American journalist Kevin Maney is also a celebrated author who, among other things, writes a weekly technology column for the Newsweek magazine. His last book—The Two-Second Advantage: How We Succeed by Anticipating the Future-Just Enough, co-authored with former TIBCO CEO and founder Vivek Ranadive—made it to The New York Times bestseller list and was even No. 1 on Amazon’s rankings for some time. Maney, who has also authored Trade-Off and The Maverick and His Machine, spoke to Forbes India about the latest trends in technology. Excerpts:
Q. Technology makes many things obsolete. But why has it been unable to kill the email despite Snapchat, Slack, Yik Yak, WhatsApp, Cyber Dust and similar apps, which you describe as the ‘New Frontiers of Communication’?
Email is technology’s cockroach: Everyone hates it, but can’t kill it because it’s the only communication tool since the telephone that is universal. As company walls and national borders break down in cyberspace, email is the only way we can share ideas and digital matter with nearly anyone, anywhere.
So [people from] different age groups and nationalities are latching onto messaging apps, but they don’t talk to one another, or even do the same things. We’ve been tearing down a century-old way of working, centred on the office, but haven’t yet solidified a new way, centred on the smartphone.
Q. Will WhatsApp (and other such apps) kill Facebook? Or will Facebook (given that it owns it) kill WhatsApp first?
Nothing is going to kill Facebook anytime soon. It has a billion users and unbelievably accurate data about them. Banks have started to realise that Facebook profile information is a better indicator of whether someone will repay a loan than a credit score. And marketers are rushing to use Facebook to reach consumers.
Plus, I give Facebook credit for foresight. The world is moving to messaging and smartphones, and away from computer screens. The purchase of WhatsApp and the build-out of Facebook Messenger are aggressive moves to stay ahead of that trend. It doesn’t look like Facebook has any plans to kill WhatsApp.
Q. On a similar note, are there any apps which are likely to give tough competition to Twitter?
Twitter is its own funny, quirky thing—a micro-messaging broadcast network. I don’t think anyone today will set out to build a Twitter, just like nobody would set out to create McDonald’s. But, like McDonald’s, Twitter works for what it’s supposed to be and has an audience that’s not going [to go] away anytime soon. And it’s finally finding ways to make money.
Q. Apple has been at the forefront of technology and its latest innovation is the Apple Watch. Why would a company like Apple want to sell a watch? Is there a market for such an expensive device?
A lot of companies have been trying to make a popular and truly useful electronic watch, so a lot of smart people are convinced that one day, this will be a must-have product. So far, nobody has put all the pieces together. If any company can do that, it’s Apple. Remember, Apple didn’t invent the personal computer, but it created the Macintosh. It didn’t invent the digital music player, smartphone or tablet, but its iPod, iPhone and iPad blew away all the previous products in those [respective] spaces. In each case, Apple assembled the right technology at the right time, designed a product and ecosystem better than anyone else, lined up the best suppliers and distribution channels and created demand with well-tuned marketing and an unmatched elan. The ability to do all the hard-execution stuff, and to do it so well, is why Apple is worth more than any other company now.
Q. What do you think will be the next big product from the Apple stable?
It’s all speculation so far. But Apple needs a huge next act and given its size, a watch won’t do the trick. Apple has more than $178 billion in cash. It could buy Tesla, which is worth around $25 billion, as easily as most of us pick up the tab at a restaurant. The global auto industry is a $1.6-trillion annual market—four times the size of the smartphone industry. If Apple rethinks cars, the way it rethought personal technology, Ford and Toyota will wind up like Tower Records and Nokia, and Apple could make $1 trillion on iCars.
Q. How strong do you see Apple going without Steve Jobs?
Apple is a machine with a huge amount of momentum. CEO Tim Cook seems like an excellent steward of Apple’s momentum. And that momentum might carry Apple through another decade. The real test will come later, when Apple would need to reinvent itself with the kind of boldness that few executives other than Steve Jobs have ever pulled off. It’s all going to fall on Cook’s successor unless, of course, Apple, by then, is already well on its way in cars, and Elon Musk [CEO and chief product architect of Tesla] is at the helm.
Q. In one of your columns in the Newsweek, you write: ‘Patents have turned into a bigger CEO time-waster than golf… Patents kill innovation and hold tech companies back’. Why do you say that?
One study after another has indicated that there is no correlation between patents and success. Nor is it correlated to innovation, increased productivity, stock price or any type of positive outcome. In 2014, IBM received a record 7,534 patents, marking the 22nd straight year it topped the list of most patents by a company. If you look at IBM’s growth or stock price, the correlation with patents isn’t there. Its stock dropped by 14 percent in 2014. IBM does a lot of scientific research that’s very valuable to society, but the patents themselves don’t equal success as a technology company.