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Apple Watch: Intelligence and the Inc

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Apple's iOS 7.
Apple's iOS 7.

Much is made of Apple's secrecy, its jealously guarded release program, technical development process and even that around its designs. Apple's secrecy used to be better, actually. Now we hear rumours weeks before events - for example, September 10th was widely telegraphed long before Apple endorsed it, for the release of iOS 7, and now October 22nd is getting the same attention. Apple has not confirmed this but going by the last couple of years, the Inc will, shortly. But then things happen like a new iMac announced and available (a couple of weeks ago) out of the blue.

I mean, it's clear OS 10.9 'Mavericks' has to arrive soon. It was announced (indeed, shown) months ago at WWDC, and it has been easy to track it through the developer networks. Now that it's at Gold Master, it is very imminent. Of course, assuming Apple does confirm October 22nd as an 'Event', it may be for new iPads. It's not so likely Apple would release new iPads alongside a Mac system ... but who knows?

As important as secrecy is Apple's gleaning of its own intelligence - and it must be under constant surveillance itself by its legions of copyists ...

sorry, 'competitors'. It's amazing any secrets are kept at all in this day and age - what we eat, when we sleep, the real-time state of our bodies and minds - all of it (in the affluent countries, anyway) seems to be monitored and available for analysis.This is the reality of the Neo Orwellian state of 'Dataland' in which we now exist. It knows no national boundaries and, seemingly, knows little, if any, restraint. This is according to Kate Crawford, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, who spun the story of Dataland at MIT Technology Review's Emerging Technologies conference in Cambridge, Mass.

We might rail at or ignore the revelations of Assange and Snowden as we feel inclined - meanwhile, Facebook, Google and many other agencies are distilling every online action, transaction, click and search to make what assumptions it may about us, to better sell us products, to keep us engaged. As more devices 'smarten up', even your fridge, smoke detector and weather sensor can be imparting every tidbit to agencies in the cloud. Even more directly, agencies are actively selling and exchanging that data about our online and offline consumption habits to each other. State authorities seem able to get it for free, thanks to secret agreements suppliers have no choice but to sign. While data assumptions may be wildly inaccurate or wildly accurate - we simply have no say in the matter. Don't like filling in census details? Soon it won't matter. There's far more information available about you in online streams than a few printed checkboxes could ever reveal.

The connections between the murky worlds of state and corporate intelligence may occasionally cross over - it seems an iOS/Android app designed by former Israeli intelligence men had an influence on the look of iOS 7. That's a thesis, anyway - that the Any.do app was among those Apple looked to for inspiration as it redesigned iOS. When Jony Ive took over as the company's head of design, he was given a list of forward-looking apps that suggested how iOS could evolve, these people said - and Any.do was on that list.

It's hardly conclusive evidence, although it's an interesting story of a successful app development.

Over here, more tangibly, the government has backed down over a clause in the Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Bill which could have seen Apple banned from being a communications platform in New Zealand.

The service, in the case of Apple, refers to the ability for a Mac or an iDevice on a wireless network to send messages to another, likewise on a wireless network, anywhere in the world. This message goes free and, to the chagrin of state agency snoopers, is very hard to intercept as it doesn't go through a telco. You can tell, in messages, if this is happening because the message field is blue instead of green.

On intelligence, no, there's no conclusive evidence that Apple has been designing an 'iWatch' - but that hasn't prevented competitors making 'competing' smart watches, even though Apple hasn't said or produced anything tangible, at all, for them to compete with. It still makes me laugh, actually: competing products to something Apple hasn't even done. Smoke and mirrors can be effective provocateurs, even in this surveillance age.

But Apple might still release a wearable device. People avidly analyse every hiring Apple makes, and Apple has been hiring people from the fashion and apparel spheres - Apple recently hired former Nike design director Ben Shaffer, who was the Studio Director of Nike's Innovation Kitchen, Nike's research and development lab where new product designs are created. Fast Company describes Shaffer as a brilliant engineer who played a key role in the development of Nike's Flyknit technology, enabling shoes to be extremely light. The hiring of Shaffer was a few weeks after word surfaced Apple had hired famed fitness guru, and Nike FuelBand consultant, Jay Blahnik.

To add fuel to the long-lived rumours, Apple has filed for iWatch trademarks in a number of countries.

Today's creepers and hackers might be tomorrow's esteemed technologists. Apple co-founder and inventor Steve Wozniak recently addressed thousands of security professionals attending the ASIS Conference in Chicago. The famed inventor admitted he also had some fun with lighthearted forays into hacking computer and telecommunications networks several decades ago back in his college years and while learning about electronics and computers. He and Jobs sold 'blue boxes' that emitted tones to allow students free international phone calls, for example.

I still think Apple's future is assured. Most of the people who says it's doomed know very little about it. Or anything else. My biggest fear isn't the myth of 'no longer innovative', as I've written before, but that a company with deep engineering talent could become hamstrung by arrogance, indecision, slowness to embrace change and a lack of internal accountability.

Which you can justifiably level at Nokia, Microsoft and BlackBerry - and probably others.

I just hope it can never be levelled at Apple.

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