Nov 13

Apple & the art of blowing things up

Many cool things appeared at Apple’s most recent product unveiling: new iPads, Mac Pro, OS X Mavericks and more.

But then a number of things disappeared as well — like a long list of features in the iWork apps.

Depending on one’s willingness to drink the juice, reactions ranged from mild annoyance to utter disbelief. It was either an unavoidable step toward a better future or an unforgivable slap in the face.

But — if you squint your eyes a bit, you’ll actually see this development as one more reason to feel good about Apple.

Good grief Ken. Could you possibly be more of an apologist fanboy?

I knew you’d say that. Especially since I myself couldn’t resist grousing about the missing features in Pages just a couple of weeks ago.

This is actually a story about guts — something that Steve Jobs had in abundance. When Steve saw ultimate benefit to Apple’s customers, he had no problem moving to a new place. Even if it meant blowing up the old place.

Witness the moves to Intel processors and Mac OS X — both of which caused inconvenience on a far greater scale than what just happened to iWork users.

Sorry, you’re not talking your way out of this one.

One more minute, please. Then you can pummel me further.

For most companies, “safe” is the preferred route. Few would risk present-day customers (and profits) to pursue a future state that exists only in theory. In fact, CEOs lose their jobs over such things, accused of failing in their responsibility to shareholders.

Yet Apple has a rich history of blowing things up — and ultimately proving how smart that is.

This is the company that killed the iPod mini while it was the best-selling model in the iPod family.

It blew up Final Cut Studio when that suite had become the weapon of choice amongst pro video editors — causing large numbers to cry in anguish.

And, as mentioned above, it blew up both its OS and processor platform, forcing massive changes for developers and users alike.

What did Apple learn from all of this destruction? That it’s hard to leap ahead when one foot is mired in the past.

Well, the move to OS X was different. Mac OS was clearly on its last legs.

At some point, all technology is on its last legs. Smart companies don’t wait until the house is declared uninhabitable before they find a nice new place to live.

In fact, Steve Jobs used that very analogy when he talked about the move to OS X.

He described the Mac’s original OS as a house built long ago. It was a good house and it served customers well. But to keep up with the times, Apple was constantly adding rooms and reworking the plumbing and electrical. There were renovations on the renovations, and the house was getting rickety.

OS X was Apple’s way to fix that. It created a brand-new, industrial-strength foundation for the Mac. It would be a great place to live from the start, and it was designed to accommodate additions for decades to come. It was fast, reliable and flexible. And so the decision was made to stop jerry-rigging the old house and move to a gorgeous new one — even though moving is always painful.

Apple is a forward-thinking company. (We know this because the iPhone 5s theme line says so!) It weighs long-term advantage over present-day happiness and acts accordingly.

It’s a fine line, of course. Steve Jobs was always guided by his desire to create the best possible user experience. And being appalled by the newest version of your much-used app is not a good experience. However, Steve could also tell when future gain was worth the present pain.

With the new iWork apps, Tim Cook has pulled a classic Steve move. He’s betting that a brand-new suite of streamlined 64-bit apps, unified across iPhone, iPad and Mac, will create a far happier user experience in the future — no matter what kind of criticism he hears today.

Uh-huh. So how do you live without your “absolutely critical” iWork features, smarty-pants?

I use the old Pages until my missing features re-appear.

I get agitated over poorly designed products, bad ads and B-grade marketing strategies. It’s hard to get mad at a long-term plan with some smart thinking behind it.

When I see the Microsofts and BlackBerrys of the world clinging to old ideas, I better appreciate Apple’s willingness to make the leap.

It takes guts to blow things up. But that’s what innovators do.

You’re hopeless.

I’ve been told that before.

Sorry, but when you work in advertising, you come to appreciate companies who are willing to take a risk. There just aren’t many of them.

That said, please restore my Pages outlining feature as quickly as possible or I’m going to cry. Thanks.

  • AhmadZainiChia

    Great post. I completely agree.

    Also, I seriously do not understand the bellyaching about iWork: for Goodness sake, Apple left the old apps in your ‘apps’ folder when you updated to the new ones! Sheesh.

  • dr.no

    no you have it ass backwardly.

    There were possibly 3 different teams working on same name
    IOS version was developed secretly and didn’t even share the file compatibility.

    Two version of cloud come out since. Obviously Apple didn’t care about
    feature parity in the past or file compatibility.

    All the people from desktop team left.

    So now the IOS code is being used to do what Apple
    accused others of combining toaster and fridge.

    For 5 years Desktop remain stagnant.
    Now the people won’t put their documents in the cloud
    because of NSA then What Apple going to say next.

    This was benign neglect and improper communication
    when in WWDC said that they are going to have fantastic release.
    Who considers this a fantastic release, not the customer
    who actually use it.

  • RedMercury

    It’s an entertaining analogy. I’d add something extra, as well.

    When Apple shipped Mac OS X 10.0, if I remember correctly, it wasn’t put on every Mac. When Apple shipped Mac OS X 10.1, it was on every Mac but the machine booted into Mac OS 9. You could switch to Mac OS X 10.1 if you wanted.

    It wasn’t until Mac OS X 10.2 that Apple actually only put Mac OS X on Macs. But even then, you had “Classic” which Apple kept around, I believe, through Mac OS X 10.4.

    So, if you will, you can continue to use the older Pages with all the features. You might occasionally use the new one and gradually transition over at your own pace.

  • dcborn61

    I will argue with you on one point. Steve was obsessed with the perfect product, not the best customer experience. He didn’t like to look at ports, so they are on the back of the iMac in an inaccessible place to users. He loved the round design of the hockey puck mouse, even though it was almost unusable. I’m not sure it was Steve, but obsessing over the new thin iMac and getting rid of the optical drive when thinness makes no difference to users is another example.

  • Hamish

    Completely agree. Sometimes you have to let go of the past and even go backwards a bit in order to move forwards for the better. Apple do this better than practically anyone else. If you don’t revolutionise and cannibalise your own business occasionally, someone else will and you’ll get left behind. They’re playing the long game the way they see it best, even if it means pissing off a few people in the short term.

    True revolutions don’t occur – cannot occur – when you’re forced to maintain compatability with the past. You can’t make a leap to a car while maintaining backwards compatibility with a horse. Sometimes you just have to start again from scratch!

  • Peter

    I have been a bad boy: I downloaded iWorks (Pages,Numbers, Keynote) from Piratebay …. The cracked apps worked. But guess what? After I installed Mavericks, I decided to see if one of these iWork apps (Numbers in this case) would upgrade for free, just for the sake of it……and it did!!!! Apple decided that even previouslypirated apps (I am sorry for doing so) are being updated to the latest version … free of charge! Take that Microsoft!

  • Hm

    I’d agree with you on the hockey puck mouse – in fact I’ve never liked any mouse created by Apple – but disagree on losing the optical drive. This was done not just to make the iMac thinner – it’s now been implemented across all of Apple’s products due to a philosophical belief that optical discs are not the future. Not only are they one of the first things to break in a computer because of their moving parts, but they represent old technology. The future is buying and transferring files entirely online and using SSDs, USBs and perhaps one day, holographics locally, not DVDs or CDs. It’s the same reason they never put IR technology in the iPhone, or Bluray in the iMac – these are old ways of doing things that don’t gel with the future Apple sees. It’s not a blind obsession with looks or thinness purely for aesthetic reasons, but rather a future-focused strategy that isn’t afraid to throw away things from the past when they start holding back the future.

    I’d also argue with your semantics a bit – I imagine customer experience and product aesthetics were equally important to Steve, as they are so intrinsically linked. He just got it wrong occasionally (like with that mouse) because hey – no one’s perfect!

  • MacServiceGuy

    Waited so long for a new post – was ecstatic… till i read it.
    Love you Ken – but you’re just wrong on this one.

  • ksegall

    Maybe you were the guy asking the questions? :)

    (Sorry, I’ve been traveling…)

  • AhmadZainiChia

    Agree about the optical drive part, and also on product aesthetics vs. customer experience. They are NOT mutually exclusive, as most people would think. That is to say, Steve saw a product’s aesthetic as PART OF the customer experience. You could argue that he placed too much emphasis on the aesthetics, but you just can’t separate the aesthetics and customer experience. Not at Apple at least.

  • Clive Knight

    Sorry, Ken, I don’t buy it – I think the objective might be to grab more Microsoft users and the new iWork is more to their taste? It sucks, but that’s what Windows users are used to!!

  • MacServiceGuy

    nope, not me.

    however, I’ve had a ton I’ve wanted to say about the direction apple’s going that I’ve been reserving. There’s a nuclear arsenal I’ll throw into a blog soon =)

  • ksegall

    Seriously, I’d like to hear.

  • Apple did return some functions to iWork apps today. However, not the crucial one that you want back.

  • FrotSkyman

    I have a number of very complicated presentations in Keynote. Imagine my surprise when I opened up the presentations in the new version to find transitions changed, actions deleted, images moved off center, etc. It took me days to get all the presentations compatible with the new Keynote.

    Now, I am as big an Apple fanboy as you, Ken. And I absolutely understand the need to move forward and leave some things behind. In this case, I’m sure the Keynote features were deleted to provide compatibility with their iCloud version. What I have a problem with is that Apple gives no information about what features are no longer supported. Had they done this (or provided a better conversion algorithm), I would have been better able to plan the transition. To me, this is different than the whole Final Cut Pro X transition where the product was for all intents and purposes completely different. The iWork upgrades were just that — upgrades. Better communication from Apple on the changes would have been appreciated.

  • ksegall

    Agreed! Apple shouldn’t have let you discovered on your own that your previous presentations would be scuttled. I had the same experience. It would have been nice to know beforehand instead of being unprepared for the shock.

    One can understand why the negatives wouldn’t be mentioned in the fanfare of the product unveiling. But a simple page on the website explaining what current users can expect would have been nice — and far more respectful to the loyal customers.

  • Gary Deezy

    Most of us live in a world where we do a day’s work, and then get paid for that day’s work next week – not next year. So, when I rely on a company’s tool to earn my living, and they make the decision to cause me short term pain for long term gain, they also hurt my ability to earn a living in the short term. I cannot afford to wait a year for Apple to get it’s hardware / software / ecosystem act together to feed my family. That is why there is so much anguish when Apple makes such decisions.

    At least with iWork, you can choose to keep and use the old versions while Apple gets its act together on the new versions. That has not always been the case…

  • ksegall

    I don’t disagree with that sentiment. My point is only that these are very tough decisions, and Apple has a history of making them — often at the risk of turning people off along the way.

    Do you not rock the boat and keep all your users happy (for now), or force users to a place where they will ultimately be happier?

    I think that the right thing is what FrotSkyman suggested in his comment. By all means keep innovating, but give us some transparency as well. Most of us would be happy to make a little sacrifice if Apple shared the plan. Saying nothing — and letting people discover the problems for themselves — doesn’t exactly generate good will.

    As you say, at least with iWork, there’s a simple workaround. Just keep using the previous version. I do hope Apple does a better job with this in the future.

  • MacServiceGuy

    Oh goodness… my uninformed friend… perhaps you need a few more details:

    1. while the older apps are indeed there, you can no longer launch them by double clicking on a document created by them. no matter what you do (including using “get-info” in the finder and redefining/re-associating the launch app back to the old version of the app) it still launches the new version of the app. Apple has specifically engineered it so you CANNOT launch the old app unless you specifically double click on it. The ONLY way you can double click a document and get it to launch the version of the app you want is by deleting the new apps (which I was happy to do). This is intentionally and personally invasive.

    2. Apple has specifically and suddenly disabled keynote remote (iphone app) from working with the OLD version of keynote in mavericks. Keynote remote, one of the most important pieces of my sales process when presenting to a client, works in 10.8.x + keynote, or 10.9.x in the latest garbage version of keynote – but not in 10.9.x in the old keynote… you know, the keynote you’re referring to where you say i’m bellyaching about it? There’s no plausible explanation for this – and don’t give me the line about it being a bug. Clearly this was intentional on apple’s part. Guess when I found this out? As I was trying to present something to a client.

    3. Did you know cannot stop the annoying notifications about the new apps? Over and over and over I was notified that there was a newer version (an update to the new versions) that was available. So I went to the software update area in the app store and attempted to set those annoyances to be “off”. Guess what – apple has removed the ability to stop annoying messages about updates! So… I deleted the apps. Guess what happens now? I’m so excited to tell you! – now i get a NEW message that reminds me my old version of iwork is outdated and i need to get the newer versions. umm.. I just deleted those to make these messages stop… you can no longer hide individual updates, so the only way to get update messages to stop now is to turn them all off wholesale; and the messages became so utterly invasive and frustrating (happening several times a day and NOT dismissible) that I simply ended up doing this. Now i get NO notifications about ANY updates unless I manually check for them.

    It’s one thing if apple wants to move us all forward , but leave us to our devices in the process if we choose. that would be frustrating, but acceptable. Instead, they are taking productivity apps (which many of us use to make money and present things to client with) and making it impossible to do our jobs in many circumstances so that we have no choice but to upgrade.

    It’s disgusting because this is not just apple trying to blow up the old stuff – this is finding annoying and personally invasive ways to prevent your computer from doing what you want it to do.

    this is beyond the pale.

    However, apple will get their wish with me. I’m definitely upgrading…. to Office.

    It’s clunky. It’s horribly laid out. It’s slow. But you know what? I can do my job and don’t have to worry about Microsoft invading my personal space and taking things away from me that I paid for. I PAID for those apps and the associated features. If apple wants to remove features from the new version, that’s their call. But removing them from the old version and creating these frustrating technological loops in my day where I’m so worn out I just give up and upgrade? When I PAID for the features they removed?

    I don’t think so.

    My android switch is already underway and for the first time, EVER, in over 30 years of using apple products I’m seriously considering buying a windows laptop. I already use windows all the time when I switch to bootcamp to do things so it’s not a big stretch for me.


    ps – My post, tentatively titled “Apple: I want a divorce” is in progress. I’m going through years of frustration to get it all out in one post so it’s going to be a while before it’s ready.

    pss – sorry if i’m coming across angry – it’s only because i am


  • MacServiceGuy

    Not true – please read my reply above to someone else about this very thing

    you cannot continue to use the old pages as you did before. details above.

  • AhmadZainiChia

    Haha wow a lot of angst there my friend. But yes thank you for telling me all this, my workflow with iWork was pretty much un-interrupted, so I guess I’m not really as affected as a lot of people.

    That keynote remote thing sucks, I really have to agree. But seriously, I feel that this issue is mainly about poor communication. Apple should have communicated better what upgrading meant, and cautioned people about what would have happened if they upgraded; lastly, they should not annoy people about these updates knowing that features would be stripped out.

    Chill bro, I think Apple has restored quite a few of the old features to the new apps already, and the rest should be updated very quickly soon after. Don’t go spending your money out of anger :)

  • MacServiceGuy

    i totally admit to the angst, but you have my sincere apologies if you felt it was directed at you – it definitely was not. It’s 100% at apple.

    It’s part of why I kept my other post so short… years of frustration over feeling completely shafted by apple on issues like this have finally reached a point where they’re bubbling out of me in places like this.

    I’ll get that blog written and get it all out in one place.


  • AhmadZainiChia

    Hey no worries! Look forward to reading your post :)

  • Nameless Coward

    Thats a great idea FrotSkyman.

    New users should get the newest version, since they do not know any better. Existing users should be prompted about compatibility issues with iCloud, and iOS versions or visa versa. They then agree to understand to get legacy features.

    Old version work files give the above prompt.

    Starting a new project automatically drops legacy.

    Theres very simple work arounds to start a legacy files, but one does so at his or her own peril.

    More or less like the Rosetta era.

    This does make the code base larger and versioning gets tricky. A lot of overhead is created in the apps and for Apple to maintain.

    Tim Cook doesn’t like overhead. He’s all for operational efficiency.
    hence the choice to drop legacy features.

    I get this is needed for logistics of tangibles in and out the production pipeline. Software could get some more slack, however.

  • Nameless Coward

    Love to hear that mate. Where will I find it?

    Apple is fantastic. I defend misconceptions about them at every chance I get. That said I also have no misconceptions about Apple.

    They are, sadly said, turning in to an Orwellian machine.

    Love everything they make. Love the neutral design. Totally get Apple, really. (Brought me to them – my ideas always showed up at Apple products)
    Though it does at times remind one of all the soulless distopic sci-fi movies. Where all is white, grey, concrete and metal. Most Interaction takes place via these nihilistic machines terminals.

    Our world is turning into that place more every day.
    Machines and technology are outgrowing us faster while we at an emotional level do not. This is bound to lead to huge mistakes.

    Eistein feared the day where we would only communicate through machines. ‘a generation of morons and a lost era would be the result’

    Wall-E is just that.

    Will get the next iPhone again and iPad Pro (i wish).

    Then go a cruise to be catered all day.

    Then forget about all and everything and just consume.

    Be obedient.


    Technology is a double edged sword.

    Stay of the black list.

  • Frankie Stone

    Mavericks is a mixed bag for me. It slowed down the whole system (I’ve got an 08 MB pro). Still can’t ‘save as.’ And now I (and everyone else, apparently) can’t double click addresses to populate an email. Jeez. Who thought that was a great idea? I do like the multiscreen thing. My printer works fine with it. Those things, at least, is useful. And I do like Mavericks better than that godforsaken %^&*(%# Mountain Lion. Finally, as I’ve said before, I still have my trusty snow iBook the odd scan project (not buying new hardware just for that).

  • Yosef ben Israel

    Who uses an optical drive anymore?

  • Herding_sheep

    Unusable? I happily used that mouse for a bit. I understand you might not have liked it, but that doesn’t include the entire population. I didn’t LOVE it, but I didn’t hate it. I just used it. I guess I wasn’t enough of a “power user” to care to complain. I did think the Pro Mouse that came out after was great. Actually back then it was my favorite mouse.

    Thinness makes no difference to users? Again, you’re speaking for the entire population, when you have no way of knowing that. I highly doubt losing the optical drive was only done to reduce thickness, its been a years long effort across the entire Mac line as part of a forward-thinking plan.

    Nobody is perfect. I’m sure you’ve made some wrong decisions in your life too. What I say is, if you think you have all the answers and can do something better yourself, then go and do it. No one is stopping you. Start a computer company, design your own products, and make all the right decisions that will please 100% of the population on Earth. Simple, right?

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