I Know Tim Cook And Admire Him, But He And Apple Could Do Better

Two weeks ago my interview Dan Lyons on ReadWrite, What's It Like To Work For Tim Cook? A Former Apple Sales Exec Dishes, caused a bit of controversy in the Apple world.

Some of what was said about me, including the comment that I probably never met Tim Cook, made me smile and think that the Apple world in its own way is starting to resemble the strange reality of some American conservatives who have listened to their own voices for so long that they cannot hear or understand another voice.

I am not a newcomer to the world of Apple. I started selling Apple computers in September 1982 at a small reseller in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. I sold everything from the Apple II+, Apple III, and Lisa to the original Macintosh. Then I went to work for the mothership in November  of 1984. I remained at Apple until July 2004 when I got shown the door. If you want more details on my life at Apple there is a book for that, The Pomme Company.

Yes, I Know Tim Cook, And I've Been Writing About Apple For Years

Until I pulled many of my Applepeels articles down in preparation for my book, I had over 1,100 pages online about Apple. No one at Apple ever challenged the truth in those pages. Some were there for seven years.

In the summer of 2010, I did write an un-named executive a Thanks for arranging my exit from Apple. The executive was Tim Cook. The comments after that post are most interesting especially if you have never worked at Apple.

Some of you might have even seen the follow-up article that I wrote in response to my comments on the Dan Lyons story, Tim Cook Is One Of The Three People Who Saved Apple. If you read my book along with my other materials and still think I hate Apple, I will be very surprised.

To some, like John Gruber of Daring Fireball, I am a “noted Apple pessimist” who said in 2007 that the iPhone might be the high water mark for Apple. I actually I don’t think that I would change a lot about the comment except to say that the iPhone’s market share has gone down faster than anyone could predict, and that the iPad’s success has been as big a surprise to me as anyone.

I'm Not Religious About Only Using A Mac

I am different than most computer users. I long ago decided that the best way to understand computers is to not be stuck in one environment. On my desk is a Windows 7 laptop, an I5 iMac, and an old Dell tower running the latest Ubuntu Linux. I use them all each day.

Based on my experiences with competing hardware, I long ago predicted that Apple would have a very hard time getting to 10% market share in worldwide computer shipments. Even today with all the Apple hype, Apple’s 2 million units per quarter doesn’t even earn a place on the list of the top five companies with worldwide computer shipments, so I stand by that prediction unless Apple changes direction.

Back in 2009, I believed that with aggressive promotions and by taking advantage of Vista dissatisfaction and a continued commitment to price competitiveness Apple could make a dent in the worldwide PC world. That really didn’t happen, and unfortunately for Apple, Windows 7 turned out to be much better than most of us expected.

Apple has made more than a dent in the US PC market, but real success in the worldwide market has been much more elusive, and I don’t see the innovation coming out of Apple to continue to aggressively grow its PC share in the United States.  So as someone who has always thought that Apple has been and remains good for the world of technology, I am worried.

While this is mild criticism of Apple and perhaps Tim Cook’s leadership at Apple,  I think that comments from people like me who love Apple in spite of everything should not be ignored by Apple or others in the Apple ecosystem.

Perceptions Of Apple Are Changing

Since the iPod, Apple been a company that enjoyed success because a lot of people rightfully believed Apple was ahead of the rest of the manufactures in the technology world. That perception is subtly changing.  You can see it in the dialogue of many technology articles.  The Apple pendulum is swinging back somewhat.

Having been at Apple when Apple had great technology and the world mostly ignored it, I know how dangerous it is for Apple to reach a tipping point on the perception it is a technology leader.

I’m not sure what Apple has shown us since Steve died has done much to enhance Apple’s reputation of being a technology leader.  Interestingly when I was at Apple, one of the things the company believed strongly was that competing on specs was a road to failure.

Competing on the resolution of your Retina Display is exactly that. It is likely not working out the way I suspect the folks at Apple thought.  Just look at comments on the iPad mini.

Why Won't Apple Innovate On Computers?

It is hard for me to understand why a company that competes on design has been able to offer so little on design when it comes to towers, the Mac Mini and the iMac. The case on the Mac towers dates back to the summer of 2003.  Does Apple really believe their own press: “October 23, 2012—Apple® today unveiled a completely new iMac® with a stunning design?”  The design hasn’t changed much in five years.  Certainly the materials have changed, but I would argue that serviceability on the iMac is worse than it has ever been.

Inevitably the comment will come back that Apple has moved beyond typical computers. That might be the case. However, there were 87 million computers shipped last quarter. Apple shipped a little over 2 million computers in the same quarter, so that looks like an opportunity to me. I also don’t think Apple has to get all the way down in the trenches with the lowest cost PC makers in order to make a difference.

Is bringing innovation to lower cost world of PCs a challenge? Of course it is, but it might be easier than suing every other technology company. I would like nothing more than to write another post like, The genius of Apple, which I wrote on July 1, 2006 when I took delivery of my white MacBook. I haven’t seen an Apple computer under $1,000 worthy of such a post since then. 

I Wish I Could Get Excited About The New Macs, But I Can't

I might have gotten excited about the MacBook Air but in typical Apple fashion they left off something on the low cost system. Unfortunately it was my beloved SD slot. Certainly my I5 iMac with the hard drive hidden behind the LCD panel doesn’t deserve such a post. I’m also sure the new iMac doesn’t deserve a post since the SD slot is behind that lovely Retina Display. I cannot imagine reaching behind the display every time I want to move photos.

I will remain on watch for that next bit of Apple computer genius. Maybe they will ship a compact, reasonably priced I5 or I7 mini-tower. Of course I have been waiting for that for a long time. I actually plan to go ahead and buy one of those small towers this shopping season, but it will be from one of the less innovative PC manufacturers who have figured out how to do what Apple either cannot or will not do.