Some Media Pundits Still Don’t Understand Why Apple is Successful

April 20th, 2011

So I was reading an article this week from a columnist for a publication that I won’t mention, simply because of the belated nature of the comments. It’s not that the writer was wrong; in fact the conclusions where, as far as I’m concerned, essentially right on. However, I’m more curious as why such an obvious fact, one mentioned by lots of people over the years, suddenly came to that writer as some sort of revelation.

But I’m more interested in the problems confronting Apple’s competitors, few of whom seem to understand that it’s the software, stupid! Instead, they are busy selling their wares in the same fashion as an auto maker might sell a fast car, by specs alone. While I grant that having a car with a faster zero to 60 mile per hour score might give you some bragging rights, at least in theory, I hardly see where minor performance differences are so important in a mobile computing device.

Consider: One smartphone displays a Web site in four seconds, while another does the same task in 3.5 seconds. So? Is that going to impact your user experience? Would you even notice? What will your friends think when you boast that your smartphone can display a site a half second faster than theirs? Well, aside from suggesting that maybe you forgot to take your meds, I expect they’ll humor you for a moment, then change the subject.

As many of us have said over and over again — and the concept was expressed by Apple too, according to the quotes published in the article in question — if you turn off an iPhone or an iPad, you have a blank slate. It follows then that it doesn’t matter if the consumer electronics company down the street has a gadget with a slightly larger display, a little more memory, and perhaps a processor with a higher speed rating. What really matters is the user experience when you try to run the apps you need to run — and even if the apps you want are available.

Don’t forget that your brand new iPhone or iPad comes with minimal documentation. The tiny pamphlet you find in the thin box is barely readable without reading glasses. But it’s hardly necessary since, for many of you, “you already know how to use it.”

What Apple is offering, in addition to ease of use, is an elegant ecosystem that delivers a convenient way to download and install apps, sync content with your Mac or PC, and get updates for both the OS and your software collection. While this environment seems sensible, utterly logical, it is unfortunate that so many competitors fail at one or more of these fundamentals.

With the Android OS, you can’t be assured that you’ll be allowed to update to the latest and greatest version, even if there’s a critical security fix involved. That decision is not Google’s to make, but the province of the manufacturer or wireless carrier. If they decide to do it, fine. If not, you’re out of luck, unless you hack your device to accept an upgrade direct from Google, assuming the file is even available.

When it comes to apps, Apple has the rest of the crowd beat by a country mile. The second largest marketplace, from Google, is swollen with useless titles, such as ringtones, wallpapers, and other junk that would likely be rejected by Apple. Developers report fewer opportunities to make a living from Google’s marketplace, which is why so many flock to the App Store despite having to deal with a curator that may use arbitrary standards to accept or reject product.

The issues the media rants about, such as Apple’s “walled garden,” don’t mean much to regular people, who just want a device that works and provides a great user experience. Those who care will just jailbreak their iPhones, and deal with an instructed and not very safe open market.

When competing companies consider an Apple gadget, they’ll look at the specs, find features that aren’t there, or not fully implemented, and answer those shortcomings. They pay little heed to the operating system and app selection, and will often just plug in the Android OS with a few of their own theme-related “bright ideas,” or perhaps license Windows Phone 7. But, as I said, having performance ratings or hardware specs that look good on paper doesn’t necessarily mean anything if the OS is buggy, the apps don’t operate reliably, or the selection is poor.

Another huge mistake Apple’s competitors are making is rushing products to market before they’re ready, hoping, against hope, that they will somehow attract customers who won’t notice the shortcomings. The latest offender is the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, a new tablet with snappy performance, and a great screen, but laden with software bugs, and restricted by a foolish decision on the part of the manufacturer to exclude such core functions as email and contact lists. Instead, RIM expects you to bridge your PlayBook with a BlackBerry to gain those features, or just use Webmail.

Even worse, it appears that PlayBook to BlackBerry bridging is, at least so far, reportedly being blocked by AT&T, according to Jim Dalrymple of The Loop. So there you go.

If all this sounds foolish to you, you can probably understand why the co-CEOs of RIM have been unable to clearly express a viable product strategy. They want you to think that being forced to buy a second mobile computer to use email on a PlayBook is a good thing, rather than an exercise in total stupidity.

But all of this should be obvious to most of you, even if it comes as some sort of revelation to one or more tech commentators who act as if they actually have something new to say.

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6 Responses to “Some Media Pundits Still Don’t Understand Why Apple is Successful”

  1. Jon T says:

    I think other manufacturers, and Google, DO pay attention to the software. It’s just that it is impossible for them to do it half as well as Apple. Simply copying iOS doesn’t work, and In many cases they are really, really crap at it. And I would include Google in that category. The guys at WebOS, less so. But let’s see what they come up with after this endless long silence.

  2. Mel says:

    I agree with you but its more than just the software.

    The Apple team strive to make an emotional connection with people. This connection is evident in all areas of their business from advertising, at retail stores, purchasing, packaging, industrial and software design etc. This is what creates the Apple brand. This is much much more than simple marketing, I think it is the embedded in the ethos and philosophy of the company.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    What always amuses me is how similar the iPhone is to where Palm was moving with its Palm Treo and LifeDrive. The old Palm, starting with the Palm Pilot was app based, and given the awful state of the developer tools, there were a lot of neat apps out there. They even had an app store. (Even the iPhone’s four fixed buttons plus scrolling the app list idea was lifted from Palm.) Palm had tried to build a media machine with music and movies and a large touch screen with their LifeDrive, but they were premature. SSD memory wasn’t available, so they had to include a hard drive, and very few were sold. Palm did produce a phone, but again, they were premature and didn’t have the power to get proper data plans from any cell phone provider. Apple just started where Palm left off. They negotiated better deals for the phone, kept the apps and user interface and used SSDs to store movies and music. I’m not saying anyone but Apple could do it. The iPhone has been a real tour de force.

  4. DaveD says:

    I believe that Steve Jobs got the lesson learned on personal computers after being bounced out of Apple. The failure of NeXT computers or any computers going against the Wintel monopoly were being played out. The pricier NeXT machine had a superior OS and cutting-edge hardware.

    Tim Berners-Lee crafted the beginnings of the World Wide Web on his NeXT computer. The Internet was to be the next big thing. After Steve Jobs came back to Apple came the rise of the iMacs and iBooks along with a lot more “i” products. The “iBucks” continue to roll in.

  5. Lazer Wolf says:

    I agree with you here Gene. But I think you are also starting to broach a larger issue. Whether it is the tech media’s punditry or Apple competitor’s, there is no sense of shame. I’m not sure which article you are talking about, but the pattern I see is that a pundit will simply set up a straw man argument about Apple, knock it down and at the end of the article conclude the opposite which is often the obvious. I think these articles are just link bait and the writers shameless about the quality of their work, being more interested in quantity. But maybe this says more about my perception?

    As for Apple’s competitors, in particular RIM, the product they are putting out is half-baked at best. They are playing catch-up and they know it. If they weren’t, the Playbook would have been out last year or two years ago. I have watched a few of the videos of RIM’s Co-Ceo’s and went in with an open mind, trying to determine what their vision was for the Playbook. I am no tech expert, but after watching, you feel like maybe you missed something because of the nonsensical answers that were giving. Again, a lack of shame, or maybe desperation, for what they are trying to do by putting out such an incomplete product. This is also true of other vendors who talk about this additional feature or that faster feature. They know what they are doing is mostly nonsense, but again no shame.

    Finally, the lack of soul. I think this is most easily observed with Google. Their Android kits are ok, but they typically lack polish, and polish is what sets Apple apart. It’s not just hardware specs or open software it’s the whole package. For me, the difference between Android and iOS or Google and Apple’s approach can be traced back to when Andy Rubin introduced Android. Mr. Rubin’s speech comes off as a slick, robotic rip-off of Steve Jobs’ keynote in 1983 or 198. Mr. Rubin says his words, listing his bullet points off one after the other, but in the end it doesn’t really seem like he really believes them nor does it really add up to a very compelling case (against Apple). Maybe Mr. Jobs is just a better actor, who knows, but his actions over the years are consistent with his view of technology and relentless attention to details. Whereas Android’s main difference and purported strength- being open and free- seems to be withering and blowing in the wind. It is not free to use and whether it’s truly open, well, I’ll let others debate that.

    Thanks Gene.

  6. Joseph Futral says:

    A lot of people don’t get Apple. Just look at the comparison of professional Apple stock analysts and “amateur” bloggers. People just don’t understand when someone does things differently.


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