Apple Has Missed the Plot

| Devil's Advocate

Past fumbles and recoveries

Apple took a Touch Bar knife to a gun fight in the wake of Microsoft’s stunning Surface Studio announcement. This reminds me a bit of when Steve Jobs was hawking DVD drives on iMacs when everyone wanted to rip and burn CDs; he then course corrected a bit later admitting the mistake. He also told us you don’t want to watch video on your iPod, and later graciously released iPod with video (or iPod, 5th Gen).

It also reminds me of how Apple was tone deaf to users asking for larger screens on the iPhones. Instead of listening, Apple gave us only a slightly longer 4″ iPhone 5 (assuring us we didn’t know what we wanted, that one handed use is where it’s at), rather than listening to our needs. In each case, Apple eventually bought a clue, course corrected, and was rewarded with far improved sales. 

“Apple knows best,” the new “not-invented-here”

Now Apple assures us we don’t know $%*& about how we want to use our laptops and desktops. They set up idiot straw man arguments that you don’t want to touch a vertical screen because of arm fatigue (true) when they filed patents on desktop iMacs that tilt down horizontally (and Microsoft made real with the Surface Studio), and despite kids constantly reaching out to touch vertical screens from intuition. Apple once again knows better. 

They give us bullshit toaster-refrigerator analogies that you don’t want to mix touch and powerful pc technologies, that such convergence shouldn’t happen. This is much like when tech pundits told us we’d never have phone and iPod convergence. Well, until Apple found the right recipe with the iPhone and caught the entire industry with its pants down

They have the gall to make this analogy when iTunes is still used on your Mac to sync your photo albums on your iPhone. Well karma is a bitch, and Apple is enjoying an ass full of fresh air courtesy of Microsoft’s Surface Studio.

Fiddle me this

What’s worse is Apple has engaged in nostalgia that Steve jobs wouldn’t have tolerated in comparing its original PowerBook (not the original behemoth Mac portable–way to be selective) to the latest MacBook Pro. Way to set the bar real low Apple, ‘hey, we’re a lot faster than a 25 year old laptop!’

Steve Jobs quote about moving on to something else after creating something great.

“If you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.” – Steve Jobs

Apple wouldn’t dare compare its 2011 MacBook Pro to the new MacBook Pro because it would be embarrassed by how similarly they perform. I say it’s worse, because these bozos running Apple actually believe an emoji Touch Bar strip—cool though it may be—is actually a revolutionary reinvention of the laptop. They don’t see this as the “B” level upgrade that it is. That’s what’s truly terrifying. These nimrods are actually pleased with themselves.

Had they just said, “Hey, here’s a nice B-level upgrade,” people would have taken it as such and moved on. That they have the gall to tout this as a revolution in light of the release of Surface Studio shows a Nero-like tone deafness, and evinces these people have lost the plot.

Let me count the ways:

  • They’ve lost the plot that we don’t need thinner iPhones but more battery. 
  • They’ve lost the plot that we hate large bezels (because Jonny Ive’s thin fetish has him making the lid taper in, which requires greater screen inset and bezels, and ironically results in greater dimensions and weight). 
  • They’ve lost the plot by believing you can do real work on an iPad Pro and ignoring the Mac (perhaps the ‘review’ and light edit work executives do on their iPads have them believing that’s how real people work. But even the niche of artists using an iPad Pro to sketch things will eventually move that work to a desktop to create and finalize substantial work product). 
  • They’ve lost the plot thinking iTunes and Apple Music is in anyway acceptable as a product by anyone with even a modicum of self respect.
  • They’ve lost the plot that creative professionals don’t need powerful Mac Pros with video cards, storage and other feature expansion abilities, and have fed them a disposable trash can
  • They’ve lost the plot believing that they are making tools for creative professionals (e.g., that a $5,000 MacBook Pro with only 16GB of memory and a Touch Bar is a reasonable creative professional offering). And that abandoning creative pro tools (Aperture, crippling Final Cut Pro, expandable Mac Pros, etc.) is a cogent strategy. 
  • They’ve lost the plot by not providing a first party display, and believing that referring us to a fugly LG monitor is somehow acceptable to users used to valuing attractive, well designed and complementary products.  
  • They’ve lost the plot by abandoning creative professionals and their needs when those users make Apple appear cool and are the people that dragged Apple’s rotting corpse out of bankruptcy.
  • They’ve lost the plot by not recognizing that convergence into mixed-mode UIs is useful and the future (e.g. voice, touch, pen, traditional mouse/track pads; check out how useful mixed mode UIs can be in the video below or in any Star Trek episode/movie).

And by the way, in light of the Surface Studio release, Apple chose maybe the worst thing to demo the Touch Bar. DJ software.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar DJ demo at

MacBook Pro Touch Bar during the DJ demo at Apple’s “hello again” event

Anyone that watched the DJ scrubbing the Touch Bar and didn’t think it would be 100 times more natural to scratch with the on screen turn tables on a the flat Surface Studio screen wasn’t thinking too hard.

Next: Doing Less with More and Dodging a Bullet

30 Comments Add a comment

  1. They’ve lost the plot thinking iTunes and Apple Music is in anyway acceptable as a product by anyone with even a modicum of self respect.

    Add Photos to that list. At least bring back Aperture or something even better that doesn’t look like a toy app.

  2. Absolutely dead on. You’ve said far more clearly what I’ve been thinking for months. Elsewhere today’s Apple is being compared to the mid ’90s Apple. Too many pet products, too many models, too little focus on the fundamentals. Apple is in serious trouble and I honestly don’t think they even realize how serious.

  3. I’ve always loved your columns, John, even when they have pissed me off! 😉 This is, however, not one of those times, I don’t disagree. This, ‘We know your needs better than you.!, stuff has got to stop (it’s right up there with Facebook or Google etc. and thinking their algorithmic curation has any kind of clue about me or my interests. It’s a joke). It’s true that i don’t care about manipulating my screen directly (tablets are fine for me, and more precise), but nevertheless the plot is nowhere in sight at Apple HQ.

  4. leetronix

    Spot on article.

    Apple have lots the plot totally, reinventing old tech, same old stayed designs and their obsession with everything has to be thinner THINNER…There is a difference between the beauty of a design and the beauty of a design we (the masses) want to see. It is not a peice of art we want, we want innovation, forward thinking not backwards thinking going forward. I have been a Mac user since the early 80s and now I am at the end of my tether with this company. Thier lust for greed is legendary and it will be complacency and arrogance just like the 90s that will soon crush this company. They stopped listening and just dictated what they think their customers want. Also I think if you want to see beautiful build quality and a design just look at the Google Pixel Chromebook. Quite possibly the best build and design I have ever seen and I work with most of Apples products – I was so impressed I bought one and its great.

    I also want to clarify that I have been using my iPad 12″ Pro since day to see if it can replace my laptop. In my opinion its is only 60% capable. Safari iPad / IOS browser has so many irritations and flaws that make it not very compatible to use on a lot of sites. The standard apple ripoff keyboard is awful and as a touch typist I find it impossible to type on at any speed without slipping off the stupid badly designed coffee proof keys…Okay ill finish there on that!

  5. svanthem

    Wow.

    Inaccuracies, name calling, incomplete assumptions and a serious helping of ‘what Steve would’ve done.’

    No question there’s disagreement on Apple’s directions but I had to dig deep through the manic whining and hysteria to find cogent points.

    I thought I had stumbled onto the Business Insider contributor network.

  6. Apple has become an Appliance company. They have systematically take away any choice I as a user have in my machine configuration. I am so tired of the Apple strategy of dumping on a paradigm or technology just because they don’t have it, or have not envisioned it. This ToasterFridge moniker is complete whitewash as they have no idea that when the tablet/hybrid is on the desktop close to you touching the screen or working with a pen is a valuable mode of input.

  7. Many good points here. It seems Tim Cook & Apple are distracted by streaming audio/video and by Apple Campus 2 construction. And an obsession with thinness—versus better usefulness. IMO, they are seriously lagging on voice input (versus pen, typing or touch interfaces)—not just on Siri. They absolutely do need customer input, and they must listen objectively, and stop ignoring their base of customers, whose loyalty is waning.

    Currently, Apple is not selling anything I want to buy. And I’m probably not alone.

  8. I’m afraid this pretty much hits it.

    It’s getting harder to not compare Apple of 2016 to Microsoft of even 2013–basically, the entire Ballmer era of Microsoft. Tim Cook is a nicer-seeming guy than Ballmer, but he’s still running his company off into the weeds by focusing on things that don’t actually appeal to the market Apple has created.

    Apple has not released a compelling product in 4 years. The Watch? OK, I got one, as a toy, with some mad money. I wear it most days. When I don’t wear it, I don’t really miss it. I certainly don’t need Watch 2. The iPad Pro? Meh. My iPad Air 2 is adequate. My original iPad is still functioning (as a hand-me-down to someone less likely to buy new toys). The Pros have nothing interesting for me. iPhone 7? Meh. A bump up from the 6 but if I didn’t have a trade-in-upgrade coming up anyway, I’d ignore it.

    And now, the new MBP. That ought to have been compelling, as I ordinarily upgrade roughly every three years and my current MBP is three years old. Nope. Boring. Meh. Faster but not MUCH faster. Thinner and lighter, great, but, my current machine is not exactly a burden. Touch Bar? Big meh. Don’t care either way. It won’t stop me from upgrading if my current machine dies or they release a MAJOR speed bump or spec bump soon in the same form factor, but it’s hardly compelling. USB-C? Almost a show-stopper, but only almost. I do want to see the current regimen of a zillion different kinds of ports go away, but I don’t really want to buy new cables or adapters for everything I currently have.

    Now that said…none of Apple’s competitors have released anything that desperately makes me want to switch, either. Note 7 is, literally, a bomb. Google Pixel is vaguely interesting not really a must have. Android tablets are all terrible by comparison even with an original iPad. I don’t hate Windows 10 but nothing about it makes me want to prefer it to macOS or iOS even if Microsoft’s new hardware is kinda sexy…

    Basically, we’re coming close to an era where computers (for which also read phones, tablets, watches) are uninteresting commodities, useful things to be replaced when they break rather than because the newest model is genuinely better than its predecessor. Apple and Microsoft are completely unprepared for that era, and Apple has done nothing for the last four years to postpone its arrival. If anything, they’ve just kinda proven the point.

  9. Can’t help but think Apple can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I feel, like they’ve spent all their energy on iOS 10 and the iPhone 7 and when they were done it was like “OK, we got a couple of weeks to kill before we go to the next iPhone let’s see what we can do with the MacBook Pro.” Ive seems to be everywhere but no sense of focus. Jobs chose what projects he wanted to work on.

  10. Dorkus Maximus

    The toaster-refrigerator analogy has nothing to do with why Apple won’t do a touch-screen Mac. Apple won’t do a touchscreen Mac because the vertical screen does not lend itself to a touch interface. Perhaps if Apple replaced the touch pad with something like an iPad screen that would drive the point home. It’s not the touch interface that Apple doesn’t like (obviously); it’s the touch interface in an implementation that takes the hands away from the keyboard and puts them in an uncomfortable and fatiguing position in order to interact with a vertical display that Apple doesn’t like.

  11. John Kheit

    Yet Apple itself patented a way to make the vertical screen go horizontal, so it knows this is a false argument. Convertible laptops let you have the screen go flat like an iPad, and their patent (and now the Surface Studio) show that this is very doable for desktops as well. This argument is about as genuine as their argument was that you don’t want to watch video on an iPod…well until they released an iPod that would let you watch video. As always, YMMV.

  12. “They’ve lost the plot that…”

    John, it sounds like you think you should be running the company, and that you think that you know much better than the managerial team that has made Apple the largest and most profitable company (by far) in the world.

    I suggest that you send your resume in to Apple. I’m sure that they will want you to take over the company and “save” it IMMEDIATELY, from their current success and profitability.

  13. @NorthSaanichBC I completely agree with your sentiments. All these armchair wannabe CEOs should check out Steve Jobs interview regarding his comments on the Post PC Era:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfJ3QxJYsw8

    Take note of the part where he says PC / Mac guys will get uncomfortable when this shift really happens. Well, it’s happening. Going by this video, this tells me that Apple is right on game plan & the only ones who have lost the plot are guys like John, who are pleading that Apple remains the same old Apple that they grew up with. Sorry, but that ship has sailed. Although Apple may look back at the past from time to time, one thing it does not do is live in the past.

  14. DaveNull

    Saying that John is wrong because Apple is hugely profitable doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Warning signs usually start to appear long before the financials reflect that a course correction is needed.

    Apple has been coasting on past success for several years now. The Tim Cook era has been about momentum, not innovation. Beyond making existing products thinner and lighter, what has Apple accomplished under the current leadership?

    The last five years have been a great time to be an Apple shareholder, but not such a great time to be a creative professional relying on Apple hardware and software. I moved on from the Mac this year—something I never thought possible just three years ago—and sadly, I find myself in the company of many other former Mac users.

  15. John Kheit

    And you can look at this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMyZwhzy5hE

    @6:50 where he acknowledges mistakes in education. Something Jobs able do often enough, admit a mistake and a wrong direction.

    @7:54 no plans to make a tablet. @9:20 We looked at the tablet and think its going to fail. @9:40 If you got a bunch of rich guys that can afford their 3rd computer, they have a desktop, a portable and one of these [tablets] to read with, that’s your market.

    @11:29 (about getting into phones) we decided we might not be successful in that business so we done in stead, we’ve written some of the best software in the world to start syncing [iSync, cough cough] data from your computer to your cell phone.

    and…
    @13:40 Steve says: It turns out watching movies on a tiny little screen is really not very much fun [fast forward a year and out comes the 5th gen iPod with video.

    So Steve and Apple went about face on all those, and thats within a few minutes from one video.

  16. “Multi-mode UI (e.g., voice, touch and desktop PC) convergence will occur. It’s not a question of ‘if’ but when, by whom, and with what recipe.”

    Apple understand this very well. A good example is the iPad Pro & I think that’s where the issue lies. While die hards are expecting Apple to target this paradigm with their Mac line (macOS / x86), Apple is starting to (and will continue to do so) tackle this coming from the iPad.

    So instead of thinking of touch based iMac, think of a desktop sized (28″) iPad Pro. iOS / ARM are the long-term future for Apple. That much should be obvious by now.

  17. bdkennedy1

    Apple is too busy trying to make cars and think up new watch strap designs. Apple is distracted from the core goals Steve Jobs brought back to the company. I’ve also been watching some of upper managements egos rise over the years. Just like Steve Ballmer who thought he was a rockstar but was instead a sweaty gorilla car salesman.

  18. If only Apple had some guy named John Kheit (whoever the hell that is) to save them with his ideas. Then maybe they could start to have some REAL success and make some REAL money….oh wait…

    I get it, not everyone is happy with every decision made by a business behemoth like Apple. Thus was it ever. But pulling out gross exaggerations like “$5,000 laptops” based on the USD/GBP conversion isn’t quality journalism. And Microsoft releasing their version of a Wacom Cintiq is neither innovative nor something to have a hissy fit about.

    As svanthem says…less whining and hysteria, please. There’s already plenty of that on MS fansites.

    Incidentally, it’s “Missed the boat”, or “Lost the plot”. Mixing the two only sounds amateurish, not clever.

  19. John Kheit

    Apple also made more money than ever after Steve Jobs left and Scully ran the company…until it didn’t and almost went bankrupt when the coasting came to an end.

    Furthermore, if you get a maxed out 15″ laptop with AppleCare in NY the total comes out to $299 for the MacBook, $349 for AppleCare, $412.51 for tax for a total of, you guessed it Bartholomew, $5,060.51. No conversions required.

    Now if only you had a column where you could rail about mixed metaphors and your thoughts on that…

  20. As a (very) long-time Apple user, I have to say I’m getting tired of the gadgets and gizmos: a watch, an touch bar, a thinner this, a thinner that. I want an iMac that I can open up in order to upgrade the memory, the storage… easily when the time comes, with a decent MacOS (I’m still quite happy with it and with the standard applications). Nothing more and nothing less. That Apple develops some decent pro computers next to the iMac, fair enough, but let’s forget about thethose gadgets and gizmos (Ganges?) for a while.

  21. I’m still in shock over the 4 USB-C (two USB 3.0 and two Thunderbolt 3) ports on the MacBook Pro. I’m having a hard time working out how to plan my periferal purchases so that I can use them now with existing and when all Macs have nothing but USB-C. I want to avoid money wasted on adapters but I see no way around this.

  22. I dusted off my hardly-ever-used TMO login to say that this piece touches my heart in ways that I can’t even begin to describe. Losing SJ has crippled this once mighty ship… “rudderless” is the absolute correct word. Things have steadily worsened in these past 5 years. This makes me unbelievably sad; having stuck with Apple from the get-go, through the dark 90s and seeing the amazing turnaround and rebirth of the early aughts, only to see them founder now is heartbreaking.

    But, it also makes me so stupefyingly angry. They have made boneheaded decision after boneheaded decision and it’s killing them. Ok, sure, not literally killing them (yet), but we see the fruits of the seeds planted… the first annual revenue drop in 15 years. It’s coming. I should have known that killing off their enterprise products (RIP Xserve) was the harbinger of the coming doom, and now it seems that doom is playing out. The Mac itself is headed that way.

    They’ve turned into the i-device company that happens to sell some OK computers. For the first time ever, I’ve considered building a Hackintosh just so I can have some modern, powerful hardware running the best OS. It sure seems Tim & Co. will never do it…

    Someone should go staple this article to Tim’s door.

  23. John:

    Well argued commentary, as usual. I’ve referenced and responded to some of your points on John Martellaro’s ‘MS takes Apple…’ column from 31 October.

    TLDR: Don’t hold your breath for any one vendor. In an age of product/service convergence, platform promiscuity is enabled.

    TLDR2: When mass increases directionally, so too does the centre of mass. Apple’s inclination is not directionless, but directional. Just not in your direction.

  24. @NorthSaanichBC and the others that expressed similar sentiments.

    Ever heard of “The customer is always right”?

    We are the customers and we are unimpressed. Last quarter Apple made more off of bloody services than Macs. Mac share of the global and US computer market is sliding. Yes Apple is raking in billions, but they are not using that to improve their core products. Maybe someday the Apple Watch will be a major profit centre. Maybe someday the mythical car will hit the market and revolutionize the industry. But that day is not today. Today we have macs that haven’t been updated in years. We have MacBookPros that are just tarted up versions of the old models. At much higher prices.

    As a customer I am not impressed.

  25. Have to agree with most of what John has written here. Apple truly is – somehow – managing to do less with more. Customers have to spend more, and buy more (dongles, cables, adaptors) to do the same.

  26. Sprocketeer

    I’d like to tell Apple that I’m leaving their ecosystem… but they’re not listening.
    It appears that Apple has decided to focus on iOS, and that is where the money is.
    The iPad Pro is their answer to a 2-in-1, and the MacBook and iMacs are more than good enough to write iOS apps with.

    It hurts us Apple lovers to know that the exciting things are happening elsewhere, in the Windows computers. It hurts to hear Apple execs explain that they’d already researched these ideas, and concluded that we wouldn’t be happy with it.

    There’s a revolution happening in creative computing, and isn’t Apple’s idea! The revolution is happening at Microsoft, and Dell and Wacom, but not Apple. Wow.

    Well, Apple, nobody can tell you what direction to take your computer designs to.
    But here’s my Wants and Suggestions:

    A MacOS touchscreen 2-in-1, like the Surface Pro 4, Pencil Included in the price.

    A 15 inch MacBook Pro that is 17% Fatter, has a bunch of different ports and real function keys. Oops, I have one already.

    Discontinue the iPad Pro, and go back to iPad as consumption device. That way, it won’t compete with your new MacOS 2-in-1 tablet, and you can sell people both devices.

    A joint venture with Wacom! Join the revolution! If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
    Produce an iMac Desktop that can recline to 20 degrees, comes with a Wacom Pen and Digitizer for the very best in Pen & TouchScreen technology, combined with what is still the Worlds most desired Operating System, MacOS!

    Remember that Apple’s advantage in Operating System Software is temporary! Eventually, Windows will catch up to it, and a good deal of Apple’s present advantage in the industry will be gone!

  27. “Furthermore, if you get a maxed out 15″ laptop with AppleCare in NY the total comes out to $299 for the MacBook, $349 for AppleCare, $412.51 for tax for a total of, you guessed it Bartholomew, $5,060.51. No conversions required.”

    In the spirt of your headline, I’m afraid I’m going to have to step up to the plate and call a foul on this one. 😉

    To replace my 2013 15″ MB Pro Retina with a new machine of comparable spec, it would be about $3500 USD, not $5,000. An extended warranty and tax are extra costs for a competing product as well. I just felt claiming the new machines are “$5,000” is a bit of hyperbole. I think everyone knows that they’ll have to pay tax on a purchase, or that the extended warranty costs something.

    The article you linked to was a British one, so they may very well end up spending $5,000USD equivalent on the same computer. But surely you don’t blame Apple for foreign exchange rates too?

    Your point is taken: the new MB Pros are expensive. I agree. But there’s no need to try and emphasize that by padding the numbers.

    I actually agree with much of your thesis – that Apple is moving their focus from the Mac to the iOS devices. But any company goes where the money is, and unfortunately, the iPhones are the gold.

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