Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Ode to Apple

Reams will be written, songs sung and billions made.

Apple will laugh all the way to the banks, as we queue up for a last swipe of a physical credit card at an Apple store to buy the latest of Apple ware.
Apple will now open our hotel rooms as we check-in, ask us to stand up and move around a bit and yes, tell us the time.
Also, give us that taptic hint when it is time to pick up the kid from school.
Isn’t all this cool ?

Let me step back, from all the hype and hoopla..

After years of self-denial, Apple launches big screen phones
After years of self-denial, Apple agrees one style doesn’t fit all.
(So is it simply that Cook’s right and Jobs left ?)

No, there’s more to it.

After years of authoritative (dictatorial?), product innovation, Apple accepts the wisdom of the crowds.
After years of isolated excellence, Apple joins the mass movement of mediocrity.

OK, am being unfair.
Yes, there are several shiny little nuggets in the products just launched.
The digital crown is a truly smart thing, but it isn’t going to change the world in the way the single physical button on the iPhone did.
(Oh, BTW, didn’t someone recently tell us that skeuomorphism is so old school?)
There’s a lot more, I know.
Few, if any, of them though, would truly wow you, and not for long.

But this is not merely about what Apple makes – it is as much about what makes Apple.
It is not merely about what Apple gives us – it is as much about what we give back to Apple.

Apple makes shiny cool gadgets. Excellence makes Apple
Apple makes tonnes of money. The very best engineering R&D makes Apple.
Apple gives us pride of ownership. We give love back to Apple.

All of this this has been true for a very long time.
But equally true is that there is a decline.
Yes, miracles don’t happen every day, nor do disasters.
But small mistakes accumulate.
accumulate into something bigger.

With their latest announcements, Apple has bought membership into a new club.
The club of me-toos, the club where marketing exceeds the product
They still retain some excellence – may be in marketing, in branding, in the shiny gloss of their presentation (notwithstanding the streaming glitch).
But the excellence in product R&D is now relegated to a nice-to-have, or at least minimized to a digital crown, with precious little beneath it.

No you don’t need an OctaCore or a mega screen or some super res.
Cool products are not merely the result of the greatest and biggest engineering specs.

But cool products are necessarily original – or an original take on an existing, un-cool one.
iPhone was uber-cool when it launched.
iPad was surely cool, very.
They changed the world. Period.

The iPhone6 and 6plus are screaming “me too” at the Galaxys and their ilk
in semi-muted decibels, thanks to lesser guts under the sheen.

The watch, at best, is confusing. Will you buy it because of the aluminium/gold/multiple straps?
Aren’t there dime-a-dozen watches with these bells and whistles?
Oh, but you say, this one is also “smart” ? Really ?

Smart as in a smart phone, it isn’t.
Smart as in a smart-ass, it is.

Doodle your way to glory. Share a heart-beat. Save yourself the trouble of looking up your iPhone.
If Apple calls this smart, well, they aren’t. Anymore.
(The conspicuous silence about the battery life is undoubtedly another example of the latter variety of smartness).

Not long ago, Apple was a product of excellence.
But these are products of mediocrity

What goes up, comes down.
That is nature.
Sad but true. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Why U R Ananthamurthy is wrong (about Modi)

First the disclaimers – U.R. Ananthamurthy (URA) is not wrong in holding opinions about people, specifically about Narendra Modi. He has an inalienable right, just as everybody else, to hold opinions about people or issues. Going a step further, one can easily dissect his expressed opinion about Modi and rationalize it – yes, Modi has an historical baggage which includes, (as alleged) in the least, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, letting a genocide happen, with gruesome murders of innocent people. Also, URA has voiced his opinion not only recently (since Modi was projected as the PM candidate of the BJP), but several times earlier as well. URA, like the rest of us, is entitled to his opinions. Nothing wrong with that.

So why is URA wrong?

Simply put, URA is wrong because he does not understand “leadership”.

It is often said (and half-jokingly) in corporate circles, that leadership demands that one rises above one’s principles. How true this is! Narendra Modi has probably done just that, and URA has spectacularly failed to observe this transformation.

The Narendra Modi of the last decade was allegedly non-secular, divisive and breathed venom against minorities.  Many people construed, rightly or otherwise, that these were his principles, the very core of his thinking, and the foundation of his politics. The critics, including URA, thus concluded that here was a man married to politics of hatred, someone who would condone (or, as some alleged, even collude with the perpetrators of) genocide to further his own political ambition.

What the critics got wrong was the depth of that political ambition, and what transformative effect that deep-seated ambition could bring about in the bearer.

Modi is no novice – neither to politics, nor to leadership. He knows very well that what brings one to a position in life doesn’t help him get to the next level. Heck, what brings one to a position does not even guarantee that one can keep the position.

Many lesser mortals fail to understand these concepts. They continue to be enslaved to their old formulae of success. If doing A brought one to a big milestone in life, one would continue to do A even more passionately hoping that this will bring him to the next / higher milestone in life. Alas, how wrong can one be?

Regardless of what brought Modi to the CM’s office, one needs to acknowledge that his focus on good governance (or, in the least, the focus on communicating about good governance) is what kept him there. Let’s face it – after the bloody riots in 2002, Gujarat has been a peaceful place. Communal/Social harmony has been disturbed in various other parts of the country, ruled by parties of all shades of the spectrum, but Gujarat has been spared. Why? Is it because Modi rose beyond communal politics?

Leadership is not like school exams. Study hard and you clear your 10th standard. Study harder and you will clear the 12th. Continue grinding harder and you will one day wear the convocation cap. But leadership is different.  (Side note for Kejriwal – Hartals brought you to the Delhi Vidhana Sabha. More hartals will not get you to the Lok Sabha, and even more hurtals will not get you to the UN).

Modi knows this only too well. He needed a vehicle to get to the Gujarat Vidhana Sabha. He rode it. But to stay there, and stay there long enough, he needed to do something different. And that he did. He was in no hurry to move on. He stayed put in Gandhinagar for as long as needed; at least for as long as he would need to prepare to move on. And prepare, he did.

One should credit Modi for not jumping the gun in 2009. He let the senior BJP leaders do all the talking. Advani, Jaswant, Sushma ..the whole bandwagon went to town, but came back with a sorry face. Why? Was the UPA/Congress offering so superior that the country voted UPA2 back to power? No. The reason why BJP lost 2009 was simply because they didn’t offer anything new. They didn’t realize that what brings them to the opposition benches will not bring them to the treasury, regardless of how passionate they are about it. In other words, they had peaked already. As Peter’s principle says, they had risen to their level of incompetence.

Some are born leaders, some grow into leaders and some have leadership thrust upon them. It’s a pity that many of India’s leaders belong to the last category. Clearly, in the case of Modi, leadership has not been thrust upon him. He has very visibly grown into that position. And worked hard to get there.

This truth alone sets him apart from many of his predecessors. Here’s a man who knows not just the tricks of the trade, but the trade itself. Standing as he is, at the cusp of an incredible opportunity, one hopes he doesn’t hit his level of incompetence any time soon.

Probably URA fears that divisive politics is Modi’s Achilles’ heel. Or worse, that someone who can indulge in divisive politics could do anything (or anything worse!) to further his ambition. URA’s fears are luckily unfounded because higher political ambitions driving Modi demand a higher vision. Modi could not have got to a higher office if he had limited his vision to playing to a gallery of hardline Hindutva voters. And to insinuate that Modi won on a mindless wave is to allege that this country is filled with dimwits who can easily fall prey to a wave. Hope URA (or anyone else) does not believe in this wave theory, because this wave theory would insult the electorate and the maturity of democracy in India. 

Probably URA reasons that regardless of how positive / governance driven Modi might be, the very fact that he has been associated with religious intolerance is reason enough to deride him. This is a matter of principle. But URA should note that Modi has risen beyond hardline Hindutva. In the ideal world, politicians, just like our intellectuals, are principled people.  But true leaders, when the occasion so demands, do rise above principles. Once URA understands this, he will not need police protection.