Apple Has Missed the Plot


| Devil's Advocate

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. 

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smayrand
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smayrand

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!!!!!… Read more »

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Bartholomew J. Woodcocke

“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… Read more »

Sprocketeer
Member
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… Read more »

JoelS
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JoelS

It is time for Tim Cooke to move back to the second seat…

bjeast
Member
bjeast

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.

geoduck
Member
geoduck

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… Read more »

wab95
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wab95

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.

trlblzr
Member
trlblzr

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… Read more »

Member
khurt

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.

davidneale
Member
davidneale

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.

Member
Bartholomew J. Woodcocke

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.… Read more »

Member
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.

Member
shameermulji

“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… Read more »

DaveNull
Member
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… Read more »

thewerewolf
Member
thewerewolf

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

Or as it’s more commonly known: “Stockholm Syndrome”.

Member
shameermulji

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… Read more »