Sep 9 5:42 PM

Apple’s brave new world has old world vibe

There are more women in this vision of "1984" than there were on Apple's 2014 stage.
screen grab from YouTube

Remember the original Macintosh ad?

Well, even if you don’t remember the iconic riff on 1984, you have no doubt either watched it since or heard it talked about, maybe to the point where you never want to hear it talked about again.

Well, let me apologize in advance.

The ad recalls a scene from the George Orwell book, where a crowd gathers in a vast theater for their daily “Two Minute Hate,” a regular and ritualistic bonding exercise where all the residents of Oceania watch a film reviling their enemies (specifically one Emmanuel Goldstein), working themselves into a proper and unified froth.

In the 30-year-old Apple ad, this is, of course, a bad thing. A lone figure — a fit woman in track attire — bursts through the crowd to hurl a sledgehammer at the screen, destroying it and leaving the assembled masses stunned, mouths agape. The ad, which aired only once, during the 1984 Super Bowl, finishes with this prophecy: “On January 24, Apple Computer with introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

I could not help but think of that ad today as I watched (on my Mac, of course) a crowd gathered in a vast theater cheer and shout and work themselves into a froth at what has become the regular and ritualistic annual Apple product launch media event.

But if people were waiting for an athletic woman to run through the crowd and bound upon the stage to upset the apple cart (as it were), well, in material and metaphorical terms, they were profoundly disappointed.

First, the obvious: There were no women on stage in Cupertino, Ca., today. Apple CEO Tim Cook was the master of ceremonies (OK, just one guy, small sample), but he repeatedly called other members of Apple’s senior team to show off new iPhones and operating systems and that very special “one more thing” — and all of those folks were men, as well.

Hell, even the “house band” — U2 — was all male.

It is a sad commentary on the whole tech sector, of course, and tells me why, even with (or maybe because of) Apple’s evolution from a computer company into a lifestyle brand, 2014 not only does seem like 1984 (the real one, not the Orwell one), it bares uncomfortable similarities to 1964.

Despite holding over 40 percent of all science and engineering degrees, women only hold roughly one-quarter of the nation’s tech jobs. In major metropolitan areas, men hold 75 percent of computing-based jobs. In New York, the fastest growing of the tech sectors across the U.S., men outnumber women seven to three.

Most Silicon Valley firms have no more than one female board member, according to Gender Map, a data-visualization project from Data Morphosis. When Apple added BlackRock’s Susan Wagner in July, they doubled the number of women on their eight-member board of directors.

That means Apple’s board is now 25 percent women. None of the nation’s largest tech companies have more than 30 percent female representation.

Which leads tech followers (yeah, leads/follows, got it) to a slightly more abstract question about Apple’s very concrete product lineup: What’s new?

Not much, actually.

Apple will tell you it doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel each September. Well, actually, they’d tell you something about rethinking the meaning of “first,” as they did in the intro video to the Tuesday event. And there is something to be said for making better the things people already want or use. But it is hard to look at the latest Apple offerings without eventually realizing that they are not transforming lives, they are traversing markets.

To compete with the mobile phones and “phablets” proffered by the likes of Samsung, the new iPhone 6 is bigger. To get more deeply into the “wearables” and fitness markets, Apple has finally debuted a watch, which they are calling, get ready, wait for it, “Apple Watch.” To get their foot in the emerging mobile payment market (already big in parts of Africa), Apple announced “Apple Pay.”

All have their uses. All promise to be well designed and expertly marketed. All could be very cool (whatever that means).

But all of them feel a little cold and a little old.

No, not to everyone. There was that Flint Center crowd cheering and practically wetting themselves with excitement. And there will be, without a doubt, lines at Apple stores throughout the fall. But will “everything” change? Will 2015 be something unlike what 2014 led us to expect?

No, women do not have any special dedicated fat pipe connected to the innovation goddess, but it is worth asking if Apple’s offerings and approach would be different if the company thought to “Think Different” (as they used to say) about whom they hire and promote.

. . . .

Oh, there’s one more thing.

There were two things — two not quite innovations, but new-to-Apple things — that did sound interesting and a little different to me. And, interestingly, they both involve touch.

On the Apple Watch, the screen is not only touch sensitive, it is pressure sensitive. In other words, a tap triggers one action, but a firm push might trigger another. It is an advance that has been rumored for years. And, on the watch, it is finally here.

The watch also has haptic response — or as Apple is branding it, “Taptic.” The watch has a vibrating chip inside that provides limited sensory feedback. Little pulses or taps, it seems.

The obvious applications, like quiet but persistent reminders, akin to putting your mobile phone on vibrate and pressing it to your flesh, would be useful, but in the demonstration, Apple’s team gave a little glimpse of something more: You can send taps to another Apple Watch wearer.

Tap on your watch, and across the room or across the globe, someone else would feel it.

It is not a “wet suit” (as a fully immersive internet-based sensory experience has been called), nor is it a cyber-glove box, but it is a first step to an electronically reinterpreted human touch. The hint of some future hug sent through the ether.

You are alone, but, with your watch, you are never alone. Add that to the elevation of consumption to goal-in-an-of-itself status, and the Apple event doesn’t recall 1984 so much as it does Brave New World.

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