Apple, Internet and the constant new normal

wtf

Of all the books I have read, there are two that stand out, not because they were the most well written or perhaps the most famous. They are two books that made me view the world with a fresh perspective.

When I was reading The Number by Alex Berenson, it became pretty obvious that the curse of quarterly results is leading to short-term thinking and will be the undoing of the pursuit of big ideas by large companies. That book explains a lot of the problems encountered by the incumbents in today’s fast-changing world.

The second book that I often go back to is The New Normal by Roger McNamee, a longtime technology investor in both public and private markets. McNamee might have become a punch line in Silicon Valley (thanks to his ill-timed bet on Palm), but when it comes to big-picture thinking there aren’t that many who allow themselves to think freely. In his book McNamee argues that we are in a new era and as a result shouldn’t be thinking about the past. Rather, we should face up to what he calls the “new normal.”

McNamee’s argument aligns with my own belief that if you walk looking backward, you are going to run into a pole. Instead, look back, only to see how far you have come. As a chronicler of technology, one of the biggest lessons I have learned is that innovation is almost always unpredictable — in size, timing, scope and impact. In other words, the business of technology is constantly defining what is the new normal. In case you were wondering why I am bringing this up, I will point to some stories I read this week.

An Apple a day . . .

Earlier this month, Apple announced what are essentially mind-boggling financial results for the holiday quarter ending Dec. 31, 2011. The iPhone maker surpassed even its own very generous targets and in the process has confounded its critics and champions, especially in the professional investor community, with a financial performance bettered only by a handful of oil and energy monopolies’.

No one was expecting it. Forget that: No one was daring to imagine it. Why were these professionals unable to make even a prediction of Apple’s success? Because they were always looking back, looking at Apple’s history and listening to the rhetoric of Apple’s rivals and thus making a prediction. I mean, how can Apple, which blew its lead in the PC business and fell by the wayside, do things differently? It couldn’t have learned from those mistakes, right?

No one wants to think about the fact that Apple, like Gucci and BMW, has achieved what I call “aspirational escape velocity.” If the Chinese are ready to line up for a product (the iPhone 4S) and pay a premium for it, even though it is likely that a cousin was involved in assembling it, something must be going right. So why is it then that buying an Apple product like an iPhone or an iPad is the new normal?

Reimagine

Why are we surprised that Apple and Samsung are seeing such huge demand? How hard is it for us to imagine that the cell phone — even an expensive smartphone — is more necessary than, say, a computer was twenty years ago?

Why is it hard to imagine that the world is one giant mesh, and marketing messages from one end of the Earth do indeed have an impact across the planet? If you take that into account then Apple selling more than 40 million iPhones in three months is not as crazy as it seems.

Earlier this month, web measurement and analytics company comScore reported that Pinterest, a tiny company based in Silicon Valley, is now the tenth-largest social platform, with billions of page views.

It propelled itself into a group that included Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Amazing isn’t it, considering that the service is still at an invite-only stage?

But it shouldn’t be surprising. Remember, with every passing year, the metabolism of the technology industry has increased. It took Yahoo more than a decade to blow past 500 million users. Facebook will hit the billion mark in six years.

What seems incredulous incredible today is par for the course tomorrow. I remember the novelty of email. And now I deal with the nightmare of email. I remember the initial thrill of the instant message, and now I live with its constant interruption. Technology is, and will always be, redefining our future.

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