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More Apple is Declining Nonsense

So let’s see here: Apple reports record sales and profits for the September quarter. The numbers came real close to financial analyst estimates. But Apple’s stock price took a dive because iPad sales didn’t quite match up to expectations, to the tune of one to two million units.

The basis for those estimates? Well, a guess is a guess, and if a guess is wrong, whom do you blame? Well Wall Street clearly blamed the company, not the guessers. But that’s nothing new.

Now in the wake of Apple’s recent corporate changes, there are suggestions from scattered parts of the media that Apple is in deep trouble. Maybe Tim Cook was flailing about for a solution to software issues, and the perceived dated interface of iOS and OS X. Perhaps he was unwilling to accept dissension in his ranks, an honest discussion and pros and cons. Or maybe he’s hoping the new leadership will collectively deliver a compelling vision for Apple’s future.

While I don’t pretend to know any of these answers, there have been some questions about the selection of design guru Jonathan Ive to handle Human Interface. This is said to be the key to making iOS and OS X simple and elegant. Well, maybe there were a few too many flourishes when outgoing iOS chief Scott Forstall had his way, though it has also been reported that Steve Jobs approved the skeuomorphic excesses that have polarized Apple fans, not to mention critics who feel that you don’t need the appearance of stitched leather to embellish the edges of the Calendar app.

Few would dare deny Ive’s huge talent. But he’s been a hardware person all these years, designing iMacs, MacBooks, iPods, iPhones, iPads, and so forth and so on. How is he qualified to manage software too? What gives him the right?

Of course, Steve Jobs wasn’t an engineer or a product designer. His ideas were brilliant, but he still needed skilled professionals to carry out his wishes, but he was also capable of selecting the right people for the right jobs, and he was also tolerant of excessive behavior from some members of his team.

But where are these concerns coming from. Why are people becoming skeptical of Apple’s future prospects? Why are we reading articles claiming that Apple has passed its peak, and it’s all downhill from here?

Well, one key factor is the bad publicity that arose out of the so-called Mapgate issue, which I’m sure most of you have heard about, perhaps a little too often. Did Apple make a huge error deciding to drop Google and build their own mapping service? How does Apple have the temerity to believe they can rush together a replacement for Google Maps within months, or perhaps a year or two?

Certainly, Scott Forstall’s presentation of Maps during the last WWDC raised expectations real high. All the stuff that Google hadn’t brought to the iOS would be there, such as turn-by-turn navigation. You want to go somewhere, Siri would tell you how. Simple as that.

Well, when iOS 6 and the iPhone 5 arrived, we all learned that mapping isn’t so simple. There were serious bugs and maybe Apple should have cooked Maps a little longer before letting it out in the wild. I suppose it could have been released in a future iOS 6 maintenance update, when Apple’s team was satisfied it was ready for prime time.

Unlike typical software bugs, it was all too easy to demonstrate the problems. Just post a screen shot depicting a landmark in the wrong state or the wrong country, or a melting bridge. It became a joke, and Apple is a real serious company.

Before long, CEO Tim Cook issued that public apology, and the story goes that Forstall’s alleged refusal to sign that statement helped push him out. Maybe it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or perhaps it his departure was already in the works.

Regardless, it may have been better for Apple to follow the same routine used with Siri and call it, rightly, a public beta. Invite iOS users to report problems, and help make Maps the greatest mapping service on the planet. Sounds good to me.

But just because Apple blew the marketing of Maps, or got it out a little prematurely, doesn’t mean the company has lots its edge. A mistake of this sort doesn’t have to be fatal, and Apple did take control of the problem soon enough to slow the bad publicity train to a crawl. Even Consumer Reports, no friend of Apple, didn’t make a big deal about the problems.

Don’t forget Antennagate, and how Apple had to deal with the fallout of perceived defects with the iPhone 4 and its new-fangled antenna system. Only it was a matter of perception rather than reality. It also happened while Steve Jobs was at the helm, so it’s not Tim Cook’s failure. Screwing up the PR message is nothing new. When first apprised of the problem, Jobs told an iPhone 4 user to just hold it differently. Maybe he was up real late that night, and didn’t have the patience to be cordial.

Now there may be one significant issue looming, which is the fact that the iPhone 5 remains seriously backordered as the holiday season approaches. That could hurt sales this quarter if reported production problems aren’t quickly overcome.

I suppose if you want to believe Apple has become too large to be efficient or creative, or is facing a long-term decline, feel free. That doesn’t make it true. Besides, consider how many times Apple has been declared dead and buried over the years. Sure they came close once, but that was a long time ago, and there’s little evidence to indicate they’re in trouble now, even if some alleged industry analysts want to believe otherwise.