Apple’s Senate hearings and the power of the RDF in the post-PC era

nooseby Valkry Productions

I had this interesting comment from an earlier post.

Just wait. A congressional hearing will be, or try to be, a lynching of Apple! The Feds use PCs. Do you really think they are to admit that their computers and phones are worse than Macs? Of course not.

I have a couple of responses – one is that in a post–PC world, the tools being used are much more heterogenous than before, making it very hard to characterize any entity – and especially one as complex as the government – as interested in just one device.

Many, many Federal employees are using Apple products – such as iPhones, iPads and Macs. And they are just as fanatical about them as any Mac fan. They are people, after all ;-) Well, most of them.

So I do not really see that a lynching as a credible possibility. (Besides, as I mention below, there are practical reasons I do not believe it will not be anything like a McCarthy era HUAC hearing.)

Apple has done a much better job the last few years getting their computers approved for government work. The Government Computing News site has written about the rapid uptake of iPads and iPhones by government employees.

I actually think this is part of what Jobs means by a post-PC world. In a PC world, the organization still determined what computing device people could use – Windows won. But in a post-PC world, the employee chooses the device and the employer is really unable to stop that. So they prety much acquiesce.

And that is exactly what we are seeing in both the government and in business. The Interior Department just gave 1000  iPads to its field agents as well as iPhones. DARPA is modifying iPads to use throughout the Department of Defense. Almost every Executive branch office and many of the Legislative are integrating Apple products. Why? Because people were going to use them anyway so they had to figure out how to incorporate them.

In fact, I would imagine that the real reason there has been such a rapid outcry from the government is their own worry about security. Mobile devices are already  being used by people in very sensitive positions. The thought that information about those people could be sent to third parties would make them rightly stand up and take a hard look.

I do not think they are setting this up to torpedo Apple since many people in the government love them. I actually expect several on the committee will make that known. I think there is a rightful concern about privacy that Apple will have no problem answering. Because Apple’s only concern is the user experience. If users do not trust them, they will buy another product.

Not so for the other company invited – Google – where the user experience is really only secondary to servicing their advertisers – the ones who pay the bills.

In fact, I think just the opposite to an Apple lynching is possible. I think Google could be in for some hurt here. They will have to contend with the most potent secret weapon Apple still has – the Reality Distortion Field of Steve Jobs.

I have full faith in the RDF. Apple would be a very successful company without this weapon but is simply devastating using it. No other company or Senatorial committee stands a chance if Jobs decides to be there to testify.

Even Senators will want to bathe in it rather than go head-to-head against it. I expect that by the time Jobs is through – if he appears –  the audience will not only give him a standing ovation but so will several Senators ;-)

How will Google be able to deal with this? Would you want to be at the same table – as a competitor of Apple – when the RDF is in force? Steve has already hinted that ‘others’ do much worse with privacy. Google may well be one of those others sitting at the same table.

Both Microsoft and Google send back location information including unique device IDs so that they can tag specific information back to specific users. Apple has said it only uses anonymized information so nothing can be tracked back to a specific user.

If asked by a Senator if they can  track a person’s specific location, Apple can say ‘No’ while Google will say ‘Possibly’. Apple only has a database of nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi spots which can be used only by someone with your phone – or computer – in their possession. Google gets your exact GPS coordinates which they can give to … who?

And what about the forgotten child here?  Microsoft used to be somebody. I have to think that poor Steve Ballmer is trying to get himself invited to this committee also. All the cool kids are invited. Why is no one concerned with the relevance of Microsoft here? Poor MS. I’d almost think they would prefer being lynched than being ignored.

Finally, Jobs is a well-known liberal – all of his political donations go to Democrats – but whose machines are used by  the most important conservative pundits. There is no political advantage to be gained here by a lynching. So I simply do not expect there to be anything other than a dog and pony show to demonstrate how serious they all are about privacy. Well, that is what to usually expect from Congressional hearings. But, like having Feynman on the Shuttle Committee, people with RDFs – and Feynman’s was every bit as strong as Jobs; why is Feynman one of the only theoretical physicists anyone has heard of? – can often turn the hearings onto completely different tracks.

I would imagine that any hearing that Jobs is at will be covered live and be watched by millions. That is all a politician wants. But Jobs might have another agenda, one that could really enhance Apple.

I expect Steve to be there if he can. The full court press he is putting on now indicates to me that he will be a strong participant in these hearings.

I would not be surprised by the end for Apple to be on top and Google to be struggling with how it deals with the questions.

Google and MS should be the ones concerned here. Jobs and Apple will be fine.