I'm a devoted - a true admirer of Apple’s brand and, by extension, founder and visionary, Steve Jobs. To be honest, it started even as a child, with me salivating at the mouth while staring through shop windows, gazing at the ever-elusive collections of Macs. Some kids wanted Lego, others wanted a bicycle, yet my young, burdened heart yearned for the Performa.
Yes, I'm an unapologetic iSheep, with a framed photo of 2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos, adorning my wall. I was one of the lucky few to see Steve Jobs' last WWDC keynote in person and was even amongst the many gathered at Infinity Loop on the day he passed away.
At my core I love Apple, but I’ll be the first one to say they’re not infallible. I can look at them with an open mind and be objective. I’ve followed the company from its near-downfall, through its incredible growth, and into the giant it is today. I was a pioneer of the iBook in my home country of Czech Republic back when being an Applista meant dealing with the never-ending communication struggles of winmail.dat and non-functioning webpages.
But even though those problems are long in the rearview, I can’t say I’m a more satisfied user today than I was back then.
These Last Few Years
Throughout the ups and downs, the good times and the bad, the only thing that has remained consistent has been Apple’s inability to be consistent with their vision. While Steve’s Apple was driven by innovation and consolidation, today’s Apple, the shareholder’s Apple, begins and ends at the bottom line. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of a strong market value driving a stale, moribund design process that succeeds in spite of itself merely because of a rabid fanbase that will frequently purchase slightly upgraded products, which are brought to market on a ravenous, bloated release cycle.
But, “the proof is in the pudding”, as they say, and when you look at the evolution, or lack thereof, across Apple’s offerings you can see that lack of innovation on full display.
In 2010, the first iPad was introduced and it was great. So great that I still have one at home, although my young son has since claimed possession of it. But when you compare that original model with what’s available today, not much has changed. Heck, if it wasn’t for Microsoft Surface, maybe the Apple Pencil would have never seen the light of day, nor Apple’s own Smart Keyboard. Yet who is to blame for this design apathy? I think a large part of that falls on the consumer.
Cupertino is quite content that I, as many others, continue to purchase new models, despite each model offering little in terms of innovation. Animojis guys? Really? In my mind, I pictured Infinity Loop collectively brought to tears, laughing at their WWDC keynote presentation as the sheep applauded the animated poop. The “evolution” on display was a far cry from Steve’s vision for Apple, yet the money we’ve spent on their products and services has fueled and will continue to fuel the current situation.
If you want another prime example of the sheer lack of innovation at Apple, look no further than the iPhone. Yeah, I said it. If I look at my first one, purchased back in 2007, and compare it with today’s offerings, you can clearly see the hardware leaps, but can you honestly say much has changed in terms of its features and functionality? I would venture to say that the iPhone’s design path was dictated less by customer desires and needs and more by the lucrative Apps and the subsequent ecosystem built to develop and market them.
Despite that, I have purchased every new iPhone Apple has introduced and that begs the question, “Why would Apple change their philosophy when the status quo is just so damn effective?” They simply don’t have to, nor does it seem to make business sense.
Believe it or not, Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, is now smack dab in the middle of childhood at the young age of eight years old. Unfortunately, Siri has seemingly been left back a few years at school, possessing the aptitude and common sense of a Pre-K student.
Harsh? Maybe. But for comparison-sake, have a look at what Google offers with its Google Assistant, which is simply more comprehensive, accessible, and intelligent. Not to mention, the WWDC update of adding functionality like “Shortcuts” is merely a step up and not a true step forward.
I foresee Siri’s fate running in parallel to Maps, where Apple will announce that they’re going back to the drawing board, redesigning it, and that everything is going to turn out perfectly. But even if it were to happen, I believe it may be too little too late. They’ve missed an opportunity to shape the public’s perception of Siri being less of a toy, and more of a transformative tool that would redefine how we use virtual assistants and the devices running them.
Imagine this scenario: you have an existing product that has good performance, great features, and lasts for years, yet you have fanatics bursting at the seams for something new, with money burning a hole in their wallets. What to do?
Step one, lose that pesky light-up apple on the front and the power button because they’re both so “2015”. Step two, remove the MagSafe because it’s just too darn user-friendly and it can’t work with USB-C, right? Last, but certainly not least, let’s put a beautiful Touch Bar above the keyboard for the 5% who may actually use it and, more importantly, to justify the jump in price.
The problem, a large percentage of the MacBook Pro user base don’t even use the built-in keyboard, preferring to hook their laptop up to an external display and accompanying keyboard and mouse. But hey, since they liked the animated poop so much, why not spice up the keyboard as well and see how excited that will get them. It may just be the greatest MacBook ever produced!
But it’s not just the hardware. For example, take a look at Apple Maps, which has become a great tool for thrill-seekers when you consider the chance of getting to your desired location hovers around 50-50. Or Face ID, which while it’s unreliable and grossly underdeveloped, presents Apple with the perfect opportunity to give their fans a taste of quality assurance testing. Myself, I’m currently batting around .500 with Face ID recognition, which is not to shabby for a $1,000 phone. Steve must be turning in his grave.
CarPlay is another app in need of some love. While it’s good we now have Waze integration and no longer need to blindly wander around via Apple Maps, I was expecting a bigger revolution for my car. Of course, I know it can be hard to break into and negotiate with the old-boys club of the automotive industry, which would probably play out much like the DMV scene in Zootopia with the sloths.
Aside from the examples mentioned above, I disagree with others who believe Apple’s overall software quality has declined. Who doesn’t fondly remember the first version of Mac OS X?
It’s simply now a matter of scale as today Apple products are under a much bigger microscope, being used by half the world and I'm no longer the only one sporting an Apple product within a 30 kilometer radius. Of course, that’s not to say that both macOS and iOS could be much more than they are today, but I challenge anyone to try a competing product and dispute the quality of Apple’s software.
The first thing Steve Jobs did upon returning to Apple was to trim the product lines and simplifying the entire portfolio, alleviating one of the most crucial ailments the company faced at the time - that customers couldn’t effectively wade through the busy and costly waters of their catalog.
As they say, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Look at the segments: 5 iPhone models, 4 iPad models, 7 Mac models, and an ever-growing assortment of software and peripherals, from headphones to home assistants to speakers. Isn’t it prudent for Apple to concentrate on about half of that, ensuring quality that Steve would be proud of?
Mac Mini hasn’t been updated for a quarter of a century; Mac Pro is beautiful but unusable; and, I’ll be damned, but in 2018 shouldn’t I be able to adjust my iMac more than just 20 degrees up and down?
O Steve, Wherefore Art Thou?
When Steve died, a huge part of Apple died with him. Many, including myself, were pessimistic about how the company would perform without their leader. But since then, Tim Cook has performed admirably and provided shareholders with someone who can churn profits with the best of them. But what happened to changing the world? An Apple where profits came second to that constant pursuit of innovation.
As crazy as it sounds, the most forward-thinking product Apple has put out these past few years are AirPods - headphones Steve would be proud of. Great workmanship, good sound, and brilliantly simple and functional. These heavenly little buds represent the qualities that used to define Apple, but are in the end just headphones. We should expect more from a billion-dollar, industry-leading company.
The Grass is Greener
How about Microsoft? Google? While Microsoft and Google are always trying to innovate, in many ways their efforts amount to a continual cycle of reinventing the wheel. If you’ve tried Windows 10 or Android, you’ll see that Apple is still miles ahead with how everything is stable, intuitive, and just simply works. The core that Steve’s Apple built, that thriving ecosystem of software, development, and marketing, is so strong that it’s hard for other companies to compete.
Yes, call me a hypocrite, after ranting for a few paragraphs, but Apple still has the best products on the market. Even their worst is still far better than the best from other companies. But that only drives me further up the wall because I know they have the resources and foundation in place to do so much more if it weren’t for their complacency and misguided principles.
An Apple a Day
Today, I’ll be woken up by my iPhone; receive some good morning vibes from my HomePod; alerted to weather conditions by my iWatch; and then make my espresso remotely through an app. With coffee in hand, I proceed to my car, where my favorite podcasts are already downloaded and ready to play over CarPlay. Ding! My Ember mug has just alerted me that my coffee is now at its ideal temperature, but before I get to that I proceed to add a few tasks to my day via Siri.
I'll get to work, pick up my first call through my iWatch, then get on my MacBook to finish up the email I started last night on my iPad. Around lunch, I’ll log into the Household app to check in on my dog to see if she’s destroyed my garden or made any progress on that half-meter trench around the garage. Finally, on the way home, I’ll access the Find My Friends app to see where my family members are so I can start to plan out our night.
This is Apple in 2018. Not perfect by any means, but I couldn’t imagine my life without it. While I pull my hair out thinking about their current issues, I realize it’s only so frustrating because of how high they set the bar. But they set that bar, they were the trailblazing pioneers who brought us to where we are today. Because of that, I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt. They’ve forever earned my adoration for what they’ve already accomplished and they continue to be source that fuels the dreams of that young boy in me who wonders just where they might take us tomorrow.