Apple is a different place since Steve Jobs left us. The stock price is way down, and the company apologizes at an unprecedented rate. Granted, Apple almost never apologizes for anything, and when it does, the apologies tend to be less than apologetic. So “unprecedented” simply means “more than once per century” – but this Apple is different.

For one thing, Apple just apologized for being, well, Apple.

Apple’s China Strategy Breaks New Ground

In Apple’s apology to China over allegedly shoddy customer support, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

We are aware that a lack of communications… led to the perception that Apple is arrogant and doesn’t care or attach enough importance to consumer feedback. We express our sincere apologies for any concerns or misunderstandings this gave consumers.

Perhaps Cook isn’t aware, but nonchalance toward industry feedback and arrogance are hallmarks of Apple’s history. Now it’s apologizing for these traits? This from the company whose founder, Steve Jobs, famously said:

Some people say, ‘Give customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”‘ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.

And from the same founder who, when told the iPhone 4 had serious antenna issues, told users that they were holding the phone wrong?

A Kinder, Gentler Apple

This is a very different Apple. When you read Cook’s apologies on Apple Maps problems or now on China, they actually read like he’s sorry, and not simply going through the motions of looking apologetic.

It’s a kinder, gentler Apple. And I’m not sure I like it.

Sure, there are good reasons for Apple to apologize. For one thing, it’s the right thing to do when someone, or some company, messes up. For another, it’s good business, and given Apple’s recent stock market stumbles, making peace with Apple’s biggest future market – worth $22.5 billion in fiscal 2012 and on a torrid growth pace – makes a lot of sense, as All Things D‘s John Paczkowski posits.

Missing Apple’s Arrogance

But I liked the Apple that was infuriating in its smug assurance that it was right. Because most of the time, it was, and holding its ground forced the industry to be more circumspect about easy assumptions about what would work. I know that I, personally, have been proved wrong many times about Apple, and am grateful that it hasn’t listened to what I or others in the media were saying.

Or, as former Apple employee Guy Kawasaki tells it,

“Apple market research” is an oxymoron. The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one. If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, “Better, faster, and cheaper”–that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can describe their desires only in terms of what they are already using….The richest vein for tech startups is creating the product that you want to use—that’s what Steve and Woz did.

Whatever the Chinese blow-up, if you’ve ever called Apple on a support issue or visited an Apple Store, you know that Apple has exceptional customer support. Better than any other technology company that I know. It rivals Nordstrom, it’s so good.

I suppose Apple felt the need to make China happy, but I hate seeing it prostrate itself and become something it’s not: humble. Apple is great because it pays little attention to critics. Or used to. Lately it’s been apologizing somewhat regularly. I want the unapologetic, arrogant Apple back.