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  • Do You Think You Can Run Apple Better than Steve Jobs?

    December 3rd, 2010

    This is likely an exceedingly silly question, but when you read what some of the armchair Apple critics spout on a far too regular basis, you’d think they have the gall to imagine themselves in the CEO office supplanting Steve Jobs and his executive team, doing a far better job. That may seem a stretch, but when a company continues to report record sales and profits, you have to accept the possibility that they actually know what they’re doing.

    This doesn’t mean they can’t do a better job, but when you read article after article about how Apple is making foolish moves, you wonder if their stellar success may just be an accident. They are poised for a big fall. Maybe not this year or the next, but it is inevitable. How can they possibly succeed when they are so busy doing the wrong things?

    This isn’t to say that Apple hasn’t screwed up badly, particularly in the past. Just what was former soft drink salesperson John Scully thinking when he was hoodwinked into licensing portions of the Mac OS interface to the one and only Bill Gates so long ago? That gave Gates and Microsoft the tools with which to affix a graphical user interface on to DOS, a text-based OS, and make it look and act something like a Mac.

    Sure, it took a number of years for Microsoft to make it work well enough to be accepted by a large portion of the business community, at the expense of Macs. Yes, the Mac OS, aging by that point, may have been fundamentally better, but with even an 80% solution, along with loads of cheap gear and tons of applications to run, Apple seemed doomed to a tiny niche status.

    It’s not that Apple didn’t help the cause. Rather than focus on a small number of well-designed products sold at fair prices, they wanted to be everything to everyone. You had loads of Macs along with a low-end variation, the Performa, that were offered in so many near-identical configurations even Apple’s top marketing executives found it difficult to separate one from the other.

    In addition to keeping the prices unduly high compared to similarly-outiftted Windows hardware, Apple seemed to want to make the internal workings as hostile as possible for basic upgrades. This may not matter so much on a basic consumer model, but when the high-priced professional Macs required actual removal of internal cabling and logic boards to add a few memory sticks, you had to wonder just what the designers were thinking.

    I remember a meeting involving Apple’s customer beta testers — a group that was exorcised by Steve Jobs no doubt in the interests of reducing the potential for new product leaks — where the audience applauded enthusiastically upon seeing a new Mac minitower that was actually easy to upgrade. Imagine that!

    At the same time, many cheap PC boxes could be opened with a few screws and a slide out case, providing relatively easy access to the interior for the needed upgrades of peripheral cards, hard drives, and, of course RAM.

    All right, there are still Macs where simple memory upgrades have been traditionally difficult, although the latest, higher-priced Mac mini has remedied that deficiency.

    But the real problem with the Apple skeptics is that, whenever the company attempts to enter a new market, they are denigrated as incompetent to pursue that strategy. I mean, who’d want to spend $399 for a digital music player back in 2001? What’s this iPod all about, and how did Apple intend to expand it beyond an expensive curiosity?

    Of course, you just know Apple was planning an iTunes Store to buy legal digital music, and the ultimate expansion to the Windows market. Apple’s vision included not just for the next quarter, but the next year, the year beyond that, and so on and so forth.

    So the iPod became a sensation, and every single alleged iPod killer touted by the media as evidence that Apple had run out of steam failed. Microsoft even had to emulate Apple’s walled garden with the Zune and double-cross their partners to try to compete. They failed.

    You hear the same arguments with the iPhone. The walled garden is bad, open is good. More Android OS-flavored gear is being sold in the U.S., so therefore the Mac versus PC wars of the 1990s are being replayed, so expect the same outcome. Of course, they fail to realize that Android is not a consistent platform, with a predictable user interface, or even the ability to upgrade your gear to the latest and greatest software. You are left at the mercy of those greedy wireless carriers who may even offer an alternate app repository rather than the loose-knit file library maintained by Google.

    My Android may not be your Android, so it’s hard to really consider it a consistent OS that’s destined to supplant the iOS and the iPhone. Besides, in the last quarter, Apple reported an iPhone sales increase of 91% over the previous year, so it’s not as if they are destined to fail. Even if more Android OS devices are sold, it won’t hurt.

    I won’t even get into the iPad. This is the hot ticket for the holiday season, and the also-rans are few and, so far at least, particularly unimpressive. Oh well, the critics say, just wait till next year. Or the year after that.



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