Tuesday, December 17, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Tim Cook’s Apple

Walt Mossberg (via John Gruber):

How do you replace a legend like Steve Jobs and, at the same time, adapt to the slow decline of your most important, most iconic product? Those were the twin challenges Apple faced in the 2010s. Under CEO Tim Cook, the company has found some answers and flourished financially, but it hasn’t been without a few wrong turns and big changes to the very nature of its business.

[…]

But Cook does bear the responsibility for a series of actions that screwed up the Macintosh for years. The beloved mainstream MacBook Air was ignored for five years. At the other end of the scale, the Mac Pro, the mainstay of professional audio, graphics, and video producers, was first neglected then reissued in 2013 in a way that put form so far ahead of function that it enraged its customer base.

I think these, and even the notebook keyboard fiasco, are smaller issues than this decade’s decline in software quality. Even in the best scenario, it would take years to dig out, and so far Apple does not seem to be on that path. Cook is also responsible for the services strategy, still in the early stages, which is infecting the software design by making it AAPL-first rather than customer-first.

Apple remains what it has been for many years: the single most important consumer tech hardware company, a major force not only in its industry but in society at large. […] But it’s still unclear if it can be anybody’s favorite music provider, TV network, or news service. Or if it can launch another blockbuster device.

By that he means a new iPhone-scale device, which is an unrealistic expectation. Apple Watch and AirPods are certainly blockbusters.

Previously:

13 Comments

I would probably not blame Tim Cook for the decline in software quality.

I would instead attribute this to iOS, the App Store, the success of iOS and the App Store, and let's not forget Swift.

None of them is directly or willingly responsible of the decline but each in its own way contributed to the decline.

@stephane The buck stops at the top. Cook is responsible for setting the organizational priorities and for choosing the people to implement them. If he gets credit for Apple Watch, he also gets the blame for taking focus and engineering resources away from Mac and iOS to make Watch happen. He gets credit for shipping new phones and OS versions like clockwork, but also the blame for the havoc that schedule has wreaked.

In my view, the biggest sea change in Apple's dev culture since Steve Jobs passed was when Cook fired Forstall and handed software over to Federighi and Ive. The ongoing state of software quality seems to follow on directly from that decision.

@ vintner 100% agree. I would also argue some of the things has been very slow with Apple.

Apple Pay, 5 years since introduction, slow roll out across the world.
Apple Pay transit, At least they are catching up now, but still fairly slow.
Apple Cash, they should have knew from day 1 this would not work in many region.
Apple Store, little to no expansion in the past 5 years under Angela.
Apple TV, I thought it was obvious they had no idea how to go about it. And as far as I can tell, TV Content aren't really a worldwide thing. i.e You need different content for different region.

And there are many things like Swift, I am not sure where it is heading. And I am increasingly thinking Swift is a solution looking for problems.

Basically a lot of these would have been forgiven when Apple was 1/10 of its size and lacking resources, but now Apple has too much money they decide to do buy back rather than investing into futures like Apple Store and better customer value. And some of the design decisions and software long terms decision increasingly look very questionable.

I believe that Apple's leadership made a significant miscalculation in the early 2010s. Their actions - in letting both Mac hardware and software languish for years - suggests that they believed that the traditional computer was on its way out. As we enter 2020, this has not proven true. Yes, people upgrade their computers less often, but they still do so eventually because many tasks are still best suited to and perhaps only possible on a traditional computer.

Back in 2010 I was hoping that they would attempt to turn the flood of new iOS users into Mac users, by investing in it more and creating further advantages between it and Windows/PCs. Instead, they doubled down on iOS and only aggressively pursued new markets (tablets, watches, smart speakers) instead of recognizing the Mac as a treasure very far from obtaining its maximum potential market share. These last ten years have in many ways been a disappointing decade for the Mac and macOS, which has allowed competitors to catch up and in some areas even surpass them in terms of polish.

Let's hope they don't spend the next ten years making the same mistakes.

Blaming the neglect of the Mac platform on a post-Steve Jobs Tim Cook seems far fetched. IMNVHO, if Steve was still with us, the Mac would be entirely gone by now. Steve was always looking forward, and as far as I could see was fully sold on the iPad being the future.

It is Tim Cook, the realist, that kept the Mac on life support as a big revenue stream, and now is perhaps trying to revive it with a recognition that maybe the future is not the iPad (and maybe the future would have been more the iPad under Steve, who knows).

But lack of customer focus, lack of focus on quality, and a focus on customer antagonistic services revenue is all basically leading Apple towards its eventual demise - not necessarily as a massive tech company, but certainly as the company many of us knew and loved.

>By that he means a new iPhone-scale device, which is an unrealistic expectation.

Yeah, there aren't a lot of devices where
- You can sell one to every single person on the planet
- People put a high value on it because they use it multiple hours every day (and because it's still a status symbol)
- the actual sale often gets subsidized by a third-party company, so people buy a new one regularly.

I think AR glasses are going to be like this, but not for another ten years.

But there *are* new products Apple could introduce that would be at least as successful as the Apple watch has been.

>It is Tim Cook, the realist, that kept the Mac on life support

He should have done more than just keep it on life support. Apple committed neither to making the iPad a true alternative to the Mac, nor to keeping the Mac relevant. In my opinion, either bet could have won, but you have to make a bet to win.

>and now is perhaps trying to revive it with a recognition that maybe the future is not the iPad

But isn't that also Cook's fault? The iPad could have been a PC replacement for a lot more people than it currently is, had Apple put more effort into making it that.

It's hilarious to me that, almost a decade after the iPad was released, people still write "You can do actual work on an iPad, stop saying that nobody is doing actual work on an iPad!" articles. There were no "you can do real work on a Quadra" articles in 1994, because there was no question about whether you could do work on a Mac.

How is it possible that, a decade into the life of this platform, people still have to defend their ability to use it for work? It's the plainest sign of failure on Apple's part.

Cook has clearly done well for Apple, and I'm not sure anyone could have done better. That doesn't mean all of his decisions were the right ones, or that I personally like them. He has done well for Apple, but not for me as an Apple customer. I haven't bought an Apple product in years now.

I've got to agree with Mossberg, Gruber and Tsai. I agree with M.A. too. There's an apparent difficulty at Apple of understanding the relative importance of macOS and Macs for cognitive productivity. And as others have pointed out elsewhere, sticking to a one year release schedule, which worked well for a while, is introducing quality problems that are at odds with what brought so many of us to macOS: the engineering.

Sören Nils Kuklau

>It's hilarious to me that, almost a decade after the iPad was released, people still write "You can do actual work on an iPad, stop saying that nobody is doing actual work on an iPad!" articles. There were no "you can do real work on a Quadra" articles in 1994, because there was no question about whether you could do work on a Mac.
>
>How is it possible that, a decade into the life of this platform, people still have to defend their ability to use it for work? It's the plainest sign of failure on Apple's part.

It is pretty weird. The iPad is at the System 7.1 stage of the Mac, and it doesn't really quite feel like that.

But for this analogy to work, Apple would've had to go all-in. For the iPad to be to the Mac as the Mac was to the Apple II,

* the iPad would need to be indisputably more powerful in sheer CPU perf. That's clearly not so. It might be that Apple's A* CPUs, with higher power budgets, would destroy Intel's parts, but right now, such hypothetical CPUs don't exist, so they don't.
* the iPad would need to exist in higher-end configs. Maybe a 20-inch iPad. Maybe something like the Surface Studio. Or the 84-inch Surface Hub, even. Huge eazels.
* the iPad would probably(?) need to support more tinkering than iOS has ever done.
* but really, most importantly, the Mac would need to be on its way out.

The last new Apple II model was released in 1986 or less than three years after the first Mac. In equivalent terms, that's long before we even had an iPad Pro.

At that point — the late 1980s — the Mac was _the_ Apple computer. It's not just that desktop publishing wouldn't have been fun on an Apple II; it's also that the hardware specs just wheren't there. It isn't that simple with the iPad. Specs-wise, _both_ the Mac and the iPad can competently fulfill many tasks now.

And if there's one thing the Mac Pro signals (other than money money money), it's that Apple continues to want to evolve the Mac.

That does leave us in the position where we're neither 100% happy with the direction the Mac is taking, nor that the iPad is taking.

Looking across to the competition, I don't think it's as simple as "Tim Cook is incompetent". Microsoft bet big on tablet UI in Windows 8 and fell on its nose, too.

Yes, the decline in software quality is the biggest issue with Tim's Apple. And it includes just pure quality with proliferation of bugs and unfinished, poorly tested and unupdated programs. But UI design and UX in general just as problematic. And now, as Apple shifts to services we can see and feel the same low customer focus there too.

Jon Ive should never had a hand on software UI style. For example, why is it Ok to have color icons for Apps in the dock and Finder display of ~/Apps/ but not in Finder list, icon views. But not the Finder sidebar.

Another — my aged eyes (have looked computer screens going back to Apple ][+ days) have problems with the faint gray font. Am thankful for Ctrl-swipe up gesture on Magic touch pad.

Apple should go back to days where new macOS releases did not ship till ready. 10.15 is worst for me so far.

@vintner
I am man enough to admit I am wrong, I thought dumping Forstall was just fine given how ugly I found iOS and Mac OS (10.7?) during his watch, but I will take ugly over nonfunctional design and buggy software.

Stay up-to-date by subscribing to the Comments RSS Feed for this post.

Leave a Comment