Phil Schiller: Apple Isn't Afraid to Ditch Legacy Tech

Mechanical ComputerMechanical Computer

If you want to find the secret of Apple's success boiled down to its simplest form, look no further than an interview with Apple Senior Vice President of Marketing Phil Schiller. In comments given to Time, Mr. Schiller said that old technologies are anchors holding the world, or at least his company, back, and that his company isn't afraid to ditch them.

Mr. Schiller was asked about the new Mac hardware introduced during Tuesday's iPad mini media event, including the lack of optical drives in the company's new iMac line.

"These old technologies are holding us back," he told Harry McCracken. "They're anchors on where we want to go. We find the things that have outlived their useful purpose. Our competitors are afraid to remove them. We try to find better solutions — our customers have given us a lot of trust."

Big Redmond

Contrast this with Microsoft, a company desperately afraid of leaving Windows—the source of the company's vast wealth and success—behind. Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy has been to anchor media tablets down by marrying them to the desktop metaphor where Windows matters.

Microsoft hopes that it can have its Windows cake and eat into Apple's iPad empire, too, but that strategy has seen Windows-based touch tablets stagnate. The company released Surface—its own version of the toaster-fridge concept—on Friday, and I will be very surprised if it any way changes anything.

Microsoft and its PC OEMs are far too terrified to simply shuck aside legacy technologies, whereas Apple will ditch something it no longer wants without a second thought. For instance, you can still find VGA ports on Dell computers...why?

Note to Dell: Your website still sucks, and it doesn't even consistently suck. Different UI elements on different device pages? Different layouts? Please, it's 2012.

So Long, Sucker

Dirty, Dirty Floppy DriveApple has gone through, what, six display technologies since VGA mattered? DVI, Mini-DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, mini DisplayPort, and now Lightning? That's six, and with each move, Apple dumped the predecessor with little or no concern for those with legacy hardware.

Floppy drives? ADC? FireWire? FireWire 800? Gone the way of the dodo. Now we have optical drives, and sooner, rather than later, hard drives will be few and far between on any Mac. On the iOS side, Apple just recently gave its own 30-pin Dock connector the boot.

Offering some insight on the company's thinking, Mr. Schiller said, "In general, it's a good idea to remove these rotating medias from our computers and other devices. They have inherent issues — they're mechanical and sometimes break, they use power and are large. We can create products that are smaller, lighter and consume less power."

The company has been very successful doing this, too. Apple has outgrown the PC market since George W. Bush was president, and the company is selling record numbers of its Mac computers, even while its iOS empire has grown larger still.

Simple, streamlined, integrated, smaller, lower power...this combination has been part and parcel to Apple's stellar growth during the last ten-plus years.

Hard DriveAdmittedly, Apple has often gotten pushback for its decisions to drop legacy products. As someone who prefers to buy music on CD and rip it in a lossless format (Apple Lossless currently), and who prefers Blu-ray movies for the quality and the extras, I personally lament the loss of optical drives and wish I could watch my Blu-ray movies on my Mac.

Apple doesn't care, however, and that's for the best. Also, and this is important, those of us who get anxious when our beloved legacy thing gets axed eventually get over it. There was much gnashing of teeth and wailing when the original iMac was introduced without ADC or a Floppy, and that was from Mac fans. Do you remember how the PC world laughed and pointed?

Who's laughing now? (Hint, it's Apple on the way to the bank to drop of sacks full of cash.)

Even Blu-ray, a technology that many Mac users clamored for (see above), gets nary a peep from customers these days, according to Mr. Schiller.


The Apple marketing guru also spoke to the rush-to-the-bottom approach of all of its competitors, saying, "Our approach at Apple has always been to make products we're proud to own and use ourselves. We wouldn't make something cheap or low quality."

This also is part and parcel to Apple's success. When the economy fell off a cliff in 2008, Apple's stock tanked like the rest of the markets, but the astounding thing was that Apple's results accelerated, rather than declining.

"When the economy is difficult," he said, "people care a great deal about the things they spend their money on. Customers have come to understand that Apple's products aren't priced high — they're priced on the value of what we build into them."

To that end, he pointed to netbooks, once the (bleak) future of the PC market. Today, no one talks about netbooks, and that's entirely because Apple didn't jump on the bandwagaon.

"People said they were the future," Mr. Schiller said. "We rejected them because we thought they were poor. Even if the market was going there, we weren't going to chase everybody downhill."

He added, "This is what Apple has always been about, and the Mac has been about, from the first Mac and first iMac. It's always been about making the best Mac we know how. Among the many benefits are making it easy to use and affordable, with great features. This high level of integration is part of delivering on that."

Of Wishes & Horses

If Apple's competitors were smart, they would break into Harry McCracken's office, steal his computer, find the full interview, listen to it over and over again, take copious notes, develop an action plan based on those notes, and then do the things on that action plan.

If they were concerned about such subtleties as "the law," they would at least read the Time story over and over again and spend some time thinking about how their businesses differ from the ideals and thoughts laid out by Mr. Schiller.

The truth is, however, that few of Apple's competitors are capable of running their businesses anything close to Apple's model. They don't control their ecosystem, they don't control their own hardware and software, they're tied into legacy technologies and ideas, they're afraid to charge a price that will actually sustain innovation, and they have little or no vision.

That's why Mr. Schiller and other Apple execs can be so open about these things, and why Mr. McCracken's computer is safe.

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