iPhone

Steve Jobs made product launches into media events. Now those same Apple rollouts determine the schedules of a bunch of other companies.

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TED Talks are more popular than ever. They're also more vapid, bland, and fraudulent.

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I. THEY ARE, in their very different ways, monuments of American civilization. The first is a building: a grand, beautiful Beaux-Arts structure of marble and stone occupying two blocks’ worth of Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. The second is a delicate concoction of metal, plastic, and glass, just four and a half inches long, barely a third of an inch thick, and weighing five ounces. The first is the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL). The second is an iPhone.

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This is one of those Mondays with too much news to cover. South Carolina and the Republican primaries. The State of the Union. Ryan Lizza’s fascinating look inside the Obama administration. And two incredible football games. But I want to talk about a feature story from Sunday’s New York Times, which isn’t about any of those things except that, in a sense, it’s about all of those things. Well, all of them except football. The article is about the iPhone and why Apple, which once upon a time built its computers in the U.S., decided to manufacture the devices elsewhere.

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Editor's note: As I was thinking about Sunday's New York Times article about iPhone manufacturing, I e-mailed a few economists to see what lessons they drew from it. One was Andrew Samwick, of Dartmouth, who pointed me to a post at his new blog. There, he stresses, among other things, the importance of "agglomeration": Manufacturers like to build new plans in close proximity to suppliers.

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Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live  By Jeff Jarvis  (Simon & Schuster, 263 pp., $26.99) In 1975, Malcolm Bradbury published The History Man, a piercing satire of the narcissistic pseudo-intellectualism of modern academia. The novel recounts a year in the life of the young radical sociologist Howard Kirk—“a theoretician of sociability”—who is working on a book called The Defeat of Privacy.

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While he may have paled in comparison to Steve Jobs in a black turtleneck, Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook still impressed audiences today when he unveiled the new iPhone 4S. Apple fans and the technology media predictably freaked out. (The hot new iPhone feature, if you haven’t yet heard, is integrated voice command, which can pull up the weather, define a word, or play a song.) All in all, the debut seems to have been a solid one for Cook, whose predecessor, Jobs, was a master of PR. Jobs consistently garnered extensive (and fawning) media coverage for his product rollouts.

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There’s a time warp along the stretch of Highway 101 that runs between San Jose and Marin County in Northern California. To many there, it looks like 1999 all over again. While the rest of the country is landscaped with foreclosed homes and empty big-box stores, San Francisco and Silicon Valley have a shortage of office space. Established tech companies like Google are offering seven-figure bonuses to retain talented engineers, while the Sand Hill Road offices of venture capitalists are full of optimistic twentysomethings looking for funding—and many of them are getting more than they need.

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Last fall, I left my rather antiquated PDA behind and finally joined the ranks of iPhone users (thank you, Brookings). An iPhone 4, no less. A lot about it was better than I ever imagined. Text messages in alternating color bubbles? Take a video and upload it straight to YouTube?

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The revision downward in fourth quarter GDP from 3.2 percent to 2.8 percent last week and continuing high unemployment just reinforces the underlying reason for this lackluster recovery: the 35 percent of the economy’s assets comprised of the built environment (real estate and the infrastructure that supports real estate) is M.I.A. Exports are rising at a swift pace in line with the president’s call to double exports in five years, corporate profits and cash are near record levels, and American strength as a high tech leader is actually expanding with the launch of new hardware (e.g., Apple’s

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