Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Disregard for the market and the Apple myth

Following a discussion that has years on the making, the company from Cupertino has given a new example that nerds and designers worship the company based on myths and snobbery more than on actual facts. It has been argued a zillion times that Apple products are better designed and built than Microsoft Windows based ones, and there has been always the argument that Microsoft represented the dark side of the force by always putting profits first while Apple was a more innovation and customer focused company. But has been any truth on that?
I have sustained for years that the only true part of the Apple myth is that in the beginning of the personal computer era it took a very bad business decision and that decision relegated it to the borders of the market, where there is a always a group of people that would defy rational analysis and claim that the product they are using is infinitely superior and the rest of the mortals are all idiots. Furthermore, there is a strong argument to support that today's information society and ubiquity of computers owe a lot to IBM and Microsoft opening of the PC and that it would have been much delayed if Apple's ideas of having the same manufacturer making the computer, the chip, the operative system and most of the software were prevailing ones. Just an example of how things could have been from the cost point of view, a Macbook Pro with Intel i5, 4GB RAM and 320 GB HD is U$S 1,799 plus tax when a Sonny VAIO with Intel i5, 4GB RAM and 500 GB HD is U$S799.99 plus tax (not being Sonny normally on the cheap side). In the same argument I also claimed that to know how consumer oriented a company was you needed to give it some important market share, some power, to see its behavior vis-a-vis its potential, smaller, competitors. That situation arrived with the iPod, where Apple had 73,8% of the market share in 2009 and showed how consumer friendly and pro-innovation Apple policies were. Prohibition to add your own apps, own digital format to ensure that you needed to buy from their store, ludicrously restrictive DRM, and the normal speech that their products were so good that if something did not work with them was because they were too advanced. A prime example of that is the Apple-Adobe saga, with Steve Jobs claiming between other things that Flash is an old technology and, therefore, Apple mobile devices don't support it. Without entering into the technical discussion and assuming, for the sake of the argument, that Steve Jobs is right, it ignores that fact that a lot of people actually uses Flash and it is so arrogant as to claim that because internal combustion engine is technologically old we shouldn't sell more petrol and we should force people to walk until they all can afford hydrogen-cell car. But what epitomizes the Apple myth of actual innovation and costumer care is the new iPhone 4.
It has been widely reported that the phone has a serious design flaw resulting from Apple's discovery that its users care more about good design than functionality (or even functioning) but they then will distort the facts to show how rational their choice has been. The story says that when you hold your new iPhone 4 in the normal way that you hold a normal mobile phone the signal strength drops substantially because in order to make it slimmer (and cooler) the phone antenna is the unprotected shinny part that cover the lower end of the phone, which you are touching when you hold it. Furthermore, if you are left-handed, holding it in a way that avoids touching the antenna would be quite impractical and "unnatural". What was the reply from the very innovative and consumer conscious company? ''Just avoid holding it in that way.''
Ars est celare artem

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