The Emperor has no Clothes – Apple and the “iWatch” (rant)

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I really do like Apple… Not the company, not the people, and not the brand necessarily… I like Apple, for their products… I love the quality… the fact that using a 3 or 4 year old device, because it’s put together so wonderfully, the materials, the finishing, the technology, it still feels like a premium, high quality device.

I love the fact that Apple is the only one doing this… The are one of the only companies with a business model predicated on building beautiful, functional, premium devices at (relatively) affordable prices.

Not many people can buy the “best” car, or the “best” watch, or the “best” clothes, or the “best” house, or the “best” jewellery… These are luxuries reserved for the 1% the rest of the world loves to have on so much… But when it comes to technology, it’s a democracy… As was the saying went, “God made man, but it was Samuel Colt who made them equal“… Almost anyone can afford an iPhone or an iPad or an Macbook if they wanted to, if they valued those products. It’s not quite luxury, but it’s a premium experience at an affordable price.

So when I was watching the “iWatch” segment of the Apple Keynote (I’m just going to keep calling it the iWatch, since that’s essentially what it is, regardless of whether Apple wants us all to call it the “Apple Watch”) I felt sad…

I felt sad, in the same way that a kid eventually learns that their parents aren’t super heroes… that they are yet mere mortals, can make mistakes, and are not as “cool” as they once were, when you thought they WERE super heroes. But worst of all, I think we can all, finally realize and answer the question about whether Apple has the ability to continue to create great, amazing products without Steve Jobs… and the answer is, no they cannot… And as much as Tim Cook tries, he is no Steve Jobs, and with the launch of the iWatch, you get the feeling that perhaps Tim Cook does not even really fully, understand the idea of what it was that Steve Jobs did at Apple…

I have three main points:

— First, a breakdown of what it was Steve Jobs brought to Apple, and how, the keynote of the iWatch showed just how lacking Apple was in the areas that traditionally Steve Jobs would have contributed…

— An analysis of the issue as a systematic issue of leadership, responsibilities, capabilities and roles…

— A few comments around what business Apple is really in, and what Tim Cook really seems to think his job is…

First point…

#1 – Ben Thompson at Stretechery has said it best, and the most clearly… Steve Jobs brought three things to Apple:

a) Steve Jobs defined the WHY of the company, and its products

b) Steve Jobs was the product “editor in chief” – he was the guy who said NO, we’re not doing that or NO, that’s not good enough

c) Steve Jobs was able to SELL Apple products to the world, creating entirely new, product categories

As I’ve said in my own professional career, you can delegate tasks, you can delegate projects, but you can’t delegate ultimate responsibility… And at the end of the day, who at Apple, ultimately absorbed Steve Job’s roles… As far as I can tell from that last Keynote, nobody did…

Tim Cook is the logistics and manufacturing guy… and in those capacities, he has done an absolutely wonderful job over the last 10 years… both while Steve Jobs was still CEO, and after. Apple computers used to cost $2000… $3000… Tim Cook changed all of that.

But at the same time, as the leader, you have to build your team, and so far, I can’t see anyone who is actually doing, or is capable of doing, the three critical things Steve Jobs contributed to Apple. It’s not enough to know WHAT you ought to do… It’s not enough to create a campus.. or to create a culture… or to create a university… You need someone, who is empowered, who’s job responsibilities include doing what Steve Jobs did, and who is capable of doing it… And that doesn’t exist.

Absorbing job responsibilities to someone who does not care, who has other primary responsibilities, and who isn’t equipped, or naturally talented to do these things, is not creating a solution to the problem. This is very problematic… Product development at Apple is broken.

#2 – Second, this seems like a systemic issue… The Apple iWatch was not a failure of industrial design.. The industrial design looks fine… In fact, it looks similar to the original iPhone released in 2007… Jonny Ive, for what Jonny Ive does, did his job well… But that’s where it ended…

— Where was marketing, in the process of defining the requirements of what users want or don’t want? Where was marketing, in defining what people don’t even yet KNOW what they want?

— Where was Tim Cook or anyone with Authority, in saying NO to feature after feature, after feature… that is really just pointless.. Again, as Ben Thompson on his podcast have said, who was in charge of saying NO, NO, NO.. it can’t ship, it needs to be better???

— Where were the UI/UX designers, who put together a user interface, which was cluttered… confusing… and lacked clarity of purpose, form and function? Where were the product managers, who should have had an understanding of not only WHAT they were building or HOW they would build it, but WHY they were building the thing to begin with, and WHAT were the killer use cases that would make it great?

— Who in God’s name let the person who DID demo and present the iWatch, actually demo and present the iWatch – his presentation was something out of  a Microsoft or Google or Samsung presentation? Too much stuff… no emphasis on what was important or what wasn’t… why do everything? This is about as un-Apple as it gets…

And this is the problematic thing… it isn’t just one area… there was a lack of focus and clarity in the product features itself.. in the software… in the marketing… in the presentation… in how Apple Pay was demo’d… in the video, showcasing Jonny Ive… in how the device is built in Gold, but will basically be out of date after 12 months… a complete lack of product positioning… it’s across the entire company, across every division.

This seems to indicate that it’s not just a failure of position… a weak point that can be fixed… but it’s a failure of process… and that the current guard of Apple executives have every desire to continue in the positions that they currently have, and that it takes a lot to be an Apple SVP with the moral authority and credibility to make decisions… And so, they have every incentive of continuing to try and steer the ship, regardless of what it ultimately does to Apple the company, the brand, and Apple’s product portfolio.

People trying to do the right thing, but actually NOT doing the right thing, don’t often get brownie points in the real world. They just fuck it up, until someone realizes they are fucking it up, and even then, the solution often is a bitter pill to swallow, that might not have a solution.

If there is one thing I’ve realized in my professional career, it’s that you might WANT someone to just be BETTER… to just DO the right thing, but that is often the most difficult thing in the world… It might even be impossible for some people… who would like to remain confident in their understanding in the world, to think differently, the way one must, to achieve one’s objective with grace, beauty and poise…

And this brings us to our third point…

#3 – This lack of focus at Apple is just blindly obvious… The presentation was a wreck… The demo was terrible… Jonny’s video was completely devoid of any reason WHY Apple was building this product, aside from “we could” and “it looks cool” and “we know you’ll buy it” which is ridiculous…

It must be impossible for the rank and file Apple employees to not understand and see, this product development process on this iWatch was a total fuck up. Is it the guy who was in charge of the iWatch project? or is it ALL of the SVP’s at Apple, who let this slip right on by??

And yet, Apple went ahead and released it anyways… Almost certainly, people were in rooms, shouting and fighting about these very issues.. And yet the people bringing up the rationale arguments, must have lots, and the people with the most control or power ended up choosing what to do, rather than doing things the way the OLD Apple under Steve Jobs would have done things (or perhaps Apple IS behaviour the same way it always had, but it was also Job’s gift to bring out the BEST in other people)….

These concepts are NOT difficult concepts.. This is business 101… this is product development 101…

— Why buy a $1000 or $2000 or $3000 watch, where the battery will be dead within 2 years, and that within 12 months, the style, features, tech and fashion appeal, will be out of date??

— Why create a developer ecosystem around a product, that might need to change in order to find product market fit (both  hardware design, and software)

— What are the 3 things the iWatch can be used for, that are BEST done on the watch interface???

— And most of all, why in God’s name did the demo iWatch have 64 fucking applications on the home screen… Facebook can add as many products or features or hacks as it wants… most products have a just a FEW core use cases which make buying and using the thing a habit… and worth it to the customer… What’s App was very simple… Occulous very simple. Google, makes money in a very simple way… The iPhone was simple… The iPad value proposition was simple…

Why is the iWatch so complicated? It sounds great in theory:

a) Telling Time, Great Design, Fashion

b) Fitness Tracking

c) Maps, Directions

d) Personal Communicator

e) Payments

Even all of these use cases aren’t that great… While I understand the Apple iPhone has many apps, and people buy and use the phones for different reasons, but still, Steve Jobs got a lot right:

— It’s an iPod (listen to music, and in this day and age, watch video)

— It’s a Phone (if you expand the idea of a phone into communications, then yes, voice, messaging, texts)

— It’s a Browser (and again, if your expand this concept into things which consume or use the internet, whether through a browser or an app interface this makes sense)

But why was the demo for the iWatch such a cluster fuck in showing off the software interface? I  have o idea.. What are the 2 or 3 things which the watch does amazingly well? I also have no idea…

So, it’s blindly obvious to people who watched the keynote.. it’s blindly obvious when people visit the website and review the marketing copy… It MUST be blindly obvious to the internal employees, that product development at Apple is missing something, in going from “big” idea, to actual implementation, execution and presentation..

And if it’s blindly obvious to internal Apple Employees, but yet it’s still being willfully ignored, by existing senior management, then Apple as a company, is even in worse off straights than I had thought, post Steve Jobs.

This is why all of the BEAR’s on AAPL stock think Apple is just one bad product, or bad product line, or bad initiative, and the stock value collapses… Because it’s true… If Apple’s business model is in creating, building, and selling new and better products, and new and better product lines, and Apple shows it can no longer do that in a systematic method under current management, there is going to be a severe discount to the present value of future cash flows.

And I agree… I hope I’m wrong with this iWatch thing.. but get outside the customer “sat” scores… get outside of sales… get outside of whether people buy it or not… get outside of whether people use it or not…

What matters, as always, is WHY…

— Why are we building this new device

— Why should people use it

— Why should this product exist

— Why should THIS feature set be the feature set, as opposed to another set of features or requirements

Apple is missing it’s heart and soul of the company… And it shows.

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