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On “Getting Sherlocked”

I learned a new term today, “being sherlocked”. At first I found myself slightly giggling, because we named the dog “Sherlock Holmes”. How can that be a verb?

This verb was widely used together with various app names. Instapaper? Sherlocked! Dropbox? Sherlocked! And even Apple’s competitors. Amazon/Google? Sherlocked. Doubly so.

Now I cannot stand if somebody tweets smart things without explaining them, so I looked it up. I could only find one suitable explanation. UPDATE: Actually there’s another one which implies malvolence by Apple. See bottom of article.

Perusing the allknowning Googleon I discovered this definition:

The slang term “getting sherlocked” was used during the late 1890s to refer to being intellectually bested. It is best illustrated in this quote from a Globe story from 1895, “Mr. Brown reported that he first got sherlocked by Mr. Lockhorn in an alley behind the building and then was sherlocked repeatedly after sharing a quiet supper at a dinner club.”

Aha! Intellectually bested. Fitting. Apple’s engineers are intellectually top notch. And besting they do as well.

Now from what I have seen today I have developed a theory as to what Apple’s strategy might be to take over the world. I felt like sitting in with a presidential briefing, learning all the secrets of how the enemy was to be wiped out. Thank god, I am with the good guys. The likes of Amazon, Google and even Microsoft pale in comparison.

Like who in his right mind would buy Windows 8 for a over $100 and a single machine, when OSX 10.7 “Lion” can be had for awesomely unlimited devices for just $29.99? Definitely sherlocked. This basically destroys Microsofts consumer business model.

So “getting sherlocked” was generally described when Apple revealed yet another feature that previously was only available via a separate app or service.

Take for example Instapaper. As I had predicted the three parts that make up Instapaper are now seamlessly integrated with Lion and iOS:

  • Putting interesting articles you want to read later on a reading list
  • Viewing such bookmarked articles in a clutter-free cleaned up way
  • Synching the reading progress and list across all your devices

Marco Arment (maker of Instapaper) commented on this crater left by the Apple meteorite “cautiously optimistic”. He argues that it is good for his ecosystem if Apple takes on the burden of educating users as to the usefulness of reading later. Granted some people will want to stick with what they know or look for alternative web-based services. They might turn to Readability which is more or less the same.

Personally, I am pretty sure that I will ditch Instapaper, as what I have seen will be exactly the kind of functionality I was hoping to find deeply integrated into the OSes as well as perfectly synched. But, I’m also the kind of guy who always uses the browser with the home advantage. Back in my Windows days I stuck with Internet Explorer. Now I am loving Safari more every day.

The second example of “Sherlocking” does not attack a single app as directly, more like a whole thriving category: Tasks. Up until know if you wanted a task list to check off you had to buy an app. But these almost never synched or were incompatible with the tasks corporations have on their Exchange servers. Apple to the rescue! Really, they know that it has been a mistake to not have a built-in solution for that until now and the will remedy that. Good for the users, bad for the kinds of company which at present derive all their income from one best-selling task planner.

Oh, and Apple is not satisfied with that. Not only are these lists synched between all your devices via iCloud, they give you reminders and also you can do fancy things like have your iPhone notify your wife as soon as you leave e.g. your workplace via a so-called Geo-Fence.

I can already hear an argument brewing: But, those task apps give you so much more! Well, nobody is telling you that you cannot spend money on apps any more or you have to remove a task app you happen to like. But think of the millions of new iOS devices which now get an even more complete basic feature set built-in.

“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” said Steve Jobs in this 1994 video. That about sums it up nicely.

In my opinion it is the users that win the most. And if users win, we developers win, because the cards are shuffled anew and you can go about finding the next great idea. Make some money while you can, you have two years now until iOS 6.

Never before have we seen Apple reveal so many “stolen ideas” as shining new and exciting features in their software. But actually Apple does more than just that, it would be a cocky oversimplification to call Apple a photocopier. There are even worse companies that steal from Apple. Some of which Apple is now taking to court.

So the first pillar of Apple’s awesomeness is to keep their eyes open for great ideas whose time has come. I cannot tell you more at present, but let me hint at the second pillar: innovation.

Turns out, that if there are two mutually exclusive technologies, that kind of work, but have some drawbacks, then Apple does not fuss around with adapting these. The simply invent a third technology that has only advantages. Apple is the only company that I know of whose employees are so smart as to actually come up with quite original solutions to old problems. Like totally unexpected paradigm shifting ideas. If there’s one company capable of that, then it’s Apple.

From where I stand I can see that Apple cemented their 1-2 year head start for another couple of years. And the gloves are off, how can you compete with Apple offering something that costs a fith as much as our product or is even free?

PS/UPDATE: I was pointed out to me that there is a second just as suitable explanation as to the origin of “getting sherlocked”. Interesting enough just as fitting. The predecessor of what we now know as Spotlight was introduced by Apple in OS  8.5 and was called “Sherlock”. At time it instantly obsoleted an app named “Watson” made by Karelia software.

So it’s up to you which interpretation you prefer: did Apple BEST of these apps? Or did Apple “knee-cap” them? Personally, I prefer the more positive variant.


Categories: Apple

18 Comments »

  1. Hey Oliver, nice post.

    First of all you got the whole sherlock thing wrong. Its acutally about a poor developer back on OS 8 who created an app called “watson” and then apple copied pixel for pixel and called it “sherlock 2″ hence, getting sherlocked.

    You forgot @taptaptap who came up with the idea of using the volume buttons with the camera = see this, http://twitter.com/#!/taptaptap/status/77801025586728960

    Also, I though about that quote straight away too! http://twitter.com/#!/samjarman/status/77814427591778304

    Cheers

    Sam

  2. “Turns out, that if there are two mutually exclusive technologies, that kind of work, but have some drawbacks, then Apple does not fuss around with adapting these. The simply invent a third technology that has only advantages. ”

    Aha, I see what you are referring to :) Three magic letters.

    I guess you can talk about it, because it’s public knowledge on Apple’s website. I mean, at least in the amount of information disclosed on the public part.
    http://developer.apple.com/technologies/ios5/

    But I agree, there is so much more detail and genius you discover about that new technology when you get the whole story from the pre-release documentation. This is the new Objective-C.

  3. Actually, getting “Sherlocked” refers to what happened around the forerunner of Spotlight, Sherlock 3, in Mac OS 8.5. You can read more about it here.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherlock_(software)

    A plugin for Sherlock 2, named Watson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karelia_Watson), allowed searching the internet through the Sherlock interface. Watson was built by Karelia Software and was beloved by users at the time. Apple implemented internet search directly into Sherlock 3 which removed the necessity of purchasing the Watson plugin from Karelia. The user base of Watson was disappointed and saw Apple as cannibalizing another software company’s idea without attribution.

    So, being “sherlocked” is when Apple is perceived to rip off a small developer that built an app or plugin on their platforms.

  4. A better definition of “sherlocked”
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sherlocked

    to have developed a product and just started shipping it, only to have Apple come along and provide exactly the same functionality in a system update. It happened to Karelia Software twice. Once with Sherlock and again with iWeb.

  5. I don’t think the $29.99 unlimited pricing for Lion is going to hurt Microsoft by any means. People choose an OS based based on the apps they need to run and the initial cost of the device. The majority of consumer revenue for Windows comes from all the PCs that are sold not from upgrades.

    Microsoft needs to worry about the increasing irrelevance of the desktop/laptop platform on the consumer front. The desktop/laptop won’t be what consumers want/need. Tablets and other mobile devices are what a consumer will need/want.

    In response to:
    “””
    Now from what I have seen today I have developed a theory as to what Apple’s strategy might be to take over the world. I felt like sitting in with a presidential briefing, learning all the secrets of how the enemy was to be wiped out. Thank god, I am with the good guys. The likes of Amazon, Google and even Microsoft pale in comparison.
    “””

    Amazon, Google, Microsoft still have core businesses (very profitable too) that are under absolutely no threat from Apple:

    1. Amazon: Retail
    2. Google: Search and Advertising
    3. Microsoft: Office and enterprise software

    I find it very unlikely Apple will enter any of those markets. So just like Apple was the underdog in the 90s and for much of the 2000s I expect 10 years from now the landscape will have swayed again.

  6. C’mon no need to sherlock your’s truly! It’s also quite unfair, mind you. I am falling from my chair already. You don’t have to pay ME back for not taking you to WWDC. I would have if I could have. :-)

  7. The worst part of Sherlock and Watson, was that Apple gave Watson WWDC price for being the best app and then introduced their own.

    But in my opinion, if you have an idea that could help a lot of people and if you can say “this would be great if it was integrated into the os”, well then find your self another idea. Either MS or Apple will do this, they have to do this, and this benefits much more people. It stings of course.

    Karelia made a product called Sandvox, which was introduced at the same time as iWeb and Dan Wood (the author) did not believe how unlucky he was. But as it turns out, Sandvox was a much better product than iWeb and they are not only still in business but they are thriving and have just released 2.0 version.

    You can compete against Apple, but you have to have a much better application.

  8. “Amazon, Google, Microsoft still have core businesses (very profitable too) that are under absolutely no threat from Apple:

    1. Amazon: Retail
    2. Google: Search and Advertising
    3. Microsoft: Office and enterprise software”

    I disagree that they are under no threat. Granted, the search business is not under threat by Apple, but it is (and seriously) by Facebook. About the advertising business, Apple is a competitor to Google already, both directly and by taking away people from their services (iCloud mail, anyone ?).

    Retail is also severely threatened by all those dematerialised Apple Stores (cf. “the App Store sells more than any other brick and mortar shop” – Steve yesterday). And Office software is also directly threatened by iWork, particularly when Office is not available on the iPad and does not support the iCloud.

    So these businesses are indeed very threatened in themselves.

  9. I’m all for positivity, but in this case, as pointed out by countless others Sherlocking is by definition Apple “besting” other companies… by knee-capping them. :)

  10. The term, of course, comes from the Sherlock app, Apple’s clone of a third party app.

    But it’s not just the cloning that’s a problem.

    First, Apple often uses APIs that third party developers are not allowed to use.

    Second, Apple’s offerings are not cross platform and lock people into their platform.

    Third, Apple then sometimes turns around and sues others over technology that they themselves stole.

    1&2 got Microsoft into legal trouble. It is time for anti trust enforcement against Apple too.

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