Apple's Success: Going to Extremes and Out of Control

Apple was a hungry, underappreciated company for many years both before and after the return of Steve Jobs. Now that Apple has achieved unconstrained, unabashed, tumultuous success, that often treads on customers, what exactly is Apple going to do about it?

The Seeds of Apple's Yearnings

I remember the PC war years. Apple was always the odd man out. In the mid 1990s, Mac Performas languished in the dusty corners of office supply stores. The CD trays were broken and demo software crashed and was unlaunchable.

Microsoft was the darling of business and government, and every time Apple came along with an innovation to take us all forward, IT managers buckled down with the safe and comfortable confines of Microsoft. Even the unmitigated disaster of Windows XP's miserable security couldn't pry PCs out of the clammy fingers of IT managers.

Meanwhile Apple was desperate. When I was there, Apple's annual sales amounted to about US$6 billion per year, and Apple's quarterly revenues were typically about the same as Microsoft's quarterly profits. Apple, which was all about image had a tough time converting image into broad acceptance until Jonny Ive and Steve Jobs gave us the first iMac.

I remember being counseled on always reserving a presentation room for a public demo a size or two too small so that there would be guaranteed standing room only. And those loyal customers stood uncomfortably for two hours, victims of the need to prop up Apple's image. But all the image failed to create stellar sales of the Mac even as the company migrated to a fabulous Unix OS.

Apple's "Get a Mac" ad campaign.
John Hodgman and Justin Long try to uplift the Mac.

Fast Forward

We've all witnessed the unimaginable resurgence of Apple over the years, starting with the iPod, and it's been documented here and at every other site that follows Apple. I won't repeat it.

What I am curious about, however, is the mentality of Apple's executive team regarding how to deal with the smashing success of late. Specifically, can this dizzying excitement for Apple go too far? (It can.) Will it sour customers? Is the current rocketing into the stratosphere sowing the seeds of Apple's own eventual hard crash back to earth? And finally, is Apple's executive team so fixated on expunging the embarrassments of the past that they can't put the success of the present into proper context?

It all started with the September 9 event. The video stream, which seemed to get off to a proper start, dropped right away into TV truck color bars. A foreign language translator could be heard for the first 27 minutes. I had significant periods of frozen video, the the stream didn't settle down until about an hour into the presentation.

Some technical difficulties here.

But it wasn't a simple matter of a capacity failure. From what I have read, Apple hosed up in its design and implementation for the delivery of the feed. See: "Inside Apple’s Live Event Stream Failure, And Why It Happened: It Wasn’t A Capacity Issue."

Then, Apple declared that we could pre-order the iPhone 6 and Plus at 12:01 am PDT on September 12. However, at least in my neck of the woods, as of 1:15 am PDT, I was still not able to connect to the Apple online store with Safari on my Mac. Like many other users, I had to use the Apple iOS app on my iPad. Here are some random notes from last night and watching Twitter.

  • One person had an online order confirmation for iPhone 6 Plus for a 9/19 delivery, but the follow-up confirmation email changed to 10/1. Discussion with Apple got nowhere.
  • Unable to connect to the carrier's database for upgrade eligibility, Apple sent a customer an email saying the desired iPhone had been reserved, and email would be forthcoming on how to complete the transaction within 24 hours. The problem was, when the time came to finish up, the desired configuration was changed by Apple from 128 GB (wait FOUR weeks) to an unwanted 16 GB on 9/19.
  • Here in Denver, I never saw the Apple store available on my Mac as of 1:15 AM PDT. There was the customary, relaunch, refresh, CMD-R, etc, etc. Nothing.
  • Using the iPad Apple Store app, I was asked to re-enter my Apple ID password at least a dozen times before the order could be placed.
  • I could not get an iPhone 6 with 64 GB, no way, no how. My only option was 128 GB. Much later, another member of the TMO staff was able to order a 64 GB model. I believe that extended to others early this morning.
  • In another case, a customer called Apple to clear up a problem and was told: we're very busy here. And hung up.
  • Via Apple, AT&T had the wrong model in our family marked as eligible for a contract upgrade. I backed out and changed the phone number to a one year old phone and, amazingly, got upgrade pricing. Another person I know wasn't so lucky and got stuck with the full $649 price. No changes allowed. (But to be fair, eventually, an Apple rep offered a $250 store credit.)

Translation: You're up at 3:00 in the morning Eastern Time to buy an iPhone.
You should just go away.

Time to Leave the Past Behind

The point of all this is that Apple should, in my opinion, back away from the idea that crushing Internet loads, customer abuse and frustrations online and on the telephone, and the inability to manage its affairs well are good for the image of Apple's success.

Most assuredly Apple is getting richer and richer. Most assuredly, the interest in Apple event announcements and new product pre-orders are out of control. Based on last year's results, Apple may have sold 4-8 million iPhone 6's last night in 60 minutes, amounting to US$2 to $4 billion dollars. Money aside, in the light of day, the brand is looking tarnished, and soon we may see ordinary people moving to a notion that trying to buy a new iPhone from Apple is too painful and too treacherous for too long.

Apple executives, this morning may be happy with their surfeit of success, but it's time to put that nervous hunger, derived from the past, away. Hopefully, it won't be long before there is a new realization: the appearance of unbounded success isn't the same as running a well managed company that thinks ahead, manages its affairs smoothly and takes care of its customers.


Note: There is no second page of tech news debris this week because everything revolved around Apple's new products. Some links I collected have been folded into the text above. Particle Debris is always an editorial.

Rotten apple via Shutterstock.