Dean Clough

January 18, 2023

Portico Darwin: An Apple Can Rot


5 Minute Read
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Enough heavy talk - JFC I'm in Sonoma!  And it's not awful!

But for now I will duck out of the many wine salons I am inhabiting this week to talk about America's corporate darling,  Apple.  I want to remind you Apple people out there - and OMG, there are a whole bunch of you - that Apple, its products, and yes, even its good/great juju will some day fade or even be gone entirely.  Sacrilege you say?  Then I hope you'll read my take on Apple and some other companies that had the same stature in corporate America and the world at large. 

At least they did back in my day.

Let's start with Apple itself.  Now, their phones and the computers are just fine, and Julie herself has a lovely new-ish and loaded MacBook Air.  Indeed, Apple's product design in general is a global benchmark and basically always has been.

But they certainly annoy me with their arbitrary feature decisions and thus few/none of their products can be considered a "value".  Having worked hands-on with their products for decades, I can also say the idea that their stuff "just works" is fanboy bullshit.  And the worst is how many simply follow the flock and buy an Apple product, no matter the category nor Apple's expertise within it.  For example, while I recognize they bought Beats, that doesn't automatically make AirPods the best Bluetooth headphones.  They're not. 

What about their valuation?  This was last week, but I doubt it's changed much.

Almost $2.1 trillion would seem to be enough to ward off all comers and fight and win every fight, thank you very much.  You'd think. 

But what if China invades Taiwan tomorrow?  It's not just their supply chains that will be screwed, although they will be.  They also sell quite a few phones and other products in China.  All of that evaporates instantly, as I'm confident if an invasion were to occur, the sanctions on China would be at least as onerous as those imposed on Russia.  China being mostly out of the picture wouldn't be easy for Apple.

Or what if a new product or technology comes along that takes Apple down?  Impossible you say?  Apple spends more on research and development (R&D) than just about anybody, and Apple will be the one inventing the future?

Hmm.  Let's take a look at the first company in my list of behemoths that are no longer so.

Bell System (AT&T)
They were the Apple of their day and I lead with them because AT&T's R&D arm, Bell Labs, was the absolute gold standard in fundamental and industrial research - forever.  They indeed invented the future, as both the transistor and pulse code modulation were created there, and both are at the center of the consumer digital domain that Apple dominates today.

But the sclerosis that comes with massive size and success slowed them to the point that they hesitated investing in cell phones and the Internet, components of which AT&T also largely invented.

Today?  AT&T is a pale imitation of its former self.  In the 40 years since the original had become so powerful they were broken up by the Feds, the reconstituted AT&T made stupid tech decisions, saddled itself with mountainous amounts of debt, and are B players now, at most.

OK, you say, that's one example, and who gives a shit about landline telephones anyhow?

True, but how about the largest media company in the world going away?

Time, Inc.
If you were to combine the societal influence today of every social media network, audio/video streaming platform, and legacy TV network, it would pale in comparison to what Time, Inc. meant to America, for decades.  We're talking Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated magazines, among many others, FFS.    
But even with their resources and boundless influence, they could not survive some very bad mergers, nor the Internet itself. 

But what about hardware?  And I mean hardware.

Pennsylvania Railroad
There was a time when this company was amongst the most powerful anywhere, and indeed its massive freight and passenger rail network, and its operation, were called "The Standard of The World". 

But then the jet airplane was developed, and the US government chose to subsidize cars and roads, whilst simultaneously crippling railroads with a ruinous regulatory regime.  Bye, bye, Standard of The World, including, tragically, its splendid namesake home in New York.   Here's the architectural landmark Penn Station wrongly being demolished in 1965. 

Do you think Apple Park will exist forever?  It is so huge!  It cost so much money to build! 

Hmm.  Here is the building above at its completion, in 1910.  It cost $114 million to build then, which is worth around $3.5 billion now.   Maybe since Apple spent $5 billion, their HQ will last longer than 55 years?

Magazines and railroads - whatever.  What about a computer company?  A big one?

International Business Machines (IBM)
My God, these guys were the computer industry.  The entire computer industry.  OK, there were other players like Burroughs and Sperry, but IBM was the big kahuna, and for a very long time.   

Yet in a legendary business mistake, IBM essentially gave the operating system for its nascent and revolutionary "personal computer" it had just invented to Microsoft, and the rest is history.  If you don't think Apple could make the same or similar mistake, you should put down the Kool-Aid.

Let's wrap with one of America's most important and legendary companies, that is now a veritable shell of its former self.  This one is near and dear to my heart, as this company was headquartered and experienced its glory decades in Schenectady, New York, near my hometown of Albany.   For the record, Schenectady is also a shell of the city it once was.

General Electric (GE)
There's Mom, apple pie, and baseball, and pretty close after, there's GE.  Seemingly forever, nothing quite said American know-how and industrial might like those two letters.   It was the largest, most profitable company for years on end.  But then Jack Welch took over and ruined it.  By focusing on finance vs. products and customers, GE lost their way.  So lost, in fact, GE is breaking itself up, in a hope at least one piece can find its way.  GE is really no more.

I hope you'll think about all of this the next time you strap on your Apple Watch, don your AirPod Pros, snap a selfie with your iPhone 14 Pro Max, and watch "Ted Lasso" on Apple TV+, on your Apple TV 4K.   

Each company above, in their own way and in their own time, had the power, prestige, and the money Apple has today.  Yet what befell each - or something similar or completely different - could take Apple down. 


And for the record, Google makes great phones, Sennheiser has wonderful headphones, and I love my HP Spectre 360 notebook computer.  And TIDAL is far better than Apple Music, Alexa is superior to Siri, and do I need to mention Apple's HomePod? 


Many thanks if you took the time to read my I Also blog on Monday - I hope you didn't find it offensive.  I want to directly thank and acknowledge my friend Lauren Ryder for her very thoughtful response.    

I do agree it seems strange to see as an editorial in the SF Chronicle, especially since it was of events that happened 30 years ago.  What was her intent in sharing this at this time? 

As for your questions, here are my thoughts:

I feel as a woman we are now more empowered to say something in these situations due education and open communications on the matter.  At least it is definitely more likely than it would have been 30 years ago.  

I do believe that saying something may have changed the course of the evening, maybe stopped the act or it could made things worse, we will never know. 

His size and having her shoulders pinned would make it difficult to maneuver out of the situation, it sounds like he basically was overpowering and her response was to submit to get the act over with.   She says she froze and she probably was scared, totally understandable. 

In her words this started as consensual and I believe she had a responsibility to voice when it was no longer okay.  For those that find themselves in similar situations today, hopefully they will find the courage to speak up. 

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


Somehow overlooked on KLUF to date, here is Alice in Chains with the incredible and certainly Diamond Certified Jar of Flies.  One of its many great songs is the first, "Rotten Apple".

About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.