From time to time, Steve Jobs has said that certain product features were added because of lots of customer requests. Notice he never mentions the press as being the source of such changes, but wouldn’t that still make sense?
Wouldn’t you think that long-time journalists who have covered the technology industry for years ought to have some semblance of an understanding of what features might be salable and significant and what features simply won’t work in the real world?
Maybe, maybe not. I’m kind of leaning towards the latter, and I don’t regard myself as an example of the typical Mac user, for example, that Apple ought to listen to. Having been exposed to all this gear for so many years, I’m probably more of an elitist — make that a financially-poor elitist — and my tastes don’t necessarily reflect the mass market.
So let’s look over the years, particularly during the time when Apple was an allegedly beleaguered company, and what the pundits were telling the company to do. And, worse, when Apple actually listened to them once upon a time.
After years and years of enduring demands from the likes of Bill Gates and the press, Apple relented and decided to license the Mac OS and hardware reference designs. Existing companies such as DayStar, Motorola, Radius and Umax got onboard, as did a startup, Power Computing.
Now Apple had hopes and dreams that these companies would greatly expand the relatively narrow Mac OS market. Instead, they went for the jugular and competed directly against Apple to capture a large segment of business from graphic artists and other content creators that kept the company afloat.
You can imagine what happened then. You see, tinier companies such as Power Computing, which used cheap PC parts with an Apple-designed logic board, were able to cobble together new models faster than Apple and at a lower price. The end result is that lots of Mac users — and I put myself in that category — ended up buying the Power Computing product instead of an Apple.
Clearly there was something wrong with this turn of events, and no doubt the contract was to be faulted for allowing such invasive marketing behavior. Steve Jobs put a stop to it when he took control of Apple, and you can see why he’d be loathe to try it again.
Some pundits suggest Apple should just license certain hardware configurations to other PC makers that would target markets they don’t reach, but this would cause a litany of problems, such as quality control and the possibility that, even then, the third-party boxes would somehow cannibalize the mother ship’s sales in many respects.
Did I mention quality control?
You see, Apple has succeeded in the 21st century to a large extent because they control the entire widget from design to execution and sales. More and more of their products are bought direct from the company, no middleman, no retailer other than Apple’s own. They say Steve Jobs is a control freak, and no doubt he is, but in this case that is a good thing.
It’s also a good thing that Apple has ignored the press about licensing Mac designs or the Mac OS, because either or both threaten to kill the company. Just use elementary school math and you’ll see what I mean, and, yes, they also teach math in college these days, even to budding journalists.
The critics, who imagine the iPhone is a failure, and the iPod will soon be supplanted by the Zune and millions of commodity music players, have also demanded Apple open up iTunes to third-party gear, such as those that support the various Microsoft protocols.
You see, nobody stops you from adding content on your iPod that you didn’t get from Apple. All the companies that deliver DRM-free content, such as Amazon, provide files you can import into iTunes and sync with your iPod or iPhone. Apple doesn’t have to do anything. Besides, they make most of the profit from the hardware. The store is largely an accommodation to deliver and manage content in as seamless a fashion as possible, but the largest share of the income goes direct to the movie and music companies.
In the end, though, even if Apple won’t listen to me and won’t listen to the press, they will listen to the regular people who pay good money for their products. So none of this should stop you from writing to Steve Jobs or filling out Feedback forms and making your views known. If enough of you demand a product or a feature, don’t be surprised if Apple listens.