For the last few years I’ve noticed a clear shift in Apple, among my favorite makers of tech products on this planet, toward lower quality products that just don’t work as well. There are few companies that are built on this idea of often high priced, high-quality durable goods, and it’s not something the tech industry is known for, however Apple has long been, in my mind, an exception to this rule.
My first Apple product purchase was the original iPod, a product that launched Apple into the tech giant it is today. It was one of the toughest products I have ever owned, it survived drops, low temperatures, my copious sweat during a workout (TMI, but highly relevant), and much more, and today it would be 16 years old. In the post-apocalyptic hellscape that is the movie The Book of Eli, an iPod just one product cycle newer is the about the only surviving modern piece of technology and it’s believable for anyone that owned one. I still have it somewhere, and I would bet dollars-to-donuts that it would power up and turn on today.
Since then, I have consecutively owned a two or three Mac Book Pros, two Mac Pros, an enormous and beautiful iMac, and every other iPhone model since it’s introduction in 2007. They have all been great machines, running sturdily throughout their lives of around 2 years (easily) on the iPhone, and over 5 years on many of my Mac computers. It was more expensive, but it lasted twice as long as a Dell, I reasoned, so it was worth it.
Today, however, that simple fact is changing. My newer iPhones have begun seriously degrading in performance, specifically battery and speed, after just a year. The last few Mac computers I’ve owned have only degraded in performance with OS “upgrades” and releases. Not only are older products declining, but newer Apple products and software are also showing enormous signs of a system of quality assurance that is clearly broken. For example, High Sierra OSX was released with a security glitch that removed any requirement of a password to access the root (i.e. hacking the core of your machine) of your operating system, and then when a patch was released it failed to solve the problem. In a similarly scaled f*ck up, the release of Apple’s iOS 11.1 mobile OS update made it impossible for Apple users to type the word “I.” Finally, there is the admission from Apple that they have been proactively degrading the performance of their older phones ostensibly to reduce random restarts of the phones, but seems to be among the most crass instances of planned obsolescence in the tech industry and the failure of the company to disclose the choice made it seem even worse in an era where transparency is king.
All of this suggests to me that Apple has shifted in its strategic focus, moving from innovating with brilliant new products to lazily squeezing more money out of the innovations and investments they’ve already made. Consider the fact that major innovations from the company are limited to the Apple Watch, which is the least imaginative new product from Apple since the iPad (to say nothing of the iPad Pro), and the Apple Pencil which was roundly laughed out of the building upon it’s announcement. Don’t get me wrong, these are important steps forward in UX, creative work on touch screen devices, and wearable tech, but these are not breakthrough technologies in the same way the original iPhone or first iPod were. Wearables had been widely available, with comparable technology and features, from Samsung and numerous other makers when the Watch was announced, and life-changing innovations like Apple Pay in my experience has failed to materialize as a core of my day-to-day life.
An exception to this, with caveats, is the heavy investment in Augmented Reality as part of the new iPhone X. While they are far too focused on selling this as a gaming or feature for play, AR is a technology that will bring our increasingly digital lives into direct contact with our real lives, and precedes perhaps more immersive augmented experiences and wearables to come. It is a substantial investment in a powerfully innovative arena.
With that exception aside, however, Apple is starting to look more like the Microsoft of the 1990s and failing to participate in the innovations of the era they find themselves in. They’ve built a set of products and an environment for their consumers that is hard to escape, and the comfort of that is reducing investment in improving your life through new tech, but increasing their bottom line through relatively cheap ploys and largely superficial product enhancements. Like Toyota in the early 2000s, Apple is losing its focus on quality core products that have built the loyalty of their consumers and it’s leading to a continually degraded experience for consumers, like me, who are questioning their trust and investment in Apple technology.
They are not alone in this short-sighted vision. Our growth-in-every-quarter marketplace demands companies behave this way, despite the fact that it is the equivalent of a heroin addiction for many major corporations. Taking the longer strategic view in that environment is a challenge, one that many major technology companies face, but it is essential to substantive long-term growth in the technology sector.
I do hope they are taking this seriously in Cupertino, I would hate the beautiful spaceship campus to become a stunning symbol of organizational rot and lost investment focus.