Apple is the only major tech company that creates a use experience that blends hardware, software, and modern services into a cohesive, user-friendly package, complete with sales assistance without pressure, and tech support without fear. You pay a price for all those wonderful components, but there is a problem with living behind the walls inside a walled garden.
Outside The Walls
For those of us who remain decidedly of the Apple product persuasion, those of us who use our Apple toys at every opportunity, certified card-carrying members and evangelists of the Apple Kingdom behind the walls, there is an issue we must address. We don’t always see over the walls so we’re not always sure of what’s going on outside the walls.
Guess what? Apple lives in that walled garden, too, so the company pays little attention to trends on the outside, and becomes inner focused on the day to day requirements of managing an every growing population inside the walled garden. As the rank of executives begin to age after spending many years in their comfortable surroundings, with all the accouterments and privileges that come with being well paid and successful for decades, something begins to happen, something Apple co-founder Steve Jobs warned against.
No, Jobs didn’t use that word but it fits Apple’s situation today. Jobs didn’t want Apple’s executive to do what they thought he wanted them to do, but to do what they thought best. Since Jobs died in 2011 Apple has gone on to greater riches and mindshare with enormous revenue growth and profits to become the most valuable technology company on the planet. But in the last few years Apple’s executives have entered a sort of leader middle age, and, to put it simply, they do not hear as well as they once did. Revenue and profits are down. So too are Mac, iPhone, and iPad sales, and there are no products elsewhere or on the horizon to help Apple out of the sales and product funk that has permeated the company’s mindshare the past few years.
Apple lives in the walled garden but cannot hear what is going on within the garden’s growing and diverse population because they are going deaf. Yet, long before he died, Jobs left his company’s leaders with a path to follow. In his 2005 commencement speech to Stanford University graduates, Jobs explained what was necessary for success, whether a citizen of the Kingdom of the Walled Garden or elsewhere. He talked about the writers of the famous Whole Earth Catalog and summed it in a way Apple’s executives should understand today.
It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”. It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay hungry. Stay foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.
To Apple’s executives I say, “Open your ears and eyes. Look around. The world is changing before you. We may live in a comfortable walled garden today, but our needs have changed, and will change. Show me how your hunger for what is new and better and perhaps foolish can benefit we members of the Walled Garden. But hurry. The barbarians are at the gate and they want your customers.