Dec 16

Apple: earning the wrath of Steve


You’ve been working on this HOW long?

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.

  • synthmeister

    “lighter” is not a high priority for a desktop. I want it to stay put on or under my desk.

  • FusekiGames

    A very small vocal minority of people have been crying for an “xMac” minitower for a coon’s age, and it hasn’t happened yet…

    … or ever. It’ll NEVER happen, sorry to say.

  • Pingback: Michael Tsai - Blog - Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac()

  • So what if he did? Tim Cook HAS made politics and social issues a big part of his tenure. It is a distraction that has hurt the company. Even though Steve was very liberal, he didn’t use Apple as a platform for it. He made it very clear that customer satisfaction was his #1 priority.

  • synthmeister

    I actually don’t care if it’s a mini-tower or maxi-tower—ust give me a reasonably priced tower that holds at least a couple standard HDs, at least 4 user upgradable RAM slots, at least 2 PCI slots. Let me choose between HDs, SSD or Fusion HDs or any combination thereof.

    I don’t want a machine which requires multiple external cables connecting everything.

  • lamecoward
  • Secret Santa

    “He needed to replace his Air, and the new MacBook Pro was over his budget.”

    I sense a bit of discrepancy here. If you want a new MBP that is one thing, if you need it (for work), then you can probably afford it. If can’t, you doing something wrong.

  • sadly, and quite unfortunately for you, you are finally rounding the corner which approaches what I’ve been saying for years: apple is headed right back where they were circa late 1996. while you aren’t saying this , or conceding this, you did just round that corner without realizing it.

    but to answer your question directly: apple is killing their desktop line… slowly and painfully, there will be no more mac desktops within about 5-10 years. more than likely sooner than later.

    they are also divesting themselves of their macbooks, but in this case they are at least attempting to transition people to the ipad.

    when lion was released I gave this warning: be careful, apple has taken its first steps at merging ios and mac os X… and that can mean only one of two things. apple is either:

    1. dumping their desktop computers
    2. going to lock down their desktops with iOS so that you have no control

    Turns out the “or” should be an “and” as both are happening before your very eyes

  • Gregg Ealy

    You don’t understand technology, and that’s just fine. You’re not supposed to understand it to buy it.

  • ezylstra

    The key to what is different with Steve gone is the lack of the story. With Steve we had a story of where things came from and where everything was going. Products are now dropped without any story. There is no sense of backing narrative.

  • Jmaharry

    Yeah, why can’t they make computers as good as Compaq, Gateway and Dell?

  • Jmaharry

    Thank you for this thoughtful respite from the incessant whining. It’s a smart, good assessment of Apple tech gains and innovations of the past few years. Which have been fantastic, and fantastically exciting. I think people who post on the web are by nature prone to a certain lack of maturity and perspective. Which leads to an unappealing sense of self importance, self-entitlement, self-delusion and, yes, that incessant whining.

  • Suresh Raina