As I prep for covering MacWorld Expo 2010, I decided to take a step back and truly think about Apple a bit more. It wasn’t that many years ago that people were saying their doom was inevitable. Back then, their products were less than stellar and splintered and people figured that they were on their last legs. However, through that careful working of Steve Jobs and an effective management team, Apple has come to be known as a leading, innovative technology company. When they breath, others stop breathing, when they move, others jump out of the way and when they speak, the world waits with hushed anticipation.
But recently, I’m beginning to think that their ego may be starting to get the better of them.
Let’s get this out of the way first. I have always been a “Mac Fan Boy” of sorts. I believe that their products are incredibly well designed (even down to the artistic and elegant packaging), their usability of hardware and software is unmatched and their vision, at least up until recently, has been lofty while also being on the target. If I could afford it, I would outfit my entire family with the latest and greatest Apple technology and never look back.
However, recent events have got me thinking that Apple needs to be knocked down a bit so that it can be closer to reality. Below is just a quick list of things that make me think that perhaps they are headed toward some rocky times or at least incur some follower backlash. It is my hope that someone within Apple will listen and share this article with Steve himself. While I’m not expecting a response, I do want my voice to be heard, so please share as you see fit. I personally will email a copy to Steve Jobs himself.
Pulling out of the MacWorld Expo
It used to be that when MacWorld rolled around, people lined up to get glimpses of the latest hardware or software release that Steve Jobs announced at the keynote. There was always an excitement at the event, cloaked with speculation and secrecy, filled and bolstered with anticipation for those keynotes, and especially punctuated with his trademark “and one more thing.” The iPhone was obviously the latest innovation that turned the market and set the standard for all other smart phones to come. But I noticed that at MacWorld 2009, the tide was changing a bit. More emphasis was placed on the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference with key technology announcements coming from there and not at MacWorld.
Then Apple announced that they would no longer be attending future MacWorld Expos. When I first heard this, I was pretty surprised, later, my surprise turned to understanding (e.g., cost saving, pushing towards the WWDC, etc.) but more recently, I have been quite bothered by this decision. This is NOT the fault of IDG, the organizers of MacWorld. They forged ahead with the show, slimmer in size and a bit less exciting in my opinion, but still there for the Apple fans. But the conference has turned from something exciting to a meeting of iPhone case vendors, a few software vendors and a disparate group of innovative peripheral vendors…essentially a big software/hardware store. I hope to be proven wrong!
But what Apple has done by pulling out of this show is essentially alienate these vendors and the fans. It takes an active and engaged ecosystem for companies to succeed. By pulling out of the MacWorld Expo, Apple has signaled that they don’t want to be involved, that they are “above it all” and that they run the show. In my opinion, this is wrong. Apple should be encouraging and enveloping their developers and fans with their innovations, not saying, “oh, you have to come ONLY to our events in order to be part of our community.” Apple owes its vendor, developer and fan community a debt of gratitude for sticking through the rough times and helping it become what it is now.
Lack-luster launch of the iPad
The iPad had been touted as the “Jesus Tablet,” something that would change the industry. It was supposed to be the product that Steve Jobs had been working on for ages and possibly be his “last big project” at Apple. However, now that all of the dust has settled and the results of the Apple Kool-Aid have worn off, people don’t really seem to be that excited about it any more. I’m sure it will be a beautifully crafted device that works wonders, but in my opinion, it is truly a niche device and not something (in its current version and pricing) that people will stand in line for hours to get.
There are already rumors of the pricing being lowered and plenty of criticisms being written about it. I wrote a positive and negative evaluation of the iPad. While it is a device that I would love to have, I cannot justify (or afford) purchasing it and I feel that I will not be alone in this thought. Compared to the iPhone launch and subsequent updates, the iPad doesn’t seem to have the momentum as with other announcements. It’s almost in line with Apple TV, a device that has (had?) a lot of potential, but that potential was never fully explored.
I do believe that the iPad will make a difference but it will need to be retooled in many different ways. The “missing features” will need to be addressed, the differentiation between the iPhone and computer line needs to be clearly laid out and the pricing will need to be reworked to make it competitive against Netbooks and other tablet devices.
Lots of competition from Android
Android is now starting to steal the show. If Apple doesn’t start releasing information about the upcoming iPhone OS 4.0, Google will continue to build momentum. Luckily, Google has its own share of problems ahead as well, especially in terms of how to support a growing number of Carriers who have Android phones, managing which vendors get which version of the Android OS and when they get them, and also dealing with the Customer Support nightmare of the Nexus One. Apple is clearly a leader in terms of Customer Service with a well established support workflow. This will be Google’s Achilles Heel in my opinion.
However, Google and their active developer community is gaining traction. The various devices running on Android are really solid (see my review of the Droid) and the Nexus One will be a phone that is on par with the current versions of the iPhone. But as vendors pump out new version of Android phones, Apple could lose market share. Sure you have to lump ALL of these Android phones together to even start to come close to Apple’s market share but just look at where Google was compared to Microsoft several years ago. Tides do change and Apple needs to ensure that they are ready for the flood of competition coming their way. And don’t get me started with the difference between an open developer community (Android) and a closed one (Apple).
Windows 7 success
While I have always been a big fan of Apple and complained about Windows frequently, I must admit that Windows 7 has really done a lot for the Microsoft OS. I have several machines running Windows 7 and I am impressed with how they have crafted a much better user experience for the OS. It’s much more stable, easier on the eyes and even innovative. While they do have the problem of having an OS that must be supported on a HUGE variety of hardware, they are still moving the platform forward. Not surprisingly, they may start mimicking Apple and releasing more frequent versions of Windows at a lower upgrade price point. In my opinion, this was a smart move by Apple in having a very low barrier to entry for their OS X updates. However, you still need to consider that the least expensive Apple hardware device (not including the Apple mini) is about $1000.
Apple should not get too comfortable with their current process. They MUST be innovative (not completely under the hood and invisible to the end user) with their regular OS upgrades. Snow Leopard was a nice upgrade but not major like previous updates. I’m concerned that Apple will start focusing on hardware and the iPhone OS mainly and that OS X might get second class treatment. If it does go that way, how would this be compelling to Apple Developers? Remember Apple, to innovate, you must have a community to develop on top of your framework and work with that community closely!
What about Jobs?
I’m also concerned that Steve Jobs may slowly move out of the picture at Apple. This would be an unfortunate thing. His clarity of vision over the past few years has made Apple what it is today. But now, with the iPad launched, how hands-on will he continue to be? I thought the same thing with Bill Gates leaving Microsoft but they seem to be trudging along just fine. Would the same be true if Apple was governed by others? Jobs, I have heard, is a hard-nosed manager who must be obeyed. So what if things were to loosen up at Apple should he not truly be in command? Would we have innovative products? Would the vision continue through other management? I think it would but possibly not at the levels we have seen.
In my opinion, Steve Jobs “last project” should be being a mentor to those beneath him, setting policies, standards, and ideas into action that can traverse many, many years. I’m sure this is happening but do consumers have the confidence that this will happen at the pace and level of innovations as with previous years? I hope so but I still wonder.
The Call to Action
I guess the reason I’m writing this is to get the Apple community to listen and express their thoughts and concern about Apple’s recent decisions and the direction of the market in general. Do you think their popularity has peaked? Can they keep heading to the stratosphere? What will it take to re-ground them back with the Vendor, Developer and Fan community? Do you think that I’m just imaging this or has Apple’s Ego inflated so much that they can get away with distancing themselves from various community events like the MacWorld Expo?
I would love to get feedback on this so be sure to leave a comment!
HTD says: While I love Apple, I’m really concerned at recent directions and product announcements that make them seem detached from their Fan Base. What about you?