[disclosure: the post below contains my personal thoughts about Apple. Don't take anything I say for granted, form your own opinion ;-) ]
The past days (maybe weeks) Apple is dominating tech news with their iPad launch, their iPhone 4.0 SDK, creating their own mobile ad platform, buying chip manufacturing companies. Steve Jobs drinking coffee with Eric Schmidt, and other monumental events.
You have to admire their ability to dominate the news. Everything Apple does turns into gold and for everything else they are the new suspect main competitor. They have now reached a stage where Google was at a year ago or so. Everything good in this world is attributed to Apple, and if there isn’t any news, it is created by bloggers/journalists that already know the fundamental truth “Apple news sells”. Apple has turned everyone else into sore losers or mere morons. Google are lost and will be wiped of the planet soon. Microsoft are complete fools that cannot compete at any level anymore, etc.
Let me start out by stating that Apple creates beautiful products. They are one of a very few companies that do not compromise on aesthetics, or ease of use. They are probably as tough on their own organization as they are on their partners. Instead of seeking commodity they define, build and conquer new markets. Their iPhone shook up the entire inert mobile industry and it triggered new innovation in a world dominated and by incumbent operators and handset manufacturers.
Their iPhone SDK is incredibly well thought through. It’s a huge pleasure to develop in and if you compare that to ‘older’ operating systems (e.g. Symbian), they have revolutionized mobile app development. You can see their refusal to compromise on the user experience clearly in their iPhone development and road map. Multitasking only now appears, not because they couldn’t do it before, but because they felt it simply wasn’t good enough.
And then there was the iPad. A new revolution in the computer industry if you are to believe everything that was written about it. I haven’t seen a lot of balanced reviews of it (a few like Gruber and Ars Technica are the positive exception to that ;-) ). Most were using too many superlatives and if there was any criticism it was on non-issues like ‘it has no camera’. I’ve thought about writing down my own thoughts about it, but I can hardly ‘review’ the thing as I don’t own one. I’ve seen it, I’ve touched it, but that isn’t the same as using it for a while.
I do know that I am not going to buy one for a while. It’s a beautiful gadget, its extremely cool, and yet it doesn’t fulfill any need I have at this moment. To me its a reasonably expensive Dinky Toy that in itself doesn’t represent a revolution in computing. I doubt the iPad on its own will save ‘old-media’. If the iPad is nothing more that a beautiful package for ‘old-media’ it won’t stop it’s deterioration into nothingness. Personally I find holding a photo frame the size of an iPad in my hands to do things like read, type or be entertained awkward. that doesn’t imply I’ll never use it, it just means that right now I find it awkward. I’d be scared to drop it, and I’ll probably get neck problems trying to hold and use it. I love books, I love the smell of books, and I have no urgent need to start reading them on an iPad. Again, that doesn’t mean the iPad fails, it just implies I have more urgent matters I would like to solve first.
The iPad will however spark innovation and in a few years from now we will probably point at the iPhone and the iPad as the trigger that revolutionized human (mobile) computer interaction to a new level. The next generation will look back wearily at the concept of a mouse as the main interaction device (a what??). If only someone could get rid of the software keyboard too (which sucks on a big device like an iPad imo).
Apple is a good company, possibly making the transition to great. But that doesn’t mean that everything they do is perfect. And I feel that a company like Apple can only become great if it gets the right feedback and acts upon that. Not just from the fan boys, but also from people who will look beyond the glamor and glitter. Their unwillingness to compromise on user experience/quality brings great products but comes at a downside too. Just look at the way Apple controls the app store and developments for their products. A fan boy will now stand up and tell me I’m an idiot and that Apple has ensured a quality level in their app store because they control quality at the gate. My opinion on this is that it’s an illusion to think that they actually control quality of the app store that way. The app store contains more than 100.000 apps. Some of which are great, some suck. But that really doesn’t matter. What matters most is that I want to decide for myself if I like an app or not. Their review process is biased and therefore unfair by nature. Their dismissal of intermediate platforms, the exclusion of the word ‘Pad’ in your app name, and the inability to install any software the owner of the device wants are similar examples of control. I will not discuss their terms of service here, I signed them, I don’t think I am allowed to ventilate an opinion on it.
All I can say is, when you control things, you will always have a responsibility to ensure that control isn’t a self-perpetuate engine. It isn’t something you can enforce because you are the biggest, smartest, fastest or best in class. Control is given to you by those that put faith into you doing the right things. And if you stop doing the right thing, then control will simply be put into the next company. Understanding and dealing with that is what make a good company a great company. Apple has built some of the most beautiful products in the computer industry. I wonder if they can deal with the responsibility that comes along with that. I hope so! It will keep them in a top position and it will allow them to bring us great products. Who knows, I might even become a true fan one day.
[update: added a few links]