Retaking the Rorschach test

On a recent episode of the Talk Show, John Gruber called the Beats deal a “blank canvas” that people are projecting their preconceived notions about the company onto. Subsequently, Jean-Louise Gassée made the same point as Gruber, based off a tweet by Benedict Evans:

As Benedict Evans’ felicitous tweet put it, Apple’s $3B acquisition of Beats, the headphone maker and music streaming company, is a veritable Rorschach blot…

As I said to Gruber on that episode of the Talk Show, I maintain that everything the company does is a blank canvas, what I’ve previously called a Rorschach’s cat: the cat is either dead or alive depending on your preconception. We like to think that the big announcements like the iPod, iPhone and iPad were met with near universal acclaim because, in retrospect, they were such successes. But, really, they weren’t. No matter what Apple announces, people will line up to tell you how lame it is. The Beats deal is just another iteration of that same law of pundit quantum mechanics and now we can throw WWDC onto this bonfire of the banalities.

Pundits are comparing it unfavorably to Microsoft’s recent announcements which, while nice, aren’t really the same as the firehose-of-goodies-in-developers-faces that happened at WWDC. And, of course, pundits are lamenting the fact that Apple didn’t announce any new product lines, as if the company’s competitors are churning out category-defining products and leaving Apple in the dust. Yes, Google shows us prototypes and might even sell a few of them, but they don’t make a real market for them. This double standard is never acknowledged in these pieces. None of Apple’s competitors has redefined and vitalized a market in the way the iPod, iPhone and iPad did. If anything it seems that the “wearables” market is bumbling around in giant clown shoes waiting for Apple to set the standard.

Sometimes the actors are different, but we’re still watching the same stupid play.