From Evans’ “A decade of the Tim Cook machine” posted Tuesday to subscribers of Benedict’s Newsletter:
Looking back over the enthusiasms, arguments and panics around tech in the past few years, I sometimes think that Apple is the $2tn elephant in the corner, mostly silent and serenely indifferent to the news cycle. It doesn’t worry about the “metaverse”, content moderation or hacked elections, and newspaper companies haven’t worked out how to shake it down. It just ships.
Every year, with metronomic precision, it delivers another new set of hardware and software, and another set of technology building blocks that fit into a decade-long strategic plan. Never mind Apple in the 1990s — Microsoft in the 1990s could never manage this. Every year a whole new phone arrives, exactly on schedule, keeping or leading the pace for the entire industry, and then ships in the hundreds of millions of units, machined out of aluminum and stainless steel, at a 40 per cent gross margin. This is very hard…
Apple’s scale comes with a business model that sets it aside from many of the more difficult choices in tech. If you don’t have a search engine or a social network and messed up your attempt at an ad business, it’s easier to say you won’t try to work out what people are interested in. You’re also free to treat privacy as merely an engineering challenge, much like security or performance, and to sell it as a feature. That’s not to say that Apple isn’t sincere when it says that “privacy is a fundamental human right” — indeed, Tim Cook, despite his public persona as a bland supply-chain engineer whose secret pleasure is an extra energy bar, has used Apple’s voice for social causes far more than Steve Jobs ever did. But if you’ve spent a decade making Apple the privacy company, that makes it easier to sell a credit card, or (one day) a pair of glasses with built-in AI-powered cameras. Privacy is another building block.
Apple’s sometimes rather pious public stance on privacy can raise hackles in parts of Silicon Valley, especially when those privacy features are not available to its Chinese customers (a choice it did have to make). But the fight in most minds this autumn is the App Store, where Apple insists on a 30 per cent fee for many kinds of content, and on controlling what apps you can install. There are two sides to this, both strong, but it seems clear that Apple will lose the 30 per cent, in some form… There’s a lawsuit here as well, from the US Department of Justice, but combined, that $25bn just happens to match Netflix’s entire business. Apple is a big company, and the legal challenges, so far, can look small.
My take: Evans is always insightful, but his insights don’t always cohere. At least for me.