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Can Apple Be Trusted?

I heard it said once that the best salesperson is the one that believes in the product that’s being marketed heart and soul. It’s also been said that Steve Jobs can immerse himself in a “reality distortion field” in which those in his presence will believe everything he says is the truth and nothing but truth.

So do those two statements coincide? Is it true that Jobs is a masterful salesman who believes every product Apple builds is the best of its kind on the planet? Or is it all just a scam, a pose that Jobs adopts to fool you and I into buying more and more Apple products, not realizing they are no better than anything else out there, and may sometimes even be worse?

Personally, I’ve been buying Apple hardware since the 1980s, so I suppose that would make me one of the victims of this monumental fraud — except for the fact that Jobs wasn’t there for half that period. Besides, I am reasonably convinced that he really and truly believes this stuff. Or, as some might suggest, he eats his own dog food.

So when he told you, several years ago, that the Cube was one fabulous computer, he was fully convinced of that fact, even though it was a severely flawed product. Indeed, when he told a journalist, during a special session at the Apple campus, that he didn’t know what he was talking about when he asked if the Cube would soon be discontinued, I was present and watched Jobs carefully. Even though Apple didn’t wait very long thereafter to abandon the Cube, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jobs fought that inevitable decision until the last minute, and didn’t relent until he examined the sales figures carefully and had to accept reality. Reminiscent of the NeXT Cube, it was likely a pet project that he hoped would gain traction — and maybe it would have had it been much cheaper out of the starting gate.

Although Jobs keeps his personal life close to the vest, he’s certainly said enough in interviews to get a reasonable understanding of his personality with all its quirks, and his approach to running Apple. There was, for example, that interview in which he said in an extremely blunt fashion that employees who didn’t share his vision wouldn’t be working there much longer. Indeed, it’s easy to call Apple’s staff the Stepford Employees, but what he says makes an awful lot of sense if you look at the company’s history.

Years ago, it was common for Apple’s executives to work in competition with each other and push their own pet projects. That was during Apple’s decline, and it’s clear that the company has benefited by having its people walk lock-step in the very same direction.

Consider, for example, that Apple has a fraction of the development team as Microsoft, yet can consistently deliver more products that are superior in most every respect. Even better, with very few exceptions, Apple delivers those products on time and sometimes even ahead of schedule.

All right, I realize some of you will bring up Leopard’s delay, but that’s not the point. The key here is that Apple has a vision, one infused into every single thing they produce. From the ease of use to the extraordinary integration from one product to the next, it almost seems as if one pair of eyes watched every last one of them from conception to production. And between Steve Jobs and head designer Jonathan Ive, you might make that two sets of eyes.

Compare that to Windows Vista, which gives every evidence of being designed by committee, lacking a unified vision. In fact, you almost think, when navigating the byzantine array of control panels, that some of the developers were working at cross-purposes to each other.

This doesn’t mean that Windows is necessarily bad. Despite all its flaws, it does function well enough for people to get their work done. But it still comes across as an 80% product in a world where you can get something that’s closer to 95% when you choose the Mac OS instead.

Indeed, you can get a significant insight into what Jobs and his crew are thinking from the brief question and answer session at the end of their presentation at the corporate campus this week to introduce the iMac and all the rest. Jobs emphasized, “There is some stuff in our industry we wouldn’t be proud to ship. We can’t ship junk. We want to make the best personal computers in the industry.”

There are some who will disagree with that statement. But I think few will disagree that they Apple does indeed try harder.