Free men are not equal, equal men are not free.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

When You've Lost Daring Fireball...

John Gruber's site is one I have a love-hate relationship with. The man "gets" why Apple has worked - whether you like Apple kit or not - and what made apple successful as a business up to this time. He also created the very useful markdown tagging/formatting system for plain text. If he could lay off the non-computer political posts where he proves that the very principles he applies to explaining Apple's success he cannot generalize to the rest of the world...

But I digress.

He has, with some justice, been accused of being a total, unquestioning, Apple fanboy. I'd argue the unquestioning. So it comes as a surprise, not that there's something to be said about Apple missing the boat, but that John Gruber fundamentally agrees with an article eviscerating Apple and their performance the last few years. Two points he highlights as explicitly relevant, and doesn't note a point of disagreement.

Chuq Von Raspach notes multiple slipping ship dates, lack of product updates, sloppiness, and tying it all together as Apple being out of touch with their users. First, the Airport:
Apple has products it’s let languish without any significant update for long periods of time. If you look at how Apple’s treated their Airport line, you’d think WIFI was a mature technology where nothing was really changing. In fact, a lot is happening including a big shift to mesh networks, and Apple has seemingly ignored all of that. It used to be you bought Airports because they were some of the best WIFI devices out there. Today, the only reason to buy them is you want easy, and because it has the Apple brand. They’re woefully out of date (and in fact, I just replaced mine with a set of EERO devices, which are Apple easy to use, and blow Apple’s products away in terms of performance). Rumors have come out that Apple has cancelled future development of these, but they’re still for sale. Why?
Regarding the Mac Pro:
But here’s the problem: in retrospect, what they built was a device based around their own ego needs of proving their critics wrong, not a device that served the purposes of their power users. It’s not configurable, it’s not upgradeable, it’s not expandable: It’s pretty, and full of (for 2013) innovative hardware design, but is that really what Apple’s power users needed?

I don’t believe so. I think they were much better served by the “cheese grater” Macs of the previous generation, and I think Apple needs to rethink this, and for the high end, go back to more of a developer machine which gives users flexibility to expand it and customize it to their needs. Just like the old Mac IIci, one of the best computers Apple ever built. I propose just this in a piece I wrote about this.
Gruber adds this:
“What the hell happened with the Mac Pro?” is the most interesting question about Apple today. Because something clearly went way wrong with this product. I’m not convinced the basic idea for the design is unsound — the idea is that expansion would come in the form of external peripherals, rather than things you install inside the box. I still think that’s probably the future of “expandable” computing.

If Apple had updated the Mac Pro on a roughly annual basis, we wouldn’t be calling this a disaster. I’m sure there would still be people who would wish that Apple had stuck with the traditional tower form factor, but we wouldn’t all be saying “What the fuck?”
Case after case is laid out. Apple's sloppy or clumsy transitions, bungling the consolidation of iWork, languishing product lines, and so forth. I personally find it particularly interesting given something @XDPaul pointed out on that Chuq specifically addresses the "bean counter" move of sluffing off one's most demanding customers and power users at in the niches and the thin end of the bell curve - something that perfectly fits Tim Cook as operations/logistics focused - and cutting off the very people, a large percentage of whom are developers, who evangelize your product, and create for it.

The article is very thorough and nails a lot of the issues in losing touch with what their users need, but they miss one other aspect. While it's true they don't have someone with the kind of dedication, taste, and insight Jobs had, they also aren't dedicating all of their efforts to the products they create. Actually, given the examples of the Mac mini, the Mac Pro, the Airport, and the only very recently updated laptops, you can argue they're not only slipping on paying attention to the details on what they are developing, but unable to even maintain what they had (which was never a terribly broad product line). I am, of course, referring to their public displays of convergence - taking the time to signal their virtue to make sure they have more women programmers, etc., rather than the best, regardless of how biologically equipped.

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