Jun 14

Shooting blanks at Apple

I love the smell of exaggeration in the morning. (Illustration: Fortune.)

With a rising stock price, cheery forecasts from major analysts and growing anticipation for iPhone 6 and iWatch, it’s getting harder and harder to write negative articles about Apple’s prospects.

But, naturally, some people do.

Surprisingly, it was Adam Lashinsky who recently rose to the challenge with his article for Fortune entitled Apple’s newest product: Complexity.

Compelling headline. Compelling visual. The only thing it lacks is a compelling argument.

In fact, it’s an excellent example of how even the smarter Apple journalists can be seduced by the lure of Apple doom-casting.

It’s not that I have this simplicity fetish and instinctively buck at the mere mention of Apple becoming complicated. Like anyone else who cares about the company, I’m well aware that it sometimes stumbles.

For example, I continue to groan about the once-removed and then awkwardly-restored “Save As…” feature in Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Please, Apple, turn back now!

And I totally agree with Lashinsky’s very first example of Apple’s lapse in simplicity. Transferring a Voice Memo from iPhone to iMac can indeed be a challenge for mere mortals. It was for me.

But there is a hugely important thing here called “context.”

What we demand from our technology today is infinitely more than what we asked 15 years ago. Apple should be judged on the overall simplicity it delivers, how that compares to competitors and the depth of its commitment to make things even simpler.

With the improvements coming to iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, it’s hard to argue that Apple is falling victim to complexity. Quite the opposite — Apple’s computers and devices will soon work together even more effortlessly.

Does Apple make a simplicity faux pas from time to time? Oh yes. Does that mean it’s doomed to a future of runaway complexity? Hardly.

Once Lashinsky gets the Voice Memo crisis out of the way — with me nodding my head in agreement — he loses me with complaints that simply sound absurd.

In fact, he reminds me a bit of the famous Louis C.K. routine Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy. Incredible as air travel is, we can still complain that our seats won’t go back far enough.

In Lashinky’s eyes, iTunes is complex because it started out as a music library and has expanded to contain music, TV shows, podcasts, movies and apps. One can only imagine what he’d say if Apple instead broke iTunes into five separate apps.

The thing is, technology evolves. What iTunes delivered in the beginning isn’t nearly enough to keep anyone happy today. Yes, it’s become more complicated — but still well within the grasp of a 10-year-old.

He does hit the nail on the head when he says that Apple’s challenge is to keep products simple as it makes them more capable. In other words, Apple has to be true to its brand. Which is excellent (and obvious) advice for any company on earth.

In the end, Lashinsky actually does a pretty good job of dismantling his own argument.

He says “It’s important to note that Apple’s competition is no less complicated.” And “It still does what it does so much better than everyone else, and makes so much money doing it, that it’s impossible to say Apple’s complexity represents a crisis.”

Then he ends with “Not yet, anyway.”

When you write an article about a problem that doesn’t exist, that’s about the only way you can end it.

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  • Paul Robinson

    Liked your commentary; however, he’s right about iTunes. It’s a mess!

    The interface and navigation are atrocious.

    You still cannot resize the font of the reviews, making them nigh impossible to read.

    You cannot focus results on certain stores or filter out certain ones (we don’t buy music and dislike being assaulted by flamboyant song/album covers). We typically want to search for apps or podcasts–and yet we end up having to scroll down through all the results for these other categories.

    The synching options with the i-devices are convoluted–just got the great message again: the one to the effect of: “If you want to sync books, we’re going to delete all podcasts, TV shows, books, music, etc. on your iPad first.” Huh? All I want to do is transfer some stuff to the Mac and coordinate the two, not destroy content.

    I could go on… the point being this– iTunes is Apple’s virtual store front and it’s bogged down in complexity; lacks elegance; and is a picture postcard of how NOT to design a program.

    Yes, the iOS 8, Yosemite pairing has great promise–let’s hope they figure out to *easily* wirelessly transfer an ebook or PDF from one iOS device to another–just try it now!

  • darlaj

    Try turning on iCloud on your devices.

  • Mitch

    Enjoyed the article Ken, thanks for an honest perspective. The article former article was however bullshit. I am surprised that you didn’t mention their ridiculous attempt to give the article artificial weight by using an unrelated Steve Jobs video mid article using Flash…

  • Gary Deezy

    “I’m well aware that it sometimes stumbles.” Looking back over the last four or so years, there have been about as many stumbles as home runs, in my experience. Not a good trend.

    iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto, Final Cut 7, now Aperture. Late TRIM support, lagging CPU speeds/$, dropping the original Mac Pro form factor. Purple Halo iPhone photos. iMessage server failures. Mail issues with Gmail. Need I go on?

    Love ya, Apple, but get your act together because “Pretty Runs Out” — singer Amanda Shaw

  • godofbiscuits

    Purple Halos? really? Digging deep with that one. An edge case of an edge case that only a handful of people even noticed in the first place, and something that wasn’t specific to Apple, either?

    And just because Aperture, the product, is going away it doesn’t mean that the myriad technologies built into Aperture, the software, won’t end up appearing, improved and/or built-upon in the new Photos products.

  • Gary Deezy

    2 iphone 5(s) + 2 with purple halo = 100% for this customer. It might be an “edge case” because it didn’t happen to you.

    As far as what Apple technologies “might” end up in future improved products: there’s always hope, but I don’t build my business around hope. As Steve once said, “Hope is not a business strategy.”