Apple Has Missed the Plot

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar DJ demo at

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. 

Apple today has about 4X the employees. Apple spent $10B on god knows what (about 2x IBM’s budget (pdf)). And what do we get for it? We still get iOS and macOS updates.

Statista Chart of Apple Headcount
Chart showing Apple headcount

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. 

31 thoughts on “Apple Has Missed the Plot

  • This is why i don’t use my wonderful ipad air 2 (not pro) : unable to use any mouse unless i jailbreak the os. People want convergence of technologies: touchscreen, (and don’t serve me that mac os can’t be used with a touch screen, when windows can be), pen, mouses, touchpads, power. I still love my ipad for playing doom and using photoforge2.
    But don’t ask me to use any word processor on my ipad even though there is pages,word …

    Just figure it out: even with a an ipad pro you can’t use a word processor with a mouse!!!!!

    The final joke is the “touch bar”…..
    I’ll stick with my late 2013 16gb 1tb 15 inches retina macbook pro that still have a better screen especially with the discreet graphic nvidia card.

    I’ll just simply stay away from breaking-computer updates from apple (they want me to buy their last crap indeed)

    Yes they missed the plot the targets, the magic, and a lot of customer money.

    Btw, acer (yes i know what is cheaper than acer), made a true technological statement with their acer switch alpha 12: i3-i5-i7 processors liquid cooled tablets…with windows 10….

    Fast, reliable, borderline screen to my taste, bad battery, great cover with backlit keys and good touchpad for less than 1000 canadian dollars.

    That means that you have a pro device at 1000cad, and you hear no noise and still have an intel i7.

    It won’t last very long i know, but this is still the way of the future in computing.

  • You don’t be afraid all you like. Well I may have went to the UK article, the prices I quoted you were all the US prices. They add up to over $5000. It’s that simple. We’ve gotten one here for our Company, and paid over $5000 for it, here in the United States.

    If you don’t believe me, feel free to go to the store and Max out all the settings on the 15″ laptop, include AppleCare, and see what price you come up with.

  • “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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • @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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • And you can look at this video:

    @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.

    @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.

  • 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.

  • @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:

    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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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