Well, okay. Maybe that headline was a bit too optimistic. Let me re-phrase:
They will never understand Apple. Ever.
I suppose we can just chalk it up to human behavior. As the original Macintosh team at Apple liked to say, it’s more fun to be the pirates than the navy. In Star Wars terms, one could say it’s more fun to be the rebels than the Empire.
Given the size of the company today, Apple can easily be seen as both the navy and the Empire. So I get why the sport of finding the cracks in Apple’s armor is so popular.
That said, I remain amazed that so many fail to grasp how Apple thinks and behaves — though they’ve seen the same scenario play out time after time.
One very good example appeared last week in the international edition of USA Today under the headline, “For now, Apple’s in the sweet spot.”
Here, writer Jon Swartz talks about how great things look for Apple at this moment in time — but then warns that Apple “will go soft” just like IBM did years ago.
At least he’s consistent. In October 2012, he wrote another USA Today article titled “Year after Jobs’ death, how high can Apple fly?” With Apple at the top of its game at that moment, Jon focused on the darkness ahead.
Yes, with nearly three years’ worth of wrongness under his belt, Jon dusted himself off and charged once again into the abyss.
The truth is, being wrong about Apple’s future often stems from being wrong about Apple’s past. If you can’t appreciate what led to past successes, it’s tough to see the future ones.
Remember all the negative articles written about Apple in the quiet years leading up to last fall’s introduction of iPhone 6, Apple Pay and Apple Watch?
The common theme was that Apple had forgotten how to innovate. Samsung was crowned the new king. It was an easy story to tell, because Steve Jobs was gone.
Poor, directionless Apple. All those inventive designers and engineers, taking long lunches and wandering the halls aimlessly without leadership.
That idea, of course, was absurd. The only “proof” offered was that Apple had failed to deliver a new revolution three years after iPad. And that was meaningless, given that Steve Jobs himself took six years to launch iPhone after the revolution of iPod. Yet, with such stories proliferating, more and more people started to believe them.
Fortunately, it all becomes clear in hindsight.
Now we know there was a ton of work going on at Apple during The Period Of Great Whining. Possibly more than at any time in Apple’s history. Now we have new iPhones, Apple Pay and Apple Watch.
To me, this just says that Apple is doing a very good job of being Apple. Its mission is to create products that people can fall in love with. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a timetable for such things.
More important, we can now see how Apple’s pace of innovation worked out to the advantage of both the company and its customers.
It was way back in 2011 that NFC first appeared in mobile phones. Apple remained silent, and iPhone remained NFC-less. To many, this was evidence that Apple was not only becoming sluggish as an innovator — it was now officially falling behind.
As Tim Cook once explained, Apple enters a category only when it feels it has something special to offer. In this case, that something special was Apple Pay. This not only required imaginative engineering, it required winning the hearts of the major credit card companies, banks and retailers.
A me-too NFC capability could have happened years earlier. But it would not have been an Apple-quality solution. It would have diminished the Apple brand. What we got in the end was simpler, more secure, and more lovable.
Apple Watch is another good example.
Samsung introduced its Galaxy Gear watch in fall of 2013, about
two years one year before the Apple Watch was unveiled. To someone who doesn’t understand Apple, this was simply more evidence that Apple was no longer the leader.
From our vantage point in the future, we see that Apple was simply doing what it’s always done. It was entering an existing market and taking its time to create something that truly stands apart.
With the Gear Watch, Samsung did an excellent job of proving it isn’t Apple. Determined to beat its competitor to market, Samsung did the obvious — it shrunk the phone to wrist size, complete with camera. To them, it was nothing more than a technology challenge.
Apple, on the other hand, did a good job of proving it isn’t Samsung. As it had done with iPod, iPhone and iPad before, Apple studied the category and imagined how great design and functionality could reinvent it. Understanding that watches are both fashion and technology, it developed — and hired — accordingly. Apple Pay was also a critical part of the concept.
So, yes, Apple really was two years behind Samsung in the watch department. And when all the parts came together, it leaped far ahead — where it will likely remain for some time to come.
Is there a moral to this story?
Indeed. And it’s one of the oldest ones in the book. That is: things aren’t always what they seem.
Apple is actually one of the most consistent companies on earth. When you’re puzzled by its behavior in the present, it can be very clarifying to just look at the past.
It’s easy to do — even if many critics seem unable to do it.