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Mac Planet: Peak Apple?

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Has Apple reached its peak? Photo / AP
Has Apple reached its peak? Photo / AP

An Ars Technica forum poster called The Real Blastdoor delivered this clever epistle back in June 2010, but I can't help thinking how accurate it is going by the tenor of some of the comments that appear here. And it's not just me who was impressed by this: it recently reappeared on other Mac postings, such as Farley's tumblr page.

What do you think? Does it hurt, ring true, make you laugh or make you recoil in anger?

The Apple haters' stages of grief go something like this:

1. Predict failure of new Apple product
2. Attribute early success of new Apple product to rabid fanbois affected by the reality distortion field
3. Attribute longer term success of product to stupidity of consumers
4. Purchase previously scorned product for stupid relatives so they stop bothering you to help support the open source version of Apple product sold by Super Lucky Technology Extreme Inc that you convinced them to buy
5. Purchase previously scorned product for yourself just to see what all the fuss is about
6. Admit that you now own and use the product, but complain about the product's lack of SD card slot on random internet forum
7. Forget prior criticism of product, claim that it was revolutionary and an example of how Apple used to be really innovative, but has now lost its edge.

Well, people have been relishing proclaiming doom for Apple as long as I can remember. Back before the Mac first came out in 1984, the finger of scorn was levelled at the 'stupid' mouse and 'childish' icons of the Graphic User Interface by 'real' computer users. Of course, history indicates pretty clearly what triumphed across all computer platforms on those counts.

When Apple was at its former peak of around 12 per cent usage in the US, here and in Australia, England and other places, back in the late 1980s, the naysayers didn't slacken with their criticisms. In fact, the only time I remember the traffic of negativity slackening was immediately before and after Apple was at its lowest, and Steve Jobs came back. Its imminent demise quietened the invective, and then there was a period where everyone wanted to see what was going to happen.

But soon the stream picked up with a vengeance, and Apple's eventual rise to monetary success, despite its Macs and iDevice introductions and designs invigorating markets as much as it invigorated copyists, had the scorn rising to an unrelenting level.

With the passing of Steve Jobs, there has been a lot of angsting (of which I am also guilty) about where Apple is doing and what Apple is all about, but people like me still live and breathe inside an Apple world - on a Mac Planet, if you will.

But recently a former Apple employee has joined the chorus in an opinion piece in The Guardian.

Dan Crow worked at Apple for four years in the late 1990s, as a software engineer and engineering manager. He joined during the disastrous reign of Gil Amelio, what he calls "the desolate end of a desolate decade for the company." Crow was there when Steve Jobs returned and executed the most spectacular business turnaround of our lifetimes, got to know Steve "quite well and Apple really well".

Though still an avid Mac user, Crow prefers Android - he also worked at Google for five years. Crow uses Maps as a starting point to what he thinks is the clarion call of Apple's forthcoming decline, because it wasn't a failure on a road to a better product so much as instrument of a vendetta against Google. He says "Apple deliberately offered an inferior product, because its fight over Android was deemed more important than its users."

This perceived personal element (as also a former Google employee and Android user) colours Crow's interpretation, but it's still a valid commentary worth consideration.

Crow makes the point (which I have to agree with) that when Jobs turned on his infamous hype, he needed an outstanding product to back it up, since "products like the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad really were exceptional, breakthrough products. Steve's showmanship was justified."

But the launch of the latest revisions of the iPad and iPhone were also accompanied by amazing levels of hype: "I don't think the level of invention has been matched by anything we've ever done", "This is the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since the iPhone".

Crow notes "Don't get me wrong, the iPhone 5 is an excellent product; it's probably the best smartphone on the market right now. But it's only an incremental improvement over the iPhone 4S."

As the recent new owner of an iPhone 5, I have to say I agree. It's an excellent device. Perhaps it is the 'best' - perhaps not. But it's not breathtakingly better than even my previous iPhone, a lowly 4.

More tellingly, though, Crow levels the charge that Apple is suffering from "serious structural faults." He thinks the pace will slacken and "Apple will not return to the levels of execution and brilliance we saw in the first decade of this millennium."

I don't know if I agree with that. Apple still has incredible R&D clout and buying power (which is much the same think - if you can't innovate in a particular space, you can always buy the innovators).

Crow goes further, maintaining that Apple "has shifted away from Jobs's laser-like focus on building the best and most complete user experience, and started putting its [corporate] interests way ahead of those of its users. It hasn't introduced a truly new product since the launch of the iPad nearly three years ago; instead it's making incremental and overhyped improvements to its current lines. In reality, these signs and portents are relatively small. Apple is still producing excellent products and for every Maps app, there's a great new iPad Mini or iPod Touch to brighten up the outlook. But, doesn't it all feel a little... flat?"

He further charges that Apple is emerging from a virtual dictatorship, and its present serious structural faults are the consequence.

In the end, Crow's concerns are his opinions, albeit well informed. As to where Apple actually will go, we'll just have to see. It's not impossible that Apple will get through whatever it's currently going through, but Crow's piece certainly adds to and enumerates genuine concerns.

I wholeheartedly concur that I prefer an Apple that focusses on building the best and most complete user experience. That's what attracted me in the first place, way back in the days of the first line of Macs.

Crow finishes "I may be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. But something tells me I'm not."

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