There has been a lot of negative coverage about Apple lately. Is it because Apple is executing poorly? Is it because the company is losing touch with customers? Is executive management overwhelmed? Or is it simply due to the rise of tribalism in the Apple community, tarnishing Apple’s gloss?
There certainly seems to be more negative coverage of Apple than ever before. Part of it seems to be pent up frustration related to Apple’s long lapses between product updates and its newfound inability to ship products when announced. However, a significant contribution to what could be called Apple’s Loss of Gloss comes from tribal warfare.
Technical tribes in the Apple community (and elsewhere) are created and driven by social media. The bandwidth between individuals in the tribe is great and the decision cycle (to use a military term) is short. Bloggers can belong to tribes, and they have plentiful access to various media outlets to express their views. The result is that technical tribes have needs, they are very well informed, and the communication medium, by its nature, creates an echo chamber.
If new members present information contrary to the tribe’s interests and motivations, they are ostracized. Tribes self-enforce a focus of thought. Because internal dissent isn’t rampant, conflict tends to occur between tribes instead of individuals. That leads to poorly considered righteousness.
There are some notable Apple Tribes. To name just a few:
- Audiophiles. iPhone audio ports, speaker quality, audio formats, AirPod delay fuss, Apple Music, podcast support.
- Applications. Aperture fuss, iTunes, Mail, Time Machine issues, Automation.
- Technical Professionals. Powerful headless Macs, displays, flexible, powerful storage & backup, graphics tools.
There are more one could name: Communications (Wi-Fi, routers). Operating Systems (PC wars, Linux alternative), etc.
Why Apple Dismisses the Tribes
For Apple, there are five key factors that lead to executive dismissal of the tribe agenda by virtue of how they inform Apple’s decisions.
- The legacy of Steve Jobs and the conviction that they are following in his hallowed footsteps.
- Product and roadmap secrecy allows executives to cast tribes as ill-informed and maniacal.
- Apple’s feedback mechanism in its various OSes provides important information about how Apple’s customers are using its products.
- Apple retail stores provide a direct link to customers in which the relationship is both controlled and better understood.
- Sales figures, which are sometimes kept secret for strategic reasons (Apple Watch) or not broken out by model (Macs) provide a canary in the coal mine to guide product development.
The Role of Tribes
Many of Apple’s customers only have the time to interact with Apple directly. They tend to be pleased with Apple as a whole and aren’t deeply involved with technical or political issues surrounding Apple. Thanks to the five key factors listed above and Apple’s legacy of great design, great UI/UX, build quality and customer service, the company has much favor and loyalty amongst customers.
However, for those customers who have a techical and/or professional legacy, interest and a tendency to embrace Apple at a deeper level, it’s natural to fall into many of the existing tribes. There is that pizzazz factor of being noticed and being heard.
Sometimes, tribes provide immediate and powerful feedback to Apple, and Apple deems it necessary to take action. However, in many cases, the vision and the will of the tribe falls on deaf ears. The more Apple ignores a tribe, the more infuriated it gets. It turns up the volume. The irritation can explode out into social media with a logic all its own that seems irrefutable.
On the other hand, tribes are also well connected to customers via social media. Apple can no longer control every aspect of its customer relationship, and so it cannot be dismissive, arrogant or appear out of touch with key tribes.
In my experience, it’s always our job to understand Apple at such a deep level that sense can be made of both Apple’s decisions and the public assertions of various tribes, many of which are at war with each other. Joining a particular tribe for the sake of rocking the boat and garnering attention is an easy way out. Alternatively, lamely suggesting that The Great Apple Can Do No Wrong serves no useful purpose other than to, perhaps, curry favor. Apple has made and will continue to make mistakes. It’s a natural part of this business.
The thing to remember is that most of us buy Apple products to achieve something in a positive way: to communicate, to compute, to build, to create, to design, to write, to educate, to analyze, and so on. Apple’s tech web and community, when operating as warring tribes can’t really achieve much. It’s far better to work together as a cohesive group, coaching each other, learning, and being productive for some good end.
Finally, I recall the words of Steve Jobs in reference to iPhoto and family memories. Here we see a passion to create, build and to serve.
“This is why we do what we do.”
Teaser flames via Shutterstock.