And why Apple doesn’t
As long-term survivors of this blog know, I’m not a fan of Apple. I just don’t get it. Everyone around me tells me how great they are, but I haven’t seen a single Apple product that I thought was truly revolutionary. And as a company, Apple seems to be a whole lot of nothing.
I won’t deny their advertising, marketing and brand-building have been superb. They’re certainly a case study for how an intelligent and greedy corporation can carve out a space for itself in the crowded, ephemeral world of consumer electronics.
And no matter how poor their products have been, or how badly the company itself has acted, they’ve engendered near religious devotion in millions of consumers. That’s a phenomenal achievement.
They also gain a little kudos for their early adoption of a GUI environment that would spur Microsoft to develop its copycat Windows system.
Microsoft, the company we all love to hate, may well be the most important of the last century. The way the PC erupted across the world, changing everything, is something I explored in my post And the horses too. Microsoft brought true liberation to the hands of a planet, and drove the entire IT revolution that followed. Apple doesn’t figure at all in this story.
Bill Gates has become the epitome of both a visionary futurist and one of the world’s largest philanthropists. The only – and I do mean only – thing that comes to mind when thinking about Steve Jobs is the way he was naked about his ambitions to lock every Apple customer into his ecosystem.
That desire was built into Apple from the start, with its proprietary, closed-in hardware and software that refused to be compatible with anybody else’s systems or devices. The only mouse you could plug into an Apple computer was an Apple mouse. Even its floppy disks were Apple-exclusive.
Why do so many people fixate on Apple? Like I said, I don’t get it. Apple was never a pioneer.
It didn’t invent the personal computer. That was Olivetti.
It didn’t introduce the laptop. That was Gavilan. (With thanks to Compaq.)
It didn’t produce the first PDA. That was Psion.
It didn’t make music portable. That was Sony.
It didn’t create the smartphone. That was Ericsson.
It didn’t innovate much of anything.
Sure, it could dominate a market. We now associate portable digital music with the iPod, but mp3 players had been around for 14 years when Apple introduced the device.
Portable digital music was already happening and would have happened without the iPod, just like the smartphone boom would have happened without the iPhone. So the most you can say is that they popularized something that was already there. Big deal.
Though every new Apple product is met with childlike glee at its sleek curves and precision American-made engineering, it dates really, really poorly.
Take a look at a mini-tower PC from the 1990s. It still looks good enough to go on your desk. Now take a look at an Apple iMac G3 or a clamshell iBook. Honestly, that fabled design sense never was very keen, was it?
In business, Apple is nothing more than a pain. Apple’s bogus style attracts it to designers, whom you’d hope would have better sense, just as the smartphone is an executive toy masquerading as communication device.
Once a designer has cut his teeth on an Apple at design school, he’s incapable of transitioning to a proper business PC. So the things stack up in design departments, causing headaches for IT managers the world over.
Ask a designer why he insists on an Apple, and you won’t get an intelligible reply. “They’re, like, better, you know?” No, I don’t.
To an outsider, the Apple religion is baffling. Remember the “Think different” campaign that positioned Apple as the young, questing, individualistic underdog to IBM’s monolithic big brother? It was always phony, given Jobs’s true intentions. Today people buy an iPhone because that’s the brand everybody else is using. Those who truly do think different have long since gone elsewhere.
I don’t care about how shut-in Apple devotees are. Though I despise the way Apple destroyed the music industry, that industry was already dying before iTunes got a chance to stab the body. I do care about how Apple has so effectively closed down the horizons of a generation of, you would suppose, intelligent dreamers.
We once shared a wide-eyed, wide-screened optimism in a chunky Perspex and Bakelite future that still, in movies such as Forbidden Planet and 2001: A Space Odyssey, seems to me so much better than the narrow-eyed, small-screened future we all experienced.
Alas, the ‘futuristic’ toy in your hand – maybe the very one you’re reading this diatribe on – proved more attractive than the future we might all have enjoyed. I don’t want to get all Koyaanisqatsi here, but it’s largely because of these alluringly worthless devices, I believe, that we all look down instead of up.
It’s something I address in ‘After Newton’ in my book Poems Found In The Wreckage Of A Multi-Generational Starship:
Slow aurorae beckon
Over downturned faces.
Only fingers move.
Newton was, of course, the supposed inspiration for Apple’s name, featured in the company’s early advertising, and was the name of the short-lived Apple PDA.
And yes, all this invective has a serious point. I see Apple’s coffer-stuffing and customer-locking limitations as a disastrous waste of creative energy.
While Apple does nothing, the world moves forward thanks to genuinely interesting and innovative corporations such as Google, Salesforce, Tesla and Amazon, let alone the thousands of start-ups and entrepreneurs pushing the boundaries of what the human experience can be.
When you think about CEOs with vision, you don’t think of Steve Jobs. You think of Richard Branson circumnavigating the world in a hot air balloon, or Elon Musk landing a reusable SpaceX rocket on a floating platform, as he finally managed to do in April 2016. (The commentator’s use of the boat’s name Of Course I Still Love You during the landing actually brought tears to my eyes. I do, too.)
The future is going to be full of truly great people like Musk pushing their companies to achieve world-changing things. It’s going to be fantastic. And it would happen a whole lot sooner if Apple got on the boat — or got out of the way.