An old friend caught me in email on my recent piece on Apple and had a very valid criticism: that I’d gone into detail about what I saw was wrong with Apple, but didn’t really offer any action plan on what to fix it.
She was right, and so I sat down and thought about what I would suggest if Apple were to ask (which they haven’t, so yes, more unsolicited advice from the peanut gallery).
My advice boils down to two key items.
Slow down and sweat the details again
If I could only offer one thing to Apple, it’s this: “it’s okay to slow down — a little”. The iPhone has to ship a new version ever year, and you can’t take your eye off that for a minute, but other parts of the product line don’t need that kind of continuous update. MacOS would be okay with a new release every 18 months or two years, or a feature release as a tick and a performance release as a tock in a two year cycle.
Same with Mac Hardware. I wouldn’t be upset at all if the Laptops were updated one year and the Desktops were updated the year after in a two year cycle: as long as we understood this was what we could expect.
And the watch: the series two hardware is surprisingly good and with current WatchOS software even my Series 0 works quite well. The hardware doesn’t need to be spun to a new version every year. There seems to be magic appearing in the watch software, so it’s still an annual cycle for the foreseeable future.
The TV can also be put on a two year hardware cycle. The software will depend a lot of what innovation they can do based on the deals they can make with media creators and distributors, but there’s a lot of upside in the TvOS to keep them driving this forward.
Apple has the ability to give themselves a bit more time to breathe and sweat the details and I’d love to see Apple do that, because with the sheer size and complexity of Apple’s product line now, it’s struggling to get that quality that defines Apple into everything as reliably as it should. It is trying too hard, and sometimes it shows.
Join the conversation
My second suggestion to Apple is “talk to us more — at least a bit”. The world has changed since Steve came back to Apple and clamped down into secrecy mode to kill all of the leaking. Today, the leaking happens away from Apple, mostly out of the supply chain, and while I think Apple has come to terms with that and handles it pretty well, the entire online/social-media universe has reshaped how conversations happen and spread, and if you aren’t part of that conversation today, others will create that conversation for you.
If you want to manage and direct that conversation and minimize the uninformed speculation, you have to be more directly involved in it. At the same time, I’m not suggesting Apple stop “being Apple” because culturally, it can’t. But it’s my belief that if they had added one slide, taken 30 seconds at the MacBook Pro announcements last fall, and said “we have new desktops being worked on, you’ll see them next spring, and I think you’ll really like them, but we can’t ship them sooner or we would” it would have prevented most of the current unhappy chatter going on about Apple today.
When people are nervous, when they don’t know what might happen to the things they depend on in their life and work, they start speculating. And when there’s nothing to fill the space in the social media and online conversation space, that speculation ends up taking on a life of its own, especially the speculations of the better known, louder enthusiasts and influencers. The best antidote for that is to get in front of it with enough information to prefer the speculations from catching everyone’s attention in the first place.
If Apple doesn’t foster those conversations directly, then the analysts and bloggers and the podcasters will in its absence. Apple needs to realize this and join the conversation with us now.
(and… it’s why I’ve said making sure the influencer/power-user niche is a strategic niche that should have its needs covered…)
Relatively small things can make a big difference
Neither of these are earth shattering or require massive organization upheavals, and they work within Apple’s existing culture. Apple’s creation of the @applesupport twitter account (which I think is quite good) shows they see the need to start engaging with users using these channels. I’m just suggesting they do a bit more of that and start setting expectations for all of us up front so that we don’t fill the conversation vacuum with our own speculations instead. Especially since we’ve seen 3-4 cases where Apple has had to step into and try to manage a conversation that was spinning out of control.
(as an aside, I find it interesting that Apple seems to have chosen the “Tim writes an internal email that he likely knows will get leaked” as a tactic here, because I’m guessing it being a leak prevents it from being liable to the same kind of SEC “forward thinking” rules and regulations that his more formal communications might be held to. Nice hack)