George Colony, CEO of tech-industry consultant Forrester, emailed first thing Monday to ask if I’d read The Wall Street Journal’s outstanding piece about Jony Ive’s slow-motion exit from Apple. Indeed I had. (I recommend you do too, if you missed it in yesterday's Data Sheet links.) And, without having to ask, I knew what was on Colony’s mind.
As I’ve written before, he and I have been shadow boxing for years now about Apple. It began when he challenged a central thesis of my 2012 book, Inside Apple, which stated that while Apple no longer would be “insanely great,” it would continue to be merely great, a nifty feat. Colony has contended that innovation died at Apple when Steve Jobs did and that the company never would be the same.
The Journal article, which portrayed design genius Ive as an increasingly distant and absent Apple leader, provided confirmation for Colony. It has now been nine years since Apple’s last truly breakthrough product, the iPad. And the article had some nice color on tension over the Apple Watch, which Ive saw as a luxury item and Tim Cook sees as an extension of the cash-generating iPhone.
I never quibbled with Colony’s contention that Apple wouldn’t innovate at the same level as it had. What company could? Successfully growing to a trillion dollars in market capitalization without the wheels coming off was an achievement in its own right. Thus began our short e-debate Monday:
Me: “I think enough time has passed now for us both to pat ourselves on the back for having successfully made our points, no?”
Colony: “As is typical, I was right in the long-term, but wrong in the short-term. But Forrester gets paid for being right in the long-term. You were right in the short term, and that’s what Fortune readers require. So we were both serving our customers! No one is guilty of blowing it at Apple – the company lost a “once-every-hundred-years” leader – no one could have replaced him. And Tim has done an admirable job of caretaking and extending the Jobs inventions. But this brand’s customers demand and will ultimately require real innovation – or they will begin to peel off. Apple’s board has to get the next CEO right.”
Me: “Agreed all.”
Four long years ago Dan Primack interviewed now business partners Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta at Brainstorm Tech in Aspen. It’s a riveting and highly relevant interview today, especially if you’re interested in streaming, Spotify, or Taylor Swift.
More than a quibble. You know who else has read that Journal piece about Jony Ive? Apple CEO Tim Cook. And he was not impressed. “The story is absurd,” Cook emailed NBC News. “A lot of the reporting, and certainly the conclusions, just don’t match with reality.” But when one door criticizing a tech giant closes, another opens. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight program on HBO ripped working conditions at Amazon warehouses in its latest episode.
Hope I can help the ball club. As we’re seeing, it’s open season on big tech, so you will not be surprised to learn that the Retail Industry Leaders Association, an industry group including Walmart and Target, wants to offer evidence about those online rivals to antitrust regulators. “We are here to help,” one association exec said. I bet you are.
Cheaper by the dozen. The cable-like online bundles of TV channels continue to rise in price. Latest price hiker? Sony says it is raising the cost of its PlayStation Vue service by $5 to $50 per month.
Wake up call. Meditation and sleep app Calm raised $27 million of venture capital in a deal that valued the startup at $1 billion, the same valuation as its prior February fundraising.
Open spaces. Real estate giant Equinix is teaming up with Singapore’s GIC sovereign-wealth fund in a nearly $1 billion joint venture to build six, massive cloud computing centers in Europe. The aim is to lease the space to cloud services like Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure.
ON THE MOVE
The head of production at Tesla’s Fremont factory, Peter Hochholdinger, is leaving for electric car startup Lucid Motors to lead global manufacturing operations…Brian Benedik, vice president and global head of ad sales at Spotify is departing after the summer. No replacement has been named yet…Legal technology company Relativity announced that former LinkedIn executive Mike Gamson has become the new CEO effective July 1st. Prior CEO and founder of Relativity, Andrew Sieja, moved into the role of executive chairman…Ustwo Games, developer of beloved iPhone game Monument Valley, brought in Maria Sayans as its first CEO. Sayans was previously a senior marketing director at Electronic Arts and chief customer officer at CCP Games.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
When politicians call for new laws regulating big tech companies, the companies push back–as Facebook vice president Nick Clegg did last week–warning about the harm to innovation. Harvard Business School professor emerita and author Shoshana Zuboff offers some push back on the push back in an essay for The Guardian with the sharp headline: “It’s not that we’ve failed to rein in Facebook and Google. We’ve not even tried.” The prof draws historical analogies to the Gilded Age, when the titans of industry claimed to be regulated by the “laws of capital.” She explains:
At the grassroots, systems are designed to evade individual awareness, undermining human agency, eliminating decision rights, diminishing autonomy and depriving us of the right to combat. The big picture reveals extreme concentrations of knowledge and power. Surveillance capitalists know everything about us, but we know little about them. Their knowledge is used for others’ interests, not our own. Surveillance capitalism thrives in the absence of law. In a way, this is good news. We have not failed to rein in this rogue capitalism; we’ve not yet tried. More good news: our societies successfully confronted destructive forms of capitalism in the past, asserting new laws that tethered capitalism to the real needs of people. Democracy ended the Gilded Age. We have every reason to believe that we can be successful again.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Microsoft Is Pressing Delete on Customers’ Digital Bookshelves By Alyssa Newcomb
BEFORE YOU GO
When last we touched on Oumuamua, the puzzling interstellar object that passed through our solar system in 2017, a Harvard astronomer was hypothesizing that it might be some kind of alien technological device. Well, no. A panel of 14 experts has concluded that the object’s movements were consistent with the behavior of typical comets and asteroids. “The alien spacecraft hypothesis is a fun idea, but our analysis suggests there is a whole host of natural phenomena that could explain it,” the group concluded.