Understanding Apple: When reporting doesn't seem to lead to insight

UPDATE: The quoted material is from an article in the New Yorker, not an excerpt of the forthcoming book, Haunted Empire: Apple after Steve Jobs. I've updated it to reflect that. I regret the error, apologize for it, and won't judge the book based on the contents of the article.

I've often wondered if reporting on Apple — getting sourced information and writing it up — automatically led to understanding Apple as part of the process. This following article from the New Yorker leads me to believe that's not necessarily the case. And that makes me sad. From The New Yorker:

So what about now? Apple's supporters point to the company's billions of dollars in quarterly profit and its tens of billions in revenue as proof that it continues to thrive. But Apple's employees again know differently, despite the executive team's best efforts to preserve Jobs's legacy. People who shouldn't be hired are being hired (like Apple's former retail chief, John Browett, who tried to incorporate big-box-retailer sensibilities into Apple's refined store experience).

Browett always seemed a bad choice from the outside, and his career as Apple played out as many expected it would. It was perhaps the worst high-level Apple hiring in recent history. Tim Cook seems to have learned from it, however, and Browett's replacement, Angela Ahrendts seems right in all the ways he was wrong.

Apple under Steve Jobs wasn't immune to bad hires either, not even at high levels. Mark Papermaster didn't fit in at Apple either, for example.

People who shouldn't leave are leaving, or, in the case of the mobile-software executive Scott Forstall, being fired.

That retention remains one of Apple's biggest problems is absolutely the case, but Scott Forstall leaving is not. Yes, he gave us Carbon and the App Store, but his single biggest talent was anticipating and implementing the will of Steve Jobs. At a post-Steve Jobs Apple, that's no longer a beneficial skill. His departure made sense, and the "but Apple's employees again know differently" is a fairly stupefying statement to make in that context. Sure, many lamented his leaving. Others celebrated. Such is the case of any figure as important and divisive, and missing that point is missing the story completely.

Mistakes, in turn, are being made: Apple Maps was a fiasco, and ads, like the company's short-lived Genius ads and last summer's self-absorbed manifesto ad, have been mediocre.

Apple Maps was a bad launch. We knew it would be. Apple just didn't get the aggregation, cleansing, and sanitizing done that they needed to. MobileMe, launched under Steve Jobs, was also bad. So was Ping. There are numerous examples both pre- and post-Jobs of bad product launches (many in the services space — which should surprise no one).

That Ads got worse for a while post-Jobs is also not surprising. Jobs essentially ran ads at Apple, and it takes time figure out who and how to move that skil-set and sensibility over.

Apple's latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 7, looks pretty but is full of bugs and flaws.

iOS 7 has bugs, but so did every version launched under Jobs. Many of the X.0 releases were plagued by bugs. Again, nothing different but rose-colored nostalgia makes it seem so.

As for innovation, the last time Apple created something that was truly great was the original iPad, when Jobs was still alive.

The iPhone and iPad are essentially different versions of the same product, originally launched in 2007. They could even be considered major evolutions of the iPod, which launched in 2001. Prior to that, the Mac launched in 1984. When you construct straw piñata it's really easy to take swings at them, but this idea that Apple has to suddenly start spewing out new product categories every few years does the grossest of disservices to everyone. It's the hit-driven mentality that plagues Apple, not drives them.

Apple is patient. They're focused. They wait until a mainstream computer electronics category is established, then they look at what's wrong with it — what problems Apple is best positioned to solve — and then, only if they feel they can make a difference, do they enter the space. They don't set a countdown timer the minute Steve Jobs leaves, or the minute the last product is out the door. They work on multiple ideas in the labs, they watch the market, they wait for something to show potential both in the market and to Apple, and then they move to disrupt it in a way that makes it more accessible for more people. That's what they did with iPhone and iPad, and it's likely what they'll do with iWatch. (And the moment after they do it, they'll no doubt be plagued by whats-nexters again...)

Although the company's C.E.O., Tim Cook, insists otherwise, Apple seems more eager to talk about the past than about the future. Even when it refers to the future, it is more intent on showing consumers how it hasn't changed rather than how it is evolving. The thirtieth anniversary of the Macintosh—and the "1984" ad—is not just commemorative. It is a reminder of what Apple has stopped being.

Tim Cook is certainly celebrating Apple's past more publicly and persistently than Steve Jobs did. (At least outside of keynotes — Jobs played the history card brilliantly at the iPhone introduction.) He's also seeding the future more publicly and persistently than Jobs did, pulling strings on TVs and expressing interest in wearables and mobile payments. (Jobs would have said no one watches TV any more and Apple would never do a wearable... right before doing it.)

And to celebrate 1984, Apple put out a video that effectively passed the torch of most personal computer from Mac or iPhone and iPad.

It's undeniable that Apple under Steve Jobs was (mostly) pure magic. It was arguably the greatest consumer electronic success story of our time. But Apple under Tim Cook has done some f-----g fantastic stuff as well, much of which began under Jobs but will, for good and ill, be realized without him.

One thing is clear, however: Despite this kind of coverage, Apple isn't being trapped by their legacy, and thankfully, isn't being pressured by the fundamental misunderstandings that seem to run so amok. Like Tim Cook keeps saying, Apple's not doing what Steve Jobs would do. They're doing what they think is right.

Source: The New Yorker

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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