By Rick Sutcliffe

The Apple haters and doomsayers will slither from beneath their rocks in force now that Apple has suffered its first quarterly year-over-year decline in revenue in 13 years. No company can grow its sales indefinitely, so this day had to come. Mind, the company still had revenues of over $50 billion, so it’s not about to become a corporate food bank client. This does mark a watershed for the iPhone business, however, as it may indicate, if not market saturation, at least a flattening of the growth curve–not just for Apple but for the whole sector.

Is this “a cloud the size of a man’s hand” on the horizon? Only if Apple abdicates its technology leadership role and fails to introduce yet another iconic game changing product. What of the second AppleTV and the Apple Watch? The Spy says “yawn”. Both entered an already crowded market–one to which neither contributes significantly, much less redefines. Moreover, watches could well be the next typewriter. Bring on trur novelty, products that create whole new market categories, ones that will generate iPhone-esque sales for the next decade.

For instance, the Spy opines that the smart phone is only halfway to the PIEA (Personal Intelligence Enhancement Appliance) that has been a staple in his own alternate history science fiction for over a decade. Instances: Apple’s health and home automation products are appearing at a glacial pace, wearables are in a primitive state, implants are nowhere, we haven’t got nano-deposited diamond screens yet, voice control is only partial, networking is stone age, and the textbook publishing industry is a badly broken dinosaur waiting to be scaled by a savvy technology implementor.

One could also mention MOD (Manufacturing on Demand) clothing, houses, automobiles, drugs, electronic devices, cables, and appliances. There are lots of sectors ripe to dominate by the right innovator. Will it be Apple riding the next waves, or someone else?

Apple’s hallmark in the past has been innovation and quality. The Spy has an Apple //GS all of whose components (including the drives) still work, still run the programs he wrote himself (in assembler) back in the late 70s and early 80s. (Despite wide usage over a long period of time, his two main products from that bygone era never had a bug reported. Yes, Virginia, there is error-free code.)

His department had a 512K Mac that ran as a mail server continuously for seven years without rebooting. Apple’s early printers defined that sector. Neither of his last two MacPro portables has ever crashed or been hacked–something he cannot say about any other brand of computer he’s used. True, he has some six-to-ten year old Macs with power and/or memory troubles, but you’ll get those after a mere three years with most PCs.

On the software side, the original Mac OS defined small computer interfacing. The earliest cut-and-paste word processing and graphics manipulation programs were from Apple. The earliest spreadsheet was Visicalc on the Apple ][ and Excel first ran on a Mac, as did Word, Scrivener, and most graphic arts suites.

Apple’s pads defined that market, and the iPhone redefined smart telephony. But not so either TV or watches. So, Quo Vadis Apple?

And speaking of streaming that market sector is shaking out too, with Netflix losing out to more speciality services as others try to muscle in on the lolly. However, streaming cannot indefinitely fragment without turning customers off altogether, so the Spy predicts a time of loss and departure for a few followed by a consolidation or formation of alliances (bundling, as with cable TV). After all, no one is going to subscribe to several TV and movie streaming services at once. Perhaps one of each, but no more.

This is where the device manufacturers could, but so far have not, make some hay–bundling one or more streaming services for a pick-and-pay fee. It was the failure to make deals for content that slowed the intro of Apple’s TV product, and rendered it rather impotent in the end. Fortunately, Apple has the financial muscle to outlast some or most of the speciality streamers. Give this shakeout a few months, and the shoe will be on the other foot-streamers will come to Apple asking for a deal.

While we’re at it, reprising reliable software, the Spy will give a keynote speech at WCCCE on May 7 entitled “Closing the Barn Door: Re-Prioritizing Safety, Security, and Reliability”. Here’s a quote from the abstract of the underlying paper he and project management consultant Benjamin Kowarsch wrote:

Past generations of software developers were well on the way to building a software engineering mindset/gestalt, preferring tools and techniques that concentrated on safety, security, reliability, and code re-usability. Computing education reflected these priorities and was, to a great extent organized around these themes, providing beginning software developers a basis for professional practice. In more recent times, economic and deadline pressures and the de-professionization of practitioners have combined to drive a development agenda that retains little respect for quality considerations. As a result, we are now deep into a new and severe software crisis.

Scarcely a day passes without news of either a debilitating data or website hack, or the utter failure of a mega-software project. Vendors, individual developers, and possibly educators can therefore anticipate an equally destructive flood of malpractice litigation, for the argument that they systematically and recklessly ignored known best development practice of long standing is irrefutable. Yet we continue to instruct using methods and to employ development tools we know, or ought to know, are inherently insecure, unreliable, and unsafe, and that produce software of like ilk.

The authors call for a renewed professional and educational focus on software quality, focusing on redesigned tools that enable and encourage known best practice, combined with reformed educational practices that emphasize writing human readable, safe, secure, and reliable software. Practitioners can only deploy sound management techniques, appropriate tool choice, and best practice development methodologies such as thorough planning and specification, scope management, factorization, modularity, safety, appropriate team and testing strategies, if those ideas and techniques are embedded in the curriculum from the beginning.

We reject the notion that developing software is so hard that we ought to expect software projects to fail and waste tens of millions (or far more). Software can be made more reliable, and the techniques for doing so have been part of sound software engineering practice for decades. Sound management led by a professional programmer, careful planning, attaching a cost to changes, modularization, and the use of tools crafted for safety, security, and reliability are well-known keys to success. But in the rush to get something out the door and the dilbertization of management, these practices have been abandoned. The results are patent.

It’s pretty hard for computing educators to change the management culture, but we may be able to inform tool choice–particularly a turn away from the common, but poorly designed C++. Our contribution is Modula-2 R10, a dialect of a venerable old notation that has been tuned for safety, security, and reliability. Apple’s Swift takes a few steps in the same direction, but has a way to go.

Revisiting Last Month’s Purchase

The Spy is happy to report that his X380 John Deere Tractor/Mower is all that he bought it for. Lawn mowing time is cut (sic) in half, it’s far easier to use, and the extra power and better tires mean he can mow up hills the old model 180 could not climb. Four thumbs up despite the caveats he mentioned last month on the discharge chute and the price.

Of course the FBI announcing success via another way merely points out that no data (and particularly not email) is truly private. If you want data security, write it out on a piece of paper (with a hard surface directly underneath) and lock it up rather than make an electronic record. Or better yet, memorize it and then eat the paper. Anything else can be cracked. But, are you RUT?

WWDC isn’t on the Spy’s agenda this year, as he has other fish to fry, and is not expecting anything spectacular by way of announcements. Perhaps we will see an iteration of the iPhone, tweaks to Swift and TV OS, some health and home kit announcements, and the re-branding of OS X to MacOS for version eleven, plus a bump for the MacPro tin can format. Interesting, but not earth shattering. Next year might be the bees’ knees, though.

Oh, and speaking also of SF, the third novel in the Spy’s Alternate History series The Throne came out on April 21 from Writers Exchange Publishing. It’s available direct from them, at Amazon, and other eBook publishing venues. Paper could follow “later in the year.” Titled Tara’s Mother, this novel conclude his alternate history of fifteenth century Hibernia, and could be thought of as the last in the trilogy that includes Culmanic Parts and Rea’s Blood (or Navy Girl).

Moreover, the Spy has finished writing and has out for proofreading to volunteers a blockbuster called Paladin or Time Out of Heart. This is peripherally a fourth and final book in The Throne series, but more centrally the seventh and final book in The Interregnum series. If his reader reviews any of these, a copy of the review would be appreciated, and will be posted on his book site with a link to said reviewer’s own home page.

–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 at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and 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 nine alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper 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 BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB. com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost. net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe’s fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon’s Booksurge.

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises:

The Northern Spy Home Page: http: //www. TheNorthernSpy. com
opundo : http: //opundo. com
Sheaves Christian Resources : http: //sheaves. org
WebNameHost : http: //www. WebNameHost. net
WebNameSource : http: //www. WebNameSource. net
nameman : http: //nameman. net
General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books:
Author Site: http: //www. arjay. ca
Publisher’s Site: http: //www. writers-exchange. com/Richard-Sutcliffe. html
The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http: //www. arjay. bc. ca/EthTech/Text/index. html

Sites for Modula-2 resources
Modula-2 FAQ and ISO-based introductory text:
R10 Repository and source code:

URLs for resources mentioned in this column

Prairie Coast Equipment (John Deere Dealer in Langley BC):
Writers Exchange Author site:
Rick’s Author site for The Throne Series:
WCCCE 2016: