The news first came in the form of a text from a friend: "Just heard on the news that Steve Jobs died." I dismissed it as another erroneous report. Moments later my iPhone buzzed again with an AP Alert confirming the news. I stood stunned. My mind was blank as tears flooded my eyes. It was the end of an era. As I drove home that day, I reflected back on the countless times I had touted the benefits of iMacs and iPhones to my friends while praising the genius of Steve Jobs. I am that guy who eagerly anticipates (and watches every moment of) keynote speeches, listens to the latest Apple earnings calls, and follows every rumor on any number of Apple blogs and discussion boards. My passion for Apple goes beyond just the phones and computers. Believing in Apple means rooting for the underdog, valuing the power of simplicity, and knowing that superior technology and a great user experience can coexist. It doesn't hurt that the company has perfected the recipe for insanely great products. I was hopeful that the soul of Apple would persevere despite the loss of Jobs. A year later, and I'm not so sure.
On the surface things are going well for Apple -- the stock is near all-time highs, the demand for the iPhone 5 is off the charts, and the company is on the verge of introducing an iPad mini which is sure to be the must-have gadget for the holiday season. So what's wrong and how would Steve "think different"?
It's hard to replace Steve Jobs. Steve epitomized cool, genius, and innovator. We hung on his every word. He promoted his products without ever giving you the feeling that he was delivering a sales pitch. What worked for Steve is not working for current Apple leadership. As I watched the recent iPhone 5 keynote, it struck me how empty the words "cool" or "awesome" sound coming from Tim Cook or Scott Forstall. Moreover, it seemed like the management team had received a memo on how to dress cool. Advice to management team: untucked button down shirts with jeans look sloppy, not cool, and they definitely don't deliver on the Apple brand and style. Maybe Jony Ive should design a uniform for the Apple team (although I'm not sure I want to see Phil Schiller wearing low-cut v-neck t-shirts either). Apple early-adopters and loyalists have a connection with the company that goes beyond just the products. They not only want to identify with the people who design and build the iPads and iPods but they want to be inspired by Apple leadership who bring life to these products that fit so effortlessly into our everyday lives.
The Maps App Debacle
Apple has always believed in seamless integration of hardware and software to promote the best possible user experience. The launch of the Maps app was no exception. Without a doubt, the turn-by-turn functionality along with Siri voice controls make for an overall superior user experience as compared with the previous Google-supported Maps app. Unfortunately, the new app isn't perfect and users were quick to point out its most frustrating issues like mislabeled cities. While software bugs like this are fairly typical of a new product launch, Apple has exacerbated the negative publicity by issuing an apology for the app, going as far as recommending alternative map apps for users to download. Jobs must be turning in his grave! Already in the past week I've had countless discussions with potential iPhone buyers who point out that "even the CEO apologized for how bad the app is." Tim Cook's response has disarmed the legions of Apple supporters by declaring that the Apple experience is not the best. This would not have been Jobs' reaction. He would have defended the app by providing data on how well it works 99 percent of the time with a plan to perfect the app for the 1 percent of times when it underperforms.
Jobs was relentless in his focus on simplicity as key to the user experience. Unfortunately, without him at the helm, Apple has already forgotten the importance of simplicity. The iPhone 5 re-introduced a two-tone design that is more akin to competitor products and represents a step backward from the clean Apple design we have grown to love. The new app Passbook fails in reinforcing simplicity and undermines the easy-to-use user experience. Ironically, Passbook was promoted as an app that could simplify your life and allow you to forgo carrying multiple loyalty cards in your wallet. Unfortunately, the reality is far from simple. Steve would never have allowed Passbook to launch with the tiring workarounds that are required to allow the app to function properly. Again, this is more reminiscent of competitor software add-ons than the simple, out-of-the-box experience we expect from Apple. Finally, there is the promotion. Launch advertising for the iPhone 5 included ads that focused on ears which were not appealing and thumbs which were neither inspiring nor on message. Are those really the benefits of upgrading to the new iPhone?
None of these individual miscues by Apple mean its downfall is imminent. However, it's clear that one year into the post-Jobs era, Apple is not the perfect company that we so vehemently supported. Unfortunately for Apple, it doesn't take too many of these mistakes for early adopters to start looking elsewhere. Without the fans, the soul of Apple really will be gone.