Every once in a while, a company becomes so obsessed with a competitor that it loses focus on its own customers. They start designing and positioning their products more to hurt rivals than thrill users.
And I fear that now it’s happening to Apple.
Everybody knows about Apple’s near-death experience in the 90s. But few appreciate why it happened.
From 1985 to 1997, Apple went in a series of bizarre product directions. Yes, Apple made some cool stuff back then. But they also made a lot of weird moves that would be inconceivable by the standards of today’s Apple.
One small example was that Apple introduced an insanely grating plethora of confusing PC brands, including the Centris, Quadra and Performa lines, which nobody could differentiate. But why?
They also launched half-heartedly into all kinds of unexpected consumer electronics directions. They sold digital cameras that were really made by Kodak and Fujifilm. They sold a CD player really made by Philips. Again, why?
And they spent enormous attention suing Microsoft for copying the Apple Lisa operating system user interface.
The reason is that they become obsessed with Microsoft, and were throwing all kinds of spaghetti against the wall to see what would stick. They became blind to the truth that great products bring more and better customers, and instead tried to beat Microsoft and the larger PC industry at its own game. They tried to litter the market with narrowly targeted product lines just like the clone companies did, even though most of the positioning was just a bullshit series of lies. The Centris, Quadra and Performa lines were more or less the same line, and the consumer electronics products had the Apple logo on them but weren’t Apple products.
Famously, war raged internally at Apple during these years between the “suits” and Steve Jobs’ “pirates.”
To oversimplify the overlooked reason for this war, the “suits” were obsessed by Microsoft and were more interested in out-maneuvering the WinTel world than designing awesome products and thrilling customers, while the “pirates” just wanted to make really cool toys.
The suits took over and stripped Jobs of his authority, so he quit.
I believe Jobs’ time at NeXT made him the kick-ass CEO he was when he returned as interim CEO in the summer of 97 because he had gained a number of key insights during his time away from Apple.
And what was the first thing Jobs did as CEO of Apple? He buried the hatchet with Microsoft, announcing a partnership that brought a pathetically small $150 million in Microbucks to Apple in exchange for non-voting stock and a commitment by Apple to make Microsoft Internet Explorer for Mac the default browser. The two companies also agreed to cross-license patents.
The details of the deal were irrelevant. The important thing was that Apple would stop obsessing about Microsoft and instead focus on thrilling customers with amazing products.
And Here We Go Again
Apple’s triumph over shipping what is currently and arguably the greatest phone ever was tarnished by mockery over its disastrously bad Maps app.
And people are right to mock Apple. The previous default Maps application on iOS was Google’s Maps app, and it was — and is — incredibly good.
Google Maps was since the beginning part of the seamless, powerful, ultra-functional, hyper-competent lineup of solid apps that made the iPhone experience so good.
And then Apple replaced it with a piece of crap.
I’m not going to sugar-coat this for anyone: Apple put crapware on their most important product on purpose in order to screw a rival at the expense of users.
But that’s not the only place Apple is doing this. The company has also gotten into bed with both Twitter and Facebook on social networking, and doesn’t offer any out-of-the-box integration with Google+.
Twitter integration makes sense for Apple. But Facebook integration does not, as I explained in June.
Meanwhile, Google+ is the Google Maps of social networks. Although Google+ may have as little as 10% of the active users of Facebook, it’s growing faster than Facebook ever did. And more importantly, Google+ has a vastly superior user experience to Facebook and has a much brighter longterm future, in my opinion.
But Facebook is the industry standard and has the biggest user numbers by far, you might argue. That’s why Apple favors it, right?
OK, if that’s the criteria, then why did Apple also remove Google’s YouTube app? YouTube is the clear standard with by far the most users, and it’s been one of the keystone iOS apps since the first iPhone shipped in 2007.
And Apple removed it in iOS 6.
(Yes, you’ll still be able to go find a new YouTube app and download it. But the “bundled” apps define the user experience for the majority of users.)
Google is out; Facebook is in.
We all know the reason why Apple is doing these things. They’re more focused now on hurting Google than thrilling users, just like they were with Microsoft in the 90s.
It sucks. And it’s a recipe for longterm failure.
They say that those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.
The history that Apple is repeating is its own history. It’s time to get smart, bury the hatchet, make peace with Google and start putting users first again.