Apple, Thankfully, Burns Bridges To The Past

I learned a new word last week as Apple unveiled its new mobile operating system, iOS7.  TechCrunch reported “iOS7 is in for a major overhaul, most notably bringing an end to so-called “skeuomorphic” design (visual metaphors reflecting the physical objects a digital version aims to replace – e.g. the faux leather in “Find My Friends,” bookshelves in iBooks, fake glass, notepad paper in Notes, green felt in Game Center, and so on.)”

Skeuomorphic. It’s fun to say, it’s fun to see it on the page. Skeuomorphic. Can you use it in a sentence? Maybe I knew the word when I was 17, studying for my SAT’s, but then again I never really did study for my SAT’s or anything else in those days, so it’s doubtful. Either way, the vocabulary enhancement is welcome. Maybe I’ll even get to say “skeuomorphic” in a meeting someday.

The more important point is that by abandoning visual references to the traditional and familiar, the new iOS takes Apple and the rest of us even further down the road of the modern media universe. A world with rules, rhetoric and references all its own that are difficult for Baby Boomer and even the younger Gen X marketing leaders to fully grasp.

Most people over 40, “old people,” still need bridges to connect the old world to the new. They may have iPhones and iPads, but they hang on to their landlines, magazines in print and paper checkbooks. To a certain extent, I’ve been one of them. A friend of mine came over to my house a few weeks ago, saw my NY Times on the coffee table, and said, “Oh, you’re the guy who still reads the newspaper.”

I got involved with technology very early in my career and never had a problem understanding its profound impact and important benefits. Still, it has taken me some time to fully embrace the new digital world of media on a visceral and personal level. It’s sometimes hard to imagine that the things we use to hold in our hands, objects that transcended the functional to provide comfort, such as pens, chess pieces, books, and vinyl record albums and their covers are all passé.

After the expensive transition from albums to cassette tapes to CD’s, it was difficult for me to start buying music on iTunes.  What would I have to show for it?  What if my computer and my iPod were stolen and Apple was hacked? I understood, rationally, that this was about as stupid as consumers objecting to using credit cards online or business leaders who worry about moving systems to the cloud because they “can’t control their data” without hardware or software in-house.

Clearly, the feeling that I didn’t own anything that I couldn’t touch was irrational.  Moving to Spotify Premium from iTunes earlier this year was less traumatic, but still slightly disturbing. At least with iTunes I technically owned the music that I downloaded.  But Spotify just streams. I pay $10 a month for the privilege of listening to nearly anything I want, giving me access to a music library so large, so infinite, so beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of. I now listen to more music, new and old, than at anytime in my life. It’s amazing. But there’s still kind of an empty feeling attached to it. What do I own?

I’m a big reader, so the same feelings of ownership – or lack thereof – are tied to books.  Finally, finally – the inevitable came to pass as I bought an iPad about a month ago, then downloaded Amazon’s Kindle App and bought a few books. I adapted to reading from the screen instantly, but it is still very strange that I don’t have the hard copies to put in my over-stuffed shelves. Did I really read those books?

I always talk about how so many companies talk innovation but really seek comfort, and it’s true about all of us on some level, including me.

But “innovation” for Boomers is just “life” for Millennials. Media keep evolving (note the DreamWorks/Netflix deal announced recently, e.g.), but most marketers are way behind the curve.

Apple’s iOS redesign may have simply been born out of Johnny Ive’s personal desire to make his mark by designing graphics with an entirely new look and feel. Still, no matter what the rationale, the fact is that skeuomorphic design is dead at Apple. No more bridges to an older generation of media usage. A book is not longer a book. An album is no longer an album. A TV show isn’t something that just airs on TV.

The kids get it and Apple gets it. The Boomers and Gen X’ers running marketing departments and ad agencies don’t fully grasp it and need to adapt faster.

Maybe this, like so many phenomena in the Internet age, will need to be a more bottom up movement. Embracing new directions on the job start at home.  It took a longer than I would have liked, but now I’m pretty much up to date, maybe even on the cutting edge of technology. I’ll never buy music the way I used to, purchases of physical books will be limited, and even continued home delivery of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times are now in jeopardy.

Though I always got it rationally, now I’m really feeling it and living it. That’s going to make me a better marketer. Life isn’t “worse” because I no longer have shelves of CD’s, videos and DVD’s, or because I’m reading the newspaper on my iPad when I travel instead of buying one at the airport newsstand. It’s just different. Maybe even better.

It’s nice to feel all warm and fuzzy, to settle into a routine that minimizes disruption and maximizes predictability.  But that’s not how progress is made in marketing or any other profession. Letting go of the past and getting out of your comfort zone is essential, and it starts with each of us individually.


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