Page 2 – Doing Less with More and Dodging a Bullet
Doing less and less with more and more
Apple in 2009 had about 34,000 employees, and spent 1.33B on R&D, about 1/4 IBM’s budget. It updated: iPods, iPhone, laptops, iMacs, Mac minis, Airports, Mac Pros, iLife, iWork, iOS, macOS, and introduced the iPad (a few months into 2010), etc.; and it updated it all annually.
However, we haven’t had a meaningful update to iLife or iWork in forever; if anything Apple has been busy killing software (e.g., Aperture) and features (iWork, Final Cut Pro X).
We got a tired non-design update of the iPhone, a 9.7″ iPad Pro basically aping the specs from the 12″ iPad Pro, a spec bumped Watch 2 with GPS (and no doubt new wrist straps), a tiny spec bump on the MacBook, and a Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro. In so doing, Apple once again proved it can’t keep a secret, while Microsoft delighted and surprised with a magic-feeling Surface Studio reveal.
Further, Apple and Tim Cook proved they are totally capable of lying to us in saying they don’t talk about future products (despite endlessly allowing leaks) and yet droning on about how interesting augmented reality will be in the future. That’s about it, not much else. Apple did less and less with more and more resources. By most objective counts, Apple has utterly failed to scale.
Apple today looks visionless, and rudderless. I don’t know what those 4x employees are doing, but regularly putting out products (much less genuinely innovative ones) and driving a future vision seems to be off the itinerary.
If Steve jobs were around, there would likely be a lot more random elevator firings. Perhaps he’d rightly grab an axe and chop off huge swaths of uselessness that seems to have metastasized within Apple, and he would provide some much needed vision and direction.
Still time for a change in attitude
And since Apple lost Steve’s unique vision and ability to know what users want even when they don’t, perhaps it’s time it listens to its customers with a bit more humility. Apple has lost the plot. It’s not the first time. They can still catch up.
Microsoft’s Surface Studio is cool in theory and in hardware, but after playing with one, I think Apple dodged a bullet. First, outside the apps made/updated for the 28″ touch screen, Surface Studio with Windows 10 still has the wrong interface ‘recipe.’ This is much like Microsoft’s original Tablet PC was the right idea with the wrong implementation, and which was subsequently usurped by the iPad’s right recipe. I found it cumbersome to deal with tiny widgets (e.g., checkboxes, popup menus, window grab areas, etc.) with my fingers. It was worse when trying to deal with touch UI elements using a mouse.
Surface Studio doesn’t detect and ‘get’ your context well enough, yet. For example, even within the creative paint/draw apps tailored for the 28″ touch screen, the Surface Studio would often get confused when I’m pinching/zooming/rotating. It would instead draw at my fingertips.
Also, using the Surface Dial is not intuitive in switching through its modes. For instance, it might be left in a cool time-scrub undo/redo mode, then you click out to use a mode, say, that lets you choose colors. You have to click up and out to different rings of colors in a non-intuitive clunky way to actually select a color–think Watch UI 1.0 but worse. Then the apps will lose track of the Dial completely, and the advice of the Microsoft employees is to restart the app, and if it still doesn’t find the Dial, restart the machine!
However, what is completely clear is, Microsoft nailed the hardware. The pen is not quite as responsive as the Apple Pencil, but it gets a ‘good enough diploma‘ and feels responsive enough. The screen is fantastic, and pivoting it down into a horizontal position is totally comfy and natural, even for prolonged use. And the sheer size of the canvas is a marvel. It makes you realize this will open up completely new computing modes, not just for creatives, but for everyone (imagine desktop publishing composition on a draft table, a draft table for flow diagrams, presentation creation, multi-user collaboration, etc.).
That said, Apple had better get this real clear in their heads. You’ve just had your ass handed to you by Microsoft. You’ve failed to produce. You’re behind and have abandoned one of your most important user bases and failed them on their needs. Time is growing shorter. Get humble and go to work. Fast.
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.
TLDR; Apple, get your ass in gear and add touch to your computers or suffer the consequences; for reference, see BlackBerry.