Steve Jobs didn’t judge people solely on the quality of their work. He also put a high value on time — and wasting time was an unforgivable sin.
I saw this more than once in our regular marketing meetings. Someone would confidently present their ideas, Steve would ponder for a moment, and then let it out: “That’s it? You could have done this one day after our last meeting. What have you been doing for the past two weeks?”
It would then fall upon the offending party to put up their best defense. I don’t remember that ever working.
Of course, it was entirely possible that this person had been slaving away every day, at great personal sacrifice. But if the work didn’t show time well spent, Steve’s fury was unleashed.
Fast forward to Apple’s recent product unveiling.
After four years of stagnation in the Mac line, anticipation was running high. The Macs would finally have their day.
As we now know, only one Mac had its day: MacBook Pro. Absent from the parade were iMac, Mac mini and Mac Pro. The only news for MacBook Air was that one of its models was put out to pasture.
[Update 12/9/16 4:49pm] A number of readers have cited the 2015 MacBook as evidence that Apple hasn’t totally forsaken the Mac line. True, but a time when iPhones are updated annually, the Mac line isn’t exactly feeling the love.]
As much as I like the new MacBook Pro, I can’t help imagining Apple as a person making this presentation to Steve.
When it’s finished, Apple sits back with a smug smile, expecting praise. Instead, it gets broadsided. “That’s it?” Steve says. “You could have done this one year after the last Mac event. What have you been doing for the last four years?”
Like those who tried before, Apple can’t wiggle out of this one.
Honestly, I’m mystified as well.
When the new Mac Pro was introduced in 2012, it felt like the type of radical departure Steve was known for. Combined with Phil Schiller’s famous “Can’t innovate, my ass” comment, it gave hope for the future.
Unfortunately, the future never came for any of the Macs. When it finally arrived for MacBook Pro, it was at least a couple of years late.
I’ve always bristled when people speak like they know better than Apple. They rarely do. Given its amazing track record, I give Apple the benefit of the doubt.
But we’re not talking about doubt here, we’re talking about reality. Apple’s product line is what it is. The updates are what they are. (Or aren’t.) When a company’s actions begin to defy common sense, growing negativity is the natural result.
There’s also the issue of “optics.” If you’re a leader in the technology business, it’s generally not a good idea to broadcast the fact that you’re slow to innovate.
Apple doesn’t have to make category-shaking products every year to be successful. Its formula for success is creating revolutionary products when they’re ready and keeping existing product lines fresh in between.
When updates between revolutions disappear, the result is bad press and restless customers — both of which are well earned.
I have a “I have a friend” story that brought this home for me. This friend was seriously itching to replace his five-year-old MacBook Air, but he held off due to the many rumors of pending upgrades. Surely it couldn’t be much longer.
After the MacBook Pro event, he basically gave up. He needed to replace his Air, and the new MacBook Pro was over his budget. So he ordered the 13-inch MacBook Air. His order confirmation described his new computer as “MacBook Air (early 2015).”
For my friend, that let some air out of the balloon. He does love his new computer, but with caveats. He’d bought Apple’s latest and greatest Air, and it was already a year and a half old.
I think it’s up to Apple to explain “what they’ve been doing all these years.”
In days of old, when Steve expressed that bit of displeasure, people would work around the clock to fix things, as if their jobs depend on it. Which was a pretty good assessment of reality.
Apple’s rise from the ashes has been powered by its ability to fire on all cylinders at once. Today at least a few cylinders seem to be sputtering.
I know Apple cares deeply about its customers, but it has to say that out loud. And in the world of Apple, it’s the products that do the talking.