Call it a happy coincidence or call it inevitable but as I was working up the graphic for this article, Gizmodo (journalistic outlet extraordinaire) published this:
Apple's detractors have plenty of sound arguments, but the company could never be accused of shipping products that were unfinished or over-complicated. Babies can use iPads before they can stand. Your grandfather gets FaceTime. People buy Apple because they want to fit in, sure. But also because it's safe.
That may not sound like much of a compliment, but it is. It's maybe the highest compliment you can pay a consumer electronics company. Just like good design is invisible, good user experience should be functional and intuitive. You shouldn't ever have to doubt it, or even think about it twice.
All of which was true of Apple products until last year. Until Apple decided to make all of its customers inadvertent beta testers.
Emphasis mine. Gizmodo, as usual, is amongst the worst offenders when it comes to sensational bullshit (I think this is article number 50-or-so on the Maps debate) but it's generally popular these days to say that "insert latest stumble" is the first sign that Apple -- post-Steve Jobs -- is going downhill.
If you've not read the phrase "this never would have happened if Steve Jobs were still alive" you've not spent any time reading tech news and/or the commentary that tends to accompany it.
Here's Juan Alpizar, commenting on Gizmodo, summing up the sentiment better than I can:
this is the beginning of Apple without Mr. Jobs.
The only problem with the "what would Steve Jobs do" claim is that it's totally, utterly, and undeniably built upon a foundation of Grade A Horse Shit.
It's astoundingly lazy commentary that aims to deify Steve Jobs (while simultaneously -- wink wink -- slamming Apple) and it's coming from the very people who vilified Jobs while he was still alive.
So, would Steve Jobs have ever released buggy software or scratch-prone hardware? Would he have allowed imperfections to reach the consumer?
HOCKEY PUCK MOUSE | 1998
The mouse's round shape is widely considered clumsy, due to its small size and tendency to rotate in use.
Verdict: Steve Jobs more alive than ever before.
POWERMAC G4 CUBE | 2000
Additionally, early Cubes suffered from a manufacturing issue that led to faint lines (referred to as "cracks" or "mold lines") in the clear plastic case. This was often considered damaging to the aesthetic quality of the computer.
Verdict: Steve Jobs still alive. Indeed, the Cube was a Steve Jobs passion project. Bonus joke: Q. Why didn't late model cubes suffer manufacturing issues that led to faint lines in the clear plastic case? A. Late model cubes?
MAC OS X "CHEETAH" | March 24, 2001
…Mac OS X v10.0 was riddled with fatal bugs that caused kernel panics, especially in complex hardware setups.
Verdict: Steve Jobs still alive. (It's not as though Apple was betting the company on Mac OS X, right?)
iPOD NANO | September 7, 2005
Within days of the Nano's release, some users reported damage to the Nano, suggesting that the LCD screen had become so scratched that it was unreadable, even when the backlight was on. Many have reported fine scratches on their Nano caused by microfiber cloths. Other owners reported that their Nano's screen cracked with no provocation.
Verdict: Steve Jobs still alive.
MOBILEME | July 9, 2008
In May 2011, Fortune magazine reported that during the summer of 2008, after MobileMe had launched to mostly negative reviews, Steve Jobs summoned the MobileMe team to a meeting in the Town Hall auditorium at 4 Infinite Loop. After asking them "what MobileMe is supposed to do", and someone answered, Jobs reportedly shot back, "So why the fuck doesn't it do that?"
In an internal email sent to Apple employees on August 4, 2008, Jobs admitted that MobileMe was launched too hurriedly and “not up to Apple’s standards”. He wrote that “it was a mistake to launch MobileMe at the same time as iPhone 3G, iPhone 2.0 software, and the App Store”.
On August 18, 2008, it was announced that MobileMe subscribers would be offered a 60-day extension in addition to the one-month extension previously offered.
Verdict: Steve Jobs still alive. (Iteration, iteration, iteration.)
"LOST" iPHONE 4 PROTOTYPE | April 19, 2010
You are looking at Apple's next iPhone. It was found lost in a bar in Redwood City, camouflaged to look like an iPhone 3GS. We got it. We disassembled it. It's the real thing, and here are all the details.
Verdict: Steve Jobs still alive. (Is this the last meaningful scoop posted to Gizmodo?)
ANTENNAGATE | June 24, 2010
Shortly after the iPhone 4 was launched, some consumers reported that signal strength of the phone was reduced when touching the lower left edge of the phone, bridging one of the two locations which separates the two antennas, resulting in dropped calls in some areas with lower signal reception. In response, Apple issued a statement advising that customers should "avoid gripping [the phone] in the lower left corner" when making or receiving a call.
Verdict: Steve Jobs still alive and in rare form.
FINAL CUT PRO X | June 2011
Some professional users of earlier versions of Final Cut Pro were critical of FCP X shortly after its release, giving the application more 1-star reviews than 5-star reviews in the Mac App Store. Among other missing features, they cited lack of edit decision list (EDL), XML and Open Media Framework Interchange (OMF) support, inability to import projects created in previous releases of Final Cut Pro, unreleased multicam editing tool and 3rd party IO hardware output, capture is limited to Firewire video devices only.
FCP also didn't offer support for native raw or Red One editing, but Apple has announced these features will be in a future release. 3D editing is done via the third party Dashwood plugin, and Blu-ray creation is very basic.
Verdict: Steve Jobs still alive, though gravely ill.
I've left out several alleged stumbles that took place during Steve Jobs's tenure as CEO, primarily because they're so subjective: Were the "S" class iPhones lackluster updates? Will skeumorphism in software design be Apple's ultimate downfall?
Maybe, maybe not, but both the 3GS and 4S iPhones were developed under Jobs's direction and skeumorphism as a design aesthetic is widely thought to have been pushed by the late CEO.
This brings us to the iPhone 5 (it scuffs if you scuff it!) and the decision to ditch Google Maps for Apple's homegrown Maps app:
We know Steve Jobs was willing to ship imperfect hardware. We also know that there is no one on this earth with a more vindictive attitude towards Google than Jobs's at the time of his death. Anyone taking bets on whether he'd drop Google maps purely out of spite or even to simply cut ties to a fierce competitor would be a fool to bet against this quote:
I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40bn in the bank, to right this wrong," Jobs told Isaacson. "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this.
The fact of the matter is, almost every outlet making a big deal about the state of Apple's Maps app or the scuffability of the iPhone 5 and what those "flaws" mean for Apple were just as outrageously over the top about past Apple hiccups that (we now know) did not lead to doom and gloom or consumer backlash.
Then, the claim was that Steve Jobs was losing his edge. Now, the claim is that Steve Jobs never would have made these mistakes in the first place.
As a visual aid, I put together a graphic which shows all of the things that happened while Steve Jobs was still alive that totally would not have happened if Steve Jobs were still alive, and as a bonus I've charted those "mistakes" against Apple's market value over time:
The takeaway? If Apple wants to continue to grow as a company, Tim Cook should be sure to do things that Steve Jobs "never" would have done, were he still alive.
The day I'll fear for Apple's long-term success is the day Apple stops fucking up minor details of new products.
I'm really looking forward to the mistakes Steve Jobs never would have made on wearable computing products and an Apple-branded TV set.