won’t happen this year, won’t happen next year, and in any true volume won’t happen even five or 10 years from now.

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Predictions #2 (and 3?): Microsoft and Apple hit walls

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It isn’t easy being huge as both Apple and Microsoft are starting to realize. Both companies are incredibly successful and I’m not here to say either is in real danger, but both are suffering major structural challenges that will hurt them in 2016. What’s key for these predictions is how they respond.

I’ll deal with Microsoft first because there the challenges and solutions are both clearer than they are with Apple. I’ve been very impressed with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who I think hasn’t saved the company, because it didn’t need saving, but he’s a real improvement over Steve Ballmer. Nadella has done the best he can to get Microsoft in order and reinvigorated, not an easy job. His major remaining challenges involve Windows Phone and Windows 10.

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2016 Prediction #1 -- Beginning of the end for engineering workstations

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First a look at my predictions from one year ago and how they appear in the light of today:

Prediction #1 -- Everyone gets the crap scared out of them by data security problems. Go to the original column (link just above) to read the details of this and all the other 2015 predictions but the gist of it was that 2015 would be terrible for data security and the bad guys would find at least a couple new ways to make money from their hobby. I say I got this one right -- one for one.

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Welcome to 2016 predictions week!

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Readers love predictions so for 15 years or so I’ve been making lots of them during the first full week of each new year. The first time I did a predictions column it was because I couldn’t think of anything else to write about that day and the reaction from readers was so strong that I’ve been stuck doing them ever since. What started as one column per year filled with about 10 predictions has expanded over time to as many as 10 separate predictions columns because as I age I am becoming ever more long-winded. Sorry. It’s reached the point this year where this introductory column won’t even contain predictions, just a guide to the several columns that will follow in the next few days.

They will begin, of course, with a look back at my predictions from a year ago to see how smart or stupid I was. Historically I’ve been about 70 percent smart and 30 percent stupid in my predictions with that number more or less dependent on how vague I can be. Sorry again.

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My fridge is listening to me

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It seems oddly fitting that this week -- a week scarred by the bizarre and violent mass murder in San Bernardino -- that I received a LinkedIn invitation to connect with someone who listed this as their job description:

Install, maintain, and repair GPS, Wi-Fi, and security camera systems on tour buses. In 2010, working with grant money from Homeland Security, I installed security systems on a fleet of tour buses and I have been maintaining those systems since then. In 2011, I helped install multi-language listening systems on tour buses and have been the lead maintenance technician. Currently, I am project manager for upgrading a fleet of 50 tour buses with new GPS systems using Homeland Security grant monies. This requires coordinating with engineers of service providers to solve unusual, complex problems.

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Soylent Green -- Now made with more women!

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Soylent Green is the punchline of a bad joke told to me at the breakfast table by Channing, my 13 year-old son, but in a way it is fitting for this column about women executives in danger of being chewed-up by their corporate machines. And kudos to you if you caught the reference to Edward G. Robinson’s final film -- about an over-populated world where people are recycled into cookies.

First up is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, whom I’m told is rapidly losing the support of her hand-picked board. Mayer, who is expecting twins, will probably not be returning from her upcoming maternity leave and Wall Street has begun speculating about possible successors.

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Amazon’s cloud monopoly

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Earlier this year two different research reports came out describing the overall cloud computing market and Amazon’s role in it. Synergy Research Group saw Amazon as by far the biggest player (bigger in fact than the next four companies combined) with about 30 percent market share. But Gartner, taking perhaps a more focused view of just the public cloud, claimed Amazon holds 82 percent of the market with cloud capacity that’s 10 times greater than all the other public cloud providers combined. I wonder how these disparate views can be possible describing the same company? And I wonder, further, whether this means Amazon actually has a cloud monopoly?

Yup, it’s a monopoly.

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