11 Reasons Steve Jobs Wouldn't Be Happy With Apple

If he were still alive today, Steve Jobs wouldn't be all that pleased with some of the ways that his company has been thinking different.
  • The iPad Pro's "Pencil"

    Back in 2010, during the introduction iOS 4, Steve Jobs made it abundantly clear what he thought of the detachable styli then found in other manufacturers' PDAs, phones and the like:

    "If you see a stylus, they blew it."

    But in September of last year, Apple rolled out the 12.9-inch "Pro" iPad variant, complete with an optional $99 stylus...sorry, pencil. Since then, the company's done its own double-downing, subsequently expanding the accessory's applicability to the smaller 9.7" iPad Pro version, and even incorrectly-or-not recently alluding to upcoming iPhone support for the dread accessory.

    Stylus...pencil...paraphrasing a well-known saying, you say "tomayto", I say "tomahto", but we're both talking about a tomato...or a stylus, as the occasion calls for. Steve would not be pleased.

    (image source: By Brett Jordan (https://flic.kr/p/Bj2oVu) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons) 

  • The iPad Mini

    Speaking of small tablets, here's another memorable set of Steve Jobs statements, from Apple's fiscal Q4 2010 earnings announcement analyst call on October 18 of that year, and comparing competitors' tablets to the company's then-sole 9.7" available form factor option:

    "I'd like to comment on the avalanche of tablets poised to enter the market. It appears to be just a handful of credible entrants, not an avalanche. Nearly all use a 7-inch screen. One might think this would offer 70% of the benefit of 10-inch screen. But it's only 45% as large as the iPhone's 10-inch screen. If you cut an iPad screen in half, that's what you're looking at. Not enough for good tablet apps. You'd also need to include sandpaper so people could make their fingers smaller. We think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum to create great tablet apps."

    Two years later, and a year after Jobs' death, Apple released the first-generation iPad mini, with a 7.9-inch screen. Was it already under development at the time Jobs made his dismissive comments in October 2010? Maybe. Perhaps he was just trying to put the brakes on growth in that particular segment of the market until Apple's offering was ready. But even with his vaunted "reality distortion field" persuasion skills, Jobs would have been challenged to walk back his prior form factor criticism. And the iPad mini is built from off-the-shelf components also found elsewhere in the company's product line, so it wouldn't have taken much time to develop. Odds are then, I suspect, that the change in plans happened closer to, or even after, his death.

    (image source: Pixeden.com)

  • Phablets

    What about form factor transformation in the opposite direction: bigger? Here's what Jobs said about the larger-screen Android-based smartphones that were beginning to gain prominence at the height of the company's iPhone 4 "Antennagate" fiasco:

    When a reporter asked him whether Apple would consider making a bigger iPhone to improve antenna reliability, Jobs scoffed. He called Samsung's Galaxy S phones "Hummers." "You can't get your hand around it," Jobs said. "No one's going to buy that."

    He was comparing them to the 3.5-inch diagonal iPhone 4, a form factor that Apple extended for one more generation, with the iPhone 4S. But the year after Jobs' death, the company rolled out the 4-inch iPhone 5, whose dimensions linger to this day in the iPhone SE. And beginning in September 2014, Apple added even larger 4.7-inch (iPhone 6) and 5.5-inch (iPhone 6 Plus) product options to its smartphone suite.

    (image source: By Rafael Fernandez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)  

  • The IBM Partnership

    Anyone remember the famous "1984" commercial? The "Big Brother" dystopia in it is a clear allusion to the control wielded by then-dominant computer supplier IBM. More generally, Apple was founded and fueled on anti-IBM sentiment, which the release of the IBM PC (as a response to the Apple II's burgeoning success) only further fueled.

    Imagine, then, what chief anti-IBM architect Steve Jobs would think of Apple and IBM's mid-2014 partnership, which continues to this day? Granted, IBM is no longer a presence in the personal computer market, a market that more generally is much less viable than it used to be. Indicative of its condition, in fact, IBM's role in the partnership involves developing enterprise applications for Apple's successor iOS-based devices. But still...could Jobs stomach such an alliance?

    (image source: By Paul Rand (A note on IBM website) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • A Lack of Mac Innovation

    The Mac computer product line, in both desktop and mobile variants, has been essentially moribund for several years now, "evolving" only modestly in terms of CPU and GPU generation steps, along with HDD-to-SSD transitions and display resolution upticks.

    The most radical revamp so far this decade, the late 2013 Mac Pro, has seemingly been largely forgotten, languishing without any subsequent updates. And in fact, the headless Xserve product line, Apple's attempt to target the enterprise server space, was rendered obsolete in early 2011. Given that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built Apple on a personal computer foundation, and in spite of the earlier mentioned market migration toward smartphones, tablets and the like, would Jobs tolerate such lackadaisical treatment of the remaining, still vibrant computer business?

    (image source: By Rafael Fernandez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)  

  • Chronic Bugs

    The above logo is for MobileMe, the third of now-four iterations of Apple's collection of Internet-based services:

    iTools in 2000

    .Mac in 2002

    MobileMe in 2008, and

    iCloud, beginning in 2011 and continuing to this day

    Why did I choose to highlight MobileMe in this section? The following excerpt from the relevant Wikipedia entry should explain (with in-advance apologies for Jobs' "colorful" language):

    In May 2011, Fortune magazine reported that during the summer of 2008, after MobileMe had launched to mostly negative reviews, Apple's CEO 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", when someone answered, Jobs reportedly shot back, "So why the fuck doesn't it do that?"

    Clearly, Jobs was intolerant of product shortcomings, as well as understanding their root cause; trying to do too much, too fast. If only his successors were equally insightful. As is repeatedly (and increasingly so) being reported of late, the company's products (hardware included), are increasingly buggy. A development reboot is clearly necessary. But is post-Jobs Apple up to the task?

    (image source: public domain)  

  • The Apple Car

    This one's so baffling that it deserves a column all its own.

    Jobs was conceptually interested in pursuing cars as far back as around a decade ago, according to some folks:

    But Jobs was also all about focus and execution; look, for example, at the extensive product culling he conducted after his return to Apple in 1997. As such, given that (quoting from my earlier column) "a vehicle is so very, very orthogonal to Apple's existing businesses," I seriously doubt that a Jobs-led Apple would have pursued this particular path, particularly standalone.

    (image source: Flicker user automobileitalia: https://www.flickr.com/photos/automobileitalia/16310102367)

  • Lack of Living Room Innovation

    In an earlier column, I suggested a couple of alternative product line expansion ideas, ones that were also potentially lucrative but more closely aligned with Apple's existing businesses. One of them involved living room-focused hardware, software and services.

    Unfortunately, a decade after the unveiling of the first-generation Apple TV appliance, the company's living room attack remains tepid at best. The long-rumored Apple-branded television remains nonexistent, despite Jobs' reputed enthusiasm for the concept. And at this point, I'd argue the company would be too late even if it actualized that aspiration. TVs are high-ticket items (therefore often also high profit items, therefore Apple's likely conceptual interest) that are upgraded infrequently and otherwise replaced only when they break. Apple's already missed both the SD-to-HD resolution and anything-to-LCT transitions, and has also missed out on the particularly lucrative early-adopter phase of the HD-to-4K resolution transition.

    Even if the company was content to focus only on TV-tethered devices like Apple TV, the studios' standoffs regarding content licensing fees have hampered Apple's enthusiastic plans to go after service provider middlemen like Comcast and AT&T/DirecTV. To this day, you still can't directly access "live" TV via Apple TV; you have to instead leverage the (limited) selection available via DishNetworks' Sling TV intermediary. And although I'm not suggesting that Apple consider pursuing the evaporating AVR market, how about a soundbar series? After all, Apple's gone down a similar path before...

    (image source: By Rayukk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • HomeKit Stagnation

    In earlier coverage, I wrote (again regarding alternative markets that the company might instead consider pursuing) that Apple should consider home automation, security and surveillance systems, natural fits with Apple's HomeKit initiative.

    Make sense, right? And the operating system hooks for HomeKit have existed in iOS since 2014's iOS 8; Apple TV support was more recently added to (and subsequently constrained in) Apple TV. But third party switch and other peripheral support has, to date, been tepid at best, reportedly the result of the protocol's security and other complexities, leading to development delays and increased costs-and-prices.

    (image source: Flicker user protalgda - https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/26837265071

  • The Android Nemesis

    In the same Q4 2010 earnings call that I mentioned earlier regarding small-screen Android tablets,

    Steve Jobs went on a five-minute tirade on the broader Android-based ecosystem. Here's a recording. These scathing comments were accompanied by a terser, but no less bold, threat documented in Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs:

    "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

    What was behind Jobs' palpable anger? Google (now Alphabet) then-CEO (now executive chairman) Eric Schmidt was also on Apple's board from 2006 to 2009 and therefore privy to Apple's iPhone and other product plans. Google had bought Android in 2005, and Jobs was aware of Google's smartphone aspirations, but the initial product prototype Schmidt shared with Jobs was Blackberry-like, absent a touchscreen and integrating a physical keyboard. However, the first production Android-based smartphone, the T-Mobile G1 (i.e. HTC Dream) did include an iPhone-like touchscreen, and subsequent Android-powered models from various manufacturers also transitioned to a virtual keyboard.

    So where are we today? iOS-based devices garner the bulk of mobile device market profits (maybe even more in the near future), but Android-based devices constitute the vast (and a growing) percentage of mobile device shipments. If any of you are mentally drawing an iOS-vs-Android analogy to Mac OS-vs-Windows, the comparison is indeed apt. But here's where the analogy breaks down; whereas Apple had sued Microsoft in the Jobs era for similarities between the two operating systems (along with assisting the Department of Justice in its antitrust actions against Microsoft), post-Jobs Apple has to date limited its Android responses to indirect lawsuits filed against Android licensees such as Samsung.

    Oracle, in contrast, has had no compunction against directly targeting Android, although its to-date success has been nonexistent. Were Jobs still alive and in charge of Apple, would he have made good on his "thermonuclear" threat with a similar direct attack? Likely, I think.

    (image source: Google)  

  • Chrome OS in Schools

    Speaking of Google/Alphabet operating systems...in middle school, I used Apple IIs (along with TRS-80s)...yes, I know I'm dating myself by revealing this! And although my high school didn't have a computer lab (again, dating myself), my college fraternity was equipped with a Macintosh. There was a time when Apple was making a concerted effort to cultivate converts at an early age.

    No more. "Today more than 20 million students worldwide are using Chromebooks to create, collaborate and communicate," trumpeted a recent Alphabet blog post. And I get why; although Chrome OS-based devices might be underpowered and insufficiently application-equipped for general-purpose use, they're perfect for basic word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, email, web browsing and other such tasks, specifically when persistent network connectivity is a given. And for IT administrators, they're a dream – easy to manage, and easy to replace when damaged or lost, since all data resides in the cloud.

    MacBooks remain popular with college students, but that's due to personal "cool" preference, not the result of any coordinated corporate effort on Apple's part. And right now, Alphabet's the one cultivating the next generation of converts. Think Jobs would have allowed this academic transition to occur? Me neither.

    (image source: By Marcus Qwertyus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

In some respects, Apple has become a very different company in the years since Steve Jobs' passing, with a much larger employee count, not to mention much higher revenue and profitability. In other respects, it doesn't seem very different, with only a single new significant product line (the Apple Watch) new to the portfolio since then. But I'm fairly certain that were Jobs still alive today, he wouldn't be at all pleased with some of the ways that his company is " thinking different "...assuming, of course, that he was solely an observer and wouldn't have had an active hand in ensuring that these particular transformations never occurred in the first place.


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