In many ways, Apple is a more open, forthcoming company than it used to be. But in key areas the company is still troublingly closed.
I've been making a living with Macs long enough to remember the era before Steve Jobs returned to Apple. It was a bad time: Apple made a lot of poorly differentiated, crappy computers, and its operating system wasn't great, either. But before Steve came back, Apple was reasonably open with developers and high-level customers who had issues. Even if they couldn't or wouldn't necessarily correct the problems, there was a bidirectional communication channel. It was for good and for ill: I remember in those days the publication of record for the Mac communication was a weekly trade magazine called MacWeek, and it was known colloquially as "MacLeak," because Apple would regularly talk to them.
That changed after Steve took the helm. One of the first things he did was make Apple a black box. Apple public relations stopped returning phone calls unless they had something to say on the record. Apple developer relations changed the same way. Certainly that policy paid off in spades for Apple when it came to publicity. When new products emerged, they were a complete surprise. Apple generated tons of visibility for its new products that way. Visibility and publicity it couldn't have paid for.
Since Tim Cook took over, things at Apple have changed again — and a lot of things have changed for the better. Some of you may find this hard to believe, but Apple's a much more open company than it ever was even a year or two ago. Some of it is, admittedly, directed at shareholders: Apple pays dividends, which they never did under Steve Jobs' stewardship, for example. But Apple PR is more responsive and more engaging. Apple talks on the record and files public reports about things that it never would have in the past — supplier reports, its environment record, human rights issues.
When it comes to how it handles developer and customer-related issues, Apple is still halfway there.
But when it comes to how it handles developer and customer-related issues, Apple is still halfway there. It's made strides forward since the sandboxing debacle of OS X Lion — there's even a Swift Twitter account and blog for chatting with developers. But there's still little transparency over App Store rejections and code oddities, and as much as we're all encouraged to file radars, it still feels too much like throwing a paper airplane into a black hole.
Likewise customer-facing problems: Despite hundreds of support threads, questions, and bugs in Apple's own discussion forums, Apple support staff rarely if ever chimes in publicly with help or suggestions. It's nothing new, really. But it's maddening. And as Apple's platforms grow, we need better.
On Monday developers will get their first look (and hands on) the next major release of OS X, which will come out later this year. I have no problem at all with Apple maintaining a veil of secrecy when it comes to new product releases. In fact, I encourage it. We want to be surprised and delighted when Apple has something new. We crave it.
We don't want live in the dark with the gear, software, and services that we already rely on.
But by the same token, we don't want live in the dark with the gear, software, and services that we already rely on. Not when we have legitimate problems with things not working the way we need them to, or the way that the company said they would.
Last year's WWDC was a big step forward for Apple. Hopefully WWDC 2015 will be another, and one that gives Apple the opportunity to show a different side of itself: A side that's more open and forthcoming with developers and customers alike.