ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Monday, September 29, 2014

Has the Apple Gone Rotten?

Apple hasn’t been the same since the untimely death of founder and CEO Steve Jobs three years ago—few people will argue that. In days since all the familiar Apple products have gone on being iterated year in and year out, but if it seems to you that each successive generation brings with it fewer improvements and more problems, you’re not alone. The Apple Maps fiasco that left Apple actually recommending Google Maps after removing it from their own system, the so-called ‘antennagate’ affair that dropped iPhone signals just for holding the device in a particular hand, accusations of secretly collecting personally identifiable GPS data that anyone could access, iOS bugs that entirely break some features, drain batteries, or slow CPUs to a crawl, and now the king of all controversies, the instantly infamous ‘bendgate’ problem that leaves iPhone 6 Plus devices broken just for sticking them in your pockets—what does it all indicate for the future of the tech giant?

If the internet is to be believed, Apple is simultaneously going to crash and burn and develop the next best thing since sliced bread. No, there’s no in-between.

Realistically, Apple has more money than the US government and no matter how bad things get their devices still manage to push millions of units at retail. For the time being, they aren’t going anywhere. There may be a worm in the core, but the Apple hasn’t gone rotten just yet. You don’t have to like it, that’s just how it is.

So why all the debate and controversy?

Well, a large group out there is affected customers who are understandably frustrated at the quality and durability (or lack thereof) of a product they just spent a decent chunk of cash on. But strange as it may seem, this is not the majority demographic waging war over Apple woes. There’s a big disconnect between who’s buying Apple products and who’s talking (or more specifically, complaining) about them. Until these two groups reach parity, you can assume any doom and gloom you hear about Apple probably will not come to pass. It doesn’t mean Apple and their devices don’t have their problems, it just means they’ll go on being popular anyway, and that’s what people hate about Apple. It’s the concept of Apple that gets people’s blood pumping or boiling, that makes them wait in ungodly long lines or debate in ungodly long threads. The question is not whether Apple Co has gone rotten, but Apple Culture. The former will not go down without the latter declining first.

But is it? Will it?

The answer to both questions is yes…and no. Yes, Apple culture still exists and thrives, but no, it’s not the cool thing to be a part of anymore. To remain in Apple Culture is to remain stuck in the past, as evidenced even by Tim Cook pulling from Steve Jobs’ book of catchphrases during the iPhone 6 press conference (if you were able to hear it happen at all).

No, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the past if you use an iPhone. All Apple Culture uses Apple products, but not all Apple product users are Apple Culture. See the distinction?

Apple thrives on Apple Culture and Apple Culture thrives on Apple. The Apple won’t go rotten so long as this preservative symbiotic relationship remains intact. What will it take to break up that relationship? More than ‘bendgate’, apparently. But here’s the part that might surprise you: whatever misstep Apple needs to make to disillusion their fan base on the whole, fans of competing Android devices better hope Apple doesn’t pull it off—at least not for some time yet.

While a growing camp of consumers would at this point happily let Apple bumble themselves into oblivion, the fact is Apple Culture is still too deeply engrained into consumer culture at large for their downfall to be a good thing—or at least, no Android competitor is engrained enough to fill the gap they’d leave behind.

Some would argue Android copied iOS. Early on this may have been true. But now the tables have undeniably turned. The open nature of Android allows developers to push it forward at an alarming pace, and as it stands today Android is the clear standard-setter. The trouble is, Apple is still the trend-setter. It takes a company like Apple to popularize what Android has already achieved. Like it or not, Android features and Google projects in general have a habit of firing off half-cocked. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with them, they’re just experimental in nature. This might be alright for consumers who don’t have anything invested in the process, but you’ll never get, for instance, McDonald’s to install Google Wallet terminals at every location across the country. Apple Pay’s not there yet either, but it’s already the better-known service and one that more businesses will be more willing to take a greater risk on. Only then, once the system is proven, will an alternative like Google Wallet be accepted commonplace, even if it did come first.

It can be frustrating to watch, and this kind of thing is exactly what generates a lot of resentment towards Apple, but ultimately it’s good for everyone if one company is able to popularize what other companies have already created but failed to reach market penetration with. Until Google or a particular Android device maker is able to do that, Apple is a necessary evil at the very least.

Apple has problems they didn’t a few years ago, there’s no doubt about it. Those problems are getting increasingly worse and more frequent. You could even say Apple becomes more mockable with each new press conference and product release. But their errors are not yet fatal—they’re not going away, and even if you hate Apple you shouldn’t want them to. What needs to be understood is that Apple hasn’t gone completely rotten, they’ve just settled into a new niche: the entry-level smartphone maker. That may sting a little to all who feel their new iPhone is the latest and greatest, but it’s true. Say all flip-phones vanished from the face of the earth tomorrow. No more feature phones anywhere. What’s left? Apple. It’s the throwaway device you replace year in and year out and never really expect anything different from. It’s the phone you sell to people who don’t want a learning curve. It’s barebones. It’s basic. It’s entry-level. As a whole Apple has become the gateway to bigger and better things, not that big and best thing itself. So don’t be surprised when it turns out the iPhone 6 Plus breaks in your pocket. Don’t be surprised when the new device still only sports 1GB of RAM. Don’t be surprised when the design looks pretty much the same as it has for the last seven years. If these kinds of things bother you, then you are not Apple’s target audience anymore. It’s time to graduate, to go beyond entry-level to a device that is meant to be used the way you want to use it. And if you’re comfortable with where Apple is as a company and with the devices they are putting out, don’t worry about the future. Chances are good Apple will be right where you want them to be—just no further.