Is the Mac Forensic Community Failing?

"The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on."

-- Walter Lipman

When it comes to the slightest Microsoft mistake or public relations snafu, the forensic mind of the Mac community is all over it. However, we tend to cut Apple some slack, and this is exactly the wrong time to be doing that.

Should Steve Return?

I noted with interest a column last week by Shawn King that discussed whether Steve Jobs should return to his regular duties at Apple, assuming he is healthy. The gist of the argument was that Mr. Jobs' real or fabricated health issues will always remain a distraction -- because he is a very private person. Moreover, Mr. Cook seems to be doing just fine.

That -- and an article about Microsoft's latest ad campaign -- got me thinking. How well is the forensic mind of the Mac community working when it looks at Apple?

Forensic Analysis of Microsoft

I really liked an article last week by Daniel Dilger, writing at AppleInsider as Prince McLean. "Microsoft's latest ad attacks Mac aesthetics, computing power." In that column, Mr. McClean pointed out that in Microsoft's ad with Mr. Giampaolo, a self proclaimed technical expert, the goal was to find a PC that was strong on "portability, battery life and power." The suggestion was that a Mac, being merely sexy and overpriced, wouldn't be satisfactory.

According to the analysis, he got none of the above.

For example, detailed analysis of the ad revealed that the machine Mr. Giampaolo purchased was an HP Pavilion HDX 16t that's 1.7 inches thick, has a battery life of less than two hours according to reviewers, has a Core 2 Duo Intel P7450 running at 2.13 GHz and the whole thing weighs a monstrous 7.3 pounds.

There are no secrets on the Internet, and this analysis showed that Microsoft was playing fast and loose with the concept of the ad for their benefit. Nice work by Mr. McClean and his colleagues.

Turning the Magnifying Glass on Apple

When it comes to Apple, however, precisely because Mr. Jobs is behind the scenes nowadays, this is exactly the right time to be turning that kind of forensic analysis on Apple. However, because we all are in the Apple camp, there's not a lot of incentive to do so. We amble along, hoping for the best, and hoping that Mr. Jobs will return to full healthy status. That's a good hope. But it's not the best the Mac community can do.

It's very important that I make myself very clear here, so I'll emphasize the point. I am not saying that Mr. Jobs shouldn't come back to full time duties as CEO. I think his return would be great. What I am suggesting is that it would be good to be alert to signs that Apple isn't operating at the same level as when he was completely in charge.

For example, here are some things I've noticed lately. They are not ironclad symptoms of a wider problem. Rather, they're simply things I have noticed. Ponder for yourself.

  • Apple's Jordan Hubbard originally suspected Snow Leopard would ship in March. Now, our best guess is WWDC or later.
  • Mac OS X 10.5.7 has been lingering for a long time.
  • The new quad core Mac Pros ship with 3 x 1 GB DIMMs in a machine that has four slots and should ship with 4 GB. 3 GB can only be described as lame.
  • One of my sources says that MobileMe is still providing plenty of headaches.
  • One of my sources reported that iWeb 3.0.1 broke the ability of Internet Explorer to Access Apple hosted Websites. Apple hastily fixed the problem on its end a few days later.
  • E-mail export to simple .txt files mode became broken after the installation of Safari 4 Beta.
  • Safari 4 Beta itself was criticized by many for it user interface, an area where Apple should be showing insanely great leadership, not fumbles.
  • The "Get a Mac" ads have disappeared. In this recession, Apple -- despite long series of successful, staggeringly good ads that blistered Microsoft and Windows -- has not been able to, or elected not to, counter Microsoft's new ad campaign for cheap PCs.
  • The Apple TV hobby lingers while Netflix makes almost weekly announcements of some new initiative. The result has been Blockbuster pushed to the brink of bankruptcy. Expensive Apple hardware and customer loyalty keeps the Apple TV alive in units and dollars but not technology.
  • Apple elected not to introduce a non-Nehalem quad core iMac. Was that fear that it would damage their Mac Pro sales? The Mac Pro is a fine computer, but it isn't setting sales records. Why Apple is protecting that line when the company focuses so much on the consumer, and competitive PC desktops are routinely available with quad core CPUs, flies in the face of aggressive behavior Apple is known for.
  • One of Mr Jobs' fetishes was same-low-pricing for music, $0.99. Yesterday, Chris Breen at Macworld said,"If you define Apple as caving to the recording industry as prices increasing for new and popular tunes, then yes, Apple caved." Would that have happened if Mr. Jobs were negotiating the deal?

As I said, I don't believe that every item on this list is a symptom of Mr. Jobs being in absentia. However, what I am saying is that the forensic mind of the Mac community, if it looks as hard as it does at Microsoft, will start to find many more things like this and can begin to analyze them. Right now, few are doing that.

Things to Look For

As time goes on, the Mac community will start to see more and more mysterious events. When convenient, it's all too easy to gloss over them because we believe Apple can do no wrong.

However, this is a critical time for Apple. They've lost their Hall of Fame leader in the midst of a deep recession. Microsoft has a bold new ad campaign appealing to the idea that it's not cool to splash money around and go into big debt -- rather one should be thrifty.

I'm not completely sure, but if Mr. Jobs elects to return only as a consultant, there could be power struggles for both executive positions and the role of the public face of Apple. Mr. Cook's leadership will face challenges. To suggest otherwise is to view Apple with a naive, Camelot outlook rather than a steady, business-minded perspective.

The above examples can suggest that without the scary persona of Mr. Jobs behind the scenes to propel Apple engineers and executives into high pressure excellence, more things could fall through the cracks. We should watch for them as carefully as we dissect the blunders of Microsoft precisely because we love Apple and all it stands for.