Where Has the Apple Passion Gone?

| Hidden Dimensions

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." -- E.B. White

There was a time, during the PC Wars, when Apple customers had a special passion for Macs. It was derived from the industrial design of Macs and the OS, but propelled by the fact that businesses wanted to buy the cheapest PCs for their employees. Fast forward to now when every Apple competitor seems able to copy the iPhone and iPad. Where did all that Mac passion go?

________________________

It wasn't very long ago when Apple was not a player in modern consumer electronics. In 1999, Apple's strength was quickly becoming the industrial design of its Macintoshes. Gone were the bland, even ugly Performa models, and with Jonathan Ive, Apple was able to excite its customer base with exciting new products like the PowerMac G3, a curvy beauty that made PCs of the time look ridiculously bad. For reference, here's a video of the PMG3's introduction.

Later, as I recall in one memorable demo, Phil Schiller demonstrated how, with no screwdriver, using only a single finger, he could open the side of the PowerMac G3 and lay out its innards for easy access and upgrades. That stood in stark contrast to sheet metal aluminum PCs that were screwed together.

Apple PowerMac G3 from 1999

Meanwhile, businesses, locked into the loving attention that Microsoft provided with Windows, Outlook and MS Office, were buying the cheapest PCs in order to keep costs down. There was a common thread back then: employees doing word processing and spreadsheets didn't need the fastest, most expensive, exotic Intel CPUs. The very low end, mundane PCs of the time were sufficient for their work, managers claimed. This wearied and frustrated corporate employees who used a boring PC by day but many went home and used a glorious, beautiful PowerMac by night.

Remenber these crappy PCs from 1998? Credit: Nicospilt.

There was much passion in the Apple world about that.

Fast Forward to the Consumer Era

While it made sense for Apple to take the high road in the 1990s and early 2000s, Apple was forever bound to single digit market share and constrained growth. Something had to change, and the story has been told over and over. Steve Jobs introduced the iPod in October 2001. That changed everything.

In this new era of consumer electronics, Apple became fabulously successful with the iPod, then the iPhone and then the iPad. But what Apple gained in financial success and the dawn of the Post-PC era, it lost in its leverage against the business mentality of cheap PCs. The era of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) started to emerge, and businesses were all too happy to dispense with the cost of providing their employees phones and tablets.

In concert with the BYOD era was the fact that Apple's competitors no longer had to focus solely on supplying cheap PCs to business. Instead, they could copy Apple's iPhone and iPad. The copying got so bad, as we know, that Apple had to take competitors to court for copying their iPhone and iPad designs.

While Apple pursues this litigation, today's mobile devices share many similarities making it harder to differentiate through industrial design alone. The physical differentiation, then, isn't nearly so great as the PC comparison above, and that can be deceptive.

I am getting the feeling that the lack of stellar physical differentiation has analysts worried about Apple. It's one reason why observers, new to analyzing Apple, see Apple as having peaked. Based on the observed facts of design, pricing and features, it appears that Apple has been overcome by the mighty manufacturing of Samsung and the mighty idea machine of Google.

Apple's Mantra Continues

In any industry, with any product, customers come to understand which companies simply make the best. For example, GM makes very nice, high performance, luxury Cadillacs. And yet, the BMW 3-series sedan made the Car & Driver Top Ten list for the 22nd year in a row in 2013. No Cadillac was on the 2013 final list, even though the Cadillac XTS was nominated. The BMW 3-series still has that special something; the whole is more than the sum of the parts. It affects the customer perception. It's not how it looks, though the BMWs are beautiful, or the features, but how it feels to drive it.

The same is true of modern consumer electronics; it's not a question of features. We know from modern-day analysis that competing on features alone is not going to win the day for Apple. Touching two S4s together or a rarely usable NFC chip makes a few geeks feel smug and might seduce some buyers into believing that Samsung has taken the lead in smartphones, but by and large, there is another effect going on.

Just as the BMW has that hard-to-pinpoint feeling of satisfaction, the iPhone's OS, display and feel in the hand define the iPhone as the best-in-class. That's Tim Cook's mantra, expressed frequently. Apple only wants to build the best products in the world.

New Frontiers

The next generation of products will sort itself out in time. Sometimes, we need a technology breakthrough in order to make that next leap. Unfortunately, many observers believe that Apple has to somehow create a new product category, the Next Big Thing, right now, in order to surge ahead again and explicitly fuel our passions. See, for example, "The Source of Craving for Apple’s Next BIG Thing." However, we know that whatever Apple comes up with in the consumer space, it will always be copied. So that's a bankrupt approach.

Apple is dealing with this on two levels. The first, as I mentioned above, it to always build the best in a way that telegraphs to the customer what Apple is all about. This alone is fueling Apple's success. For example, Tim Cook has described how the optics of the iPhone display create a subjective impression of quality that people can't quite put their finger on. (No pun intended.) This quality factor is just one vector that affects how people feel.

For example, the way I imagine it is to invoke an often used technique: create a vector for each of the major factors for customer selection: price, features, quality and security, like this:

Orange: Android devices, Purple: iOS Devices

 

While competitors may be able to equal Apple on some vectors, good price and good features, they cannot compete on all vectors. The area under the polygon can be taken to represent a subjective feel for the product as a whole. This is why Apple must continue to maintain that walled garden of security and why Apple must make the best, not the cheapest product: to maximize that area under the curve, that subjective feeling that this is the product we want. Go back and look at Jonathan Ive's opening comment in the video above about the PowerMac G3 at timestamp 0m47s. He points to a Mac and describes the reaction that he wants the customer to feel: "I really want that."

That's why, despite a recent, long lull in new product introductions, millions of people were going into Apple retail stores and thinking, "I really want that!" It fueled Apple's continued financial success in early 2013.

Ive in 1999 when he had hair. From the YouTube video above.
"I really want that!"

The second approach is for Apple to utilize its heritage and R&D capabilities to accurately judge where we need to go from here. You can almost sense that in Apple's recent TV ad, a video vision statement if you will. While Apple keeps making products that people look at and want right now, internally, they're working on the next thing that most people will really need and will want. That can't be said of Google Glass today.

Summary

All of the above explains why Apple continues to succeed. And thrive. Despite the misplaced angst of some observers, the aching for the past when Macs simply embarrassed PCs, Apple's vision continues unabated. It's there, baked into every Apple product, if you know where to look for it. If you can feel it. The thought, "I really want that!" is the passion that's overlooked today in a frenzied desire for tomorrow's Next Big Thing.

__________________________

Teaser image, kid in longing via Shutterstock.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

25 Comments Leave Your Own

notarysojac

Golly - I wish the title for this article was different - there has been no abatement of passion for Apple - what has become more prevalent is the confusion created by other market players who would attest their products are as good or better than the Apple gear - which is simply not so - but, in the face of such claims, it’s hard for the garden-variety consumer to know whether or not to believe them.

Price is playing a role here, as well.  As ever, you get what you pay for, but the typical customer, standing in front of a panoply of phones in BestBuy and seeing something that looks ALOT like an iPhone - and selling for considerably less, may not be so convinced they need to ‘buy the best’.  They leave the store with an OS where none of the apps for their device are vetted, the quality and choice of same is far less, the User experience compares poorly and, as your diagram shows, quality and security are lacking. 

The passion for Apple has not been dissipated - perhaps a better title for this article would have been, “Where’s the real passion for THE OTHER ELECTRO-GIZMO Manufacturers?”  As an Apple Fanboy since 1988 and Mac OS 5, I can assure you than none of MY passion has gone away.

Boyd Petersen

You can thank the constant negativity and bashing of Apple in comment sections of Android Fanboys.

Mike Weasner

Back in the 1980s, 1990s, and even today, consumers said to themselves “I really want that!” when looking at a Macintosh, but then followed that with “but I can’t afford it”.  I heard that over and over.  Today, I hear some of the same sentiments about smartphones and tablets; “I really want the Apple one but I can’t afford it.”  In both cases, they were and are talking about the upfront, out-of-pocket costs.  To consumers, Apple today still has that over-priced appearance.  And Apple’s cash stash makes these same consumers think that Apple products are priced more than they should be.  So, Apple (to many minds) continues to be the luxury item company they can’t afford, just like BMW (and others).  Ford, Scion, or whoever, provides a functional car that gets them to work, school, shopping, and entertainment.  Android (and others) smartphones/tablets get them on the Web, do email, videos, photos, play games, have book readers, and even make phone calls. Yes, they’d rather have a Mac/iPhone/iPad but they opt for the cheaper thing upfront.  Apple has (since the 1980s) won the “mindset” war, but they lose the “I can afford it” war.

I’m not suggesting that Apple should change their pricing structure to match the low-cost products of their competitors, but they could do more to show WHY “I really want that!” is more than just a beauty contest.

Lee Dronick

Maybe us Apple fans who go back to the days of Apple II are just suffering from low T.

Gareth Harris

“There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.”—John Ruskin

and another:

When we build let us think we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work that our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone upon stone, that a time is to come when these stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See! This our fathers did for us.”
— John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)

Stephen Scott

While this article has some merit, let’s keep this in a very clear perspective - the MacBook Pro is still without peer - period. The MBP is the best laptop in the world with the best support.

adamC

Thanks for a good read.

CudaBoy

I don’t compare Apple Computer with todays Apple at all. MacObserver should’ve been changed to AppleObserver 10 years ago. Steve knew and stated he lost the PC wars way before the Blue G3 but we Mac-heads still knew the hardware/OS integration was second to none.
The toys - the Pods Pads, and later the mini Pads are a different animal entirely.
Apple drones claim copycat but the competition clearly isn’t hamstrung by Apple’s myopia. Take the late coming iPad mini for example- competition (nexus 7 let’s say) has higher def screens and GPS and expandability and standard connectivity and replaceable batteries and, and, and NONE of which Apple’s mini has, yet Apple clones still whine copycat.  Sorry but there are real reasons besides price that Android is more successful than iOS.
And, that new commercial makes Apple sound pathetic -  it’s nebulous and defensive and downright stupid. It sounds like a Viagra commercial; I have no clue what demo they are shooting for but it’s not 18-45.
  The passion was with Apple when we knew we had something cool but it’s obvious that Apple has lost it’s cool as evidenced by years of “new” upgrades to the same OLD 3 products while the rest of the world i.e. Samsung moves forward.
I had high hopes for the new Mac Pro but they screwed that up totally. I know many edit houses here in Hollywood that are laughing at that impractical MESS that goes against every logical way that pros arrays work.  The damn iMacs make more sense (almost)!!!

skipaq

An interesting experience at a bank occurred today. Went to open a new account at a different bank for our rainy day funds after moving. The manager is filling in a form on a Dell desktop with our info. When my wife and I gave our mac.com email addresses he noted our Apple choice. I had already seen his iPhone 5 sitting on the desk; so I mentioned that. He said that he had owned a Dell at home that gave him nothing but problems with additional costs. Six years ago he bought an iMac and is still happily using it with his iPhones and iPads and Apple TV. Oh! He also mentioned his Time Capsule.

I asked him what he liked most. Cost was the first thing he mentioned; saying it was less when everything was considered. He had tried an Android smartphone; but again found it to be complicated. Then he said that he really loved how everything he now uses just works well and works well together.

I still own a Power Mac G5 which is a beautiful machine. I used one of the slots for awhile for AppleTalk connections at my business. Other than that the slots were empty as they are today. I know that there is a small market for an updated machine like that; but the day is coming when slots will be obsolete IMO. The new Power Mac is not just beautiful. It is an argument in favor of this opinion. Time will tell if Apple has this right.

CudaBoy

Ha Haaa!!!  That’s why Banking is the root of all of our problems. He has thousands of dollars of redundant toys and says that COST is one of the factors he likes? HA HAAAA !!! Honey, get me the phone, I mean Tab, I mean iMac, I mean Apple TV - puhleeze.
And here’s another complaint - I agree your G5 is fantastic skipaq, heck I have ‘em here jammed to the gills with cards (atto) for editing - side by side, nary n ugly cable save for the obvious - cables easily routed and hidden. That so-called “small market” you refer to is like the 1% that Apple (Pro Division) still should be appealing to EXCLUSIVELY - in this case the video/graphics/music creative Pros. If you lose those historically important guys then Apple is ZERO and truly did die years ago.  Those stupid looking Ion Generators will look like crap AND won’t be practical for chaining, running cards on like our G5’s do…
  What if a Deathwatch happened and no one knew it?? 
  So, skipaq - WHY is our plenty fast expandable G5 obsolete? Who chose on a whim (albeit a greedy one) to make a PPC unable to run the current OS or Flash or whatever?? There is no real reason you know. That borderline customer abuse via planned “obsolescence”  is what gets me.
  That new Mac Pro is some designer’s hubris - if professionals can’t side by side an array of them while running external cards and storage and still look as good as a bunch of G5’s then forget it, and so far the pros aren’t digging it.
  Well, I suppose since Adobe is renting the software via the cloud it’s only a matter of time before a pro won’t need the hardware either - just use your terminal and monitor of choice and let the Cloud do the rest.

Lee Dronick

I still own a Power Mac G5 which is a beautiful machine. I used one of the slots for awhile for AppleTalk connections at my business.

I am putting a box together to take to electronic recycling. Included is a bunch of AppleTalk connectors, with terminators. SCSI cables, ADB cables, and a bunch of other ancient Apple II and Mac stuff.

Aftermac

@Leo Dronick: LMAO! I almost spit the water I was drinking! :D

I certainly am just as passionate about Apple as I have ever been… It’s just that these days, I’m not worried that Apple is on the verge of Bankruptcy.

CudaBoy

Hey Lee, you got an ADB-USB dongle? I have a $100 joystick and $500 tablet rendered useless by Apple when they switched to USB, I mean Firewire, I mean USB…..
then there’s my obsolete Firewire 800 external drives ...oh my.

John Martellaro

CudaBoy:  Just to be clear for other readers, I am using a small Thunderbolt to FireWire 800 adapter. US$29.  I use it to back up my MacBook Air to an OWC Mercury Pro Elite mini that has a FW800 port.  This particular drive needs the power adapter, but other small FW800 drives can be powered by the TB port if they use less than 7W.  Is there any confusion about this out there?

External FW800 drives are not quite obsolete.

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD464ZM/A/apple-thunderbolt-to-firewire-adapter?fnode=51

Aftermac

Lee, I apologize I butchered your name above.

I actually still do use an Apple Extended keyboard II and ADB Mouse II on my PC at work. I use all kinds of old and newer Apple hardware at home.

Lee Dronick

Hey Lee, you got an ADB-USB dongle?

I would have to look. I have some “What in the hell is this” stuff in there. San Diego Gas and Electric wants my SCSI cables because they are heavy enough for high tension power lines.

@Leo Dronick: LMAO! I almost spit the water I was drinking! :D

I certainly am just as passionate about Apple as I have ever been

“When the time is right will you be?”

 

CudaBoy

Apple was Steve Jobs. Maybe he was the ultimate A-Hole as a boss, and as a person but he was PASSIONATE as any driven visionary is and I fear that no boardroom or single man in charge can ever be Steve Jobs and infuse that fear-cum-passion into it’s minions.  I think Steve passed at the right time, just as the Beatles and the 60’s did.
  Now it’s time for the NEXT (sorry, pun alert) thing to happen and it’s not going to be phones & tabs per sé as it’s obvious that Apple’s role will be huge but not revolutionary as it was by breaking up the music paradigm - as they are finding out with the rest of Media - Movies,TV, et al
Things move fast and you wonder where Steve’s obstinate head would be today, would he be clinging to stupid lawsuits that are already moot? Would he be onto buying Tesla? Making cheap ($2k) 3D printers ?? A holographic display format? A Body Monitor that tracks in real time a number of your body’s health data?  Hopefully he’d be beyond phones and phablets but either way Passion is a temporary thing and re: Apple is so gone it’s not worth discussing(!!) until APPLE PROVES US WRONG!!  Hey Tim, here’s a tip: iPhone and iPad updates won’t do it, been there done that.

Lee Dronick

Lee, I apologize I butchered your name above.

Not to worry, you should hear people try and pronounce my last name, use either “Draw Nick” or “D’ro Nick.”

I too still use an some old external FireWire drives. However, my Macs are not the latest and still have the old ports. I will cross the Thunderbolt Bridge when I come to it.

I am still passionate about Apple, but yes it isn’t like when love was new.

iJack

Naw ~ Yeah, the iPod/iPhone helped, but it was the switch to Intel + Parallels that brought the Windoze mindless masses to the Mac. I noticed it beginning almost immediately. I also noticed scores of knowledgeable Mac people leaving message boards and web sites like this one.

Maybe we got the right processors, IDK, but the price paid by the long-time Mac owners community was high.

CudaBoy

Hey John, thanx, actually I’m ok now since I’m in maxxed out g5 tower land but I was concerned about migration.
  How’s this take: Did it not seem that Apple 1984 and henceforth incl. Think Different was talking to US pirate customers- the few, the abused??, as opposed to most blurbs, quickshots and even commercials today seem to be talking to investors??

KitsuneStudios

I’m not sure I agree with this analysis. I can personally think of a few reasons why my own passion for Apple has waned.

1) Apple is no longer the Underdog.

Hard to consider yourself above the “sheep” when you’re firmly part of the herd. No need to justify supporting a “doomed” company which is raking in money hand over fist.

2) Apple’s path towards the “Computer for the rest of us” has continued to veer away from traditionally “techie” markets.

While Apple continues to dabble in the enterprise, scientific and creative markets, they aren’t willing to make the long-term commitments to growing those markets: Canning the Xserve, eliminating their scientific computing pages, the delay on the Mac Pro, eliminating internal expansion across the line, the botched transition from FCP 7 to FCP X. For a prosumer user like me, that’s a big damper on my enthusiasm.

3) Apple has been trimming the “Long Tail” of customer demand for the sake of maximum efficiency.

Currently, does anyone really expect a new line of Mac OS X machines? New lines of products briefly appear, but they eventually take over the old computing lines. The MacBook Air displaced the MacBook, the Retina MacBook Pro will almost certainly be taking over the MacBook Pro. We have a completely redesigned Mac Pro, but it’s eliminating the old version.

All of these replacements are increasingly limited in their customization options. All the laptops have RAM soldered in, the iMacs have been increasingly difficult to get into for anything but RAM expansion, and the Mac Pro has lost internal PCI-E expansion slots. While these all continue to be great computers for the people that want the exact features they offer, they’re less exciting for those who feel their choices increasingly limited.

All of these are great for inventory management, but lousy for customer choice.

4) The single most exciting thing about Apple has been it’s stock price.

Apple’s rise from Doomed to Dominant is absolutely thrilling for investors, but has been a very mixed bag for customers. It’s been great for people who like what Apple offers as the Computer/Phone/Tablet for the masses, but not so great for those market opportunities Apple has abandoned as less than profitable. Too many people talk about what’s best for the stock price and the company, not what’s best for the consumers. I’ve seen that tonal shift here as well.

Aftermac

I definitely understand some of the sentiment here… I sometimes find myself resenting the post-iPod Apple fanboys (bandwagon, if you will) because many of them are coming from the Windows world, don’t have perspective on Apple’s history, and weren’t Mac users through the “dark ages”.

In a lot of ways it was easier to be an Apple fan when the company was “beleaguered”. You felt different… elite… you knew something no one else did, and couldn’t understand how so many people were blindly content using inferior products.

Today, it’s a bit different. Apple is the largest company in the world, which has both validated our loyalty, but also made our status in the computer world less unique. However, resent them as I do, recruiting the WinSheep was necessary to secure Apple’s long-term viability. Apple could not survive as a 2% market share niche company. Unlike luxury brands such as BMW, Apple relies on 3rd-party support, and the only way to attract 3rd-party support was to grow the user base.

Apple, to it’s credit, has continued to make top-notch elitist products, and not catered to the crowd looking for a $200 disposable computer. Apple is not perfect. They have been known to alienate customers at times, by eliminating slots, changing a standard bus at the drop of a hat, creating a new connection that requires a $29 adapter, obsoleting certain Mac models less than a year-old… But, I also feel that Apple has done an EXCELLENT job easing their customers through 3 major platform/architecture changes, 68k to PPC, Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, and PPC to Intel.

As it has been mentioned numerous times on this site, Apple now has to act “different”. It can no longer advertise itself as the spunky underdog, because it isn’t. Of course their advertising has changed. However, I do believe that the Apple culture is still intact internally, and continuing to drive the company forward. As a Mac user of 20 years now, I am still every bit as enamored by the Apple logo as I was the first time I laid eyes on a Mac. (December 26, 1993; Quadra 605, 8/80, System 7.1)

CudaBoy

That’s it Kitsune, that underdog thing was key. I remember showing PC guys my 6100AV 1st gen PPC in ‘90 capturing TV and blasting it on my 19” Trinitron monitor and then screwing with it in Quicktime and Kai’s Goo - filters, titles etc. all built in - plug and play video in/out albeit lo-res today but no PC out of the box could touch it. I sold them PC guys my Macs a couple years later when it was G3 time. 

wab95

John:

You’ve made a convincingly cogent argument regarding the interplay between design differentiation and passion for Apple products, and how in the post-PC era of design imitation the absence of that differentiator has adversely affected superior popular appeal of Apple’s products vs those of the competition. In particular, your graphic is a brilliant illustration of that intangible sense of satisfaction users derive from what they perceive as a superior, if not best in class, user experience.

I posit that a corollary of this trend of product imitation, which is a naked attempt to capitalise on, and benefit from, a winning formula and a design of demonstrated mass appeal, is that the magnitude of the advantage derived from design differentiation alone, which characterised the dawn of the PC era, has been substantially eroded. This is not o much because consumers no longer care about design, or aesthetic writ large, but because consumers as a population have matured due to exposure, and are a more technologically discriminating market.

Without doubt, there continue to be those swayed by the combination of specs and price and for whom the maximum number of specs and features at the lowest price is the winning formula. At this point in our technological development, that sector will not be persuaded by, nor appreciative of, those factors that define and differentiate the total user experience. The evidence for this consists in that the majority of consumers of non-Apple mobile device users do not use their devices to the same extent and the same manner as do Apple clients. These are not services and features that they necessarily appreciate, let alone are prepared at this stage to pay for.

Increasingly as these devices, as well as the venerable PC, evolve and permeate our evolving tech culture, these services and features will progressively be viewed not as options, but as essential to the user experience.

In the meantime, Apple and any competitor who wishes to compete in that superior user experience space will have to be content with those who can appreciate that subtler differentiator. The balance between the cost and benefit of addressing that best in class user experience is a risk whose calculation they will have to continually monitor and to which they will have to adapt.

John Martellaro

wab95:  What a beautifully written, cogent exploration of the themes in my article.  Thanks for your brilliant contributions in the past, but especially this one.

Log-in to comment