The Rotten Apple Flu: How to Get it & How to Cure it

| Particle Debris

In a celebrity culture, Tim Cook has committed the cardinal sin. He's failed to adequately entertain us. The result? Writers who follow Apple have the Rotten Apple Flu and are grousing for bucks.

That's why there's so much negative writing about Apple. This Rotten Apple Flu exists not because Apple products have changed or Apple has made any serious business mistakes. It exists because writers who cannot think for themselves are eager to make a few bucks and grab some attention. After all, being negative is the same as in-depth, critical, informed analysis. Right?

Over at Harvard Business Review, Dan Pallotta analyzed this malady. "The Market Wants Apple to Unveil a Time Machine." He pointed out that critics are impatient, lazy and that Steve Jobs suffered from some failings similar to the ones being leveled at Tim Cook. The difference is, in my own experience, Steve Jobs would typically respond to criticism with a smug, "You're an idiot." Humbled, the tech columnists would figure out something else to write about -- where they wouldn't be embarrassed and would look better.

Sometimes Mr. Jobs's Reality Distortion Field (RDF) was nonsense, but often it was a way of shocking people back to the fundamentals of Apple.

Back to Mr. Pallotta's article ... here's a key section.

The critics that are screaming right now are intellectually lazy. They're throwing temper tantrums instead of looking at the big picture. Like two-year-olds, they don't really know what they want. And they're not happy when they get it, anyway. Apple could unveil a new car and they'd say Apple's days are over because it's just bet its future on an industry it knows nothing about. Not unlike, say, Apple's entrance into the mobile phone industry. I bet that if Apple did unveil a time machine, they'd claim it wasn't fast enough."

Basically, because Mr. Cook isn't baby-sitting the columnists, entertaining them with Hollywood style, guiding them at every step, they don't know what to think. Bored, left without entertainment and thrill, mired in A.D.D., not grounded in Apple fundamentals, they grouse for bucks.

Readers, steeped in winter ennui, continue to click on all this nonsense. When you see one of these lurid headlines about what's ailing Apple, don't be fooled. It'll just be another rant, a waste of your time. My recommendation? Think before you click.

You'll feel better in the morning.

If you're looking for some thought provoking stuff, I recommend these: Ron Galloway's "Is Tim Cook the Man to Lead Apple?" and Bob Cringely's "Apple’s challenges require leaving Steve Jobs behind."

These aren't Pollyanna articles, but at least they're a start on thinking things through.

"I want my entertainment!"

Tech News Debris

I don't normally talk about new products here, but this one is worth noting because it solves a long-standing problem that affects most everyone. It's simple, and it's genius. A GPS tracking device that tells you where your luggage is. Here's the Mashable article: "Trakdot Uses GPS to Make Sure You Never Lose Your Suitcase Again." It will certainly change the nature of the discussion with the airline personnel when your luggage is lost, especially as you pull out your smartphone and show the agent your suitcase winging its way across the Indian Ocean.

When it comes to designing a product, a company has to balance the investment cost of advanced technology and features against the gains to be made by marketing those features -- all within the context of the customer expectations and experience. That may be why Phil Schiller recently said about NFC: "It’s not clear that NFC is the solution to any current problem."

So I couldn't help notice two contemporary articles this week. The first extols the virtues of HTC's new flagship smartphone, the HTC M7 with some guesses about it's features, namely a larger (perhaps 5-inch) 1080p display, 1.7 GHz quad-core processor and a 13 megapixel camera. Impressive. Indeed, HTC needs to make a splash to get some mindshare, and specs are a popular way to earn the geek's attention.

Then, right after that, I read this: "HTC posts poor Q4 results: Loses Android mojo to Samsung, Apple." I'm not an expert follower of HTC, and I'm cautious enough not to draw too strong a correlation here, but it seems to me that when you're behind and need a marketing splash, specsmanship can be a dangerous, expensive way to play the game. And that, in turn, can explain why Mr. Schiller said what he did and why, in certain technical areas, you won't see the very latest, bleeding-edge, half-baked technology in Apple's iDevices.

Just a thought.

Along those lines, Operating Systems need care and feeding by the developer. There are endless internal details: bug fixing, coherency, making sure it works the same way in different contexts (orthogonality, if you will) file integrity, self-repair, security, the UI and User Experience (UX). Adding features that leverage the underlying power is always good. But when attending to those many details becomes tiresome or difficult in a corporate context, then the OS starts to wear on the customer.

Here's a good example of how a smart, experienced Mac user got frustrated because some of those details weren't attended to. "Apple Is No Longer Easy: A Mac Mini Tale Of Woe."

Another OS question is: How does the developer of an OS balance absolute security against realistic goals for OS design and the customer experience? That comes out in this interesting article: "Microsoft's Security Essentials Fails Major Antivirus Test." Actually, the headline doesn't begin to explore the nuances of OS engineering. Between the lines, you'll find a perennial argument: Absolutism for the sake of marketing by a third party product and balance when you're the OS developer. Fascinating.

That issue, in fact, also comes to bear on the recent Java security problem. While TMO's initial articles were focused on the facts and what to do as a Mac user, there remain the intriguing details. If you want to read the scary details, here they are: "Why fixing the Java flaw will take so long."  The dust hasn't cleared on this one.

Finally, here's an interesting tale of global wireless competition, high tech intrigue, positioning, "dumb pipes," and protecting your flank. "Samsung's secret weapon in the mobile wars: Tizen." It's dizzying in its portrayal of of the global competition in this market.


Stage mic and flu victim via Shutterstock.

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Nice piece. I had read the Harvard Business Review article previously and thought it was right on.

The question that I have is do you think that Cook should be taking the Jobs approach or do you feel he is doing the right thing by ignoring the noise and just run the company?

While I don’t like what is happening to the share price, I am thinking that Cook’s present approach is correct. Ignore all the carp that is going on for right now. I think if you have Cook responding to all the idiots with a blog and a chip on their shoulder, you will have all these bloggers putting something into print whose main purpose will be to get a rise or answer out of Cook. If there is any response, it should be in the CC next week. Maybe one of the wise analysts who get the ability to ask a question might address this issue.

One other point on the share price that I think might be an issue. I am wondering if the independent analysts, with some of their very aggressive estimates for revenue and earnings, make Apple seem like it is not doing as well as it should when it doesn’t hit their very aggressive estimates. I don’t think it was as big an issue when Apple was blowing away the estimates from everybody but I am afraid that with the law of large numbers catching up to Apple’s growth recently, the estimates have really been too aggressive for Apple to hit on a consistent basis.  For example, if Apple doesn’t hit 50 million phones this past quarter, there are people that will think this is a big disappointment and that might be coming from overly aggressive numbers. Just a thought anyway.

Nancy Gravley

Right on John. And it is not just lazy or incompetent writers. Even ambulance chasing lawyers try to get into the act. This morning I received an email from a “law firm” spouting things like “the court’s rationale suggests”, wanting to help me write a story about how “Apple is doomed, doomed I say”. 

Needless to say, any future correspondence from these good folks will go directly into the trash.

Geoff Larsen

Finally some sanity, thank you John.

Also I might mention the billions of dollars of info structure Apple would have to create to make the wonderful ideas of the pundits happen.

Also given the amount of server farms around the world now, it would be difficult for Apple to get competent staff to run any new ones.

Ron Galloway

John, I’m Ron Galloway who wrote the HuffPo article you reference. Thanks very much for the mention. Cheers!


Very thoughtful piece and picks, John.

Taking John Pallotta’s theme on Apple inventing a time machine; were Apple to do so, tech pundits would complain that since Apple are using the same time that has existed since the beginning of the universe, said time machine is nothing new or innovative.

The current trend in Apple bearishness is intriguing and reflects what epidemiologists refer to as a secular trend - a new development that occurs in a defined timespan that differs from prior observations. Two questions (broadly speaking) arise when one observes secular trends: 1) What does it mean? 2) How long will it last?

Regarding what this means is anyone’s guess. It may be, as you and Mr Pallotta suggest, laziness and/or grousing for money/attention, etc; or it may be what Bryan Chaffin suggests in his parallel piece, ‘stupidity’. I believe it is multifactorial, and argue that there are three types of bears (leaving aside those that are congenitally stupid).

Bear One: Those that are eternally and irredeemably anti-Apple, and who have consistently prognosticated Apple’s imminent demise. These bears only appear to be new because, in the immediate past, they went dark due to Apple’s universally acclaimed successes. It’s hard to cry doom in the face of undisputed triumph riding a meteoric upward trajectory. Now, in the relative absence of any new ground-breaking products, these bears can trot out their hackneyed predictions and dress them in fresh attire. Lipstick on a pig, anyone?

Bear Two: Those that have never got Apple, and never will. These are they who, whenever Apple does anything that they cannot grasp are quick to offer Apple unsolicited conventional wisdom. Apple need to be more like companies that these pundits can understand. They need to follow MS’s or Googles’ or Amazon’s or anyone’s but Apple’s own model because, being a whole-widgit company, unlike all the competition, makes Apple vulnerable. Despite differences too numerous and tedious to yet again recall, these pundits are quick to call up the PC wars between Apple and MS and how Apple took a near-death beating, and how Apple vs Google or Samsung or Anybody But Apple is the next imminent beating. That Apple is not the same company as it was in 1984 (imagine that), that computer tech is no longer novel but part of modern global culture, that Apple enjoy the lion’s share of profit in the post-PC market, that we, the consumers are no longer the tech-naive newbies that follow enterprise behaviour, but that enterprise now follows private consumer trends - and so much more - is lost on these bears who cannot distinguish paste from pearl (or Blackberries from Apples) and continue to forage in the wastes of conventional thinking. Apple must conform to conventional standards because that’s what these bears understand. These analysts, if one may be so generous, are mired in a finite conceptual loop from which they will never escape, and you will spend less time waiting for Godot than for them to do so.

Bear Three: These are the most curious of the lot, and are those who fundamentally do not understand tech, lack anything resembling a sense of either vision or strategy, are reliant on prevailing notions for their direction and cues (read ‘malleable’ ‘sheep-like’ and ‘follower’ - I’m trying to be polite) and who have never appreciated a novel or original product, service or thought in their entire lives - not Apple’s nor anyone else’s and have only recognised innovation after others have done so (again, read ‘follower’). These are the one’s who are quick to chime into Bear One’s disingenuous dismissals of anything Apple’s as ‘innovative’ with sincerity and zeal because Bear Three really CANNOT see anything innovative or revolutionary - not unless others tell them so because Bear Three is blind…and clueless. Bear Three also has no qualms about getting out in front and publicly displaying their blindness. Bear Three is a frustrated animal that is vexed because it cannot ‘see’ what all the fuss is about with any new Apple product, and dismisses all as just so much hype. Bear Three is allergic to hype and tends to go into anaphylaxis around the time of any new Apple product launch with its attendant ‘hype’, and is only revived with an infusion of negativity from either Bears One or Two before they can breathe again. Bear Three is blind to all tech, not just Apple’s. The difference between their response to Apple vs others, however, is driven by popular consensus that the ‘others’ are okay, mainstream, acceptable, industry standard, conventional, i.e., ‘right’...boring but ‘right’. Apple is ‘different’, a euphemism for ‘wrong’, hence their attacks on this wrongness.

This, at least, is my take on this secular trend; Apple and Three Bears, a tale as yet unfinished to be sure, but whose plot and outcome are all too predictable.


Here’s an idea for an article debunking some more stupidity: Start with this link which claims to show how Apple has been copying Dieter Rams. Take the photos, which are actually very cleverly made, then add some other photos of the same products that show that there is actually no similarity at all.

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