Steve Jobs Movie: It Could Have Been Worse

To my huge surprise, I enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs film. I attended a (free) screening, assuming I would hate it, but came out mildly charmed. I also think many Apple/Steve Jobs fans, if they keep their expectations low, will end up enjoying it too.For Apple lovers, there were plenty of reasons to expect the film to be terrible. It was based on a deservedly hated book by Walter Isaacson that trashed Jobs as an asshole. Aaron Sorkin is kind of a jerk and recently attacked Tim Cook and Apple before quickly apologizing. Everyone involved, including advisors like Andy Hertzfeld and Steve Wozniak, have made it clear the film isn’t accurate, and didn’t even try hard to be. It’s no wonder Steve Jobs' wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, personally did everything in her power to try to stop it from being made.

Moreover, it suffers from all the typical faults of Aaron Sorkin’s writing in general. It’s overly talky, it’s self-important, and while Sorkin is lauded as writing great dialogue, all his characters, in this film and every film and television show he writes, all sound the same. Basically, like a middle aged white Manhattan intellectual trying really hard to say something clever. Man, woman, child, regardless of ethnicity or background, all sound like a wise cracking fifty year old screenwriter. For example, here’s this often quoted exchange from the film:

Steve Jobs: “You had three weeks… The universe was created in a third of that time.”
Andy Hertzfeld: “Well, sometime you’ll have to tell us how you did it.”

The comeback could have just have easily come out of the mouth of any of half a dozen characters at different points in the film, Chrissan Brennan, Joanna Hoffman, Steve Wozniak, etc. In fact, seems least likely to have been spoken by what is presented as a shyly mild mannered Andy Hertzfeld. Except it was time for Andy to have a witty comeback, and that rather old joke, fit the bill for the moment. The basic exchange also could have been dropped into the Social Network, or Moneyball or any of Sorkin’s TV shows, and as far as I know might have been. Of course, it doesn’t matter to Sorkin that Steve Jobs wasn’t big on bible references and wouldn’t be likely to lob such a softball setup. The real Steve Jobs would have said something more like, “You can do this! I know you can!”

The screenplay also chooses a very artificial form for presenting the story. Instead of trying to tell the larger scope of Steve Job’s life, or simply focus on a specific time period, the screenplay breaks the film into three parts, which each take place in “real time” just a few minutes before one of Steve Jobs' important keynotes. So one section focuses on 1984, another 1989 and then 1998. This is a hugely artificial construct, possibly chosen to give Sorkin a platform to show off as a writer of “clever” dialogue, or more likely out of laziness. (The guy works a lot and likes to crank through stuff. Any screenwriter will tell you, writing overly long dialogue is the easiest part of writing. Who wants to keep track of a bunch of dates, events and locations? Why not just pick three scenes, and not even bother to be accurate about them?) Whatever the reason, it certainly is a writing challenge. How can you possibly tell the life of a such a complex man in just three small “real time” segments? Or even make a watchable two hour movie?

Well, you can’t. Or at least Sorkin couldn’t. The device is quickly abandoned to allow the use of flashbacks that move all around time, because otherwise the film wouldn’t hold up at all. Which brings up the question, why chose that form if you’re not really going to stick to it? (Oh, right, laziness and a desire to show off what a great dialogue writer you are.)

Yet, for me, the device is probably the saving grace of the film. As someone who knows this Apple history very, very well, who actually lived (from a distance) through it, I found myself enjoying the chance to experience those key moments. To see the original Mac and Jobs putting on his bowtie to introduce it, to see the NeXT box and Steve Jobs in a suit, and finally the bondi blue Mac and Jobs' black turtleneck. It was fun to pick out all the familiar details and see imaginary “behind the scenes” of the moments leading up to those well remembered keynotes. It was like wandering through a swap meet and running into old magazines with Steve Jobs on the cover, discovering an orange iBook or software box for Hypercard. Yes, you might get some dust in your nose, but it’s worth it for the walk down memory lane.

Moreover, the strained artificiality of the device, in which various characters just happen to appear and interact with Jobs just before he goes on stage, helped with the obvious lack of accuracy. It’s so clear this isn’t what really happened, that I found myself more willing to suspend my disbelief when major and minor details were off.

Thus reminded not to take any of it seriously, Aaron Sorkin’s fast paced dialogue does occasionally have moments of humor and interest. We hear a fifty year old screenwriter (Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs) arguing with a fifty year old screenwriter (Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman) about whether the Mac needed to talk in its introduction, only to be interrupted by a fifty year old screenwriter (Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan) demanding child support. Jobs daughter, Lisa Brennan, makes an appearance in each segment, talking somewhat like a real young girl in the first two (mostly speaking very little) before emerging in the last part to talk like a fifty year old male screenwriter and get some real zingers in on her unreasonable dad.

If it sounds as if I’m damning the film with faint praise, well, yes, it just could have been a lot worst. It was absolutely the best Aaron Sorkin movie about Steve Jobs one could imagine being made. Trust me, it would not have gotten any better if he had actually tried to be accurate or bothered to write a full screenplay rather than three overly long scenes. (With flashbacks to fill in a story.) The direction is good, the production values excellent, and fine actors do their best to sound like real characters, who all happen to talk like fifty year old screenwriters. Moreover, Steve Wozniak got paid $200,000 for consulting an a completely fictitious work, which will hopefully make him less likely to keep bitching about Jobs owing him money on Breakout.

When almost everyone else who loved Steve Jobs was complaining about Walter Isaacson’s book, Andy Hertzfeld (who comes across as a really nice fifty year old screenwriter in the film) wrote an article which stated, “Steve Jobs got the biography that he wanted and deserved: a best selling, well written, unbiased, comprehensive account of his life and work by the biographer of Einstein and Franklin. As much as he valued simplicity, Steve was a complicated man, full of contradictions, so there’s plenty of room for many different takes on his life and legacy.”

Hertzfeld was right in many ways. Steve Jobs would have wanted his biography to have been a best seller, and for some reason he was insistent on Isaacson doing it. The problem is, I think Walter Isaacson decided he didn’t like Steve Jobs, and rushed through his book to cash in on his death and made little effort to understand him. Sorkin is, as Tim Cook accused him of being, also an opportunist, but I think Sorkin genuinely likes Steve Jobs as a person. In terms of being an demanding asshole, Steve Jobs looks like a pussycat compared to the average hard driving Hollywood studio exec, agent, movie star or Oscar winning screenwriter. Sorkin certainly wasn’t bothered by any of of Steve’s temperamental outbursts, and in some ways presents the first justification for Jobs’ behavior with Chrisann Brennan, who is portrayed in the film as not always having Lisa’s best interests in mind. For those who think Jobs was a terrible deadbeat dad, it’s actually nice to see the complex interactions between Jobs and Lisa. Much worse could have come from any Hollywood adaption of the Isaacson book.

Sorkin is loved by many critics and the film is getting a huge Oscar push. Odds are it is going to get a lot of nominations and do very well at the box office. Steve Jobs probably would have liked that.  If it wins some Oscars, I'm sure some of the winners will say nice things about him.

The completion of a big Hollywood film based on Steve Jobs life (let's forget the Ashton Kutcher version) now opens up the possibility of a TV mini-series on HBO or Netflix, a format that might work better for a more accurate version of Steve Jobs' life. (I suggest Laurene Powell Jobs contact Spike Lee to produce and direct that.) Maybe someone can convince Ken Burns to do a definitive history of Apple Computer.

Steve Jobs is simply too big a figure in American and world culture for this to be the last film, or even the definitive film, about his life. Maybe we’ll get a Quentin Tarantino version with even longer sparkling dialogue exchanges and some bloodshed, or a sweeping epic version by Steven Spielberg about his travels in India. South Park has already done an episode with Steve Jobs as a horror character. Perhaps Eddie Murphy will do a version where he does all the characters in different makeup. And the film rights to my sci-fi version, Eve's Hungry, are available.

In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for Aaron Sorkin’s version, a dusty trip to the swap meet to look over old history, peek at historic Macintosh, NeXT and iMac computers, and be reminded about how a young man with a passion for technology changed the world.

UPDATE:  The film is bombing at the box office.  They went wide too quickly and there simply wasn't a broad audience for it.   I'm not quite sure if this has more to do with a rejection of it's negative portrayal of Jobs, it's overall inaccuracy, or simply Sorkin's art film three act play structure.  Never-the-less, it will probably hurt its Oscar prospects, regardless of the reviews.

Apple and the Challenges of Success

There is plenty of speculation about Apple’s upcoming September event, including the prediction of a revamped Apple TV. My own sources tell me that a much improved device will be announced. More importantly, it will finally feature a new App Store and position itself to compete, at least in a limited way, in the console gaming market.

None of which is much of a surprise to serious Apple watchers. The big surprise is: what took so freaking long?! I remember when I bought my first Apple TV back in 2008 and was utterly baffled why it didn’t include at least a few simple games. Sure, it was underpowered both in terms of processing and memory, with a bare basic remote, but it surely could have played something like Pong or Asteroid, or… what the heck, anything. When the App Store for the iPhone debuted shortly after, and became a big hit, I just assumed the Apple TV would be quickly upgraded to support it too. Nope. Even-though thousands of independent programmers would have leapt in and figured out how to make games for it. And, odds are, even with the old device’s limitations, they could have come up with some great ones.

Supposedly, Apple has been holding back this latest upgrade due to issues of integration with iOS 9, but again, that doesn’t really explain why they’ve waited almost a decade to for an Apple TV App Store. They didn’t hold up the iPhone 6 waiting for iOS 9. While the Apple TV has never been as popular as the iPhone or iPad, a lot of money was left on the table by not having an App Store. Moreover, even a modest App Store, with modest games and other features, could have helped boost the Apple TV’s popularity, which has never been a big seller and has been steadily losing market share.

But that might actually be the real reason Apple has held off. I suspect Apple never wanted the Apple TV to become too popular too fast. When it was first announced, Steve Jobs cagily said that the Apple TV was a “hobby.” Was he trying to keep expectations down? Was he afraid it wouldn’t sell? I don’t think so. I think he was trying to keep expectations low because he didn’t want to sell too many, too quickly.

Apple’s amazing success increasingly requires long term management of the complex relationship between making great products, satisfying customers, and keeping suppliers, content producers and developers happy. Apple also has to give serious consideration to long-term public relations and anti-trust issues. All of this means that swinging for the fences with every product, particularly in terms of market share, is not the best course of action.

This is an important point continually overlooked by Apple bashers who proclaim the company has failed whenever its market share is less than 50% or because a certain product isn’t selling as well as they think it should. Most recently the Apple Watch, the most successful smartwatch ever sold by a large measure, has absurdly been criticized for “only” selling two or three million units in its first few months. The iPhone, despite consistently taking the lion’s share of smart phone profits year after year, is constantly under attack for not having an even larger share of unit sales. Doom and gloom scenarios are illogically floated because Apple isn’t selling enough units in some third world country or isn’t competing in the lowest tiers of pricing, where little profits are to be made. As if making most of the money in the world’s richest markets shouldn’t be its priority.

Some of the negativity is simply standard grade Apple hating. (Another inevitable side effect of success. Haters going to hate.) Some of it is that many disagree with Apple’s publicly stated strategy of targeting the higher end of markets, with quality products that cost more, rather than simply competing in a race for the bottom. Some of it is that hype around Apple can get so huge that reality can’t possibly meet expectations. For example, it was silly to think that every person with an iPhone would buy an Apple Watch. Predictions of tens of millions of unit sales out of the gate was always a fantasy, perhaps even deliberately floated to make the upbeat reality of millions of sales seem like a let down.

But none of the above explains all these years of lackluster Apple TVs. Thanks to Jobs clever pre-positioning of it as a “hobby” (don’t look behind the curtain!) even nasty Apple hating tech pundits haven’t aggressively attacked the Apple TV’s small market share. (Though complaints seem to be picking up in anticipation of an improved version.) Moreover, it’s hard for Apple to claim the older Apple TVs were premium products deserving premium price tags and aimed at the high end consumer. The old Apple TV was kind of okay, but certainly not a “magical” device at an “unbelievable” price tag as Jobs praised the iPad at its introduction. Tim Cook frequently states that Apple’s goal is to create the “best” products that “delight” customers. But that doesn’t seem to describe the current Apple TV, which would fall more under the category of “not too expensive” and “serviceable” compared to similar products. Apple geeks who were serious about media streaming were more likely to spend the extra bucks to buy a Mac Mini and hook it up as a media center. Even die hard Apple supporters, like myself, would be hard pressed to explain why an Apple TV is a better choice than a Roku box or something from Amazon or Google, or why it is generally more expensive. Buying an Apple TV over one of those other devices is not quite in the category of paying a premium to buy Apple brand rechargeable batteries, but close.

Assuming the new device in September is closer to being delightful, magical, or best in class, one might ask why Apple bothered releasing something second rate to begin with. Apple has always stated that they ignored pressure to release stuff before it was ready. For example, they waited before building bigger screened iPhones and were slow to respond with an iPad mini, allowing competitors to complete uncontested in those categories for years. In the case of the Apple Watch, Tim Cook went one step further and stated in 2013 that “the wrist is interesting” when asked about future Apple products. That’s one heck of a poker tell. Cook tipped off competitors to Apple’s intentions and gave them a full two years to try to capture the smart watch market before Apple entered it. I find it very hard to believe this wasn’t deliberate. Apple didn’t want to be the first to market. They wanted to see what the competitors could come up with and wanted the public to fully understand how much better the Apple Watch would be after seeing all the lesser efforts.

In the case of the Apple TV, in 2008, Steve Jobs knew he couldn’t wait. Apple customers simply had too much video content in their iTunes libraries for Apple to refuse to provide an easy, and reasonably cheap, way for them to watch it on their televisions. Expecting customers to play for movies and television shows they could watch on their iPods, iPhones and iPads, without providing a method of displaying them on large screens, would be a public relations disaster. It would open up too big an opportunity for competitors and also promote piracy and DRM breaking.
So why not build something a little slicker and more interesting than the original Apple TV? Cost was a factor, but hard core Apple fans would certainly have paid more for something better. There were technical limitations at the time, both in terms of good connections to television sets (HDMI was just appearing), internet speed issues, processors, memory etc. These days the underlining technology for a set top box can easily fit into a tiny device and be build for under $100. Back then, not so easy. But that still doesn’t explain why there was no App Store and why Jobs went out of his way to undersell it.

There has been considerable speculation that Apple was holding off on the new device to be able to announce deals with content providers like the major television networks. I think that was partially a factor, but I don’t think it fully explains the big picture. In Steve Jobs famous commencement address he talked about how you can only connect the dots looking back. Here is how I think that the dots of the Apple TV connect.

While Apple was forced to release an Apple TV to keep its customers happy, its content suppliers were not happy about it. The big networks and movie studios were extremely wary of Apple’s move into the set top television business. Back in 2008, they were still only providing a limited amount of content, in terms of movies and television shows, to the Apple Store on a trial basis. They were extremely concerned that iTunes Store sales would hurt their broadcast and exhibition markets and threaten their lucrative relationship with the cable industry. Many wanted to be able to “window” content for different devices. Business models were floated where customers would pay more for larger screens. Jobs knew all that was doomed to failure, but making too big a play with the Apple TV, too quickly, might have scared the all content providers off. That’s one of reasons the Apple TV had such low resolution for so many years, to avoid angering content providers who feared high resolution videos would be pirated or cut into other sales (like the doomed Blue Ray format).
Of course, it quickly turned out that selling content, particularly television shows, on iTunes not only make a lot of money for the studios, but also actually helped promote their broadcast business and sales in other formats. Nevertheless, the big film and television studios were not willing to simply hand over all their content to Apple. They did not want to repeat the “mistake” of the major music companies when iTunes and the iPod not only turned out to be a huge success, but basically became the biggest game in town in regard to music.

This is why talk about Apple not having enough market share in any particular product category is silly. I don’t think Apple wants another iPod/iTunes Music situation where it has over 50% of the market. It’s just too dangerous. It invites too much industry and government scrutiny. Content providers are likely to rebel, and the anti-trust issues demand government attention. This is what happened to Microsoft when Windows became too dominant and its hands got tied up in anti-trust settlements just as the internet changed all the rules. I think there’s a good argument to be made that much of Microsoft’s current problems can be traced back to the anti-trust limitations put on it. Apple already went through a big PR nightmare simply by trying to get book publishers to provide it with content for the iPad, and ended up with the Department of Justice crawling all over it even though it had zero share of the market. If the iPhone, for example, did reach 75% of the US market, it’s hard to imagine that Apple wouldn’t face serious anti-trust attacks and lawsuits every time it tried to make any kind of big move, like introducing its new streaming service, Apple Music. (Odds are they will still face investigations and lawsuits.) Moreover, it’s impossible to think that Europe or China would allow Apple to have a large majority share of their smart phone markets. This is why, as Apple’s market share has risen with the iPhone, it has increased prices, not lowered them. Much better to settle for taking the creme off the top of the market.

In the case of the Apple TV, Steve Jobs also knew he faced a huge uphill battle with the cable companies. They not only had deals with the big content providers (and in some cases were content providers), but they controlled most of the high speed internet access. Everyone, and certainly Jobs, knew it was simply a question of time before cord cutting became a serious alternative if not preference for most cable customers. But I don’t think Apple wanted to be at the forefront of destroying that lucrative business and angering those powerful companies.

So I think Jobs, and then Tim Cook, decided to take a slow approach with the Apple TV. I believe the rumors that they tried to work with the cable companies to offer a device that wouldn’t instantly destroy their business. (And that the cable companies were too stupid to take them up on the offer.) I think Apple is thrilled that Netflix is doing so well, and has ended up the primary villain the cable companies blame for cord cutting. Apple is probably pretty happy Amazon is also offering set top devices and cord cutting content like Amazon Instant Video. And I doubt they lose sleep over the success of the Roku.

Of course, there is a small danger that Apple could lose the set top market all together if they go too slow and wait to long to come up with a device that truly is “magical” and best in class. I suppose it’s possible Google might invent something so amazing Apple could get shut out of the market forever. But I don’t think Tim “the wrist is interesting” Cook is too worried about that. There are greater dangers, for Apple, in having something succeed too quickly, even beyond anti-trust issues.
Apple has had its share of of product failures and disappointments over the years. It isn’t perfect and the space between useful devices that delight customers and trendy disposable gadgets is small. But failure for Apple is usually something like the Power Mac G4 Cube, a pretty cool looking device (I loved it) that simply didn’t sell for a variety of reasons. Or something like iTunes Ping that comes and goes so quickly people barely notice it. Or maybe the slow fade of the once groundbreaking iPod as people move to iPhones. But Apple, at least under Jobs and Cook, has managed to avoid big flash in the pan kind of failures, like the Nintendo Wii or Palm Pilot. Both of those products took off and sold like crazy for a moment in time and then collapsed so suddenly they threatened to wipe out the entire company. Nintendo is still kicking but Palm never recovered. The tech industry is littered with those kinds of rapid up and down failures in the cool gadget category.

Apple, of course, is a much bigger, more diversified company. It’s unlikely the failure of a single product line could hurt it much. But it’s clearly something they would like to avoid. Many tech pundits are starting to speculate that the iPad might finally be that flash in the pan. (Though its a pretty big, long burning flash.) Sales of the device rose incredibly quickly, peaked and have been slowly falling. Long term, I’m confident the iPad will recover, particularly with the introduction of the rumored iPad Pro, and Apple might even benefit from serious competitors falling out of the tablet market along the way. (And Apple sure isn’t going to be hurt if it turns out everyone prefers smart phones and light laptops.)

Nevertheless, whether sales continue to shrink, or it simply turns out to be a dip from a longer replacement cycle, Apple probably would have preferred if iPad sales had ramped up a little slower and settled rather than rising and falling. That might be why, in terms of the Apple Watch, Apple seems to have taken deliberate steps to keep sales modest, particularly by its higher price and the serious limitation of it having to be connected to an iPhone. Apple could have easily built a very cool watch, without some features like force touch and the heart beat monitor, for under $200 (maybe even $100) that would work unconnected. It could have sold many, many more. But what would happen to Apple’s reputation if it sold like crazy for a year and then disappeared as many customers got bored with it? Long term, what good would that do? Right now, the Apple Watch is priced high and really targeted toward Apple’s biggest fans. If, in the long run, it turns out not to be a major new product category, no harm no foul. If, on the other hand, it slowly ramps up and gets more and more popular, Apple can begin to lower the price or untether it or even offer an Android compatible version. Worse case scenario would be a flash in the pan where sales for a cheaper, less functional device take off out of the gate and fall quickly when it turns out there is no real need for the toy or competitors offer something much better. (Even worse for Apple, something better and more expensive. Apple can’t allow competition to beat it from above.)

So back to the Apple TV, in addition to a deliberate effort to keep the device low key until cable cord cutting was practical and popular, there was also a chance that an App Store on a not so magical device might have raised and then let down expectations. Let’s suppose the old Apple TV had come out with a few FarmVille type games. Customers might have bought a bunch of them, played the games out, and then the devices could have been shoved away like a Nintendo Wii. While I certainly would have loved to have experimented with a simple games on the Apple TV, and there are programmers that would have liked to have sold them, Apple probably has done the right thing by holding off until it could offer a device with much better specs and with real content options. Even with better specs, the cord cutting aspect will probably be the longer lasting value to customers rather than game play.

Finally, Apple is so amazingly successful it is already taking just about as much money out of its customers’ pockets as they have to spare. Softening sales of iPads probably has more to do with customers shelling out money for the latest iPhones than it does with a lack of desire to upgrade. If Apple Watches aren’t on everyone’s wrists, give people time to get used to the idea of spending $350 for something they might also need to replace next year. Not long ago I could be counted on to buy every major new product Apple came out with. Now I’m finding myself waiting on the new Mac Book to see what happens with the iPad Pro while I try to recover from buying a bunch of extra Apple Watch bands and my new Apple Music subscription.

The Apple TV needs to be priced and serve a function that is compatible with this complicated Apple ecosystem. Apple has reached a point where the sale of an Apple TV might delay the purchase of a new iPhone. Which sale is more important long term for Apple? Right now, in the tech wars, Apple still needs to focus first on making sure it keeps the high end of the smart phone market. This might mean keeping the Apple TV as cheap as possible and playing up its integration with the iPhone, even at the sacrifice of other features. Are there ways the Apple TV can encourage iPad upgrades? Is there a danger if it does some things better than an iPad or even a iMac? Apple frequently says that it isn’t worried about cannibalization of products, but what if a souped up Apple TV leads some customers down a path that dead ends. More and more young people don’t even have televisions. Should a new Apple TV really be a must have purchase? Or simply a reasonable option for accessing the iTunes library for a fading number of old school folks who like watching on a big screen? Does Apple really care if Roku continues to dominate the set top market, particularly with Android and Windows users? Is it possible Apple is more interested in content deals that will support its new iPad pro, and a modest, not too frightening, Apple TV is more likely to get those deals?

I think the Apple TV might be the strongest example of Apple being wary of too much success. But it wouldn’t surprise me if internally Apple has set goals of keeping market share for the iPhone below 50%, or that if Apple Music becomes too popular, it will hold off on offering versions for Android. Why, for example, isn’t Apple taking advantage of the slow down in tablet sales to grab market share by introducing a cheaper iPad? Instead, it appears to be ready to introduce a more expensive one, and is focusing on the higher margin business market, rather than grabbing at more consumers.
Naturally, in September, Apple haters will attack the latest Apple TV regardless of what it is. They’ll say it’s disappointing, or too expensive, or not as good as some other company’s product. They’ll predict it won’t end up in every home and that sales will be modest and it won’t grow Apple’s overall market share significantly. What they won’t say, is that might be exactly what Apple wants.
Me, I just want it to play Pong.

Free Book for International Lefthanders Day!

August 13th is the International Left-handers Day and in honor of this important global event, Hyper Geek Press is making Eve's Hungry available as a free, one-day only, download on Amazon.

Conceição Cohen, the CEO of Hyper Geek Press and the inspiration for the fictional character Doctor Eve Zachara, is left-handed herself. (So is Eve in Eve's Hungry). Cohen has long been a passionate advocate of left-handed rights, fighting against the bias toward the estimated 10% of the world's population who favor their left hand. It’s well known that some countries still force left-handed born children to become right-handed which can put them at risk of developing neurological disorders in the future.

International Left-handers Day was first observed in the year 1976 and has grown in popularity ever since. It is meant to promote awareness of the inconveniences faced by left-handers in a predominantly right-handed world. It celebrates their uniqueness, differences, and struggles in a society where they have to adapt to use right handed tools and objects and sometimes are forced to switch their hand preference.

So what better way to celebrate than to download for free and enjoy an action-packed story where the left-handed hero Eve also overcomes adversity and triumphs.

Happy International Left-handers Day from all of us at Hyper Geek Press!

PS: Right-handers are welcome to download a free copy too!

Dissent in Apple eBook Case Points to the Supreme Court

Apple haters cheered last Tuesday’s Second Circuit Court ruling denying Apple’s appeal in the ebook conspiracy case. But the celebration seems a little more muted than when Apple was first found guilty in 2012 and eventually forced into a $450 million dollar settlement. That’s because Apple still has the option of appealing the case to the Supreme Court, and the dissenting judge in this split decision pointed the way there like a bright spotlight revealing a path through the darkness.

When I’m not blogging about Apple and technology, I moonlight as a self-publisher, so this particular case has always been of interest to me, since it circles around areas that will likely directly affect my future. The final outcome of this has huge implications for technology, business, Apple and publishing, as well as self-publishing.

Apple haters have tried to make this out as if it was a clear cut issue of Apple being caught doing something wrong and refusing to fess up. Typical of Apple bashing in general, anyone who disagreed was labeled as being irrational, unwilling to look at the facts, and supporting Apple against logic and reason. In fact, a widely repeated meme in much of the reporting has been that “everyone” who knows anything about legal matters agrees that Apple was in the wrong.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Many very respected lawyers and legal commentators have pointed out that Apple has an excellent argument that they did nothing illegal, and a very good chance to prevail if they take the matter all the way up to the current pro-business Supreme Court. The “everyone agrees Apple was wrong” meme seemed to come from a desperate effort to convince Apple to give up and not pursue this to the top. Fat chance of that. Yet even now, some of the reporting tries to imply Apple is sure to lose with the Supreme Court, or that the Supreme Court will refuse to hear the case. Fat chance of that too.

Demolishing the argument that “everyone” agrees Apple did something illegal is the brilliant dissent written by Judge Dennis Jacobs. When it really counted, three highly experienced judges couldn’t agree that Apple did anything wrong. (And, in fact, the two judges that did reject Apple’s appeal, disagreed on key issues. So this was hardly a slam dunk legal decision.) Jacobs also strongly indicates that the Supreme Court would rule in Apple’s favor. He points out that a different circuit court of appeal came to a different conclusion (one that would favor Apple) in a similar case. He states:
“The majority’s holding in this case creates a circuit split, and puts us on the wrong side of it.”
That is the spotlight through the dark. And it points to the white columns of the Supreme Court. A circuit split is one of the main things the Supreme Court is supposed to resolve. If one circuit is saying X is illegal and another says X is legal, the Supreme Court almost has to intervene to decide which circuit is right. Moreover, I would argue that given the importance of this issue, Apple has a moral obligation to pursue it to the Supreme Court to resolve it once and for all. Apple has stated clearly in the past that they do see this as a serious matter.  And after this recent split decision an Apple spokesman said:
“Apple did not conspire to fix e-book pricing and this ruling does nothing to change the facts… while we want to put this behind us, the case is about principles and values. We know we did nothing wrong back in 2010 and are assessing the next steps.”
The next step should be the Supreme Court steps.

Tim Cook has been quoted as saying the ebook case was “bizarre” and he’s quite right.   Judge Jacobs dissent states that it is a "novel" application of anti-trust law:

"As the government conceded at oral argument, no court has previously considered a restraint of this kind."
What Apple did upon entering the ebook market is almost identical to what it did when it first introduced iTunes. With iTunes, Apple went to all the major record labels and demanded that they agree on set pricing and other terms so that customers could have a consistent experience when they purchased songs. No one accused Apple of violating anti-trust laws when they did that, certainly not the Department of Justice. Likewise, no one is accusing Apple of violating anti-trust laws in their most recent musical deal, where they basically did the same thing for music streaming.

The "bizarre" thing that Tim Cook referred to is that for some reason, what Apple legally did with music, was somehow illegal when Apple did it with ebooks. Anti-trust laws are generally supposed to kick in when a company dominates a market (particularly if they have a share of over 80%). Apple had 0% of the ebook market, so anti-trust laws shouldn’t have applied to it in any way at all. (Even the big publishers Apple was negotiating with didn’t control 80% of the market, it was closer to 50%.) More importantly, there hasn't been any prior case where anti-trust laws were imposed on a company before it entered a new market. The case against Apple is breaking new, novel, and bizarre, legal ground. All the more so, because at the time Apple made these new ebook deals, Amazon had 90% of the ebook trade. As many, including Judge Jacobs, have pointed out, if there were any anti-trust issues in 2012 related to ebooks, the focus should have been on Amazon’s market share, not trying to prevent a new competitor from entering the market.

That’s why Apple must take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. This is a very dangerous precedent, particularly in a modern world where giant international corporations are able to quickly seize huge amounts of market share. Anti-trust laws in the United States are already too rarely enforced (abuse by cable companies is a good example of that). They should be used against true monopolies. If they are now twisted so they are used to punish companies trying to compete against monopolies, then they have no positive purpose.

It is true there is long history of collusion between the big New York publishers Apple negotiated with on what is called a "horizontal plane" between direct competitors. It would be nice if the Justice Department had sued those publishers for forcing writers to take “standard” writing contracts that dramatically underpay them. For, example, all the big publishers have secretly agreed not to do print only deals where writers to keep their ebook rights. Exposing that, and other abuses, would have been a good use of the Justice Department's time. But instead, the DOJ filed suit to protect a huge company, Amazon, that already had a huge monopoly on ebooks and more than enough leverage to negotiate tough deals with the big publishers.

The original judge in the matter, Denise Cotes, wrote an extremely long decision trying to explain why Apple did something illegal, focusing ultimately on the issue of prices for ebooks going up. As many have pointed out, if you have a solid argument, you don’t need to over explain it. Her decision comes across as being very defensive of its shaky legal ground, and there’s are huge problems with her arguments about pricing. As Judge Jacobs says:
"The district court opinion and the plaintiffs’ briefs fixate on the idea that Apple ended Amazon’s $9.99 price for most new releases and bestsellers, and that consumers would have preferred a lower price. But the consumer’s near- term preference for low prices is not an object of antitrust law… The rule of reason promotes competition; it can be safely assumed that if competition sharpens, prices will take care of themselves."
Exactly. Anti-trust law is not simply a vehicle for creating low prices. It's purpose is to encourage and protect competition. Competition may or may not lead to lower prices (it might lead to better service, better quality or more choices). Moreover, Apple was not in competition with the big publishers, it was a distributor looking to make the best deal possible on what is called a vertical plane. On top of that, none of the specific contractual terms between Apple and the big publishers related to pricing were illegal. For example, agency pricing and a most favored nations clause. Even Judge Cote conceded that publishers have a right to set their own prices though agency pricing. She specifically stated:
 “… this Court has not found, that the agency model for distribution of content, or any one of the clauses included in the Agreements, or any of the identified negotiation tactics is inherently illegal. Indeed, entirely lawful contracts may include an MFN, price caps, or pricing tiers.”
Despite admitting the deals were legal, she still bizarrely ruled against Apple and forced it into $450 million dollar settlement. The irony is that since the deals were legal, the publishers simply waited a few years and negotiated almost exactly the same agency pricing deal with Amazon that was supposedly wrong when Apple originally negotiated it. Prices for best selling ebooks have gone up recently from $9.99, because that’s what publishers always wanted. And they were legally entitled to demand it. Apple can now sell those books for the same price as Amazon, as their original favored nations agreement required. Whether higher ebook prices for some best sellers is ultimately a good thing for readers and publishers isn’t a matter for the government to decide. The free market will decide it.

However, thanks to the DOJ lawsuit, Amazon has had extra years to try to solidify its hold on ebook sales before prices were (legally) raised anyway. Particularly, readers (including Apple's iPad customers) now have three more years of ebooks collected in Amazon’s proprietary format, encouraging them to stick within Amazon’s ecosystem. It’s hard to see how customers have benefited from all of this government interference in Apple’s ability to compete with its own iBooks store.

So if none of what Apple or the big publishers did was illegal, (and all of it is happening now anyway), why was Apple forced into a settlement to pay $450 million dollars? That is a rather difficult question, and since the specifics of Apple's actions 
(wanting to sell ebooks) didn't sound bad enough during the trial, the DOJ needed to compare Apple's actions to driving the car during a bank robbery or facilitating a illegal drug deal. But as Judge Jacob says in his dissent:
"Application of the rule of reason easily absolves Apple of antitrust liability. That is why at oral argument the government analogized this case to a drug conspiracy, in which every player is a criminal--at every level, on every axis, whether big or small, whether new entrant or recidivist. The government found the analogy useful--and necessary--because in an all-criminal industry there is no justification or harbor under a rule of reason."
In refusing Apple's appeal, Judge Debra Ann Livingston also adopted melodramatic language and attacked Apple's actions as "vigilantism." Sure, vigilantes are terrible, but what on Earth does that have to do with Apple wanting to compete with Amazon by selling ebooks? What does it even mean? In her decision, she appears to object to Apple being a clever negotiator and demanding tough terms. Judge Jacob's states:
“A further and pervasive error (by the district court and by my colleagues on this appeal) is the implicit assumption that competition should be genteel, lawyer-designed, and fair under sporting rules, and that antitrust law is offended by gloves-off competition.”
It's it true Apple was gloves-off, or not fair under sporting rules? Were they business "vigilantes?" Or perhaps they did something basically legal, but they didn’t dot the “i” and cross the “t’s” in a way to satisfy every legal nicety. Were they driving under the normal speed limit, but forgetting that the speed limit is lower on school days? Should they have handled the matter of entering the ebook market in a more "genteel" way? Were they needlessly ruthless in their relentless pursuit of cold hearted business? Is it fair on any level to compare their actions, at least metaphorically, to drug dealers and vigilantes?

Judge Jacob addresses this head on. He states that Apple had no choice but to do exactly what they did if they wanted to enter the ebook market and compete against Amazon. His thoughtful dissent is much shorter and more to the point than Judge Cotes, because he doesn’t have to twist the law around, or use melodramatic language, to make his point that Apple did nothing illegal. Yet he takes the time to very specifically address what Apple’s options were, and why they took the most responsible and legal approach to entering the ebook market and bringing much needed competition.

For starters, even if there was a conspiracy between the big publishers to try to fix prices, that does not mean Apple was doing anything illegal by negotiating with them. As Judge Jacobs says:
“Collusion among competitors does not describe Apple’s conduct or account for its motive. Apple’s conduct had no element of collusion with a horizontal rival. Its own rival in competition was (and presumably is) Amazon; and that competition takes place on a horizontal plane distinct from the plane of the horizontal conspiracy among the publishers. All Apple’s energy--all it did that has been condemned in this case--was directed to weakening its competitive rival, and pushing it aside to make room for Apple’s entry. On the only horizontal plane that matters to Apple’s e-book business, Apple was in competition and never in collusion. So it does not do to deem Apple’s conduct anti-competitive just because the publishers’ horizontal conspiracy was found to be illegal per se.”
At the time, Amazon had achieved it’s 90% share of the ebook trade by heavily discounting many best selling ebooks to $9.99, taking a loss on their sales. The big publishers wanted their best selling books to retail at a higher price, and feared Amazon’s dominance of the ebook market, and huge discounting of their best sellers, would create the customer expectation that all ebooks should sell for $9.99 or less.  Amazon would then lock them into that price for the forceable future.

Now, I’m a huge fan of Amazon, and I think overall what they have been doing in the ebook market is smart and good for readers, writers and publishers. Their efforts to push the price of ebooks to $9.99 is based on a desire to grow the ebook market. They’ve consistently made an argument, which I agree is probably true, that pricing ebooks at $9.99 will mean more are sold and more profits for everyone, publishers included.

I am also not a fan of the big traditional publishers Apple made deals with. They have colluded to screw writers and pay lousy royalties on ebooks. The reason they hated Amazon’s $9.99 ebook price is that they didn’t want the ebook market to grow too fast. They wanted ebooks expensive to protect their print sales. Never-the-less, they have a legal right to charge what they want for their books and to pursue whatever legal business strategy they like, even if that means they favor their print market over Amazon’s ebook market. Even Judge Cote acknowledged their desire higher prices, to protect print, was completely legal.

In 2012, Apple wanted to sell their new iPads and knew the iPad was a great reading device for ebooks. They needed a deal with the big publishers to provide content. The big publishers needed someone to give them leverage against Amazon’s 90% market share and predatory pricing. So what was Apple to do if it wanted to enter the ebook market? Judge Jacob steps through Apple’s options:

“In the course of this litigation, three theories have been offered for how Apple could have entered the e-book market on less restrictive terms. Each theory misapprehends the market or the law, or both. The absence of alternative means bespeaks the reasonableness of the measures Apple took.”
As the Judge says, Apple's actions were not just legal, they were completely reasonable.  But didn't it have at least some other opinions?
“Theory 1: Apple could have competed with Amazon on Amazon’s terms, using wholesale contracts and below-cost pricing. This was never an option. The district court found as fact that: a new entrant into the e-book retail market “would run the risk of losing money if it tried or was forced to match Amazon’s pricing to remain competitive,” … Apple was “not willing” to engage in below-cost pricing… and Apple could have avoided this money-losing price structure simply by forgoing entry to the market…. Even if Apple had been willing to adopt below-cost pricing, the result at best would have been duopoly, and the hardening of the existing barrier to entry. Antitrust law disfavors a durable duopoly nearly as much as monopoly itself.”
As the judge points out, the problem with Theory 1, is that if Apple simply matched Amazon’s predatory pricing they would have been forced to take a big loss on their ebook sales. Why should Apple enter a market simply to take a loss? This has never been the way Apple does business. While they are focused on their hardware sales, they try to make a profit on every product (including digital products). Moreover, why should the publishers have agreed to sell ebooks to Apple if it was simply going to discount them the same way Amazon was doing. It’s quite likely Apple couldn’t have been made a deal with them. Even more importantly, if Apple had entered the market on the basis of taking a loss on best selling books, it would have run the risk of violating anti-trust laws. (Like, the way anti-trust laws are supposed to be enforced, not the bizarre way Judge Cotes enforces them.) If theory 1 was Apple’s only option, Apple simply wouldn’t have gotten into the market.
“Theory 2: Apple could have entered the e-book retail market using the wholesale model and charged higher prices than Amazon’s. The district court foreclosed this theory as well; it found that Apple refused to impair its brand by charging “what it considered unrealistically high prices.” … even if Apple had been willing to tarnish its brand by offering bad value for money, the notion that customers would actually have bought e-books from Apple at the higher price defies the law of demand. Higher prices may stimulate sales of certain wines and perfumes--not e-books. … nor could Apple justify higher prices for the e-books by competing on the basis of its new hardware, the iPad, because there is inter-operability among platforms. And if Apple had attempted to pursue this hardware-based competition by programming its iPad to run the iBookstore but to reject Amazon’s Kindle application, Apple might have been exposed to an entirely different antitrust peril.”
Apple also had the option of pricing their ebooks higher, like the publishers wanted, without a most favored nations clause to compel Amazon to match the higher price. But if they had done that, they obviously would have hurt their reputation. If every ebook Apple offered was $14.99 compared to $9.99, not only would no one buy Apple’s ebooks, but Apple would look like it was trying to gouge it’s customers.

Moreover, if Apple tried to prevent Amazon ebooks from being read on the iPad, they would not only be perceived as gouging customers, but, as the judge points out, they would be opening themselves up for a different sort of anti-trust lawsuit. So once again, if theory 2 was Apple’s only option, it would have had to stay out of the ebook market.

“Theory 3: Apple could have asked the Department of Justice to act against Amazon’s monopoly. Counsel for the United States actually proposed this at oral argument. At the same time, however, he conceded that the Department of Justice had already “noticed” Amazon’s e-book pricing and had chosen not to challenge it because the government “regarded it as good for consumers.” Any request from Apple would therefore have been futile. … More fundamentally, litigation is not a market alternative.”
This theory, proposed by the DOJ, is the most laughable of Apple’s non-options. The DOJ, admitting they would have ignored Apple, suggests that Apple should have gone to them and asked for them to investigate Amazon’s pricing. If Apple had pursued this option, how many years should they have waited for an answer from the DOJ? Would they have even gotten a definitive answer? Even if they had eventually gotten one, since the DOJ felt Amazon’s pricing was fine, they would have simply wasted a huge amount of time and effort. Not much of an option.

Jacobs concludes his examination of Apple’s options with this statement:
“Apple took steps to compete with a monopolist and open the market to more entrants, generating only minor competitive restraints in the process. Its conduct was eminently reasonable; no one has suggested a viable alternative.”
Actually, there was only one real alternative to the way Apple pursued this. To have simply not entered the ebook market. In fact, they could have made a deal with Amazon and embraced the Kindle App as the main ebook reader. They might have even been able to have gotten a cut from Amazon’s ebook sales. (Which they don’t get now, because Amazon ebooks can’t be purchased through the iPad.) In the long run, they might have even gotten more money, and certainly avoided a $450 million dollar fine, by simply allowing Amazon to continue to completely control the ebook market.

Supposedly the smoking gun against Apple was an email by Steve Jobs. In it he said:
“I can live with this, as long as they move Amazon to the agent model too for new releases for the first year. If they don’t, I’m not sure we can be competitive.”
I see no smoking gun here. No drug deal, no vigilantism. Jobs is simply stating a fact. I also see no great evil in customers having to pay $14.99 rather than $9.99 if they want a particular best seller in the first year it comes out. Despite the years of bizarre litigation, Amazon has moved to the agency model, prices have gone up and the world hasn't ended. Apple couldn't compete with Amazon's 90% share of the ebook market without the support of publishers to level prices. Amazon now has to come up with other ways to compete, and so does Apple. That's a good thing. The bad thing would have been if Apple has simply avoided the market.

That is the real problem with this bizarre case. That is why Apple must continue to pursue this all the way to the Supreme Court. Because this case breaks new law, and the new law tells companies that they shouldn’t try to compete in these kinds of tough markets by making tough decisions. If they do, the government may step in and punish them. And that’s really bad for business, bad for America, and frankly, would be bad for me as a self-publisher and digital content creator.

I mentioned earlier that I’m a fan of Amazon and I think it has done a lot of good things for writers and readers in trying to build the ebook market. But they have not done this for humanitarian reasons. They have done it for business reasons. And most of the good they have done, like making self-publishing easy and profitable, as been because of competitive pressure. Amazon’s also done some bad things, like using non-standard ebook formats (for reasons that are good for their business interests, but not so much for customers). There is every reason to believe that if Amazon doesn’t have competition, they might do more bad things than good things. I believe in a free market, and a free, competitive market is the best way to make sure Amazon continues to do good things.

Specifically, if Apple, considering only the three bad options it had available, had decided not to enter the ebook market, I would be making considerably less money per ebook sold on Amazon than I’m doing now. Before Apple entered the ebook market, Amazon only paid writers 30% of the sale price on all ebooks. Apple historically paid content creators, in the App Store, 70%. Just before Apple entered the market, Amazon changed it’s policy and now pays self-publishers 70% on ebooks in a certain price range. They clearly did this because they feared self-publishers would immediately shift to Apple.

I think paying writers only 30% on most ebooks is wrong. It an unfair deal. And that’s what Amazon was doing for years before Apple entered the market. Self-publishers would have had no chance of getting Amazon to change the 30% policy if Apple had never stepped in to provide competition. So it’s a good thing that Apple got into the ebook market, and it’s a really bad thing Apple is being punished by the government for doing it in the only responsible way it could.

This is not just about the past. Amazon could still do more to improve the way it works with self-publishers, and frankly Apple could do more too. Content creators need these companies to compete freely, and aggressively, without bizarre government interference to protect one company over another.

I believe strongly that this entire DOJ lawsuit has hurt self-publishers, because Apple has taken a very low key approach to ebooks since being forced into the settlement. There is much more Apple could do to help grow the ebook market, and provide better tools for self-publishers, but I think they are reasonably holding off to see where this case finally rests.  Likewise, I think the years of litigation have given Amazon too much leverage in the market and discouraged other competitors from considering entry.

The legal issues raised in this case will also likely effect a whole range of tech companies in the future, particularly companies that deal with digital content. For the first time, the government is litigating against and punishing companies for trying to enter new markets. They are using anti-trust law, not to bust up companies that have monopolies, but to protect companies with monopolies.

For example, Google dominates digital video with You Tube. And they frankly pay digital content producers very little. Much less even than Amazon’s pre-Apple 30% of revenue. You Tube has a clear monopoly on short form video content (and are moving into long form). If Apple, or any other company, decides to take a huge risk by entering the market against You Tube, will they also have to look over their shoulder to make sure the DOJ doesn’t punish them for legal competitive behavior?

Under this new reading of anti-trust laws, will a competitor to You Tube be acting illegally if it joins with content creators to encourage higher payments for artists? What about comic books? Amazon currently controls most of that market too as well as audio books. Netflix also pays independent content providers very poorly, yet they have a huge market share. How will this decision effect potential competition in those areas?

One of the amazing things about the internet is how quickly companies can grow and capture market share, but a troubling aspect is how dominate certain companies are in specific markets. Google controls most of the search market, and video markets. Amazon controls most of the ebook market. Apple most of the music download market. Facebook most of the social networking market. We need more competition in all of these markets, not less. And this rewriting of anti-trust law is a big step in the wrong direction.

UPDATE: Yes, Apple is appealing to the Supreme Court.

Goodbye Apple Fanboy. Hello Apple Superfan!

So I've officially decided to stop using the term Apple "Fanboy," in reference to myself and others. I'm going to test out Apple "Superfan," but I'm open to alternatives (feel free to offer suggestions in the comments). Apple Fanboy was, and is, most often used derisively by Apple haters, and always had homophobic connotations.

The implication was that if you were an Apple fan, you weren't a real man, you were kind of a sissy.  (I guess Windows and Android are more butch.)  Some Apple fans embraced the term in the way that some gays embraced the word queer, trying to turn the negativity into empowerment.  That's pretty much the way I used it.  Thankfully, society is starting to turn around and realize there's nothing wrong with being a "sissy," but it seems like we still have a long way to go before some people accept that it's okay to be an Apple fan.

Given all the rapid, and wonderful, changes in American culture in relation to issues of gender and sexuality, from acceptance of gay marriage and transgenders, to the push for more inclusion of women in the tech world, my feeling is this term feels increasingly exclusionary and dated.  I've decided, at least for me, it isn't a term worth trying to redeem.  So farewell, Apple Fanboy, hello Apple Superfan.

Steve Jobs Movie Looks Horrible

So the official trailer for Aaron Sorkin's Steve Jobs movie came out and it looks even worse than I feared it would be:

Where to start?  It looks really pompous, preachy, over written and everything else Sorkin is known for.  Of particular offense is the line of dialogue where Woz says Steve can't even use a hammer.  Woz never would have said that, because it simply wasn't true.  Steve Jobs loved to work with his hands, grew up working with tools next to his father, assembled parts in a factory, and soldered mother boards to help sell the Apple 1.  (He even worked in his garden late in life.)

In fact, in Walter Isaacson's biography, which the movie is supposedly based on, Steve Jobs talks about the fence he helped build with his father around the family home.  How his father handed him a hammer, how he used the hammer to help his father, and how proud he was that it was still standing fifty years later.  And how it taught him about the value of craftsmanship which he carried on in his work as the CEO of Apple.

So why go to a lot of trouble to invent stuff, just to slam Steve Jobs?  If you're going to invent stuff, why not fun stuff?  Why not a story where Steve Jobs fights battles with swords and saves the world?

If that kind of story appeals to you, check out Eve's Hungry.  It's on sale now for .99 cents during a limited Kindle Countdown.  If you're an Apple fan, I can promise you'll enjoy it a lot more than this trailer.

The New Eve's Hungry Blog

To those Eve's Hungry fans who have been following along over the last three years as I have blogged my way through my debut novel: many thanks!  Now that it is finished and published on Kindle, the question for this particular digital domain is… now what?  Eve's Hungry the sequel?  I don't know.  It feels like the novel finished in such a nice and satisfactory way that I'm not sure there is a sequel story.  I've toyed with the idea of some prequels, but I'm not ready to jump into that now.

So to keep this spot alive, until such time as Doctor Eve Zachara embarks on a new mission or two, I'm going to shift gears and turn this into an Apple fanboy blog with commentary, news, and stuff about my favorite tech company.  Sure, I know there are a ton of other Apple blogs out there, but I think I might have some unique things to say about the company, now that I've finished my fictional epic about it.  Along the way I'll also might sneak in a crazy Eve's Hungry short story or some fan art and news about how the novel is being received in the Apple community.

So stay tuned!  The Eve's Hungry blog is just getting started!

Eve's Hungry Now Available for Kindle

Eve's Hungry, my fabulous debut novel, is now available exclusively on Amazon.  To check it out, just click the Amazon link to the side.

Here's the blurb:

In the futuristic world of 2032, Apple Computer and Google engage in a deadly war for the fate of mankind. It is a battle between iOS and Android, fought not only over features and updates, but also with tanks, bombs and laser swords. Fighter jets roar over the deserts of Central Asia, machine guns blast in the jungles of Africa and high above the planet vast battles are waged by opposing space fleets.

Google’s company motto had been, “Don’t be evil.” But recently it was changed to: “Yes, we’re evil. Get over it.” They air bombed Apple’s Cupertino headquarters and plunged the tech industry into world war. Now, only one woman can stop them: Dr. Eve Zachara, a personal protege of Steve Jobs. Eve is a sexy, super agent working for Apple’s secretive Special Sales Division. As military alliances are forged and broken, she must use all the tools of international espionage, from assault and assassination to sabotage and seduction.

Eve’s Hungry is a fast paced sci-fi adventure filled with insider humor and wild satire in the spirit of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Austin Powers and Our Man Flint. Apple Computer fans will cheer and laugh at the amazing exploits of Eve as she encounters major players from Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other famous companies in this hilarious send up of rivalries in the tech industry.

Episode Sixteen: Vive la Revolution

“Android.” The robot commanded.
“Oui, monsieur.” Eve said obediently as she pulled a Moto G from her jacket pocket. She was dressed in a simple peasant skirt and blouse, with cheap stockings, Mary Jane shoes and a worn dark blue jacket with matching Cloche hat pulled low over her eyes. She clicked on the Moto’s identification app and a barcode appeared. She offered it out for the robot to scan.
“Do not speak French.” The robot said in a monotone. “English only. It is the will of Google.”
“Oh, yes. Of course, I forgot. Sorry.” Eve said meekly.
Despite favorable tech news coverage at the time, Google’s purchase of France, and subsequent oppression of its people and culture, had been a disaster from the start, necessitating a large robot force to maintain order. Particularly reviled was Larry Page’s rather random demand that the entire populous switch from French to English. The subtleties of French had always been rather difficult to quantify in search results, so Larry impulsively decided it was better to get rid of the language all together. While there are many things the French people might put up with to keep peace, messing with their language is not one of them. As a result, a large underground resistance was constantly at war with military authorities.
“What is in that case?” The robot asked. The robot was about eight feet tall, with a neckless revolving half circle head not unlike the Android logo but with eyes that glowed red for a menacing touch. It had a shoulder mounted submachine gun on a swivel mount. It was a little rusty around the joints. It was the basic model Google had employed in France for the last decade and this one looked like it had not been upgraded. Internally Google designated it as a B.O.L.R.E., short for Boot of Larry Robot Enforcer. But the French called them “RuBoots.”
“It’s a bassoon.” Eve said. “I’m going to play at the Salle Pleyel tonight.” It was sunset and they were standing at the picturesque corner of Rue Boissiére and Rue de Lübeck. People in the nearby cafes tried to ignore what was unfortunately a common sight, RuBoot’s randomly stopping people for ID checks, weapon and technology searches and general harassment. Across the Seine river nearby, Eve could see the glow of the Eiffel Tower with a hideous giant neon Google logo flashing down its length in garish colors. That was another thing that really pissed off the natives.
“Bassoon’s are not allowed.” The RuBoot said.
Now the robot was beginning to piss Eve off. She knew for a fact that Bassoon’s were one of the few wood wind instruments still allowed in the city; saxophones, of course, having been banned first. She suspected the RuBoots were programmed to arbitrarily enforce imaginary rules just to keep the populous fearful, wary and unhappy.
She was tempted to pull open the case, whip out her new Jony Ive Special Edition Apple Sword and slice it apart. But instead she stalled.
“Did I say Bassoon? I meant trombone.”
“I don’t believe you… “ The RuBoot said. Then its electronic voice stuttered. “I… feel… funny…”
The RuBoot started to shake. Its arms dropped limply. A service hatch on its back opened up. The Android Moto G Eve had used to identify herself had been hacked. Eve had replaced its operating system with special version of iOS. The barcode the robot scanned included a worm that attacked the robot’s operating code. Eve pulled a thermite grenade from her jacket and set a timer. She shoved it deep into the robot’s insides through the service hatch and shut it. The RuBoot shook helplessly as Eve continued on her way.
The RuBoot blew up in a bright fireball. Tiny pieces rained down on the cobblestones.
Cafe patrons sipping coffee and wine burst into applause. Eve turned, briefly bowed, and went on her way. Someone shouted, “See you tonight at Salle Pleyel!”

Eve wasn’t playing bassoon that night. Not at Salle Pleyel or anywhere else. (Though she was a rather fine bassoonist.) She was heading to a gathering of La Résistance Française in a secret wine cellar under the Musee du Louvre. She had been invited personally by Mark Zuckerberg.
In addition to the tactical mistake of banning French, Google had underestimated the French people’s love of Facebook and the power of Zuckerberg’s amazing social media skills. Shortly after France was sold to Google by corrupt officials, tens of millions of its citizens unfriended Google in protest. Facebook had always been a thorn in Google’s side, rivaling Apple as a strategic enemy. Google’s own efforts at social media had always fallen flat. Google Plus had long been a failure, as had Google Wave, Google Social, Google Buddy, Google Friendface, and Google Just-Like-Facebook. Banning Facebook all together was not an option, even after Google had achieved the power to do so in its own territories. Facebook had created a wildly successful version for the dark web, Facebook After Dark, and all the major porn stars had fan pages on it. Banning the dark web would mean banning porn, one of Google’s only strategic advantages over Apple. Besides, if Google took direct action against Facebook, what about WhatsApp and Instagram? Even Larry Page wasn’t crazy enough to attack Instagram. And Zuckerberg had his own nuclear option: with his tech prowess he could quickly retool Facebook into an independent search engine and possibly destroy Google’s ad base. There was, of course, potential danger in a search war for Facebook also, but the threat was enough to force Google to fight Facebook in the streets rather than in cyberspace.
Eve passed on several offers for wine as she moved through the crowds of handsome half-shaved men and sensuous red lipped women who packed the dim cellars preparing for battle. France always had the most attractive revolutionaries. And the wine at these events was always terrific, but Eve was determined to stay sober. Even with her hair hidden and the Cloche pulled down over her forehead, she was recognized. People smiled, patted her warmly on the back and whispered, “Viva la Apple.”
Thanks to Eve’s handy work destroying Google’s Mediterranean fleet, Amazon’s Spanish forces had been able to break across the border into the South of France and capture Barcelona. Arianna Huffington’s irregulars had taken Sicily by sea and were using it to stage a ground campaign into Italy that could reach France by the Riviera coast to Monte Carlo. Meanwhile, Branson’s British troops were about to launch an invasion across the English channel. So the mission of the La Résistance Française was straightforward: to create as much chaos as possible in the heart of France to hamper Google’s military defense as the combined tech forces converged on it. Creating chaos was something the French underground was good at.
Which was a good thing, because most of the rebel discussions focused on symbolic gestures, like draping black flags over the Arc de Triomphe and tearing down the neon sign on the Eiffel Tower. Eve silently dismissed her plans to recruit a squad to attack an anti-aircraft battery as conversations got heated about what color flags would best symbolize the resistance, red or black or both.
She reached Zuck who was at the center of a group of resistance leaders pointing out potential targets on a map with his hook. He spotted Eve and his left hand grabbed her shoulder affectionately as he eyed her with his one eye. “Thank you for coming, Eve.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it.” she said with a smile.
“And thank you for Yahoo. Marissa kicked some ass, didn’t she?”
“That she did.”
“What about the Keynote?”
“I couldn’t get him to cancel it. It starts at 10am in the morning.”
“New iComs?”
“Probably. I honestly don’t know.”
“An Apple flying car?”
Eve shook her head.
“We’ll just have hope Page is bluffing about the nukes or that Amazon can stop them.”
“What I hear from Branson is that it’s not going well in orbit or on the moon.”
They both smiled in existential amusement that seemed oddly appropriate in France, in the middle of a war, just before a hopeless battle, knowing that nukes would fall on Paris first. Most likely that very next day. Zuckerberg grew wistful. “You know, when the bucks first rolled in after the IPO, I wanted to start a space program. Sandberg talked me out of it. Now I wish had a time machine.”
They went over the plans. Eve was once again impressed with his social networking skills. Rather than argue against the popular symbolic gestures, Zuckerberg figured out how to incorporate them into a coherent military strategy. Destroying the Google neon logo on the Eiffel tower was pointless, but at the top of the tower Google had erected broadcast antennas critical to their military communications system. Sabotaging them prior to Branson’s channel invasion would leave Google in disarray. “I was hoping maybe you could tackle that. My climbing skills aren’t what they used to be.” Zuck said, raising his hook. Eve nodded. “Meanwhile, I’ll take the main forces and try to keep the RuBoots distracted at the Arc de Triomphe.” Zuck pointed out that while there was little military value to draping flags on the Arc de Triomphe, it was centrally located in the city and away from residential areas. Therefore a good place to try to lure Google’s robot suppression forces into a street battle. Snipers with shoulder fired grenade launchers could take positions on top of it while others draped the flags.
“The flags must be black! To show the shame of France!” A handsome half-shaved rebel and cafe barista named Pierre shouted.
“No, they must be red, to show the anger of the French people!” said Emmanuelle, a sensuous red lipped erotic novelist.
“Red and black together! With two black flags and then alternating one red and two more black!” Said a half-shaved sculpture artist named Leon.
The room burst into passionate argument. Amélie, a lovely taxi driver with jet black hair in a pony tail, leaned over to Eve. “This is why Google always defeats us. Because we cannot agree on stupid things.”
There was shoving and for a moment Eve feared a fist fight was about to break out. “NO!” Shouted Zuckerberg over the roar of the crowd. He jumped onto the top of a wine barrel and shook his hook menacingly at the crowd. “No! No! No!”
The room settled as all eyes went to him. Zuckerberg held a long pause and the room fell silent in anticipation. He began to speak slowly, softly, before rising into a triumphant call to arms that echoed against the arched stone ceilings. “We shall drape the Arc de Triomphe with the national flag of France, with its glorious tricolors blue, white and red symbolizing Paris, because after tonight: France… will… be… FREE!”
Huge cheers erupted into shouts of “Viva La France!” Eve smiled at Zuck. She didn’t believe France would be freed that night, at best it faced a long bloody war of attrition. She doubted even Zuck believed it, but it was exactly what the crowd needed to hear. The cheers merged into a loud chorus of La Marseillaise and the beautiful song filled the cellar with joyous camaraderie and hope.

Above and outside, cold reality quickly came crashing down. Weapons were being handed out to the resistance fighters in the Cour Neapoléon between the I. M. Pei designed Louvre Pyramid and the Sully Wing of the 17th Century Palace. Word arrived that hundreds of RuBoots had lined up on the Rue de Rivoli, preparing to attack and burn down the museum while driving the rebel force into the Seine. The only way to save the museum would be to attack the RuBoot’s first.
“We have been betrayed!” Leon said between gritted teeth. “Someone tipped Google off that we were meeting. One of us is a traitor.”
“There is always a traitor.” Amélie whispered to Eve, shaking her head despondently.
“These will save us!” Pierre shouted as he and half-a-dozen half-shaven rebels carried in large shipping boxes. “Combattre le feu par le feu!” Eve felt a dark shutter of apprehension even before Pierre broke open the top of the boxes and started tossing the contents around. Before she could protest, shrink wrapped G-Blades where being scattered into the crowd. Delighted rebels tore them from the boxes and held them up proudly.
Eve looked over to Zuckerberg, who was also concerned. “Zuck, stop them. This will be the end. We can’t trust G-Blades.”
“I know but… I…” Perhaps for the first time in his life, Zuckerberg was at a loss for how to manage a crowd. Laser beams popped up everywhere.
A RuBoot could be heard shouting from an amplified megaphone over the walls of the Richelieu Wing. “Surrender, miserable rebels, our we will burn your filthy museum to the ground!”
“Attack! Attack! Viva La France!” Pierre shouted. The crowd took up the cry and began to move. “No… no…” Zuckerberg stammered, unheard over the shouting masses. Pierre rushed over and thrust a blazing G-Blade into Zuck’s hand and said, “Combattre le feu par le feu!”
“Zuck, no…” Eve pleaded. But Zuckerberg’s eyes were already a fixed on the glow of the seductive laser. “Combattre le feu par le feu,” he whispered to it.
“They are remotely controlled by Google. Google!”
Pierre shook his head. “No, these are blackmarket. They run Linux. They will slice through the RuBoots like a hot knife through seasoned butter!” He pulled Zuckerberg off with the others. Eve was tempted to grab them, but worried that if handed a G-Blade she might fall under its spell.
“Don’t do it!” She shouted. But Zuckerberg, the master of social media, could not resist the energized crowd. There was no turning back.
“Surrender rebels!” The megaphone demanded again.
“Viva La France!” Zuckerberg yelled as the crazed mob surged out of the courtyard like dancers rushing to a Euro disco laser show.
Emmanuelle stood by Eve, disgusted. “Men and their obsessive devotion to glowing phallic symbols.” Eve looked forlornly at crates of perfectly good grenade launchers left behind. She had gone to a lot of trouble to get them shipped in from Afghanistan along with hundreds of iComs to provide a secure communications network. She looked around and saw only about a dozen rebels remaining who had refused the G-Blades. For some reason, they were mostly women and few gay men. Were they less susceptible to evil temptations or just plan smarter? If so, what did that say about Eve who knew herself to be vulnerable to the G-Blade’s seductive power?
Amélie checked over the iComs. “These iComs are more useful in war than the grenade launchers. Are you really from Apple?”
“Yes.” Eve answered.
“Then do something!”
“Money! Apple is rich. How much money do you have?”
“All that is needed if it can make a difference.”
“How much?!”
Eve grabbed a fresh iCom and programmed in a credit card number from memory.
“This iCom now has a ten million Euro credit on Apple Pay.”
“That will do.” Amélie reached for it. 
Eve held it off. “Tell me what you are thinking.”
“Enough with the amateurs. We need people we can order around for money.”
“Taxi drivers. Paris has the best taxi drivers in the world. They beat the Germans at Marne. They hate Google and will accept Apple Pay.”
“Go on.”
“There is a secret passage back in the wine cellar that leads under the Champs-Elysées. We can carry the iComs and the grenade launchers through it to a hidden panel in the dressing rooms of the Le Crazy Horse de Paris. There we will find many women who will do almost anything for money.”
“Dancers.” Amélie said firmly. “I was a dancer at the Crazy Horse before I became a taxi driver. The dancers there are the best in the world. Strong, agile and fast. They know how to use small arms and are afraid of nothing. They will insist on cash but I can work that out with the floor manager.”
Eve nodded and handed her the iCom. “I’ll need receipts.”

To be continued…


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