What it means to marry technology and the humanities.
“… the season
Wherein the spirits hold their wont to walk
the fruitful matrix of Ghosts …”
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Steve Jobs died a year ago October 5th, and we can expect his ghost to appear in any number of recollections and assessments as the anniversary approaches.
I’d like to talk here about a spirit that Jobs carried within himself. It’s a spirit he relied on for inspiration, although he seemed at times to have lost track of its whisper. In any event, what it says can tell us a lot about our relationship to machines.
I refer to the spirit of Romanticism. I spent much of this past summer reading about the Romantics — the original Romantics, that is, of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries — and it’s remarkable how closely their most cherished beliefs correspond to principles that Jobs considered crucial to his success at Apple.
What Apple does that other companies don’t, Jobs often said, is infuse the technologies it produces with human values. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” he said during one of his famous product introductions. “We believe that it’s technology married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”
Jobs can be forgiven for never getting very specific about what he meant by marrying technology to the humanities. It’s by definition a subject that’s hard to pin down, though not especially hard to understand. Basically he was saying that Apple’s products have soul and that people are attracted to those products because they can feel that soul, both consciously and unconsciously. These are things the Romantics thought about a lot.
That the creative artist can bring life to inanimate objects was a central conviction of the Romantic poets. (I’m speaking of the thrust of the Romantic movement in general; individuals within the movement disagreed on specific issues.) For them, the inanimate object in question was words; for Jobs, it was technology, but the basic point — that a work of art, properly executed, carries within it an invisible, living essence — was the same. Devoid of this essence, said Samuel Taylor Coleridge, what’s produced is as lifeless as the “cold jelly” of a corpse. Read more…
No NFC for iPhone 5 but it still might solve a problem. Plus a look at the mobile payment quagmire.
Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.
So that’s that: No NFC for the iPhone 5
Leading up to yesterday’s Apple event, there was much rumor mongering over whether or not the iPhone 5 would include NFC technology. The rumors have now been resolved: Apple did not include NFC in the iPhone 5. All Things Digital’s Ina Fried talked with Apple’s Phil Schiller about the lacking technology:
“Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller said that Passbook alone does what most customers want and works without existing merchant payment systems. It’s not clear that NFC is the solution to any current problem, Schiller said. ‘Passbook does the kinds of things customers need today’.”
Schiller’s sentiments echoed those made by Square COO Keith Rabois last year, that NFC is “a technology in search of a value proposition.” Cotton Delo at AdAge reported on Apple’s decision to forego NFC and side step the mobile wallet arena and noted that it’s not likely to have any ill effects on the mobile shopping ecosystem, as there is plenty of competition in the space to advance mobile wallet technology.
All the same, advancement in technology doesn’t necessarily translate into ubiquitous adoption, and the decision not to include the technology could have ramifications beyond mobile payments. Ryan Kim at GigaOm argues that Apple’s “snub” was a big detriment for NFC, that including it on “the most popular phone” would have educated consumers and brought a level of validation the technology hasn’t yet experienced. Kim also highlights the bigger issue:
“NFC is much more than just payments and can facilitate personal media and information sharing, building access, marketing and easy Bluetooth pairing. Google, BlackBerry, Nokia and Samsung have all shown different ways in which NFC can be used. But without many common applications that can work between those devices, there’s fewer chances for people to really adopt the technology. With a new iPhone likely to be a best seller, there would have been a lot of ways for people to get acquainted with NFC-actions. Now, the promise of NFC will still struggle to be fulfilled for at least another year.”
Google gears up to compete with Apple, a look at the effect of technology on currency, and a wallet competition roundup.
Here are a few stories from the commerce space that caught my attention this week.
Google prepares its Wallet to compete with iOS 6
Robin Dua, Google’s head of product management for Google Wallet, participated in a video interview (embedded below) this week to talk about Wallet features and plans. Technology reporter Cromwell Schubarth notes in a post at Silicon Valley Biz Blog that the future plans for Google Wallet look a lot like Apple’s newly announced Passbook that’s due to release in iOS 6 this fall. Schubarth quotes Dua:
“‘One of the types of things we’re trying to do is make it easy for airlines, transit providers, and other types of issuers of credentials to make it super simple for them to get their credentials stored in the wallet,’ Dua said. ‘That’s the goal. We want you to be able to leave your leather wallet at home and carry your phone and transact with that as your primary transaction device.”
Open Invention Network plans to mine open source projects for patent busters
Patent ambushes are on the rise again, and cases such as Apple/Samsung shows that prior art really has to swing the decision–obviousness or novelty is not a strong enough defense. Obviousness and novelty are subjective decisions made by a patent examiner, judge, or jury.
In this context, a recent conversation I had with Keith Bergelt, Chief Executive Officer of the Open Invention Network takes on significance. OIN was formed many years ago to protect the vendors, developers, and users of Linux and related open source software against patent infringement. They do this the way companies prepare a defense: accumulating a portfolio of patents of their own.
Apple to buy AuthenTec, PayPal teams up with a newspaper, and Google puts its Wallet in the cloud.
Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.
Apple looking to secure NFC?
Further fueling the rumors the next gen iPhone will include NFC (there hardly seems to be much doubt at this point), Apple announced this week that it will shell out more than $350 million to buy AuthenTec, a technology company that, as Poornima Gupta and Sinead Carew at Reuters describe, “provides mobile security software licenses to companies like Samsung, and fingerprint sensor technology to computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard Co and Dell Inc.”
As with most things Apple, much speculation ensued as to what this pending purchase will mean for the next iPhone. As noted in the post at Reuters, AuthenTec’s fingerprint sensors are used in mobile phones in Japan to authenticate mobile payments. Erica Ogg at GigaOm runs through the evidence pointing to a pending “iWallet,” including: the launch of Passbook; the 400 million credit cards stored in iTunes; and the fact that “[o]ne of [AuthenTec’s] key products is an NFC chip with on-chip encryption, which is designed specifically for mobile payments.” Ogg notes that it’s possible Apple purchased the company so its competitors couldn’t, but points out that “AuthenTec is considered a leader in the secure mobile payments field.”
After the recent NFC hacking demonstration at Black Hat, Apple’s intended acquisition of AuthenTec has also fueled speculation that Apple is looking to provide a level of NFC security that nobody else has. Ian Paul at PCWorld points out that “AuthenTec’s expertise could help Apple bolster the security of any NFC feature it implements. This would also make the iPhone and iPad more appealing to security-conscious IT managers at large corporations.”
Mobile payment conjecture aside, Maribel Lopez at Forbes argues that, sure, Apple could use this company’s technology to help advance the “stalled” mobile payment market in the U.S., but the potential of the technology goes far beyond a mobile wallet. Lopez points out it can be used to manage and verify digital identities, a function that, she argues, will become an inherent part of daily life as services become “people-centric, but device and network agnostic”:
“The future is contextual identity that will be based on multiple factors, including location, device, username/password and possibly biometric authentication. … Fingerprinting recognition in Apple devices could unlock a new age of usability where each user’s preferences and customization could be retrieved by simply pressing a finger on a screen. This could also be combined with the next generation of Siri to enable seamless navigation with voice. The post-PC world needs a new set of navigation and identity tools. It’s clear that Apple is trying to build this via home grown products and strategic acquisitions.”
Lopez’s piece is this week’s recommended read — you can read it in its entirety here.
A brand-agnostic mobile wallet gets $12 million, an argument that mobile will revolutionize retail, and Apple gets an iTravel patent.
White label mobile wallet platform Paydiant gets Series B funding, PayAnywhere’s CEO argues mobile is the biggest thing to hit retail since Visa, and Apple’s (presumed) inclusion of NFC may not (initially) be used for a mobile wallet. (Commerce Weekly is produced as part of a partnership between O’Reilly and PayPal.)
Clint Greenleaf on the challenges of working with and competing against Amazon.
In this TOC podcast, Greenleaf Book Group founder and CEO Clint Greenleaf shares a unique perspective on working with and competing against Amazon. He also addresses the DOJ lawsuit and offers thoughts on the future of ereaders.
TiVo and PayPal get into couch commerce, hints of Sprint's NFC wallet, and Apple's got a lot of credit cards.
TiVo and PayPal hope consumers will shop from the couch, Sprint wants its own wallet, and Apple has 400 million active accounts. (Commerce Weekly is produced as part of a partnership between O'Reilly and PayPal.)
Why Apple and others could choose Bluetooth over NFC, NFC is too slow for the Tube, and PayPal expands its point of sale.
An analyst says Bluetooth may be a better option than NFC for Apple, NFC isn't quite working for the London Tube, and PayPal gets more partners and a new payment app. (Commerce Weekly is produced as part of a partnership between O'Reilly and PayPal.)
Amazon pitches Kindle Fire home screen ads, Apple says DOJ complaint is "fundamentally flawed," and Craig Mod muses on covers.
Amazon is reportedly peddling new ad space on its Kindle Fire home screen, Apple responds to the DOJ, and Craig Mod says its time to hack digital book covers.