The Northern Spy — The Fourth Law Revisited

The Northern Spy

First mentioned here
back in 2005, and oft referenced since, the Spy’s Fourth Law:

Marketshare lags mindshare by two to five years.
has proven a robust marketplace staple, applicable to both entire technology companies and individual products.
On the way to becoming the global technology giant, Apple earned mindshare with meticulously designed and executed hardware and software. Not everything Apple did was truly innovative, but their products worked better, lasted longer, won people over, made friends who then bought their other products. Windows is still a pale, buggy, and insecure knockoff of Apple’s MacOS, and the machines it runs on are generally cheaply made and prone to failure after two or three years (power supplies in particular). They are initially inexpensive–an attractive point for corporate IT departments and comptrollers who fail to consider total cost of ownership over product lifetime. And, because the marketplace for Windows software is far larger than for Apple’s OS, it offers a greater variety of low-quality business and gaming software and peripherals.

Ditto the tablet and smartphone markets, which shared similar characteristics–Apple initially owned both, and built strong customer loyalty while other companies scrambled to imitate. Moreover, this success fed back into Apple’s computer market, which benefited immensely from the hundreds of millions of iPhones glued to customer’s eyeballs all over the world. And, the integration of the two platforms, with cross-app and app crossover moves on Apple’s part validated the Fourth law repeatedly.
Times and products have changed. Android-based phones now dominate, and though their screens portray the same kind of unimaginative (though flattering) copying with cheap imitation quality, many people find inexpensive passible functionality is sufficient for their wants. Meanwhile, Apple has seemingly lost its innovative and quality control touch. Likewise in the computer market. For most, getting by with minimal apps is sufficient, initial sticker price the only money question of concern. Indeed, for many people, hybrid computer/pad devices like the Surface or Chrome Book seem sufficient. They won’t do for high end gamers, heavy-duty software developers, and industrial strength application usage, but the everyday user is discovering that she doesn’t relate to high-end.

Apple’s response since Jobs’ death has been tepid, its product line has turned pedestrian, its upgrades uninspiring, and its quality control has become plagued with problems–the iPhone battery and the MacBook Pro being only the two most obvious–and expensive. That Mac users were offered nothing at WWDC is alarming, as the technical specs on Apple’s computer line have now fallen well behind those on competing Windows machines, and the high end has become somewhat of a joke.

Despite all this, the Mac experience is still a quality one, The OS is far superior to anything else, bugs are as rare as viruses, and crashes nearly nonexistent. The Spy has run their machines for years at a time without a crash, except of Microsoft programs. But, who would buy a Mac Pro today? Yet a replacement is at least an unacceptable year out. And the notebooks? The screens are great, but system failure rates are rising, bad press is increasing, and market share has begun to fall in favour of companies like HP that have focused on stealing that share with quality hardware of their own. Does not Apple care any more about the business that made it insanely great?

One could say similar things about the iPhone. True, sales are very strong, and every expectation is that the replacement for the iPhone 8 and X will garner rave reviews, and sell very well indeed, adding billions to the cash pile. Moreover, Apple’s strong services such as iTunes and the new news service also add to the bottom line. But, what is new and innovative in another iPhone iteration? For may already in possession of an iPhone, there is little motivation to shell out for a new model, and the overall smartphone market is becoming saturated.

So, in the next year, what will capture the imagination, build mindshare, and guarantee increased marketshare down the road? Where are the new ideas? It has been a long time since Apple has had a truly innovative product launch–one that could excite professionals, could be a harbinger of society-changing technology, or could realistically expand the company’s mindshare.

Not too many years ago, the Spy announced a deathwatch for Microsoft–a company that seemed a ship without a rudder, meandering aimlessly toward the rocky shore of irrelevance. But a leadership change and a refocusing of goals, better innovation and marketing, plus the drift at Apple have improved prospects. MS still seems listless, but the Spy has cancelled its deathwatch. There’s some life left in the old giant. It’s premature to forecast a demise for Apple, but for the medium term call it a “hold” rather than a “buy” (modulo the broad market crash the Spy still sees looming on a close horizon.)
Still, upon this reflection, the Fourth Law needs modification:

Marketshare lags mindshare by two to five years, though on the downside, the slope may be precipitous.
In the non-technology world, one only need to look at the slow rise and abrupt fall of tobacco as an “in” product. Once mindshare comprehended its body-destroying effects, marketshare fell rapidly. Lately marijauna has ascended to prominence and replaced it as a supposedly healthy alternative, and the once-despised drug has become accepted, even legal in many places, including Canada. It’s fall will be likewise, for once we those who still have minds to comprehend its harm abandon their support, marketshare will quickly vanish as well.

This caution applies to other than physical products
For example, political movements come to governance (sometimes to their own unprepared astonishment) in waves of energy driven by the ennui or overreaching of established governments (or systems) and when they break on the shores of election or revolution day, can sweep what had appeared an entrenched elite into the deep of oblivion in what appears a moment of time. But that is only the surface. A new political order is built on the eroding mindshare of the old, and the firming mindshare of the new. This takes time, mistakes or neglect on the one hand, and seemingly attractive ideas (or merely faces) on the other. All too often a governing party either runs out of imagination and slides into complacent entitlement and mediocrity, or its elite ideologues reach much too far in their attempts to force a remake of society in their own mental image, while stifling alternate thinking, thus shifting mindshare by offending too many people who refuse to be made over.

In saying this The Spy is not wielding a partisan hammer of his own. Indeed, long-time readers know his thinking is misaligned with almost all modern political movements. He’s worried aloud in the past about the modern world’s growing political divides–about the near total lack of dialogue between so-called “left” and “right”, about the triumphalism of winning parties (and politically motivated judges) that try to undo all their predecessors have implemented and impose their own ideology on the society they were elected to judge or govern (not rule), while ignoring real problems they ought to be solving. We shall leave for another day his laments over the endemic ignorance of science and technology among the majority of politicians.
But things are getting worse; it is not only political parties that are losing mindshare, but in their determination to waste resources on achieving their political ends and their consequent failure to govern well or wisely, the very system of justice and democratic government themselves suffer, and if those lose sufficient mindshare, far worse systems are lusting to replace their marketshare, and scapegoat the supporters of the previous regime (or a convenient minority group) for creating the perceived problems they propose to fix.

As one Canadian Prime Minister of a few years back learned in an abortive constitutional makeover, government cannot be “of the special interest groups, by the special interest groups, and for the special interest groups.” This is true even if the group in question is a majority.

More generally, no party, whether of the left, the right, neither, or both, can ever succeed in socially engineering every person in their respective nations to alter their beliefs so as to uniformly think as their prospective masters do–not even by re-designing schools as propaganda machines. It can work for a while, but the country eventually awakens to the fact that their putative emperors have no clothes.

People change from within, not from without. And the deeper the divides political parties create over the issues they either passionately demand everyone adopt, or insist on eradicating, as the case may be, the less likely the system and the country within which they operate can survive, because people eventually realize that the very foundation and social compact of their nation has crumbled. They become ripe for the advent of a single “great and glorious leader” to solve its problems, not realizing every such human being has the cracked clay feet of yet another Ozymandias.

The One alone who can change hearts so that people could come together to build a just, generous, respectful, and prosperous society does not do so through political arguments and movements, or by compulsion. Even pre-Christian Greek society well apprehended that true knowledge as “logos” was transcendent in origin, its content only communicated by rhetoric. Indeed, in all realms that matter, marketshare is a consequence, not a cause, of heart share and so of mind share. Those of all persuasions who forget, ignore, or disparage this are likely to find the fall of democracy’s marketshare becomes precipitous. Perhaps it already has.

The bottom line: True democracy would highly value lively and respectful religious, political, social, and economic debate. It would encourage the argument for and expression of ideas and aspirations in all aspects of personal and professional life, even those the majority find uncomfortable or, distasteful. It cannot hold that speech must never offend even its own values. Its majorities treasure and encourage its minorities, and permit the freedom to associate in and propagate their convictions via like-minded communities. It does not attempt to compel, silence, marginalize, expel, exclude, ghettoize, or eliminate them. Otherwise, it has abandoned democracy for something else.

Sadly, the Western world’s political movements on both ends of the spectrum (and the governments and courts they create) are eroding the very premise of their existence by creating impossible-to-traverse social, political, and moral divides. Meanwhile, an increasing percentage of people cannot in good consistent conscience align themselves with any political party unless they compromise or deny much of who they are and what they believe. The end of all this does not look pretty.
Food for thought.

–The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics, Associate Dean of Science and Chair of the University Senate at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His articles, columns, and papers have appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, and journals (dead-tree and online), and he’s a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972.

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About the Author


A.P.P.L.E. Chairman of the Board and Club president -- Bill worked for the founder, Val J. Golding and A.P.P.L.E. from 1981 to 1982. In 1999, he began archiving the materials which were distributed and sold by A.P.P.L.E.. That project led to the group that remained of A.P.P.L.E. Bill was involved in the financial industry in Tokyo and has over 20 major office infrastructure projects to his name. In March 2001, he retired to write books and to spend more time pursuing personal interests. As the president of the users group, Bill is in charge of distribution of Call-A.P.P.L.E. magazine as well as the organization of this web site. Bill currently resides in Tokyo, Japan and Shelton, Wa splitting time between the places.