Apple’s not-so-beautiful problem


Hugo Rifkind

So, what is Apple going to do next? Financial results released by the company last night showed revenues down to $54.5 billion in the final quarter of 2012. It’s a funny sort of “down”, this, because revenues in the same quarter of 2011 were, I think, a mere $28.3 billion, which eagle-eyed business analysts among you might notice makes them what, technically, we might usually call “up”. But they’re down compared with how much further up they were expected to be, and as a result the share price has plunged.

You know why. Apple’s problem is that the iPad today is little different from the one that launched three years ago (albeit sometimes smaller) and the iPhone today is much the same as the one they brought out a whole 6 years ago (albeit a bit bigger). Both of these products changed the world (in a limited-horizons sense of the word “world”, admittedly) and the world has since caught up. Yes, all sorts of otherwise sane folk get wildly furious if you suggest an Android or Windows device can now do stuff an Apple one can’t (they can, they can, they can) but pretty much everybody agrees they can at least do the same.

Does this mean that Apple needs a new innovation, so as not to fade away? Probably. You think of Nokia, you think of Blackberry, and you realise that strokey, sexy technology doesn’t often stand still. Though maybe not. Or, at least, not much of an innovation. Think of the Biro. Invented in the 1880s, and revolutionising the exciting world of, um, pens, it’s much the same today. Basically, we’re done with pens. This is what pens look like. Finished.

One day, we’ll be there with handheld screen things - whatever the group term is for phones and tablets. Probably we aren’t there yet. Tech types suggest that the near future consists of tactile feedback - flat screens that pulse at your fingers and don’t feel flat; maybe best understood as a few steps farther along the path from the way your phone goes buzz when you unlock it. Apple will be working on this already, because everybody is.

After that, though, what next? These things can get thinner, shinier and HDer, but there comes a point where we’ll surely get bored. And after that we’ll still need to buy the things, and the people who make them will still make lots of money if we buy theirs; but it won’t be sexy and investors won’t be so inclined to go nuts. Sheer perfect functionality is a humdrum sort of thing. Nobody blogs about forks, do they?

So marijuana’s going to be legalised in America?

Hugo Rifkind

Less noticed among the Obamarama of last night were a couple of fairly major American social developments. First, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota all voted, in varying forms, for same-sex marriage. And second, both Colorado and Washington approved measures to begin the legalisation of marijuana for recreational use.

The former is obviously a big deal. The latter may be a bigger deal than it first appears. Indeed, I’ve a feeling it may be a global first (and Wikipedia seems to agree). Certainly, the use of marijuana and cannabis has been decriminalised in various countries (the Netherlands and Portugal are the obvious ones) and marijuana for medical use has been legalised in a handful of US states. But for recreational use? It being actively legal that people should want to get stoned and do so? This is new.

In my column a few weeks ago, I used the experience of the Netherlands to argue that decriminalisation, while it might sound attractive, actually creates a climate ripe for organised crime. For soft drugs, which are already so widely used, the only credible solution is a supply-side one, which takes not just possession but the whole industry out of the hands of criminals. Indeed, recent figures that suggest that use of Class A drugs is in decline in Britain, and that use of legal highs is both soaring, and increasingly worrying seem, to me, to back this up. The latter is clearly a health issue, not a criminal one. Isn’t this preferable?

Of course, two US states legalising recreational marijuana doesn’t mean that recreational marijuana is legal. Heavens no. As far as the federal government is concerned, it still isn’t, regardless of what any individual state says. So, as with same-sex marriage, what we have here is one of those complex and uniquely American situations where the country finds itself in conflict with the State. Considering how messy this is likely to get, you’ll want to keep a clear head.

Three years ago mephedrone was a legal high; sold as plant food. Possibly dangerous, it was a public health issue. Now illegal, it’s a criminal issue, too; a new challenging problem recast as part of an old intractable one. Who gained?

Remove criminality from drug-taking and treat the issue as one of public health instead: it’s the only way, says Hugo Rifkind. Read more

Public morality in Britain today lurches between the liberal and puritanical, seemingly at random. The public is shocked and disgusted by the abuse of teenagers, and scarcely less so when a 15-year-old girl runs away with her teacher. Yet it’s not even a decade since girls just a few months older than Megan Stammers could be found posing naked in national newspapers.

Even when set against a backdrop of soaring godlessness and collapsing social institutions, our morality has reached a conclusion that is “palpably right”, writes Hugo Rifkind

Jimmy Savile’s affections laid bare by…Jimmy Savile?

Hugo Rifkind

In today’s Times story about the allegations surrounding Jimmy Savile, David Sanderson highlighted some quotes from As It Happens, Savile’s 1974 autobiography, that nobody else seems to have picked up on. It’s strange that they haven’t, because they are startling:

[Savile] writes of an incident at the Mecca Locarno ballroom in Leeds, where he worked as a DJ during the 1950s, when a female police officer came in with a photograph of “an attractive girl who had run away from a remand home”.

Savile writes: “‘Ah,’ says I all serious, ‘if she comes in I’ll bring her back tomorrow but I’ll keep her all night first as my reward’.” He then writes that the girl did go into the club and “agreed that I hand her over if she could stay at the dance, [and] come home with me”. He wrote that he did then hand her over to the “lady of the law…[who] was dissuaded from bringing charges against me by her colleagues, for it was well known that were I to go I would probably take half the station with me”.

I repeat, this is Savile’s autobiography. It wasn’t winkled out of him by a cunning interviewer; he didn’t let it slip when he was pissed. It wasn’t a post-modern joke.

Rather, these are words he wrote in a book, which were read by a publisher, and presumably by lawyers, and by reviewers, and by readers. One of his alleged victims even claims he gave her a copy of it, after abusing her, with the inscription “No Escape!”.

What can these words possibly mean, except for what they seem to mean? How can nobody have noticed?

Right now, many are presumably wondering how his behaviour can have been concealed for so long. But it wasn’t concealed. It was right out there, in plain view, and nobody wanted to see. I’m not sure what the lesson of all this is, but if there is one, it’s horribly bleak.


Now is the age of the geek. The leader of the free world, indeed, is a geek. Don’t be fooled by the supposed love of basketball and hip-hop; never forget that Barack Obama wears a vest and keeps his BlackBerry in a belt holster.

For this reason, Hugo Rifkind thinks that Ed Miliband, “a proud and open geek”, might just have a chance of winning the next election

Everywhere in the world there are people whose instinct on being upset is to smash or burn whatever or whoever it is that has upset them. Political maturity tempers their influence in two ways, first by creating a surrounding awareness that other strategies of opposition (such as campaigning, law or simply not caring) might be more effective and second by creating a fairly high threshold for the sorts of sins people have to have committed for smashing or burning to feel like a proportional response.

After the riots sparked by controversial film The Innocence of Muslims, Hugo Rifkind ponders the political maturity of Muslims in the Middle East

A Britain run along the lines of the Olympics would not be the traditional worker’s paradise. In fact, it would be more akin to a totalitarian corporate state.

Hugo Rifkind wonders whether unions boss Brendan Barber really wants to rescue the economy with an “Olympics-style national crusade”

The mechanics of Mr Assange’s case swiftly render comparisons with Pussy Riot unsustainable. Were he facing prosecution for something as nebulous as, say, tax fraud (as is the dissident artist Ai Weiwei in China) he might have an argument. But sexual assault is not a nebulous charge. It requires a real-world complainant, or in his case, two.

It’s time to put aside any mockery of Julian Assange and look at the real flaws in his arguments, says Hugo Rifkind

This is a presidential candidate on a trip designed to bolster his foreign policy credentials, who is literally next door to the greatest foreign policy crisis of the new decade. And, as the fire rages down on Aleppo, he apparently has nothing to say about it at all. No criticism of Russia, no gesture of support for Turkey. No half-sentence about arming rebels, or not arming rebels, or UN resolutions, or anything. Look, I’m not saying it’s easy, but damn it man, you’ve got to say something.

Is Mitt Romney a hawk or just a tactless weirdo? Hugo Rifkind ponders the question

Contrast the 51 people killed by guns in the UK last year with their (deep breath) 31,347 counterparts in the United States, and it’s hard not to conclude that we’re doing something very right. America’s debate about gun control isn’t really about being able to defend yourself – it’s about freedom, and freedom of a very particular sort. It’s about the rights of the individual versus the greater good. America just doesn’t seem to do the latter.

Hugo Rifkind thinks America could solve its gun problem in half a generation, but doesn’t want to

Scientologists: perhaps it’s time to hire a public relations guru | Hugo Rifkind

If you want a good round-up of the various crazy and even crazier stories doing the rounds about the breakup of the marriage between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, then this is a good place to start. Don’t pretend you aren’t fascinated. Yes you are. Yes you are.

The lingering puzzle here, though, is why everybody hates Scientology so much. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying the church isn’t weird, or sinister, or frankly rather frightening. I’m just wondering how an organisation so deeply embedded in Hollywood is so bad at making itself look good. How can they be so terrible at PR?

What do you do when somebody wants to make a documentary about you, for example? Why, you freak him out by following him around for days filming him back, don’t you? Indeed, this seems to be not just a custom, but doctrine.

Why don’t they realise how bad it looks? Why aren’t they better at making it look better?

Twitter: @hugorifkind

Read more: Holmes ‘feared Suri would be forced into Scientology elite’

Times Opinion today | Diamond Bob, Islam and human rights, the beautiful game

Goodbye, Diamond Bob

Bankers who spent £44,000 on wine at the Michelin-starred Pétrus restaurant broke Bob Diamond’s “no jerks” rule. This rule can be extended to all walks of life, says Rachel Sylvester

And the £291 million fine for Barclays pales in comparison to its £3 billion profits. The bank should have been fined no less than £1 billion, says David Davis, the chair of the 20120 Future of Banking Commission

“It is hard to overstate the scandalousness of the bank’s behaviour or its significance for the wider economy,” says The Times


“This would effectively be in/out/shake-it-all-about,” says a confused Hugo Rifkind of a three-part referendum on EU membership

Middle East

Islam and human rights are not mutually exclusive,” says Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish journalist, praising Turkey’s aggressive stance on Assad’s Syria


Football “is not merely a tribal experience but an aesthetic one, too,” says Matthew Syed, in praise of Spain

The Times has been investigating the “export” of damaged children from care homes in London and the South East to cheaper homes in the North West and West Midlands. The Times says this is an “outrage”

Nasa’s new Orion spacecraft brings back memories from the race to the moon

(Times Opinion, Tuesday July 3, 2012)

Why did we trust bankers not to milk the Libor cow? | Hugo Rifkind

It’s peculiar, really, the Libor story. How can everybody be so very angry about something that almost nobody understands?

But that’s the point. The great criticism of the City – or rather, the thing that makes everybody who doesn’t work in it hate it, despite relying on it – is that hardly anybody understands it, and the few people who do understand it are milking it, and thus bastards.

And what do you know? They were, and are. Two days ago I barely knew what Libor was. Today, I recognise it as another of the many little technical levels that make the financial services industry function. We all take it on good faith that bankers use them properly because we don’t have the time, energy or expertise to check.

But again and again, they aren’t. That’s why we’re cross, and why we should be.

Twitter: @hugorifkind

Read more: Bob Diamond should go says The Times and banks should be split apart, says Nigel Lawson

Loading posts...