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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Reader comments

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


I think Apple has got to keep hiring more and more key talent. I like reading all the new job positions they are hiring for. I really think that iOS7 was prematurely released. I've had every iPhone since the first, and this one has given me more restarts, spring board problems and anomaly's than any of the other releases.
You can really tell they moved their people around to help finish (rush) a project, and that in turn delays another project. I wish they would space out the iPhone and iPad launches more. I know Christmas is important for new products, but I'd like my next phone to be a little more stable when released.

You are a moron first and foremost.
You jail break you damn phone and then blame iOS7?
You're one of the many gazillion IDIOTS that make this world a had place to navigate.
You pollute with your existence and ignorance and then post it on forums with the ONLY intent of looking stupid.

Apple's Maps still do not work in 2014. Siri has utterly lost to Goole on the degree of internationalization accomplished. iOS 7 is still buggy as hell and borrows its design from other operating systems, mainly from WP, corroborating, in so doing, that Apple now admits others got the UI done better, and that it itself cannot improve on the concepts having being fielded during the last three or four years, and so has to follow them. Then there is the new 5C, which is a Nokia Lumia 620 rip off. Of course, iPod nano was a Lumia 900 rip off. But the trend is worrying. Apple has stopped innovating, is copying, and is releasing buggy code and making unfinished product launches. If I as the CEO wanted to ruin a consumer electronics brand, I guess the above would be exactly what I would be doing.

Google and Microsoft saw where the design was going and got their first.

Apple did the same thing, but to a much greater degree, with it's own devices and UI. Apple did not invent the concepts but it did redefine the current description of them.

Going on past record of the companies, I could just as easily say that it was a little bit of foresight that allowed Google and Microsoft to implement those design choices ahead of Apple.

  1. If you look at the early prototypes from Jony Ive's design team, this was the core of his vision of iOS from early on. He just wasn't allowed to implement it until now. (Steve Jobs loved him some textures!)

  2. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, if you concentrate on the flatness you miss all the heavenly glory of the physics and particle engine.

Bruce, now that was a wise man.
Rene, thanks for bringing Genius to the table.
I love your retorts.

"Don't look at the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory!"

When a hand is pointing, 3 fingers are pointing back at you.

I bet you look in the mirror every morning, smile and say,
"People like me."
"I am somebody."
Grow up and read.

Apple maps do not work, he's right... See, I'm a bit more exclusive then the rest of iDevice owners, because my Apple Maps has been working since day one. Apple secretly gave me a properly working version unlike the rest of the world (according to Android fanbase)... Oh and they also gave me a non-buggy iOS7 unlike everyone else - because according to people like this guy here - EVERYONE has buggy, non-working iPhones....

My experience with Apple Maps is so entirely contrary to the fiasco-punctuated rantings that I began to question every Apple critic. I still do.

I've loved digital cartography since I began geo-tracking in 2005 with Nokia devices. I switched to Android in '09 and loved Google Maps. Then I bought my first iPhone, the 5, as Apple Maps debuted and I began to feel offended by most of the Maps criticisms. When I said anything positive about Apple Maps, it was met with eye-rolls, head-shakes and sighs from my Android and Nokia friends. None of those friends considered me a fan of the iPhone when I said I was buying my first one, but when I said Apple Maps was a beautiful product that worked as well as any other, I was instantly labeled as iSheep.

It's germane to the article in that, since the iPhone 5 launch with Apple Maps, critics of Apple have turned the heat up to 11. Writers care less about what Apple is doing right, muting meaningful conversations just to sell the forecast and outline of the doom of Apple.

I'm not sure you could paint the failure of Apple Maps with the same brush of Ping and MobileMe. Maps showed wrong data, caused a VP to be fired, caused a public apology, and caused Apple to promote competitors products. MobileMe and Ping resulted in none of that.

Ironically it also caused her to contradict herself.

In one breath she's complaining that Apple Maps was a failure and in the next breath she's complaining that Apple fired Forstall. While ignoring the fact that his firing was a direct result of the "Apple Maps Fiasco" itself.

Richard Williamson was the one fired directly for the Maps fiasco, Mark Papermaster for Antennagate, Rob Schoeben (I think?) for MobileMe.

Forstall was let go because Steve Jobs was no longer there, and how do you implement Steve Jobs' will when he's gone?

Yes, other events have a singular similarity, but none of them have all. The ongoing maps fiasco may be the worst mistakes apple made in the last 15 years.

Yes, what a shame we won't be seeing all those ads thrust in our faces when we go to use out mobile maps app. /s

Got any more one-sided coins for sale?

With the rumors of Google using maps and other services to cudgel Samsung into the "less customization of Android" deal, I'm actually thinking Apple Maps must be one of Apple's prouder moments.

Great article Rene. It really bugged me that 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman called this excerpt a "solid read" and sucked up to the author on Twitter hoping to get a free copy of the book. 9to5Mac may get scoops but outside of that they seem to be more and more negative on Apple. I like imore because it doesn't engage in the Apple is doomed nonsense.

Seth seems to have written the piece on 9to5 and he didn't come across as endorsing it in any way. I'm sure Mark wants a early copy of the book. I'd like one as well. And I'd love it if this excerpt was the only bit of nonsense in it!

Fingers crossed!

Exactly. Those articles are made with bad taste, in some cases factually incorrect, with 0 journalism, prevailing the same idea from the eighties: Apple is doomed.

Apple will be around long after those journalists are dead. It's the truth.

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I have a Wired issue from the 90s the 100 things Apple can do to save Apple.
They didn't do one of them.

"but his single biggest talent was anticipating and implementing the will of Steve Jobs."

That is a pretty casual dismissal of Forstall's contributions.

"At a post-Steve Jobs Apple, that's no longer a beneficial skill."

Granting the original dismissal as true, you could easily argue that the opposite -- with no Jobs around, somebody who could anticipate what he wanted (now, what he would have wanted) becomes exponentially more valuable. Unless, of course, you mean to go even further, and dismiss Forstall as merely Jobs' sycophant, but that seems very much at odds with Apple's (and NeXT's) history.

Most of the stories about Forstall's dismissal seem to point to him being firmly in the WWSD or SWDT camp. If the rest of the leadership team thought Apple needed to move forward I can see where Forstall's frequent invoking of Steve would cause problems.

I could have phrased that better, absolutely, and I did credit him with carbon, the App Store, and he literally drove the birth iOS, which is the achievement of a lifetime.

However, you're completely missing the substance of what I implied there. :)

My little brain does not see any other implication other than an assertion he had to go because his primary skill was echoing Steve Jobs, but I am always willing to be educated...

Steve needed a team.

The major innovations seem to come from a team effort. We hear that Jony's team came up with the major designs and colours for the original iMac but it was Steve's snap decision to go with all five colours not just one. It was Phil's team that had the idea for the click wheel to control the iPod and it got added to the design at that meeting. It was a snap decision to go with glass on the iPhone. We hear now that within 24 hours of learning that the Mac OS can be run on off the shelf PCs Steve went to court Sony.

It seems he knew he needed, at least, two kinds of people. A product guy and a business guy. He had Woz and hired John Sculley at Apple, the NextStep team at NeXT, John Lasseter and Ed Cattmul at Pixar, Jonny Ive and Tim Cook at Apple.
Pixar went to Disney and John Lasseter is now executive producer for all Disney animated movies.
Are they wondering what Steve would have done?

Seems to me the current executive team at Apple is interested in moving forward and not constantly thinking about what Steve would do. It's not like everything Steve did was always right, or that some of the great things Apple did were all down to Steve.

Great read! I've been impressed with Apple's product more now than ever before. I like quality over gimmicks and trends. I think the design and the detail effort that apple place on there products speaks for itself. Are there issues yes, but there not major and we know that there are fixes that will come with an update. I see how apple is making each offers product and software on all platforms so intuitive that you don't want to use another product. All this other talk is just that. Talk!

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Apple has and always will play the waiting game on some products. That's what makes Apple what it is. by the way did they all forget about Jony Ive. great article Rene

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Apple's maps still suck. I gave it another try in December on a weekend trip. Took me 3 blocks away from my hotel. Google maps instantly showed me the real location.

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They all suck, though Google's sucks less in terms of location data.

Google told me to pull a U-turn at a dead end in San Francisco... while I was in the middle of a highway.

I generally prefer the way Apple Maps communicates directions — it gets me into the right lane for a turn more clearly. But yeah, the locations can be junk. I can get to the block, but not the entrance.

That's still weird to me. It mist be an iOS only problem 'cause I get notified regularly and early to turn.

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Depends on your location relation to towers I'm guessing (towers are woefully blocked in San Francisco). Only once during a 1400 mile trip did my iPhone (running google maps) come up slightly late on notifying me on an exit around Barstow. Still - given the latency gymnastics - I'm shocked it works as well as it does.

Have you tried Waze? Whenever there is a problem with its map, someone will report it and it will be fixed by the Waze community pretty much instantly. Waze also has the best traffic and hazard information, as long as you're driving in an urban area or along a very busy road.

It also has pretty good traffic avoidance and re-routing, plus the best 'night' mode I've seen.

I am pleased with Apple's direction. As a creative professional they have given me tools beyond my wildest dreams. Final Cut Pro X and Logic X are two of the greatest software deals ever. Now with the Mac Pro, the days of long rendering seem like a thing of the past. Remember, this is the segment of the market that everyone said apple didn't care about.

I agree IOS 7 has bugs but it's the change apple had to make. The same could be said for OSX. Lots of changes under the hood but give Apple time and they will make it right, just like they did for professional users.

As long as Jony Ive remains in place, I don't think we have anything to worry about. Under Forstall, iOS was stagnating and looked seriously dated. Now it looks modern and fresh, thanks to Ive. I wonder if the small screen size is another Jobs legacy problem which Ive will fix this year.

I'm looking forward to seeing Mac OS once it's had the Jony Ive treatment, and the same applies to the antiquated and underdeveloped Apple TV. I'm still holding out some hope that we may see a full on Apple television at some point too. (and that it will be an OLED panel)

Actually Ive screwed up so many UI rules - I can't even bother to post them here since it'd be far and above 1000 words. I love his industrial design - but his software - BLEAH. Now the next iOS is already available - in China. This company already nabbed the former head of android - and even had Woz on stage recently. It's great because it's modular and can be customized to the way you work, in part or in whole. :


I don't disagree with most of what was said. I can't be certain about the hirings. I will say i notice a material difference in direction of Apple since Jobs has been minimally involved. There are usability issues in ios 7 that i think Jobs would have objected to like the general look, the utter flatness, the white on white of it, the thin fonts and other things. I don't care about the semantics of innovation. it means nothing to me. I'll leave that to the geekisphere to debate. Apple copied windows. They always copy. Everyone copies. Innovating doesn't mean you make a good product. Regardless, i think really phones have plateaued, computers too, They aren't gonna get video media distribution the same they did music cause studios aren't stupid enough to get fooled twice into letting someone else control media distribution. Regardless, Steve Jobs products by and large had a look that appealed to me, the software especially. Johnny ive software's look i'm not to enamored with. A dark theme would help. Anyways i'm not sure why some random guys opinion in a book struck a nerve enough to write this post. I'd have just shurgged and gone, "everyone's entitled to and opinion."

Steve was definitely a visionary, but one man does not make a company. At least I hope not. I don't know how Tim Cook operates day to day but I think Steve had is inner geek in the office everyday. Tim is a logistics genius but my question is can he be a technology driver?

So far I think he is doing a decent job. Could he do better? We all could!!!

reading the Walter Issacson Jobs biography, one man could and very much be set the standard. he set the standard for commercials, for the look of the os. He was the guy that said "that's not good enough", "That may look fancy but it's not usable for regular people", etc. That's gone. And it shows in some of the products in my mind. You mention "inner geek." To me that's the problem. Steve had an eye for what the average non-geek wanted. He had what geeks don't, the style. I think there's way too many inner geeks directing apple now. Like you said I don't know the day to day. All i know is, I honestly haven't been impressed by any additions or upgrades to any Apple product in years. I'm not saying the products are bad. but Apple has a press conference and i come away going, "nothing makes me want to buy this over the prior version." And i don't.

It is the norm today for any SLOCK to write either a book or opinion or ANALYZE to discredit, sway common sense thought or distort the facts and truth.

Apple has consistently turned profits for the last umpteen years and still does to this day.

Yet financial drone moron pull comments out of thing air with no basis and it thought to be spoken from God and the stock takes a hit.

But these very same analysts , story tellers are the one still trying to figure out why M$ left 98.
They are stuck in the 20th century waiting for God know what. The GREAT return of M$ and the the days of old and glory.

Frigging Google on the other hand is glorified. For what? A LIBERAL agenda GLORIFIER. Our commander and chief who still uses crackberry wouldn't know a browser if it bit him in the butt.

$650 billion for website? REALLY!!!!"!"!"!"!?!?!

So Apple get beat again by some RETARD with a slate and is angry cuz his mom never breast fead him and his liberal art degree isn't paying for crap.

Suck it up junior.

Choose Wisely.

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 just love the fact that Apple releases one thing and works and works to make it better until it is near magical. The iPad Air is a case in point. Yep they suck on services and most of their cheap headline grabbing additions (Siri, Passbook) are just that, but that's because they are ultimately focused on the core essence of their business: creating products that are outstanding in terms of usability and industrial design. Until Apple makes a crap hardware device then the naysayers should pipe down.

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I just love the fact that Apple releases one thing and works and works to make it better until it is near magical. The iPad Air is a case in point. Yep they suck on services and most of their cheap headline grabbing additions (Siri, Passbook) are just that, but that's because they are ultimately focused on the core essence of their business: creating products that are outstanding in terms of usability and industrial design. Until Apple makes a crap hardware device then the naysayers should pipe down.

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The New Yorker article is obviously a poorly written nonsense.

Apple will continue to innovate post Steve Jobs. I am excited to think about a new category in health, and this is where, I think, a lot will have been learnt from Steve Jobs' illness. There is so much wrong and antiquated in caring for someone with chronic or terminal illness. Health professionals were always staggered by my "electronic" work arounds for simple tasks. Imagine what Apple can do armed with all the experience and information from Steve!

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Just my opinion but I don't think tim cook has done much, everything that's out now other than maybe the mac pro is still based on Steve jobs legacy and product so don't think tim cook has elevated them to new heights, apple are probably on the some trajection they were always going to be on. Only credit you can give tim cook is that he finally changed the way ios looked cause I do think Steve jobs would have stayed with the old look but let's be honest whether there was a ui change or not apple would still be selling like how they are and also he didn't deviate from what Steve jobs plan for the Apple was so that's another plus. If we are right in our assumption that Apple have there Road map for the next updates couple years in advance then the 5 and 5s and ipad air etc were all in Steve jobs plan again that's what all apple people say is that Apple have there products planed for the next couple of years. Even the Apple tv If it's introduced by Tim cooks apple, one will ask is it tim cooks product or is it Steve jobs product because the Apple tv has always been jobs hobby and again if we accept what he said in his book that his cracked the tv then one can again assume apple under time cook are using job idea. Give credits where it's due, Tim cook has kept them on the right track in which Steve jobs left them at. It's hard to tell right now if cook is good Imo until the next big shift in our industry comes. Right now it's just mobiles and tablets, so everyone's kinda doing the same stuff, there's no chance in the mobile industry to really be out done by one another, if people like ios they will buy ios and if people like Android they will be Android, they won't be no major shift of users as they are both good enough for what we want. The real test will be when the next "iPhone" like category is introduced and whether it's tim cooks apple that are 1st to create that new market and lead it or will it be someone else's. Right now apple is still basically running on Steve jobs products. That's my opinion and welcome all the hate lol

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Awesome article Rene. It is quite amazing how the media likes to paint things either 'golden' or in 'decline'. It helps them sell they bias crap. Jobs was no saint and things were never perfect. If anything makes someone a 'legend' it is getting through the crap and staying on point. Which is usually done despite failures, setbacks, fail launches etc. I choose to believe that Apple has some of its best years ahead. As long as they stay true to the core values that got them where they are so far. I think Jobs wouldn't have pick Tim Cook if he thought he couldn't steer the 'ship' into the next several successful years. I am with Phil Schiller as to the part of the anatomy the media can kiss with their Apple is in decline viewpoint. The best course to success is don't listen to the masses, stay true to north.

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Before someone misinterprets what I mean by 'masses' more accurately popular opinion. Obviously consumer viewpoints are important but what's 'popular' is not what is always best.

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Great article Rene, I completely agree. It's frustrating having to defend apple in this way because others find it easier to bash a company doing well by picking at it's past success. Eventually they'll go back into hiding when the inevitable "innovation" is announced when apple is ready and only then.

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