I lost my passion for Apple
Earlier this month I sold my 11.6-inch MacBook Air (using Samsung Series 5 Chromebook now) and iPhone 4 (switched back to Google Nexus S). I don't miss either Apple product. Not the least bit. In reflecting, I realize that the spell is broken. Without Apple Chairman Steve Jobs driving innovation or inspiring passion -- the oft-called "reality distortion field" -- my Apple enthusiasm is gone. Perhaps it's return to sanity.
I should have connected the dots sooner, but often people don't easily apply even basic math to emotional matters, because the nuances move swiftly on the surface with many slower currents and fast-churning eddies below. The ocean is an excellent analogy. Yesterday, in viewing Nate Mook's slideshow of 20 products introduced by Jobs, and resurfacing emotions about the different launches, I had an epiphany. I could see how much Jobs' passion infected mine -- his ability to inspire about what Apple products offered.
I used to joke about the Steve Jobs spell: During one of the product launch speeches, if he was having an off day, people left feeling like: If I buy this thing my life will be better for it. If Jobs was in the zone giving the preso, people left feeling if they didn't buy the new thing their lives would be worse.
Jobs' cast a big spell, but it was more than the pitch -- there are aspirational qualities built into Apple products. Jobs is the rarest of business leaders: He has good taste and the ability to inspire people working with him to put it into high-tech stuff. Related: Design priorities put features that are most useful at the top, packaged such that there is balance among them -- none takes away from overall functionality. Additionally: Simplicity is a defining Apple design characteristic, or was.
As I explained here at BetaNews in February 2005 post "iPod Shuffle: Apple understated": "The company has turned a knack for the understated into a marketing machine that touches virtually every Mac product, including iPod Shuffle...Understated often means uncomplicated. And sometimes that means cutting back consumer choices, as Apple did with iPod Shuffle. Less really can be more...Competitors really need to study what Apple is doing right and how to incorporate a similar approach into their product designs and marketing".
But on reflection, I now see how much simplicity, one of Apple products' best attributes, is giving way to complication creep. Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and iTunes 9 and 10 are glaring examples of increased complexity, as are iOS 4 (and soon v5), Safari 5.1, iLife `11 and most other Apple software.
Even Apple Store. I wrote in 2005: "Apple retail stores are remarkably understated. The only bright colors are found on marketing material placed throughout the store. Otherwise, the tasteful stores are quite stark, so that the shoppers' eyes are drawn either to the colorful marketing posters and signs or to the products on sale". The stores are no longer as tasteful, and the new iPad product information displays create clutter and complexity.
Still, where Steve Jobs' influence still touched so did simplicity remain, which iPad 2, MacBook Air and Mac App Store imbue. But other recent attempts at simplicity have failed, with Final Cut Pro X example of increased complexity coming from an attempt to make video production simpler. Many of Apple's elite customers complained about the product, and there was even a petition to bring back the old version! Could such a thing really have happened with Steve Jobs hands-on at Apple?
When Passion Fades
Steve Jobs unexpectedly resigned as Apple CEO two days ago, and the Board of Directors immediately chose Tim Cook, then chief operating officer, as replacement. Much of the punditry about the transition is similar: Apple will remain the same Apple under Cook. This is misguided, wishful thinking.
Apple will change under Cook's leadership. Actually Apple already has changed. For about three years now, Jobs' influence on product development and marketing is less than it once was. The Apple faithful will slam me in comments or elsewhere for speaking such blasphemy. But, c`mon. The man is terribly ill -- clearly fighting for his life throughout much of 2009 and 2011.
As I more seriously review the 2.8 years since Jobs' January 2009 medical leave started, it's clear the aforementioned qualities are missing and other less-desirable ones present in Apple products. This reflects the limits of Jobs' involvement in the process -- at least the way he was able to be when in more robust health. There is a vitality gone from Apple's cofounder that many recent Apple products reflect, even as the company reaches its highest pinnacle of success ever. It's a cruel circumstance that a man who has had so much positive influence should be ravaged from the effects of cancer while still in his prime.
Kirk and Spock
Jobs and Cook couldn't be more different leaders. They're complimentary: The inspired visionary looking to bring good taste and understated design to otherwise complex products and the man responsible for getting them to market. Like James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock from "Star Trek". Kirk is the leader, the charismatic one. Spock is the empowering sidekick but not as effective leader. That's how I see Jobs and Cook.
Cook will competently lead Apple, as he has done for the better part of two years. He's honed Apple's supply chain to a science. Apple is a self-propelling machine now. But like Spock, Cook won't have the passion of Kirk. This will affect his ability to hold onto the team core to Jobs, such as product design genius Jony Ive.
Apple won't find feature compromises -- the kind good for keeping them in balance -- as easy in the post-Jobs-CEO world, either. Response to Final Cut Pro X is one example of that. Jobs had a knack for making people believe in his company's products, for clearly calling on real-world passion while making anyone and everyone willing to listen to feel good about Apple stuff. Apple products evoke emotional response, like few others in techdom. They are imbued by Jobs' passion and his ability to inspire others to design greatness or to give someone like Jony Ive freedom to bring true design genius to market.
Apple feels quite different to me now in 2011 than it did in 2008. It's all corporate now. Just dollars and cents on a ledger. What Jobs imbued already is gone, at least for me. I predict it will fade for many technophiles. But not anytime soon for the mass market of buyers, who are more influenced by what their friends and family use than by the aura of Steve Jobs.
His legendary "one more thing" was one last thing long ago.