Few technology companies are watched the way Apple is watched. Customers love well designed products that just work. Technologists love that Apple is willing to live on the edge. Sometimes. For awhile.
No matter how you slice it, though, Apple leads and follows and often at the same time. Take the latest gadget to come from Cupertino. AirPods. There are similar wireless earbuds on the market, but none that are as striking or work the same way. AirPods are uniquely Apple, inside and out.
The KISS Method
KISS is the famous saying ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ That’s a bit derogatory and derivative, but typical Apple, always looking for a more elegant way to do that which is, in all fairness to everything in technology these days, highly complex. This first generation AirPods are easier to pair to an iPhone, easier to charge with the carry case which does short-term charging on its own, and relatively simple to set up and use. AirPods are priced right, too. Compare them with other wireless earbuds.
Unlike his partner Steve, Steve Jobs preferred the appliance design to the complexities of how computers worked more than 30 years ago. The original Mac was an appliance with few upgrade options (you needed a special wrench just to open the case). That was by design. Down through the years, with a few exceptions, we’ve seen the appliance characteristics in other Apple products. This century we saw the iPod, iPhone, iPhone, and Watch. All appliances where you cannot tinker and tweak.
The exceptions include the cheese grater aluminum Mac Pro which, except for the handles which required gloves to carry, was open and ready for easy upgrade access. What else? Not much.
Today’s iMac can receive user installed RAM, but not the Mac mini, not the new line of MacBooks or MacBook Pro models, but, oddly enough, the much disparaged Mac Pro can; including RAM and SSD storage, but not GPU or CPUs, yet the trash canister design looks more like an appliance than anything else Apple makes.
That’s the hardware side. The software side isn’t much different. Without a jailbreak, iPhone and iPad users can only install apps that Apple permits. No tinkering and tweaking allowed beyond that which is certified and approved. The Mac is different, of course, as many users simply avoid the Mac App Store– something of a graveyard these days, thanks to Apple’s hard nosed approach to what an app can do on a Mac– and install whatever apps they want, tweak the device however they choose, and own the whole shebang. Until it’s time to install macOS onto a Windows hardware device, then it’s not so easy.
Apple’s behavior toward hardware and software is consistently inconsistent. Or, put another way, inconsistently consistent. Apple wants to control the user experience in both hardware and software, and now you can add services to the mix with iCloud, media sales and distribution, Apple Music, and more.
Apple leads and follows the industry; both at the same time. Some designs, like the AirPods, Mac Pro, MacBook Air, and some components of iPhone and iPad, are ahead of their time. Conversely, Apple also chooses to be late to technology change parties. The use of LCD displays vs. OLED displays is an example. Apple pushes USB-C connectors on the MacBook and MacBook Pro, but they’re nowhere else to be seen in the Mac’s lineup, let alone iPad or iPhone.
Apple pushes the design and performance envelope with its own X10 Fusion ARM-based CPUs, and decides to go it alone with mobile GPUs, but relies wholly on Samsung and other vendors in Asia for screens, memory, and manufacturing. Apple leads and Apple follows. I’ve been an Apple customer and certified watcher for a couple of decades, most of it under Steve Jobs and Tim Cook’s reign, and the only differences I see now are, 1) Apple is crazy profitable, 2) Apple can’t figure out what to do with all its riches (except give them away to undeserving investors, and stock buybacks), and 3) with all that money in the bank, Apple doesn’t seem to have the sense of urgency it once did.
At time, Apple seems to suffer from multiple personality disorder; secretive, yet public; wildly adventurous (Watch, AirPods, Mac Pro) yet oddly conservative (LCD displays vs. OLED on iPhone).
It’s baseball season again and my Yankees are doing what they’ve been doing for years. Struggling in the shadow of greatness. Maybe Apple and the Yankees could do the same thing. Singles and doubles are OK, but swinging for the fences produces different results. Sure, you strike out more often, but everyone loves a homer that drives in runs.
Apple could use another home run.