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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Apple Jumps the Shark

If you're as antique as I am, you can measure a great deal of your life by phases in which the "demise of Apple Computers was assured." There was the Two-guys-in-a-garage phase. There was the Their-market-share-is-shrinking phase, followed by the John-Scully-In-Steve-Jobs-Out phase, which handed off new definitions of failure to the How-much-faster-can-Gil-Amelio-destroy-it phase. It got so bad that at one point, sitting in a meeting with Regis McKenna, a celebrated Silicon Valley public relations man, I listened to him tell of how he advised Steve Jobs to simply license the Apple logo instead of running a company.

Of course, that was in the early 1990's. A lot has changed since, and most to Apple's benefit. Apple stock is way up. Its success is astounding. New products and services have revolutionized entire industries. Even non-tech people know and use iPods, iPhones, iTunes and maybe even iPads, not to mention a whole line of Apple desktop and laptop computers.

It's been a great ride for Apple. The happy band of rebels that take pride in "Thinking Different" have achieved success in just about every arena they've entered. Not to be overlooked, every one of those victories came the added-but-rarely-verbalized pleasure of sticking it to Microsoft.

But now we come to the point where Apple may have jumped the shark.

Every upstart brand, from rock bands to retailers, goes through it: Beginning as an underdog, the little David takes on the well-entrenched Goliaths. The early adopters -- half out of pure contrarianism and half because they just want to be cool -- bless the new brand with eager acceptance. They evangelize the new brand while castigating the huge, old, evil ones. Within a short time, their followings swell, usually embraced by throngs of young kids whose own agenda of pubescent rebellion fits snugly into the brand's.

Riding the Culture of Cool, the brand gains critical mass and begins to attract the attention of market makers and venture funds, who stoke the financial coals into a real, fire-breathing revenue machine. As the brand gets bigger, it generates more influence. Sales skyrocket. The brand goes mainstream. Everyone is happy.

And then, something happens. Imperceptibly, at first. But it's there nonetheless.

One day, at corporate headquarters, memos begin appearing dictating the rules of corporate culture. Lawsuits begin emanating from the legal department, defensive at first, but very soon pre-emptive, as the brand stakes its claim on its entrepreneurial turf. The brand then begins to lose its sense of self, feeding on a generation of cultural inbreeding which gradually mutates from camaraderie into full-blown paranoia, if not downright xenophobia. In its final stages, megalomania sets in, with the brand completely intoxicated with its own sense of power, success -- and hubris.

It can happen to anyone -- especially those without a clear and concise brand strategy. It happened to Microsoft. It happened to Yahoo. It's happened to Google. And if you watch carefully, you can see it happening to Apple.

You think Apple has a successful brand? You're right. You think Apple has a good brand? You're wrong. To this day, Apple has no articulation of their brand strategy. Yes, they're stock is at an all-time high. But gone are the days of the happy band of rebels. These days, Apple -- the brand associated with creativity and freedom -- arbitrarily decides which of its iPhone apps are morally offensive or inappropriate. Its mind set has become one of a fortressed company.

Think I'm wrong? Does the name Michael Jackson ring a bell?

To be sure, Apple's brand is not going away any time soon. To be just as sure, Apple's brand has jumped the shark, It's only a matter of time until the next David loads his slingshot.

7 Comments:

Blogger Rich Meyer said...

This is an excellent post. I am a loyal Apple customer and believe that they make a great product but they have had several lapses in judgement that make me wonder.

First there was the denial that there was an issue with 27" iMacs to the point that customer service people were instructed to say that there were no problems. Now finally Apple has acknowledged the problem and fixed it.

The new iPad while exciting maybe the future of mobile computing but one has to ask why a customer would need one when they have an iPhone that already does what the iPad does. Not to mention that the foolish people who purchase an iPad are going to find that they wasted money when new and inexpensive versions appear.

What really upsets me though as an Apple customer is the lack of resources for the continued improvement of OS X. Mail is woefully outdated and still has a number of bugs related to checking POP eMail servers and Safari also needs another update. Apple has decided instead to focus all resources on mobile applications because that's where the money is. Too bad

8:39 AM  
OpenID believit said...

Very interesting read. I still cannot understand all the hype with iPad, too.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Randy Singer said...

For those who can't understand the iPad, I recommend that you go to an Apple Store and spend some quality time test driving one.

The iPad has all the goodness of an iPhone or iPod Touch, with few of the constraints. No more constantly zooming in and out and centering things. Games and Web pages are now full screen. The best features of a desktop and an iPhone in one device, with the same familiar interface that countless people already love from the iPhone.

For the future, the iPad now has a version of Filemaker Pro, so most existing business applications and forms based on FMP can run unmodified. The iPad will be invaluable for doctors, lawyers, anyone who keeps inventory, anyone who works standing up, etc.

It's funny, I suspect that those of you here saying that you "don't get the iPad" used to go around telling people that didn't get the Macintosh that they should try it and that they would then be hooked themselves.

11:25 PM  
Blogger Randy Singer said...

For those who can't understand the iPad, I recommend that you go to an Apple Store and spend some quality time test driving one.

The iPad has all the goodness of an iPhone or iPod Touch, with few of the constraints. No more constantly zooming in and out and centering things. Games and Web pages are now full screen. The best features of a desktop and an iPhone in one device, with the same familiar interface that countless people already love from the iPhone.

For the future, the iPad now has a version of Filemaker Pro, so most existing business applications and forms based on FMP can run unmodified. The iPad will be invaluable for doctors, lawyers, anyone who keeps inventory, anyone who works standing up, etc.

It's funny, I suspect that those of you here saying that you "don't get the iPad" used to go around telling people that didn't get the Macintosh that they should try it and that they would then be hooked themselves.

11:26 PM  
Blogger G-Hog-Chi said...

For me, the "fortress" thing started with the iPhone lock-in to AT&T. (I'm about to get an Android phone because I'm happy with TMobile and I'd rather write Java than Objective C.)

And to add to Rich Meyer's list of denials: the waffling on the iPhone 4 antenna problem is a classic.

I've been a Mac owner since 1984 - when I could afford it. I'm insanely happy with my 2d gen MacBook Pro (passed the 1st gen on to my wife). Like Rich, I'm upset by the apparent cutbacks to OSX development.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Bob Nelson said...

Yeh, so what? Nothing lasts forever. But for now, Apple is ahead of the pack.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Bob, I think you kinda missed the point here. But thanks for your comment!

10:20 AM  

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