The Biggest Misstep Apple is Making:
So I was at work tonight when a coworker was bragging about his new ASUS Zenbook. Somebody had asked me what I thought of it, and I’d said point blank, “Oh, you mean the MacBook Air knock off?” This of course prompted my coworker to launch into a laundry list of specifications about how the processor was a 3rd generation i7 better than what you can get in a MacBook Air. (Which while his processor certainly was 3rd Gen i7 it isn’t better than what you can get in a MacBook Air, it’s the same processor you can get in the upper level MacBook Air) He also went on about how the screen was 1080, (Because Lord knows we wouldn’t want to move past a vertical resolution of 1080 pixels!) which of course is higher than that in the MacBook Air (it also requires you to squint at certain fixed graphic elements in programs but at least you can make your system font bigger) and so on and so forth.
Now of course most of my coworkers expected me to reply as if I thought he was stupid to have his computer. Clearly it’s the best computer for him, he wants to run Windows (first problem) and if you want to do that, then ASUS is probably the best brand to go with. It’s the one I recommended to a friend when he wanted a new laptop and specifically didn’t want a Mac.
People seem to think that I prefer Macs just because they’re pretty and or shiny. And while my MacBook Pro, Thunderbolt Monitor, iPad and iPhone 5 are all very nice electronics … I didn’t get them just because they’re pretty. I got them because they’re the best products for someone with my approach to computers. Or better yet, they’re the best computers for people with taste.
Now, that wasn’t always the case. There was a period before 1997 when Apple was in complete and utter disarray, they had a million different product lines with overlapping features at different price points, and from what I understand back then it was a disheartening experience to pick a Mac because their product line was just damn confusing.
Jobs came back and one of the things that he did was simplify, he made a product matrix of four products they’d focus on, consumer desktops, pro desktops, consumer laptops and pro laptops. Since Jobs came back to Apple they never really had a truly low end computer. Attempts like the eMac were phased out, and the Mac mini despite coming in at a low price progressively rose in price until it became something entirely other than what it was originally pitched as.
Currently Apple has a new product matrix, with the advent of the iPod and later the iPhone and iPad Apple has moved in a direction of having what essentially amounts to 3 “equally valuable thirds” (which aren’t actually equally valuable) specifically: the iPhone, iPad and the Mac. Other devices including the Apple TV, AirPort routers, Final Cut Pro, iTunes, and the iPod sort of get shoved overseen by various people under those devisions.
The interesting thing is that iTunes and the iPod while they still make Apple enough cash to make their own company that would be seen as a major player as their own company, they increasingly make up less of Apple’s overall influx of cash. Heck the iPod has progressively morphed into this weird sort of beloved bastard child of an old embarrassing uncle for Apple. Last year their whole upgrade to it was, “Make it white.”
The iPod is now essentially an iPhone with training wheels, specifically one that you give to either your kid because you don’t trust them with 700 dollar iPhone (but apparently a 300 dollar iPod is fine?) or it gets purchased by those weird people who still have phones with real buttons on them (or BlackBerry owners). Apple still sells a boat load of these devices mind you, but not nearly as many as they sell iPhones or even iPads now. (There’s also the Nano which is obviously a dedicated music player and primarily used by people who don’t like technology and just want something for mobile music, or people who don’t want to risk their higher end device at the gym … or people with phones other than the iPhone who can’t figure out the built in music player on their devices)
Thing is though, what made Apple great when I was a kid back in 1999 strong arming my parents into getting me my first Blueberry coloured iMac is in decline. Back then you got a Mac if you wanted to do graphic arts, which is why I got mine. It was the major platform to run Photoshop on, it was what everyone in design and print used, and it was beloved by musicians, and videographers, and just about everyone else. This was accomplished partly because artists hate Windows … I mean, honestly if you’re even remotely creative, you care about having an unoppressive workspace a lot more than you care about whether you can change the colour of the task bar.
And while we could talk about how different today’s modern clean aluminum lines, and shimmering glass are so different than the round polycarbonate and lolipop colours, when it comes down to it I’m not complaining about the hardware (it’s gorgeous and quite frankly they’re having far more success with clean lines that the entire industry is ripping off than they ever had with funky acid induced colours, the current iPod line not withstanding) what I’m talking about is the prospective software.
By in large there is more software available for Mac than ever in history. Things like the Mac App Store, (which I predicted years ago, though I called it the Finder App Store because I thought they’d pull the same stunt they did with iTunes and build a store into a preexisting App, though it makes sense given that Finder is really just an extension of the OS but that’s another topic) even with that though, the possibility of doing “insanely great things” has diminished quite a bit.
Apple’s App Store on both the Mac and the iPhone and iPad are still far too “every man”. The Apps on any of those stores are the sort that I can feel comfortable telling my Mom to download because she probably won’t have much trouble figuring them out. But the thing is, me and my Mom aren’t the same person, we have different needs when it comes to computers. A lot of my needs are fulfilled by applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, Final Cut Pro, After Effects (though I gave up on learning After Effects).
I remember back when the PowerBook G4 was just coming out, Final Cut Pro was almost all anyone could talk about when it came to Apple’s Pro level computers. “Holy crap you can edit digital video on a laptop!? That’s amazing!” Now its, “Holy crap you play farmville on on a pro level laptop!?” Kids getting english degrees are purchasing MacBook Pros. What “Pro” level features are needed to write an essay about E.E. Cummings? Give you a hint, none.
Apple has more cash in the bank currently than nearly any company I can think of, and their computer as progressively becoming more and more … thin? Like, don’t get me wrong, the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display looks bloody killer! But Apple’s gone from being the goofy kid who did amazing things, to the pretty bimbo who gets great battery life.
Even Apple’s latest approach to revamping Final Cut Pro was a horrid illustration of Apple’s new approach to the Pro market, which seems to be, “Bend over and try something new!” I’ll let you in on a secret from my personal life … that phrase rarely goes over well when you want it to.
Now this isn’t to say that all of Apple’s software suddenly began to suck, it hasn’t. Pages is hands down still the best word processor I’ve ever used. (Yes Apple managed to make me care about a word processor.) Keynote despite not seeing any major upgrades in forever is still a great program. Aperture from all the reports I hear is great for photo management, and iPhoto … well … okay iPhoto’s been going down hill but it’s still head and shoulders above anything on Windows. But really, what new stuff has Apple come out with lately? Garageband for the iPad? I’ve heard … two people rave about that? iMovie on the iPhone? Nifty?
Lately it seems the approach to software that Apple has lately, (and this might be because Jobs isn’t still there to randomly say, “I’ve decided we need to make the best entry level music creation app on the planet!” in a staff meeting after smoking up the night before) been to say, “Developers, developers, developers, developers!” If you know the quote, you know what I’m getting at. For every Instagram exclusive to the iPhone, you’ll eventually get Instagram for Android. Apple in the mobile space is still what everyone is developing for, because you can hit the most customers who actually pay for stuff with the smallest investment. But if Google ever gets their act together in terms of creating quality easy to develop software for Android, Apple could be in a word of hurt. (Especially when desktop Android hits, which will probably be less awkward than Windows 8)
Apple has been telling people, “Wanna draw? Here’s 50 apps that let you draw to some degree, try Pixelmator most people like that.” And while Pixelmator is one of the best examples of exclusively Mac made third party software, a lot of other apps aren’t quite as high quality. There are like 20 different RSS readers for OS X, and when Safari killed built in RSS (WHY!?) I tried to find one that I didn’t hate … I gave up.
Beyond that, how many apps do I need that show me random crap about my computer in a slightly different visual setting? How many apps do I need that put Facebook in the title bar of my computer? How many Apps available on the App Store will truly help me draw like a professional? (The answer, so far I’ve really only found Pixelmator and Sketchbook Pro)
Currently if you’re me in 1999 new to computers looking for software that’s going to help you grow and impress other people to the point where they ask you, “How on earth did you do that!?” You’re still hitting up a torrent site to find a a pro level program, and that program is available for Windows too, and some day perhaps Desktop Android. Currently the software that really lets you do things that impress people is mostly being made by Adobe, (who have such a foul hate on for Apple these days it’s not funny), Autodesk, Avid, and a few others. But none of those need a Mac to run them.
So finally, I’ll get to my point.
If I were running Apple, I would: (Aside from making a BlueBerry MacBook Pro)
Refocus on Software
Get Serious About the Cloud
Make the Platform Vibrant and Unique, Not Just Magical
As far as #1 goes, and this is really the idea that started this whole thing. Apple has a TON of cash in hand. Granted they can’t just buy Adobe (And who would want to? though I’m sure they have tons of patents that would be useful) but they can invest that in doing co-operative joint efforts with other software developers.
Apparently back in the day Jobs didn’t even want to make iMovie and iPhoto, he want to Adobe and asked them to make some specifically Mac tools to help users do that sort of thing. Adobe shot him down. (Just one in a long list of Adobe’s missteps) So he took it upon himself to do it. Apple’s current approach to Application development tends to be give developers a lot of help at WWDC and from what I hear their engineers are pretty great. Ever since the OS X launched Apple has been pretty hardcore about pushing third party developers, and it gave them a huge shot in the arm with the Mac App Store.
But wouldn’t it be awesome if a developer had a chance to be the next iTunes creator? (I mean the app not the store) How about the next iPhoto? Now currently iPhoto, iMovie and Garageband all come bundled with new Macs. (I seriously don’t know how on earth they’re making any money selling them on the Mac app store aside from the fact that people buy them without realizing they already own them?! But iPhoto is still one of the top grossing apps. Apparently that many people make mistakes …)
Now of course Apple runs the risk of helping a competitor create an Apple concept and look that can then be easily ported to another platform. At the same time, I’m guessing if they offered to help the guys behind Pixelmator or Flex or Hype with their software and market it on the App Store with some sort of agreement that they stay exclusive to OS X and iOS, they could probably push the envelope on a lot of Apps and they could spark the sort of excitement that updates to iLife and iWork used to inspire. They can also help those smaller developers create apps that look and feel great and come closer to meeting feature parity with some of the big boys like Avid or Adobe.
Currently if you check out the Mac App Store a lot of the apps have good ideas but the UIs are still cumbersome, or they just look and feel shoddy. I think for a surprisingly small amount of money Apple could really work at improving the look and feel of some great apps while helping strengthen it’s own platform.
Ultimately though Apple really should be starting some sort of program internally where they take on some of their existing software partners and force them to push harder. Programs like graphics, animation, sound editing, the potential for kids and even adults to do amazing new things with software and hardware is greater than ever, but the tools have mostly been stuck for the last decade.
As far as getting serious about the Cloud: I have to say iCloud is a great idea that I’m still waiting for. In it’s current implementation iCloud has sorta kinda did what Google did with a few Apple specific features. (Is Find my Friends considered part of iCloud? Probably should be but it’s not, though it’s by far one of the coolest apps I’ve seen on a mobile device) Currently iCloud is still half baked. If I make a drawing in Sketchbook Pro for my iPad, I don’t want to just be able to access it in Sketchbook Pro on my Mac or iPhone, I wanna be able to pull it into Photoshop without any real hassle. I want to be able to pull it into Final Cut Pro, or iMovie, or iPhoto, or Brushes or Procreate. There are standard image formats (PSD, PNG, JPEG, TIFF) why is there no generic Graphic File Wrapper for iCloud? Heck I’m pretty sure you could just use PNG and call it a day. What about Audio files? Garageband files can be opened by Apple’s Audio Editors, but what if a third party app is really kick ass, should you have to destructively export it then reimport it, and holy crap how the hell are you gonna do that on an iPad?
Versions support in OS X already fixes the problem of, “What if a rouge app accidentally or intentionally borks my photo library?” If something similar was implemented in iCloud where multiple versions are tracked, and you can always rewind the file to where it was before, it solves a lot of problems.
One of the last times we saw Phil on stage he scoffed at the notion that people say you can’t create on an iPad. The thing is right now, you couldn’t make a TV add on an iPad, you couldn’t do the sort of graphic work you can do on a Mac. And while you might be able to make a really cool song, it ultimately probably would be less trouble and more effective to do it on a Mac. Google is currently selling people on “Media Tablets” AKA “Farmville and Wikipedia Tablets.” Soon the tablet space will be filled by unimaginative flat iPad knock offs that in some cases do creating better than the iPad does. Heck even Samsung’s Tab 10 comes with a pen similar to the one I have in my Wacom tablet. By Apple’s continued refusal to come out with some sort of pressure sensitive precise input device they’re leaving open an entire field that the iPad could have owned. (Currently I have a Pogo Connect shipping soon which hopefully will work well but we’ll have to see)
And for however much Apple may want to say that they’ll leave a lot of the things like a pressure sensitive pen to third parties, the problem is that iOS is locked down to the point where these sorts of things need to be pushed by Apple. And they’ve been really lax on it. Sure they’re building in a lot of sensors but you can’t draw well by tilting your tablet north.
For #3 what I mean by that is, more projects like iBooks Author. Granted we haven’t heard much about it lately, but iBooks Author is a chance for people who own Apple’s products to create really freaking cool eBooks out of what was essentially nothing before. Granted all they really had to do was build it on top of the preexisting code that made up Pages, but still, it’s a bloody killer app! Imagine a program like that for creating animation using skeletal rigging? The potential for goofy meme videos is off the charts. How much low budget but surprisingly high quality educational material could be made more fun and interesting for kids?
Currently owning an Apple product has become more and more and more about consuming stuff. Now don’t get me wrong, I love buying music on iTunes, it’s fast it’s simple and I get to help out my favourite artists. And should they ever get Facebook integration right there can even be some room for social interaction on that. But projects like iWeb were scrapped, (Probably because not everyone wants an uneditable template not to mention a lot of bloggers aren’t really good with designing their own stuff). Is there more money in selling a kid a new game every month or two? Yeah of course. Heck if you can sell them new games on a regular basis that’s awesome for the bottom line. But what if you can get that kid to realize they have a song in their head? Or a story that needs to be written down? That they have a talent for drawing or videography?
Now, Apple doesn’t risk losing out to Samsung on this front. Samsung understands how creative people think about as well as I understand why straight men like boobs. (I hear it’s something about the round and jiggly aspects) And Microsoft still is of the opinion that the chief aim of man is to word process, create spread sheets, and shoot stuff … (or watch polygonna boobs bounce). They don’t need to worry about Google either, I mean … just look at the UI for Gmail. They don’t have to worry about any other company getting it right … because no other company is run by someone as creative and passionate as Jobs was.
I guess I wrote all of this because people think I use Macs just because they’re shiny and sparkly. I don’t. I would readily use another computer that was plastic and black, or even had a weird sand stone like texture to it, if that computer allowed me to express myself creatively better than my Mac does. Heck I’d even put up with it crashing almost as much as OS 9 did if they focused on helping me be creative.
Currently Apple is the best at that. They may be a little arrogant, they may be on the pricey side of things … I may have to deal with people mistaking me for a hipster. But they are currently the closest to how good computers can be. I just hope that they start taking serious a few areas that they’ve been moving away from.