So is Apple in Disarray?

September 5th, 2014

The lurid headlines couldn’t be more explicit: Apple is in deep trouble, total disarray, just a week ahead of what might be their biggest new product launch in years. So what went wrong? Was it really about a problem that put Apple in a bad place?

First, there was that report of an iCloud fix that blocked so-called “brute force” attacks. These are repeated attempted logins with different sign-on information until a connection is made. Most services allow you to login unsuccessfully a few times before locking you out. Evidently Apple failed to add this important level of protection for the Find My iPhone feature, which allows you to wipe your device if someone steals it, or at least locate its whereabouts if you lose it.

Now some suggest brute force attacks may have been used to grab the login information from some celebrities, which allowed the hackers to retrieve their explicit photos from their iPhones or iCloud accounts. But whether brute force attacks or not, most people make it real easy to break in to their accounts. Aside from using common usernames or known email addresses, passwords may be simple, perhaps someone’s birthdate, the name of a child or a pet, or where they were born. Even the secret question to recover a password may require a response anyone can provide, particularly if the account is owned by a celebrity whose life story is well known.

Although entertainers by and large favor Apple gear, celebrities do use Android or Windows smartphones, so it’s not as if usernames and passwords can’t be hacked there as well, but why not make it all about Apple? Apple is, after all, hit bait.

Regardless, Apple announced that an investigation indicated that episode wasn’t caused by a security issue with iCloud.

But these episodes occurred during the same week that portions of the iTunes service were down for nearly six hours. It’s not the first time it happened, but the timing wasn’t favorable.

All of this combined with news of updated smartphones and smartwatches from Samsung, so Apple’s stock price took a big dive, which continued through the Friday trading day. But the stock price isn’t going to change the announcements expected from Apple, though I suppose someone might mention the hacked celebrity accounts.

In fact, Apple wasn’t alone in encountering an outage this week. A brief system shutdown was reported at Face-book and other services. In fact, Face-book has had several outages so far this year, and you can find similar problems with Google, Amazon and other services. Outages are par for the course. People seem to forget that the cloud is just a network of shared computers, and failures in the hardware, the software, or on the network can bring a service down.

You could, I suppose, collect all the outages so far this year and see where Apple stands in relation to other large tech companies with a high dependence on the cloud. Indeed a day-long outage in June impacted Microsoft’s Outlook system, thus impacting businesses all over the world. In passing, this was probably the most significant failure of a cloud system so far this year. It’s not so significant if Apple’s customers can’t buy a new app, rent a movie, or download some music for a few hours.

But as you see, when Apple has a problem, it becomes far more significant. Even if the failure is fairly routine doesn’t change anything. Apple is in a big mess and needs to get things in order.

Now it does turn out that the media was not very impressed with the latest Samsung announcements. Take the Galaxy Note Edge, a 5.6-inch phablet with an AMOLED wraparound display. This means that the image extends to the sides of the unit, which is a choice that’s beyond absurd. It serves little purpose other than needless decoration, and also reduces the amount of usable space for viewing content.

Of course, failing to consider user needs in favor of needless fluff is nothing new for Samsung. Consider all that extra junk on the Galaxy S4, which included the Tilt to Scroll feature that seldom worked, or the Galaxy S5, with a barely-functional fingerprint sensor.

In the end, Samsung, in the face of flat sales and profits, appears to have made choices that smack of desperation in order to gain a leg up on Apple. Call me dense, but I fail to see the value of these features other than having something to promote that you can’t find on an Apple product.

Indeed, the only genuine advantage of a Galaxy smartphone these days is the larger display, assuming the one on the iPhone 5s isn’t big enough for you. That perceived advantage is expected to vanish on Tuesday, September 9th, when the iPhone 6 is introduced with two predicted sizes. The 4.7-inch version is expected to be the mainstream model, while the 5.5-inch model, which may be in short supply at the beginning, will cater more to people in Asia and other countries that have embraced such all-in-one mobile gear.

Is Apple in disarray? Not by a long shot. But iCloud needs to be made more reliable, and, in an interview with Tim Cook published this week, he has already promised that Apple will do better to warn you about changes made to your iCloud account and extend two-factor authentication. This is certainly an effort to get in front of the message and clear next week for the new product launch.

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One Response to “So is Apple in Disarray?”

  1. dfs says:

    Apple in disarray? Well, any orgnization is going to have what the German General Staff used to call “friction”. You know what I mean – while the lads are marching through France you have to accept the fact that a certain percentage of their boot soles are going to wear out and so forth, and allow for screwups like that in your planning. The kind of stuff discussed in this article all belong to the “friction” category.

    The more interesting question, the one that ought to concern investors, is whether Apple is in genuine disarray at a deeper level, in terms of its sense of direction and its continuing flow of new products and new ideas. In other words, is the management team doing a good job? The answer here is that we have no idea. I bet that all of the stuff coming out now, and probably for the next year or two as well, were already in the pipeline before Steve died. With the possible exception of the decision to go ahead with the iWatch, there’s no indication that planning in which Steve had a hand has been subject to any modification (although timelines have probably been changed because of the ability of Intel and other suppliers to deliver parts on time, or not — but we should file that kind of stuff under “friction” too). The interesting question will be whether Apple starts to show any signs of disarray when this transition period is over.

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