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.

  • Christopher Pelham

    I’m not sure that secure fingerprint recognition and ApplePay support in the keyboard could have been released three years ago. ApplePay didn’t come to the iPhone until Oct 2014, I believe. maybe they could have rolled out the new MacBook Pro last year though? I suspect they have been waiting and waiting for Thunderbolt over USB and faster chips etc from Intel for a long time. It’s hard to go all in with 5k screen support without the chips and interfaces to support it. Still, like you I am frustrated with the delays as well.

  • kentallard

    I have been an Apple fanatic since 1983. The only time I ever wondered about Apple was during the era when Jobs was gone. Since Jobs returned they have moved from one triumph to another. Until now. What they have done with the Mac line is inexplicable. The new MacBook is a solution looking for a problem. Every other model is based on making it as thin as possible, not as good as possible. Someone is asleep at the wheel at Apple.

  • Brant Merryman

    I could not agree more.

  • Jim Preston

    Think of the new MBP’s this way. We now have an infinite keyboard available. Apple has provided what may become an amazing tool but it is up to us software developers and users to figure out what to do with it. For now the uses seem to be to expose the deep menu selections of large apps like Photoshop, but that is because we haven’t been more cleaver – yet. They provided a new tool and some suggestions. However, it is usually the software that makes computers useful, and our imaginations.

    I was waiting to upgrade from my MBP 2012 Retina. It is still a very useful computer but I wanted more RAM. Improved screen resolution isn’t on my wish list and I could care less about lighter and thinner. I’m a Silicon Valley entrepreneur / coder.

  • Bart

    Now that Apple has had to succumb to the previously overwhelming pressure from Intel, everyone is using these same chipsets. At that point, when there is NO COMPETITION, ‘Moore’s Law’ goes out the window.

    I like the new MBP, but have recently bought the older model, got to a point where I couldn’t wait much longer. No one really gets every model, it would make no sense, even if you can afford it.

    Progress is slow. Not everything is the first Mac, the first iPhone, the first iPad. Or the first rip off of Mac (Windows) or the first rip off of iPhone (android) or the first rip off of iPad (Android ‘tablets’).

    You act as if Microsoft were doing anything. Surface is getting better, but it’s still a complete JOKE. Touch screen on any sort of laptop remains a bad idea unless you are in tablet ‘mode’ at which point it’s not a laptop. I like Apple’s approach here, because I find surface to be a very schizophrenic.

    We can always run WIndows on a cheap laptop and completely give up on anything even remotely resembling ‘innovation’. It’s still an option.

  • Bryant Doyle

    I think history will view this latest MBP as a step, a small but important one. A step in moving us a way from keyboards as we know them today. To a time when typing is a much more interactive experience. Maybe the area the keyboard occupies becomes more interactive. A place that adapts to other languages and ways to interact with information. This MBP might be a step in that direction, a painful step but first steps in a new direction usually are.

  • koopapoopas

    Defying common sense is how Apple got successful.

  • Jurassic

    … And then Steve Jobs would have said to Apple, “You should have listened to Ken Segall! He knows better how to run the company, and how to produce complex tech products that sell in the millions, than you do. In fact, I am firing everyone at Apple, from Tim Cook on down, and hiring Ken Segall to run the company. He knows all and sees all, while everyone running Apple are a bunch of losers (that’s what Ken Segall told me).”

  • puggsly

    Sorry, but the MacBook Pro had been revised only a couple years ago. This was a refresh, where they substantially reduced the size and weight, bring the MacBook pro inline with the size of the MacBook Air. That in and of it’s self was enough to be praise worthy. They addressed the elephant in the room which is Windows laptops going touch screen and doubled down on horizontal touch surfaces by adding the touch bar and massively increasing the size of the trackpad.
    They enhanced storage IO well beyond anyone in the industry and made a laptop that can drive 4 5k displays. Previous pro laptop could handle what 2 4k?

    The MacBook Pro is selling amazingly well even though Tim Cook has probably added another 5% of margin to the machine. Really the only thing that might have changed is Steve might have done a better job of making people understand why this is a great machine and probably would have held down the price a bit.

    I can hear the speech now. 8 years ago we introduced the MacBook air which changed the industry for people who need the ultimate in portability and we also maintained the best of class professional laptop in the MacBook pro. So you could choose what best fit your needs. But why should you have to choose? Wouldn’t you like an MacBook air Pro or a MacBook Pro Air? Well you asked for it and here it is and we simply call it MacBook Pro! As light as the MacBook Air, but more powerful than any MacBook Pro we have ever made!

    So knowing this…..why are you disappointed in this laptop?

  • isitjustme

    Because he thinks upgrade for upgrade sake is better than being late with a better product. I believe he has the mentality of the Sculley’s era, throwing as much mud on the wall to see which one sticks….lol

  • gav

    lame article
    heard this crap for the past 20 years!

  • tmphoto

    Because when I asked for a no-compromises, powerful, truly professional level 4K laptop… I didn’t mean $4K.

  • LiveJoX

    Great news for new Mac Pro:

    Trio of new AMD GPU references for possible Mac refresh found in latest macOS Sierra beta

  • Gregg_Thurman

    Of course you didn’t, because even though you wanted the specs, you wouldn’t have bought it.

  • Gregg_Thurman


  • Gregg_Thurman

    Excellent X 2

  • Gregg_Thurman

    Lazy? Lazy is sitting in the back seat, telling the driver what he is doing wrong, with none of the responsibility of actually being the driver.

    Another definition of lazy – Ken Segal.

  • bb805

    In spite of your sarcasm, I would rather see Ken Segall running the company than the losers running it now. Segall is dead on. Take off the Coke-bottle rosy lenses as to how insanely great Apple is and realize that they are heading into a violent nosedive. I never thought I’d look at another PC again once my Macs die. Never. Until now. Now, that’s the only salvation I can see. Apple doesn’t get it. They make an OS that is as ugly as sin (thanks, Jony. Try sticking to hardware permanently), solder in RAM and SSDs, put in USB-C drives because “they’re the future” but not realizing that I live in the present, all while raising the prices of their restrictive pieces of junk. Moronic “features” like “hand-off” that nobody wants or needs to use are touted as “innovation”. No. Copy and paste this remark and look at it four years from now, and see how prophetic I am. Unless Apple starts listening to a userbase that knows more than it does, it is doomed to abject failure.

  • truewest

    Apple has a CEO more concerned about promoting LGBTQ, solar and wind farms and Hilary Clinton than taking care of business at Apple.

    With the release of the latest overpriced Macbook Pros. and after 26 years with Apple I am looking elsewhere.

    Dump this guy Apple.

  • FalKirk

    The MacBook is not, nor should it be, the focus of Apple’s efforts. It’s a legacy product. Complaining about a MacBook update today is like complaining about an iPod update after the iPhone was introduced.

  • rattyuk

    I think it should be mentioned that Intel have been shafted by Apple destroying their entire mobile plans by showing every othe manufacturer that ARM was perfectly fine processor to do the job.

    Also the high end machines that Intel were using to support their processor manufacturing just aren’t selling in the quantities they used to so the chips aren’t really there for Apple to utilize.

    It does seem that these current machines are actually faster than most expected and as with a lot of Apple’s products are actually better than the noisy annoyed realize.

  • lattermanstudio

    Apple DESPERATELY needs new leadership.

  • lattermanstudio

    I TOTALLY agree !!! There is NO conductor at the helm…… they are all in dining car having one big party.

  • lattermanstudio

    NO KIDDING !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (got that right)

  • lattermanstudio

    “Paper Thin” does not make a better MBP………

  • Jurassic

    Steve Jobs’ own instructions to Tim Cook, when he made Tim Cook the CEO of Apple, was to never ask what Steve Jobs would do.

    In the past 5 years since he took over as CEO, Tim Cook has grown Apple’s revenues and profits immensely. Apple is now (by far) the largest and most profitable company on Earth!

    Yet there are some people who think that they could have done better than Tim Cook and his team. In reality, Apple probably would have crashed and burned if it was led by any of those critics. And they use the ghost of Steve Jobs (as if they believe he would be in agreement with them if he was still alive) as justification for their negative rhetoric and undeserved criticism.

    These complainers are simply arrogant, narcissistic wannabes who look at Apple Inc. (a company which has increased its revenue and profits about 300% in the past 5 years) and have the absurd opinion that the company is “failing”, and that only THEY know how to “save” it from its own success.

    We are living in a “Trump” world, where expounding the most nonsensical opinions is more acceptable to some people than logic or facts.

  • Jurassic

    “Take off the Coke-bottle rosy lenses as to how insanely great Apple is and realize that they are heading into a violent nosedive.”

    No one needs “rosy lenses” to plainly see that Apple is continuing to be the most profitable, successful company on the planet… And Apple certainly doesn’t worry about a Nostro-dummass such as yourself when you prognosticate that Apple is “heading into a violent nosedive” (whatever you think THAT is).

    When you look at a little thing called “reality”, there are indicators that not only is Apple doing well, it is also heading toward record-breaking revenues and profits this quarter:

    * Kantar Worldpanel ComTech: “In the US, iOS grew 7% points year-over-year, from 33.5% of smartphone sales to 40.5% in the three months ending October 2016”

    * Credit Suisse: Apple’s December quarter iPhone builds could reach 87 million

    * November set record for App Store’s “highest monthly sales ever”

    * Apple Music gained 3 million more paying subscribers this quarter, now surpasses 20 million subscribers

    * This is a record breaking quarter for Apple Watch sales

    * Canaccord Genuity: Apple took 106% of smartphone industry profits (over 100% accounting for other companies’ losses)

    * Record-breaking sales of the new MacBook Pro models

    Etc,, etc., etc.

    You can live in denial all you want. It has absolutely ZERO effect on the huge success that Apple has been accomplishing.

    There have always been some complainers such as yourself. Some people complained when Apple introduced the first iMac without a floppy disk! Some people complained when Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007 and it didn’t have a mechanical keyboard on it.

    Complaining about Apple’s products has NEVER stopped the company from selling those products successfully to those who want them and understand the innovation in them that makes them more productive than using anything available from other companies.

  • tmphoto

    You miss the point. If they actually made a no-compromise laptop I would pay for it like I always have in the past (I’ve been buying crazy-expensive Apple computers since the early 90’s). But they don’t. Now their obsession with thin and light rules over any further thought given to all of us professionals who kept Apple from dying back when everyone else was going to Windows 95.

  • puggsly

    And you got one for only 2.5k

  • puggsly

    This laptop is smaller, lighter and faster than the previous generation. Is this all because of the loss of the SD card slot? Because everything else you probably use an adapter for anyway. You have had how many years to upgrade to Thunderbolt drives? You don’t likely have a DisplayPort display, but if you do, all you are replacing is the cable.

    This was a substantial upgrade to the MacBook pro line or the largest upgrade ever for the MacBook Air.

  • puggsly

    Not sure who this was directed at, but yes. Apple has always looked to minimize. Fewer ports, fewer buttons and the industry will catchup!

  • puggsly

    Nope! Faster makes it better. For many lighter makes it better. Capable of driving 4 5k displays makes it better. Faster external busses makes it better. Faster internal busses makes it better.

  • The Pool Man

    I should be the owner of a three year old iMac, two MacBooks, two iPhone 7s, and a new Apple TV.

    I am the owners of a three year old iMac, two Asus Zenbook Flips, an iPhone 6, a OnePlus 3, and a new Apple TV.

    I will be the owner of two Asus Zenbook Flips, a OnePlus 3, a OnePlus 3T, and a new Apple TV.

    The jury is out on replacing the iMac. Which I’ve religiously done when the AppleCare runs out. But I’m not running out to replace it. Why?

    Tim Cook didn’t run out to offer an insanely great iMac for Xmas. Or a MUST HAVE Mac Mini. I want SSD drives standard in each since (a la my Zenbooks).

    What I want is for Apple to announce new iMacs or Minis in January normalizing SSD drives and keep prices reasonable. What I will get instead is some dinosaur desktop offerings with a touchpad on top of my keyboard.
    With a %22 percent price increase.

    Apple sucks.

  • tmphoto

    Smaller and lighter are not even on my list of priorities. A large high resolution screen, long battery life and uncompromised power are. I do actually have a thunderbolt display on my desk, but I don’t take that with me when I travel, and I work on location regularly.
    There are people out there with different needs than yours.

  • hannahjs

    My beloved Uncle Wally would reliably gift me with just the right thing every birthday and Christmas, as if he could read the desire in my eyes for this plaything or that, year after year; it was like Santa Claus somehow delivering just the right amount of surprise and pleasure to a wide-eyed child.

    One fine birthday—I might have been 14—I opened the box from him and was disappointed. It contained a doll, but of an obsolete and inferior sort. The following Christmas, he sent a gift card.

    The magic was gone.

    Eventually, my mother revealed that Uncle Wally had had a stroke, and gotten into a car accident as a result, and wasn’t doing at all well. Aunt Mildred had been handling his affairs for him. That included choosing gifts for his favourite niece. A relative stranger was now managing the avuncular relationship.

    Aunt Mildred had always seemed aloof and out of touch with the extended family, more interested in her Adventist study groups and her social causes. I wrote to her and told her, respectfully, that I was very sad about Uncle Wally and sad for her, and that I no longer expected a delightful gift from them every year, as I was now a big girl. I never heard back.

  • The Pool Man

    “Profits not products you pinheads!” never said Steve Jobs

  • hannahjs

    Reality, especially in the form of the bottom line, trumps theory every time, particularly in the case of Apple, whose brand trumps the Trump brand, at least so far. Reality constrains everyone and everything, and it would be wise to keep that in mind as we peddle our fantasy scenarios.

    Steve cautioned against letting the marketing guy run the company. He wasn’t talking about the likes of Tim Cook, but of Ken Segal.

  • hannahjs

    Apple has proven itself to be the company that doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks: they are going to go ahead with their ideas to create the future. If they crash and burn, so be it; but they are not going to consult you about it beforehand.

    Contemptuous, perhaps, but eminently defensible.

  • Jurassic

    There has been a lot of hand-wringing and rending of tunics by some people about Apple’s lack of attention to its Mac products. Those people tend to forget the reality of the situation… That being that PCs (personal computers, which includes Apple’s Mac products) are a dying sector.

    At one point in Apple’s history, the Apple II and later the Mac made up 100% of the company’s revenues and profits. But over the past several years, sales of PCs have been consistently dropping.

    Apple is devoting less time and resources to the development of new Mac products for the very same reason that Apple is devoting less time and resources to the development of new iPod products. It has become a very low priority compared to its main sources of income (iPhone, iPad, and Services).

    Currently, Macs make up less than 10% of Apple’s income… And worse, that proportion has been getting smaller and smaller with each quarter.

    Everyone knows that Apple’s primary revenue source is the iPhone. But also, Apple makes more money selling iPads than Macs, and more money from Services than selling Macs (and Services have been growing by double digits each year!). Even Apple’s newest product line, Apple Watch, is on the incline and will likely overtake Macs as a source of income in 2017.

    And Apple is not resting on its current line of products for the future. Apple has been quietly redefining itself with HUGE investments in Transportation, Augmented Reality, and Renewable Energy. And with the addition and growth of new Services (like Apple Music), Apple has been re-inventing itself rather than standing still like other computer tech companies.

    The next time you argue how it has been over 1,000 days since the Mac Pro has been updated, remember that this product was NEVER a big seller, EVEN in its first year of sales! Apple is right not to waste time and money trying to “save” a poor selling product… Especially if that product is in a product category that is dwindling away.

  • nagha

    Apple used to have an event showing off new things every 3-4 months. It created a steady stream of positive press and interest from the public. iLife is dead. iWork is dead. Aperture is dead. The Mac is neglected. For the largest tech company in the world, this is pathetic.

  • Wruff Truff Fruff

    Ouch, that is a sad tale. And Aunt Mildred is the saddest of all: so sour and self-involved, I imagine. I only (think I) know because I have become an Aunt Mildred myself; and in this “new” relationship to everyone, it has only taken me four years to realize how selfish I am while performing this selfless task.

  • Corvus2

    Says more about you than Tim Cook. Voted for Trump did you?

  • This is dead on. Props to you Ken for calling Apple out. Clearly Tim Cook has dropped the ball (many times over). Apple drifted along successfully for several years after the passing of Jobs and now they have no clear focus or vision.

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  • Quattrovalvole

    Pretty sure if they launched a 2016/7 spec cMP it would be a huge huge hit. Maybe shrink it to 75% scale if they must. Surely so much easier to launch updated models for too.

  • JimCracky

    Apple has been bleeding the crash cow the last 4 years. Crappy products, interminable times between updates and refreshes, the flipping watch. All wasted.
    Apple may think that the computer is dead. But it’s not. And to give it regular refreshes is easy if the form factor doesn’t change. Even the iPhone 7 is a rehash.

    but they’ve got new headquarters coming. (building lavish headquarters is usually reserved for companies in decline.)

    Apple’s management is in the bull$hit game these days.

    Microsoft, HP and Dell all had new computers that excited their audiences this year. Are they as good as MacBooks? Yes.

  • JimCracky

    know much about how pros work, do ya? Don’t
    know much about deciding how to invest $4k do you?

  • synthmeister

    There is no reason Apple can’t produce a simple, highly-upgradable desktop computer with multiple HD bays, (which allow everything from HDs to fusion drives, to SSDs or (gasp) an optical drive), multiple RAM slots and at least 2 PCI slots. And fer cryin’ out loud, put a USB/Thunderbolt port or two on the front somewhere!

    I refuse to believe, this type of machine would dilute their mobile focus or their bottom line. I also find it hard to believe that Apple doesn’t have employees itself who would desire this kind of machine.

    And no, it doesn’t need to be smaller than a shoe-box or forged from Blackforest aluminum mined by dwarves and fashioned by elves.
    The last MacPro was the new Cube, only Apple had the sense to officially kill that model in less than a year–Apple killed the new Mac Pro in the worst way possible—instead of admitting their mistake and putting it quickly out of it’s misery, they have just let it languish, frustrating everyone.

    This picture summs it up perfectly: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54d696e5e4b05ca7b54cff5c/55021246e4b0781cf3b85ed3/55021249e4b0781cf3b86ad2/1389903042703/1000w/Mac-Pro-v-Old-Mac-Pro.jpg

  • synthmeister

    But I would argue this:
    1. The MacPro wasn’t a big seller for the same reasons the Cube wasn’t a big seller—way overpriced and under-powered
    2. The MacPro wasn’t nearly as elegant as the computer it replaced–size and weight are not primary considerations for a desktop.
    3. Yes, Macs are less important now to Apple, but the new MacPro became a self-fulfilling prophecy in this regard because it was so overpriced.
    4. Like I said previously, I can hardly believe that coming up with a decent, upgradable, minitower would dilute Apple’s focus or bottom line.
    5. Many Cheese-grater MacPro owners are ready to upgrade now, but not to the current Mac-Pro. I’m seriously considering buying a 2012 MacPro to upgrade my 2008 MacPro–that idea should never occur to an Apple nut-head like myself (since 1985, I’ve never considered anything but Mac!)