Schrödinger's Apple

Chuq von Raspach, writing for his chuqui blog:

Apple's always been a data driven company, but I think they've gotten overly reliant on data to drive business decisions. Spreadsheets can tell you where the sweet spots in the market are and how to hit them, but they struggle at finding and bringing forward strategic areas that also need coverage. That was, actually, one thing that Steve excelled at. It means you need people in leadership who understand their user base and which bits are strategic and need to have product coverage.Apple's view of its users doesn't match its users: I think Apple's lost sight of its users. It clearly has a model of what their user base is, but there have been multiple instances in the last 18 months where the user reaction has clearly been much different than Apple expected it to be.The new MacBook Pros and the Touch Bar are the most recent example: Apple clearly expected us to fall in love with this new bit of technology and saw it as a tentpole feature. I think down the road it may well be, but the reaction to the announcement was a lot less enthusiastic than they seemed to expect, and more criticism of it being a bauble and not a feature.Another example is 3D Touch/Force Touch, which Apple clearly saw as this huge usability improvement, and even now, users seem to either not know about it or not care, and its implementation is inconsistent across Apple's own apps — it seems like Apple is still trying to figure out how to turn this into the usability tool it thought it had when it first announced it.Another example would be the popularity of the iPhone SE, which clearly surprised Apple. They misjudged how many people wanted the smaller form factor by a wide margin, and that people really were interested in it seems to have been something they completely missed.These are signs to me that Apple doesn't understand its users as well as Apple thinks it does, which is a huge problem. In fact, I'd say it's the one big problem that leads to the other ones we're griping about (not supporting segments of users, not getting demand right, misjudging how interested users will be in features).

I don't generally like to pull that much of a quote, but Chuq's piece is long and thoughtful enough that there's still plenty left to read. And you should.

Last week I posted my annual problems facing Apple piece. Some were similar, some different. I included shipping, the horn effect, the need for better service experience, and positioning for what's next. I explained the "what" but I neglected to explain the "why".

Chuq, who used to work at Apple, Palm, and other Silicon Valley staples, went straight for the "why".

Fixing it, of course, is non-trivial. Should Apple go back to doing less but doing it better? That's not realistic at this point. Should Apple figure out how to scale the same focus and attention from one business to three, to nine, to many? That'd be terrific, but how do they do that and remain Apple?

Maybe the company should simply set better expectations for themselves and for their customers? Right now, all too often, we have Schrödinger's products — not dead yet certainly not alive — and that hurts everyone.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

19 Comments
  • An excellent read on the linked blog and a thoughtful and reasoned response by Rene. What makes Apple's lackadaisical activities of late particularly bewildering is the immense financial reserves at their disposal. A bit more investment in R&D and QA would make their loyal fan base a lot happier and mean they spend more time enjoying their fruit based products and less time defending them on here.
  • Excellent assessment and great article. Well done.... Sent from the iMore App
  • Honestly, I just want apple to stop trying to make everything so thin and light. You get to a point where it becomes diminishing returns with what you gain out of it and you can lose a lot by doing it. Or if your going to make something very thin and light and compromised, at least offer a alternative for people that don't want all that and want battery life, power, and key travel.
  • Apple is giant corporation. Their goal is not to satisfy those who love Apple! Their goal is to make money and satisfy stock holders. The two goals were mutually beneficial for a while, but are no longer. If Apple needs to start making sewing machines or dishwasher motors to benefit the goals for the company, they'll do that! It won't matter what people love or what following the company has. It's business! Sure, it's been fun PRETENDING Apple has been worrying about what YOU want. The truth is, they've always been worried about the business! You're going to see more and more evidence of this as time goes on!
  • And how did they satisfy stockholders over last few years? Any idea how mich gains stockholders made over last few years? Sent from the iMore App
  • It took a while but I think that the cracks created by the absence of Steve Jobs have begun to show.
    Under Jobs, Apple had one clear vision & ethos, and everything they made, from iPods to iPhones to iMacs, reflected this vision. But now with the passage of time they've deviated far enough from it that they're no longer the can't-miss Apple of the late 90's and 2000's. They're now the Apple that's just like any other company.
  • It's a mixed user base. Different people with different needs and different ideas, you can not please them all at once. Sent from the iMore App
  • Well said.... Posted via the Note 5 or iPhone 7 Plus
  • Okay, the only thing making my eyes bug out is that a lot of heavy duty Apple users/customers have been saying this in the comments section of many Apple bloggers for a while and we got dumped on by the horde as "unimportant fringe". Now all of a sudden more VIP types are saying this and it's gospel. WTF? 0_o Go figure.
    Joe
  • I was intrigued by the Schrödinger reference in the headline, though left a little disappointed at the payoff. The gist of the Schrödinger cat story is that the cat would be, absurdly, alive and dead at the same time until someone checked on it. In a way, every product under development is like Schrödinger's cat--neither alive nor dead until its release, when the "consumer" takes a look and makes the live/dead call. That said, the quoted blog sounds intriguing and on-point. Apple definitely seems to think it has all the answers, when really that's only because they're only responding to their own questions. Steve Jobs, for all his oddities, is looking more and more like the "ordinary guy" reining in the obsession with physicality over function and design-for-design's-sake.
  • As good as Apple has been at executing in the past, things have become increasingly complex to the point that it feels like their confidence is shaken. It used to seem like they had a vision and pursued it passionately, blazing the trail ahead of its customers. Now, it feels like they're mostly playing it safe, being predictable, and customer expectations are outpacing Apple's delivery. It could be that a lot of great innovations will be ready to unveil soon making this lull into a hazy memory, but what if there isn't?
  • As Rene mentioned near the end of the post, Apple's issue is one of scale https://twitter.com/natisho/status/816684606070149120
  • Oh really? Apple's lost touch with its users? Like do these bloggers expect all of us readers to act like A.D.D. teenagers and simply forget how they would **** on Steve when the CD/DVD drive was removed? Or when Apple wouldn't add Blu-Ray to the Mac? Or how about the iPhone, no 3G no cut, copy, paste.
    Remember the iPad without Flash? How much flack did Steve catch for that? This is business as usual for pundits just doing what they always did. Except now they're deriding Tim, for not doing what they think Steve would've done. As if they knew him better than the people who actually worked with him every day and were hand picked by him. Not saying everything is perfect. They can definitely work on some minor irritants like iCloud but other than some minor adjustments, they're doing what Apple's always done since Steve's return back in 1997. Sent from the iMore App
  • +1. Yeah I don't see anything really different happening from what's been done in the past. Apple make controversial decisions, but that's usually because they're looking ahead instead of looking behind like most other companies. The whole USB-C thing is an example of this. People want old USB-A ports on their new Mac, because "people are still using it". The same way people were "still using" the optical drive, the same way people were "still using" the floppy drive, the same way people were "still using" Flash when Apple decided to not add it to the iPhone. The logic of keeping things because they're still being used, would make us keep so many outdated technologies on our devices. People don't stop using something if it still works, and that doesn't mean that's what's best for them, so it has to be completely replaced, which also gets peripheral manufacturers to start supporting the new standard as well. The controversial decisions Apple makes are, more often than not, better for the consumer in the long-run. And that's what makes Apple, Apple.
  • +1 you can't judge Apple with unreleased products or unconfirmed reports Sent from the iMore App
  • @rene - have you read Simon Sinek's book 'Start with Why'? It pretty much sums up the issue with Apple lately - it's 'Why' has become fuzzy. Eric
  • There have always been issues with Apple. Jump to any Macrumors post from 2009, and you'll find plenty of bellyaching back then too. However, it does recently feel like Apple is getting a bit overwhelmed. It should be easy to update ALL their Macs once per year MINIMUM. Back around 2010, you could even expect a couple updates for the Macbooks PER YEAR. But now the company is doing multiple iPhones, multiple iPads, multiple Apple Watches, Apple TV is no longer a hobby, and they want to reinvent the car industry...it has become really hard for them to put out consistent basic updates to products that are not the iPhone.
  • I read his long post and from hindsight all of us have 20/20 vision and it is very difficult to predict the future.
    I am not supporting Apple when I made the statement above.
    Apple have lost their way the day when they updated products with every thing wired into the motherboard and no chance of ever upgrading on our own. I believe this decision is Schiller's because of the profits which come rolling in with all the expensive extras Apple is selling. Yes now everything is either glued or wire and yes it does save costs but make our lives miserable because we can't do the things we used and loved to do when we buy an Apple product.
    It's time for them to go back to the Steve Jobs days of making their computers
    One more than thing I believe in their good intention of making the battery to last longer through not overcharging by programming them to sip in the juice slowly actually works against them. Why? Many of us take whatever we are charging when we see 💯% but the real fact is the battery is not fully charged. (Take a simple test charge whatever device at a longer period than when we see the 💯% you will understand what I am trying to say)
    Time for Apple to go back to th bad old days and give us what we really want in a computer. (Sorry if there is any typo my bad, writing the comment in a mall)
  • ☝️ more thing, it is time for Apple to have an review all their products all the time than whatever is bringing in the bacons or how to make a product cheaper.
    Kind of sad if they keep on making fools of us with their many idiotic decisions like making their computers with everything wired or glued in and charged us an arm and a leg when we want to upgrade their products on their terms.
    (Hope I am making sense, thanks for the time)