What Would it Take for Me to Be Bullish on Apple Again?

I had one of those idle moments today when I sat peacefully and mused about my existence. I was thinking about the work I had to do over the next week, and reflecting on my work in general. I’ve been writing about Apple for more than 15 years, and in recent months I’ve found myself looking at this company, which once seemed unique, as though it is just another purveyor of beige boxes.

Naturally, they are no longer beige, nor are they really boxes. They are pocket computers, wrist computers, and more traditional laptop and desktop computers. But they’re not exciting anymore; they’re not edgy. I remember the launch of the first iMac, which shook up the computer market, and its subsequent revisions which refined the product’s raison d’être. I remember the launch of the iPod, in some distant past, which truly did change the way I interact with music. And, of course, I remember the launch of the first iPhone, just over 10 years ago, which, while seriously lacking in features, represented a new paradigm.

But in the past few years, Apple has been gliding along on their success, unable or unwilling to make new products that make me say “aha!” Yes, there was the Apple Watch, that clunky device whose first iteration contained a kitchen sink of software feature. Apple used us as beta testers to determine what we might want in a smartwatch. And they then refined the software, in version 2, and even more in version 3, to meet those needs. (I recently gave up my Apple Watch, because it’s just not worth the hassle.)

And what has Apple shown us lately? Yet another iPhone, thinner and lighter, with a better camera, blah, blah, blah. (Thinner, rather than with better battery life.) And AirPods; Apple’s new Bluetooth earbuds. They are interesting devices, but you’d be hard pressed to be able to buy any, as Apple doesn’t seem to know how to manufacture them.

There was a new laptop, the MacBook Pro the Touch Bar, an excessively expensive, underpowered, non-pro device that is not very compelling. And there is still the Mac Pro. That computer released more than three years ago, not updated, with three-year old technology, selling for the same price as it did back then. Apple should simply be ashamed that they are still selling this computer.

And what about software? I would say Apple’s operating systems are a bit more stable in the past couple of years than they were a while ago, but there are still far too many things that don’t work. iTunes, which, in many ways, is Apple’s flagship app, just gets more and more confusing. (I say it is Apple’s flagship app because it is the gateway to Apple music, at least on the desktop, which is one of the services Apple is working hard to promote for the future.) In my Ask the iTunes Guy column, which I’ve been writing for several years, I see the problems people have in using this app, and how frustrated they are with Apple because of it. If there is one area Apple needs to improve, it is iTunes, and the iOS Music app. (They could hire me to help understand the problems people face; I’m only half kidding…)

This is not entirely Apple’s fault. The entire computing industry has reached a plateau, and it is hard to come up with new devices and new features. But Apple got us used to words like “magical” and “revolutionary,” but when they use those words now to describe a features that blurs the background when you take photos, you simply can’t take them seriously. Yet when Microsoft comes up with an interesting design for a computer (the Surface Studio), we are truly surprised. But this is because Microsoft has never been the guiding light in hardware innovations.

So what would it take for me to see Apple in a positive light? Perhaps the company start by exercising a bit of humility. Stop talking about the “courage” it took to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone. Stop saying, as Tim Cook often does, “we have great products coming up this year,” when there’s not much new stuff, and it’s not really great. (I know, this is all marketing.)

Be honest; explain that these computing devices have become commodified, that we won’t see the radical improvements from iteration to iteration. Yet, at the same time, figure out how to make them work better. Develop new software, new services, because that’s the future of computing.

I like Apple; I like Apple products. I have been using Macs for more than 25 years. Yet recently, I just don’t feel that Apple is a forward-looking company anymore. The “magic” is gone. Maybe that time is over; maybe Apple won’t be able to be as “revolutionary” in the future. Maybe the next iMac will be beige.

20 thoughts on “What Would it Take for Me to Be Bullish on Apple Again?

  1. Agree w everything you write about iTunes, and Cook’s marketing attitude. I use my iPad Air all day long and at night w WIFI. I don’t subscribe to Apple Music, but everything about the iPad Air seems to work beautifully, from audiobooks, Netflix, Prime, web surfing, games, writing, reading. I am completely happy w my iPad Air device and the free OS updates.

    • Yes, and that’s a good example of Apple’s problem. That iPad, not the current model, does everything you need. And you won’t need to upgrade it for a while. But to feed the beast, they’ll have to release new models with questionable features.

      But I agree that the iPad is a solid device; like an old Volvo. It works well (except for some features), and is reliable.

  2. Agree w everything you write about iTunes, and Cook’s marketing attitude. I use my iPad Air all day long and at night w WIFI. I don’t subscribe to Apple Music, but everything about the iPad Air seems to work beautifully, from audiobooks, Netflix, Prime, web surfing, games, writing, reading. I am completely happy w my iPad Air device and the free OS updates.

    • Yes, and that’s a good example of Apple’s problem. That iPad, not the current model, does everything you need. And you won’t need to upgrade it for a while. But to feed the beast, they’ll have to release new models with questionable features.

      But I agree that the iPad is a solid device; like an old Volvo. It works well (except for some features), and is reliable.

  3. Kirk, you are spot on here.
    I too have been a Mac user and evangelist for 25 years – my first Mac was the little LCII. Sadly, I haven’t had that “wow” feeling from an Apple device since my first iPhone (the 4s).
    “Innovations” like the tech packed into the EarPods leave me cold when the silly things simply don’t fit my ears or the Apple Watch which I still can’t find a way to justify purchasing.
    Apple has enormous financial and human resources and yet they seem to struggle to truly innovate beyond making their devices thinner and, at the same time, appear to be falling behind in AI tech.

  4. Kirk, you are spot on here.
    I too have been a Mac user and evangelist for 25 years – my first Mac was the little LCII. Sadly, I haven’t had that “wow” feeling from an Apple device since my first iPhone (the 4s).
    “Innovations” like the tech packed into the EarPods leave me cold when the silly things simply don’t fit my ears or the Apple Watch which I still can’t find a way to justify purchasing.
    Apple has enormous financial and human resources and yet they seem to struggle to truly innovate beyond making their devices thinner and, at the same time, appear to be falling behind in AI tech.

  5. Couldn’t agree more, Kirk. My first Mac was an SE/30 and except for the last year or two, I’ve been an Apple evangelist since that time. I was even bullish on iTunes until they broke the star ratings system, together with my most useful playlists, back in version 12.2 or so. I don’t mind when Apple makes mistakes. What alarms me is that Apple doesn’t show any indication that it knows it’s making mistakes.

  6. Couldn’t agree more, Kirk. My first Mac was an SE/30 and except for the last year or two, I’ve been an Apple evangelist since that time. I was even bullish on iTunes until they broke the star ratings system, together with my most useful playlists, back in version 12.2 or so. I don’t mind when Apple makes mistakes. What alarms me is that Apple doesn’t show any indication that it knows it’s making mistakes.

  7. Maybe, just maybe, there is a downside to having a supply chain expert running a tech company and determining its entire strategic gameplan and future…

    (FWIW, I think your very measured expectations are actually too optimistic. I think this is going to get really, really bad. We’re back in the John Sculley era, where high margins on the core product determine everything, to the detriment of vision in the future, and basic management responsibilities are handled in a highly dysfunctional manner. Despite current financials, I think we’re squarely back on the road to pray.)

  8. Maybe, just maybe, there is a downside to having a supply chain expert running a tech company and determining its entire strategic gameplan and future…

    (FWIW, I think your very measured expectations are actually too optimistic. I think this is going to get really, really bad. We’re back in the John Sculley era, where high margins on the core product determine everything, to the detriment of vision in the future, and basic management responsibilities are handled in a highly dysfunctional manner. Despite current financials, I think we’re squarely back on the road to pray.)

  9. Stop bragging about the environmental responsibility of products that have to be “recycled” rather than being upgraded.

    The embodied energy lost and consumed in replacing even a “highly recyclable” product is always going to be higher than any savings the newer, more efficient product has over the older one.

    A 15 year old pickup truck, will never cause as much environmental damage over its remaining life, as will be caused by the manufacturing and shipping of a new Prius to replace it, by way of example.

    If Apple can’t bring themselves to make products like the pre-2013 Mac Pro, then licence macOS to HP so we can get proper user-servicable, user-upgradable (and cheaper than Apple’s equivalents) pro hardware i.e. Z-Series workstations, that don’t have to go into “Recycling” every time a better GPU comes on the market, and Apple can concentrate on making the courageous monuments to their own greatness, rather than being distracted by tools that get work done.

  10. Stop bragging about the environmental responsibility of products that have to be “recycled” rather than being upgraded.

    The embodied energy lost and consumed in replacing even a “highly recyclable” product is always going to be higher than any savings the newer, more efficient product has over the older one.

    A 15 year old pickup truck, will never cause as much environmental damage over its remaining life, as will be caused by the manufacturing and shipping of a new Prius to replace it, by way of example.

    If Apple can’t bring themselves to make products like the pre-2013 Mac Pro, then licence macOS to HP so we can get proper user-servicable, user-upgradable (and cheaper than Apple’s equivalents) pro hardware i.e. Z-Series workstations, that don’t have to go into “Recycling” every time a better GPU comes on the market, and Apple can concentrate on making the courageous monuments to their own greatness, rather than being distracted by tools that get work done.

  11. Kirk,

    Thanks for this post. I agree 100%. My first Mac was the Mac Classic and have had all Macs at our business and home since then. We have many devices; we have a big investment in these products. That said, I have a sinking feeling about Apple and its future. I need pro machines and they just aren’t there anymore. I went from a packed 2009 Mac Pro tower to last year’s loaded iMac 5K. It’s a good machine, but it’s not what I need.

    Does Apple think that those of us that have been around for a long time in the Apple ecosystem are blind to what they are not doing? Like making a fire-breathing Mac Pro and MacBook Pro? No more Apple displays to buy. The Mac Mini is a joke at this point. No more Airports. Years since the Mac Pro was upgraded. These are very bad signs.

    The iPhone and iPad are all fine and well, but without the ecosystem, where’s the motivation to stay with Apple? Last year, I installed Windows on a Boot Camp partition. I am an avid Xbox gamer. I like earning achievements. I had never used Windows before. A lot of things are very different from the Mac OS, but like the Mac, I figured it out. If Apple can’t produce computers that I want and need, I can make the transition to Windows if I have to. I am not going to like it, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

    Apple is screwing up decades of goodwill and it’s going to bite them in their hindquarters if they don’t get their act together real soon.

  12. Kirk,

    Thanks for this post. I agree 100%. My first Mac was the Mac Classic and have had all Macs at our business and home since then. We have many devices; we have a big investment in these products. That said, I have a sinking feeling about Apple and its future. I need pro machines and they just aren’t there anymore. I went from a packed 2009 Mac Pro tower to last year’s loaded iMac 5K. It’s a good machine, but it’s not what I need.

    Does Apple think that those of us that have been around for a long time in the Apple ecosystem are blind to what they are not doing? Like making a fire-breathing Mac Pro and MacBook Pro? No more Apple displays to buy. The Mac Mini is a joke at this point. No more Airports. Years since the Mac Pro was upgraded. These are very bad signs.

    The iPhone and iPad are all fine and well, but without the ecosystem, where’s the motivation to stay with Apple? Last year, I installed Windows on a Boot Camp partition. I am an avid Xbox gamer. I like earning achievements. I had never used Windows before. A lot of things are very different from the Mac OS, but like the Mac, I figured it out. If Apple can’t produce computers that I want and need, I can make the transition to Windows if I have to. I am not going to like it, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

    Apple is screwing up decades of goodwill and it’s going to bite them in their hindquarters if they don’t get their act together real soon.

  13. “Be honest; explain that these computing devices have become commodified, that we won’t see the radical improvements from iteration to iteration. Yet, at the same time, figure out how to make them work better. Develop new software, new services, because that’s the future of computing.”

    I think this is an interesting point. In one regard stating the obvious doesn’t really serve a company. I mean, how do you get a customer base excited, or even just interested, in buying your products if the only thing you can say is “This doesn’t suck as bad as the previous model. Oh, and it costs more.”

    At the same time I always had the sense that Jobs understood and even discussed the contemporary technological condition of the industry when introducing a new Mac or even iPod.

    I don’t mean to get into a “WWSJD” mentality here. but I do think this is a a major difference with the current Apple leadership vs the old. I feel like they are spending as much time in their product announcements convincing themselves as everyone else. If they have a vision and conviction, they are less able to articulate it as convincingly as Jobs did.

    This is not to say that marketing is the only thing Apple does well. But if marketing is also about communicating an understanding of one’s chosen industry, then, yes some of this is about marketing, so that one can properly position the product.

    Joe

  14. “Be honest; explain that these computing devices have become commodified, that we won’t see the radical improvements from iteration to iteration. Yet, at the same time, figure out how to make them work better. Develop new software, new services, because that’s the future of computing.”

    I think this is an interesting point. In one regard stating the obvious doesn’t really serve a company. I mean, how do you get a customer base excited, or even just interested, in buying your products if the only thing you can say is “This doesn’t suck as bad as the previous model. Oh, and it costs more.”

    At the same time I always had the sense that Jobs understood and even discussed the contemporary technological condition of the industry when introducing a new Mac or even iPod.

    I don’t mean to get into a “WWSJD” mentality here. but I do think this is a a major difference with the current Apple leadership vs the old. I feel like they are spending as much time in their product announcements convincing themselves as everyone else. If they have a vision and conviction, they are less able to articulate it as convincingly as Jobs did.

    This is not to say that marketing is the only thing Apple does well. But if marketing is also about communicating an understanding of one’s chosen industry, then, yes some of this is about marketing, so that one can properly position the product.

    Joe

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