May 15

One day they’ll understand Apple

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.

  • Atlas

    And the card number isn’t even stored on the phone with Apple Pay ! It’s actually only stored on visa servers like always.

  • Atlas


  • Atlas

    Amazing how you can’t even answer a single question as to which pc/phone you are using that is innovative.

  • Atlas

    It’s also funny that haptic feedback has been used for so long by other brands, but they managed to make it suck. It has always been laggy so that the user didn’t feel a strong relation between a press and a vibration.
    Apple instead has integrated it so well that people truly have the impression that the trackpad clicks when it doesn’t.

  • Atlas

    That’s why Apple also introduces new tech, like the fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5S.

  • Atlas

    The fandroids are indeed delusional. They only live with constant strawman arguments.

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  • mjtomlin

    I completely agree. There are many analysts, bloggers and authors who could probably do their readers/clients a better service by not reporting on Apple when they clearly do not understand the company.

    This whole meme about Apple falling behind in any category is completely off the mark, especially when no on knows what’s going on behind the closed doors in Cupertino. If history should teach us anything about Apple is that they are technologically savvy and could have released a multitude of devices at the same time as their competitors, but that’s not what they’re interested in doing. Apple is not a me first type of company that just throws technology at the market and sees where it lands. They think about the purpose and ultimately develop a meaningful solution.

    Samsung doesn’t play that game. They make devices, not solutions. They aren’t interested in advancing the practical applicability of the technology, they just push widgets out the door. Don’t get me wrong, I think Samsung is a highly innovative company when it comes to “under the hood” technology, but their complete lack of discipline in their CE division is clearly evident when their idea of using that technology falls flat on its face and comes off as merely a gimmick.

    If Apple were Samsung, they would’ve just attached a strap to the 6th generation iPod nano, beefed up the specs a little and called it their iWatch. The technology was there in 2011, but the purpose wasn’t – at least not according to Apple. And so two years later when Samsung released the Galaxy Gear, it was deemed that Apple had somehow fallen behind even though the technology really wasn’t much more advanced than that iPod nano in 2010.

  • EXCELLENT films are not commodities. You’re comparing films to Oil or Gold where the substance is virtually identical no matter who is selling it. (Exxon, BP, or Shell). If this was the case, would we care what the movie we were watching was? Who was in it and who wrote it/ directed it? I mean if movies are a commodity then why are great ones recognized with higher box offices? Wouldn’t you just go to the cheapest movie if they were commodities.

    Agreed, Apple does not do commodities, but neither does Pixar. (Due to Steve Jobs and Ed Catmull’s excellent shepherding, their style has been copied but true art is impossible to duplicate/feign/counterfeit).

  • Apple hasn’t been FIRST at really anything they’ve produced at scale. The laws of product adoption show that being the first mover is usually not the most cost effective, duplicatable approach. They just do things better, with more design, engineering and purpose than the competition. AND, Apple QUICKLY learns from its mistakes – remember Ping? The analogy is simple: Apple is the tortoise and the competition is the hare.

  • octy

    Your analogies (Apple – communism, Android – democracy), show that you do not understand either communism, democracy, Apple or Android.

    Communism is an ideology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communism) structured on the common ownership of the means of production (in this context that would be iOS, the AppStore, Android and Google Play). Both Apple and Google are fairly capitalist entities in this respect, since their respective platforms are definitely NOT commonly owned (oh, and a platform declaring itself “open” does not imply you, the user, owning any of it).

    Democracy is a political ideology whereby the masses have the power to choose… their leaders (NOT their phones!) China is a communist country, yet people there can still *choose* between Apples and Androids! Buying into either the Apple or Android platform is something you can choose, freely.

    My point: neither Apple nor Google are political systems, nor ideologies, religions, etc. etc. A first step in understanding any of this, would be to stop over-thinking it all, and to especially rid our heads of analogies that make absolutely no sense.

  • michaelward82

    If ‘iPhone 3’ could not be easily misinterpreted then I would have written nothing. As it was, I was unsure if you were referencing the iPhone 3G (2nd gen) or iPhone 3GS (3rd gen).

  • hannahjs

    Critics understand movies, they think they understand Apple, but do not.

  • ghoppe

    The mental contortions necessary to jam Apple and Android philosophies into a political analogy are impressive, and wholly unproductive.

    By your analogy, each producer of an Android phone is a communist, centrally planning what they thing people should use, and the ecosystem is simply a market where everyone chooses which form of communism they prefer.

    Of course, in reality Apple is a capitalist, as all corporations are. They maintain private ownership over means of production, and when they can’t own all of the means of production they subcontract out to even their competitors in the smartphone market, like Samsung.

    Apple makes opinionated choices in their design, of course, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. If a consumer doesn’t like what they have to offer, they can also go elsewhere. You expect Apple to act like Google and farm out their platform to a myriad clones? Then you would have the situation you don’t want: every company uses the same strategy to produce products.

    History has yet to prove that “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” is ultimately a better way of innovating. In fact, history has shown the opposite. Remember all the innovation before the Macintosh? The iPhone? All the innovation in tablets before the iPad? And now watches — all the innovation where Android makers threw a smartphone on your wrist and called it a day.

    Innovation requires a deep understanding of a product and what purpose it serves, the patience to develop that product until it is ready for market. Innovation is not running down multiple paths, squandering resources by throwing ideas out before they are ready just to see if they catch on.

  • Bart

    Completely agree. I didn’t get an iPod until the 3rd version. I really think that most of the ‘Apple fanboys’ thought Apple had lost it’s way with the iPod. Look what happened though!!!

    I remember when the 1″ Hard Disk shipped. The industry reaction was kind of like, “well, that’s an interesting parlor trick”.

    Only Apple figured out a use for it that made total sense. Even their fanboys were not impressed. Initially.

    Watch the YouTube video of Steve introducing the iPod. Talk about a TEPID response from the ‘true believers’.

    Literally no one saw the vision, outside of Apple.

  • hannahjs

    A third reason why writers don’t explain Apple as it truly is, is that doing so elevates Apple above average, grubby business values and conduct; that looks like bias to a lot of readers.

  • Bart

    Uh, Shamstung isn’t doing any chip design (or at least any that is worthwhile).

    Notice how incredibly SLOW their over clocked chips run? The true weakness is their total ineptness wrt software.

  • Bart

    Ray, you have no idea what you are even talking about. Witness the fact that the iPhone SKUNKS all the Androids. It’s not even CLOSE. And they are doing it with FAR less clock/specs.

  • ghoppe

    You are actually trying to posit that the 64-bit, 2 billion transistor, 20nm process, A8 SoC is somehow lagging behind its competitors? Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 only just came out.

  • Bart

    LOL, Google Maps is in no way ‘better’ than Apple Maps. In fact, I’ve found many MORE bad maps on Google than on Apple. Three places near where I live are still completely WRONG on Google Maps and I don’t think they will ever fix it at this point. Apple maps has every one of them correct!

    The Fandroids have parlayed a FEW random graphics glitches (which I admit were amusing, especially for them) into a total snow-job.

    Apple maps flyover is way better than ‘street view’ which is totally random. I love the flyover feature–you can actually see any angle of a city. Streetview is OK in a rural area, that’s about it.

    Everything that Apple maps lacked initially has been quietly added (voice nav, transit and walking directions, etc.), and virtually all of it is BETTER than the Google alternative.

  • Bart

    Poser remark? You don’t even know what model you had? How insightful–LOL.

  • Bart

    LOL, please keep in mind your ‘Android’ would be a BLACKBERRY RIP OFF had it not been for iPhone. Google has repeatedly ADMITTED that, but the Fandroids are too lame to accept it.

  • Bart

    And you think Apple has not changed things? Really want to claim that? LOL, did you just fall off the turnip truck, or what? Denial much?

  • Bart

    iPod had FIREWIRE. Loaded an entire album in SEVEN SECONDS. I think the idiotic Rio took orders of magnitude LONGER, several MINUTES to do what the iPod did in SEVEN SECONDS.

    Also, Firewire was the only reason the PeeCee community got USB. It only happened at all because Apple chose to make Firewire (aka iLink, IEEE 1394, etc…) an open standard. Weeks after it was published, Intel rushed their majorly dumbed-down, 40X SLOWER version of firewire to market and called it ‘USB’. Apple responded by also adopting USB for SLOW peripherals like keyboards, etc… (iMac was literally one of the first to use USB, which was available prior to Firewire, but only after Apple schooled the rest of the ‘industry’ on it.)

  • Bart

    If you stop trolling, we might consider having to check ‘sources’. Most of us lived though this, we aren’t going to listen to your trolling to the contrary.

  • Bart

    You know a troll has lost when they have to bring up devices no one has ever heard of, right?

  • Bart

    LOL! Whatever it is you are trolling about, you certainly haven’t put together any kind of ‘argument’. Buddy, cash that check from Samsung while they can still afford to (famously) pay their trolls. Do they still tell you what time to post your remarks or only which articles to troll?

  • Space Gorilla

    “If “Apple” made things the way they ought to be, then they would be at the top of every market in the world”

    Interesting point. In fact, if you look at the top/premium segments of the markets Apple operates in, they do actually dominate the “top of every market”, often with 80 percent share or higher of the premium segment.

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  • Right. We could also speculate that for whatever reason they weren’t happy with the 4″ version of the iPhone 6. We’ll never know. :P

  • Jude Dunn

    Here, here.

  • Awesome

    Wow, your ignorance is really showing. Take a look again. Apple’s highest selling smartphone is the iPhone 5 with 70 million in units sold. The Galaxy S4 sold 80 million the year after the iPhone 5 was released.

  • Awesome

    Who said that I use Android? I never mentioned any of that. I am just saying that Apple is not innovative. Keep your bias to yourself.

  • Awesome

    I do have requirements to use a few Apple products, begrudgingly mind you. So I do understand both sides of the coin. Also, I haven’t once mentioned that I am interested in Android. Keep your bias to yourself.

  • Awesome

    “Better” does not mean it is innovative.

  • Awesome

    A great example of Apple being innovative, too bad it was so long ago…

  • Awesome

    Where is your proof? You sound pretty subjective.

  • Hi Ken

    Great post.

    I couldn’t agree more with “They will never understand Apple. Ever”. It’s like they keep making the same mistake again and again, and expecting different results.

  • Awesome

    Ray already admitted that they’ve done well with CPU, but there is not much you can do with that in real life if you only have 1 GB of RAM.

  • Awesome

    They have been innovative, but not so much recently. Please, bring more insults it looks good on you.

  • Awesome

    What world are you living in that devices are not shaping?

  • Bart

    You should refrain from making stupid comments, and quit pretending to be hurt when people call you out for it.

    Samsung JUST totally copied Apple Pay. They didn’t even change the name. Your level of cluelessness is truely astounding.

  • ksegall

    I actually thought there were some years where Galaxy outsold iPhone. As far as I can tell, your own Wikipedia reference says otherwise, when comparing specific models.

    2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 – iPhone outsells Galaxy every year. (Samsung’s overall totals include its crappy “value” phones that sell to a very different audience.)

  • Bart

    It’s common knowledge you moron. Look at any objective review, or test them yourself. I’m not surprised you’d be totally unaware of the known benchmarks, or that you’d use your ignorance to augment your trolling.

  • Bart

    Pay attention much? We were talking about the iPod.

    There are NO substantive examples of anything Android that has added much. It’s more like they have managed to stumble across some obvious extensions of iOS before Apple did (trivial things like notification windows).

  • ghoppe

    iOS memory use is incredibly efficient. There are no third party interpreters between the apps and the metal. There’s no garbage collection to account for. As long as apps preserve state properly, it’s going to be difficult to see the difference between keeping the app data in RAM and in storage when switching/relaunching apps.

    Yes, the iPad Air 2 has 2 GB of RAM and this allows it to keep more browser tabs open without reloading and multiple apps in memory. And yes, it will be a nice upgrade when this extra memory comes to the iPhone.

    But I hardly think that the CPU in the iPhone 6/6 Plus is crippled by having 1 GB of RAM. I’m sure people’s “real life” experience with the iPhone isn’t impacted significantly.

  • ghoppe

    Did you not see the Anandtech link I posted in my comment you replied to?

  • GlennC777

    “No offense, but anyone who didn’t see anything special about the first iPod lacks the vision to judge any of Apple’s other products”

    Completely disagree. Different people will “see” different things. Vision is not a binary “have it” or “don’t have it” quality.

  • tjwolf

    My ignorance? Whatever – I tire of answering obvious trolls.

  • Bart

    We were discussing the iPod, but Apple really has had the first credible version of most computers and mobile devices, from Apple II to Mac to iPod/iPhone/iPad and now Apple Watch.