Why So Many Observers Think Apple is in Trouble

“Immaturity is the incapacity to use one's intelligence without the guidance of another.” -- Immanuel Kant

Apple's customers highly approve. They are joyously emerging from Apple stores with armloads of products. Sales per square foot considerably exceed Tiffany & Co. Analysts like the numbers and think Apple is doing fine. So why is there an undercurrent of disenchantment amongst some Apple observers?

We're dealing  with a company that always moves relentlessly forward. In order to leave the past behind, Apple has had to carry our emotions forward in the timeline. Occasionally some clarity has been required to adjust our sights and expectations. Steve Jobs made sure that we always understood -- or at least could strongly suspect -- why Apple was doing what it did.

A case in point is Blu-ray. Many observers clamored for Blu-ray as a follow-on to the SuperDrive, but we just knew that Steve Jobs didn't think rotating chunks of plastic was the future of personal computing. There was that undercurrent of our understanding, despite the nagging of mainstream, conventional wisdom. mostly in the PC world. Steve Jobs said it out loud: "Blu-ray is a bag of hurt."

End of discussion.

To define the process more properly, I'd say that Steve Jobs would insert his mental notes into our technical consciousness. We had our attitude adjusted. Then we'd move on.

Thought Experiments

In my review of the iPad mini, I said that the 1024 x 768 display at 163 ppi is fine for watching HD movies. And yet, there are many observers who feel that a Retina display would have been better -- ignoring the battery life and cost challenges. There is much technical quibbling on this.

I can imagine a scenario, if this had happened in the past, where a customer sends Mr. Jobs an email and says, "I am annoyed that my iPad mini isn't true HD (1368 x 720). The response might be something like thunder from the clouds.

We had to do that for app compatibility. That display is gorgeous, and I promise, you'll never miss those few extra pixels."

And that would be that. Mainstream attitude adjusted.

Note that this is quite a different matter than whining about what Steve Jobs would do. Rather, its a business observation about how Mr. Jobs subtly guided our expectations in the past so that we learned how to accept both the giant steps Apple made along with the compromises.

Or consider the issue with iPad mini pricing. I can imagine Mr. Jobs sitting in on an earnings report and casually noting: "That's the required price point for a high quality 7-inch tablet in 2012."

And that would be that. Mainstream attitude adjusted.

There have always been compromises by Apple. We overlooked them when we were brought to understood the larger picture. (Although sometimes we struggled with some RDF.)

A New Apple

These days, CEO Tim Cook has elected to run Apple in a quieter, business as usual manner. This has a lot of advantages for a company maturing into the tablet technologies and the post-PC era. It's an essential element of management style as Apple grows. (It should also be part of our maturity as writers.)

As a result, nowadays, the Apple community doesn't have those Steve-notes to guide and solidify technical judgment. Everyone's running amok. Writers who don't really understand Apple are adrift with their own speculations or over reactions to mistakes -- and there's no authority figure to set them straight. Tim Cook has no interest in it, and only Phil Schiller sends the occasional clarifying email in response to a customer -- that ends up getting published.

Without that stabilization of technical consciousness, many are grousing, mystified, unable to create a precise focus on what Apple is doing to satisfy its customers.

The result of this seems to be a writer's malaise, not an Apple malaise. Apple is cranking out fine products, making a boatload of money, competing vigorously, adjusting its executive team so that they can work in harmony, correcting mistakes, and continuing to push the limits of technology. Apple will likely generate US$50+ billion in Christmas quarter revenue.

Many observers, however, are having trouble adjusting. They're rudderless, left with no bracing technical insights from the most public, forceful technology visionary ever. Left to their own imaginings, some are left to drift aimlessly, waiting for that next instructional Steve-note. One that isn't going to come.


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