Apple as Evil Genius

The April 2008 issue of Wired has a cover story about Apple titled Evil/Genius: How Apple Got Everything Right By Doing Everything Wrong. The subtitle tells the story – that Apple is much like Microsoft, ruled by an autocrat who is not above screeching at his employees (employees call it the “hero-shithead roller coaster”), matching Bill Gates penchant for proprietary with even more zeal (still resisting clones and taking many key Apple applications back in to the fold – ask audio, media, and photo editing software vendors like Adobe, NewTech and Pinnacle among others). But perhaps the most “endearing” trait Steve Jobs shares with Bill Gates is his willingness to play hardball. The litany here is long – lets list the 5 key breaking-the-rules directly from the article:
1)Cooperate: Silicon Valley Rule – Embrace open platforms. Software should be decoupled from hardware so users can access any program or data from any device. Apples Practice – Design software to run on your own hardware – and not on any one elses. The OS/X experience is made only for the Macs; iPhone apps function only on iPhones, etc.
2)Communicate: Silicon Valley Rule – Tell your fans what you are up to so they feel a connection to your company. Hiring difficulties? New strategies, blog them. Apple Practice – Never talk to the press. Shut down rumor blogs. Threaten to sue children who send you their ideas.
3)Play Nice: Silicon Valley Rule – Dont over exploit your market leader status. Software should continue to compete on its merits, not on its ability to shutout its rivals. Apple Practice – Hardball tactics rule! Every Mac is preloaded with iTunes, which becomes the users default music program. And most iTunes purchases can only be played on Macs and iPhones, creating a closed loop that has proven tough for competitors – and music labels – to challenge.
4)Love Your Customers: Silicon Valley Rule– Make sure to lavish affection on your clients, and try to assure that every one of them has a positive experience. Anyone can post a withering review on Yelp or Amazon, so you can afford to let a single complaint go unaddressed. Apple Practice – Please yourself, not your fans. Release iMacs without floppy disc drives. Release MacBook Airs withoput optical drives. Cut the price of the iPhone by $200 two months after its introduction. Only when early adopters complain, offer them a $100 gift certificate.
5)Coddle your employees – Silicon Valley Rule: Since the best ideas perk up from the ranks, encourage autonomy. Allow workers free time to focus on their personal projet [like Google]. Apple Practice – Motivate through fear. Dont be afraid to scream. Threaten to fire them. Withhold praise until it truly desrved. Go ahead and bring them to tears.

To this list, I would add the Steve Jobs as God rule – never correct your mistakes. God and Steve decreed that a mouse should only have one button. And despite the utility of right-mouse clicks and easier navigation of a mouse wheel, Steve is sticking with Gods decree because with touch and gestures finally coming to a desktop screen near you, mice will become vestigial. Ditto for MDI and SDI interfaces that allow programs to standalone in the GUI in useful ways while not being rooted to the OSs Menu bar across the top of the screen. Steve can say that his Aqua GUI now has Surfaces allowing multiple sessions to appear on multiple monitors. And to each objection I can hear the King and I saying “etc, etc, etc.”

However, of all these rules, number 2)Communicate is the one I can sympathize with Apples deviation. Apple adopted the Silicon Valley approach during its early years, and Bill Gates used Apple as its research division – copying software ideas and hardware nuances with relish since over the years it became obvious that most software and even some key hardware innovations would be impossible to patent or protect from “clean room” copy or reduplication. Let Steve do the expensive dirty work and then add a touch or two in Redmond and brand it as your own. Look no further then Vistas new GUI Aero.

But defying both Silicon Rules and better management practices may have consequences.

Consequences

Here are two of what could be many episodes based on Apples Business Rules.

I had a friend come to me with an urgent need. At 78 and having just lost his wife in the previous year, he had a “sensational idea” for his new Belle Dame. He would get a small mp3 player and fill it up with eight of her favorite tunes. This would be the perfect birthday present for the new gal he was seeing – “and help me get out of my funk”. So he dutifully downloaded the songs at $1 each from iTunes and put it on the new mp3 player he had gotten her. But there was a problem- the songs would not play. He asked me for help.

Even though I am not a big music man, I suspected their might be a problem with using iTunes. But Will insisted the songs were there. So I plugged his player into my PCs USB port and took a look. And sure enough the songs were there. And so I tried playing them on my machine. The file icon said use Windows media player – so I fired it up. No go!

So then I tried Real Player – still no go. Finally I tried the iTunes player and it said that these iTunes songs had to be activated at iTunes. Hmm – I thought these were mp3 files, the icon symbol was identically the same. So I had Windows Explorer reveal the file extension – and there was the dirty detail, these were .m4p songs not .mp3 files. So then I checked the files that his $50 player could use. .mp3, .avi, .aac and that was it. I called and checked with the manufacturer – nope, no .m4p support, Apple would not allow that.

So then I said to Will lets go up to iTunes and download the .mp3 versions. Silly me. I also noticed that nowhere on the site was there a warning that the downloaded .m4p song files would only run in iTunes and iPods. I wondered how many $millions Apple had made on this glaring omission.

Okay so lets convert .m4p files to .mp3 . Wow – this got me into an underworld of DRM-Digital Rights Management defying programs. I was using my test notebook doing this work – and I certainly didnt want any of the malaware that they might be carrying to slip aboard my machine. Ditto for using Limewire or some of the other MP3 download “services”. So I proposed to Will that we go back to iTunes with a CD with his 8 songs on it and get them activated for use. There. It was not the same as the Music Player but at least it had the right sentiment. Many hours later we had the original tunes on Wills hard drive activated – so that he could at least play them to his new Belle.

But just by his manner and voice I knew in Wills mind a great idea had been thoroughly tripped up by Apple. When I suggested that we throw the towel in and get a small iPod – the expletives had to deleted. And so Apple can now count on two things – Will and I will never buy an Apple iTunes song again or an iPod or an iPhone. Second the name Apple Inc. brings up a sense of distrust and scorn.

Not two days later that distrust of Apple was proved again. A colleague who I had worked with doing photofinishing work, came to me and asked for a quick briefing again on Photoshop because he was applying for a job and his skills primarily lay with Illustrator and Corel PaintShop Pro. And what a genius he is with both. And after a half day jam session on Photoshop CS3 I clearly could see that Rajs Photoshop skills would be top notch. He took to Photoshop like the photo editing Pro he is. Only Actions, Smart Objects, and History commands might cause him trouble. So I said to Raj that I really thought he had a top notch shot at the job.

You can imagine my surprise that evening when Raj called and said he had utterly failed at the interview. The company had neglected to mention they wanted Mac based photo editing skills. So when Raj went on a Mac (not the first time) he was completely out of water because Corel PaintShop Pro did not run on a Mac; the ALT, CTRL and SHIFT key combos he was used to in Illustrator either had unfamiliar Mac equivalents, did not work or were mapped elsewhere; and the rightmouse click and spin wheel editing he had just mastered in Photoshop were just not to be found. His normal lightning pace slowed to a crawl – “and I would not have hired myself”.

And so these are the often repeated consequences of the rabidly proprietary practices of the two largest Accidental Desktop Empires – Bill Gates Windows and Steve Jobs Apple Mac. They have the desktop locked up in devilshly proprietary ways. Hence, I now understand the growing and almost visceral appeal of Web 2.0 and RAIA apps that have the virtue of being based on open standards and the ability to run on any device and any OS platform. I wonder how long closed and proprietary will be able to last … going on 30 years so far.

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