There is no denying that AAPL is the most valuable company in the world and has produced the most innovative and world-changing products in recent memory. They recognize their position as a leader and use it to significant advantage. They produce quality product while they continue to manage a hungry press, maintain a high degree of customer satisfaction, and holding suppliers to high standards of accountability in areas of environmental responsibility, human rights, and quality. In short, if one were to look at Apple, its products, and its customers from 50,000 ft away, or even 5,000 ft away, one could not help but see a company doing everything right and executing very well.
So, then, why has Marco Arment penned a post that is so critical of Apple? Is he suffering from a typical case of whiny Internet butthurt syndrome? Or is this a case where the Company needs take a step back and think different?
I believe it is the latter.
It's rare in American business, but every now and then a company comes along which hires employees that hold the company's core values and beliefs close to their hearts. For these companies and their employees, these values are not merely bullet points in a dusty employee handbook, but important guidelines to being both good business people and just plain better people. This shows through in every product they make and every action they take. The consistency and clarity of direction such companies often provide have a lasting, pronounced, and life-changing effect on their employees, their customers, and other businesses. I've worked for one, MindSpring. Another one is clearly Apple.
Don't take my word for it, Daniel Jalkut talks about how his early years at Apple forever changed how he views the role of a software engineer. It's pretty easy to find links on the Internet about how company culture. There is no question that companies accrue a lot of good will by treating people well, acting with integrity, and working hard to delight and surprise its customers.
Equally importantly, one must consider Apple's typical customer. They are not your value-oriented "Wal-Mart" type of customer who evaluates solely on price — "88¢ is less than $1.29 at that other store so I'm going with the 88¢ one." Of course, price is always a factor in any purchase, but a good chunk of Apple's high valuation is based on their store and associated customer base. Apple's customers purchasing decisions are based on a complex set of principles and a values ecosystem which makes them more valuable and "stickier" than others*. This demography is hardly accidental, it is the direct result of being who they are.
In short, the people who surround companies like MindSpring and Apple have invested enough of themselves in being an active part of the company that they know who the company is at a very deep level. It is this level of personal investment that allows customers and employees to be more understanding and tolerant of a company's poorer decisions and occasional mistakes.
But this understanding, tolerance, and good will is not limitless. It works more like a kind of reputation inertia, in that it can sustain a company through difficult times when negative forces are pulling it down.
Consider a rocket lifting off into the evening sky with its engines roaring and how much energy it takes to overcome the forces dragging it back down to Earth. If the engines were to be suddenly switched off during launch, the rocket would not immediately fall. It would continue to rise, albeit briefly, into the air before coming back down.
Like the rocket, companies feel a constant pull yanking them back down to Earth and must work very hard to achieve greater and greater heights.
I'm not particularly concerned about the ever-present forces pulling Apple back to Earth with their "you're holding it wrong" eyerolls, tales of bent phones and shrill screeds of unwanted U2 albums, and even iCloud celebrity photo leaks. This is largely day-to-day fallout from decisions and are easily managed as good mistakes.
I AM concerned, however, about every iOS AppStore app approved-app—denied-app—re-approved boondoggle, every product release whose significant feature regressions are spun and celebrated as design improvements. And then there's the general progressive march of Apple of building increasingly minimalist hardware running increasingly minimalist software designs, whilst surfacing increasingly complex features through increasingly diffuse and incoherent designs.
This is what confusion and lack of clarity in mission and purpose looks like. It's not pretty. It uses up the inertia of loyal, engaged, and very valuable customers that may be needed at a more important and useful time.
Posts like Marco's and the various twitter attaboys are the warning signs that the corporate rocket engine is running on fumes.
*Contrariwise, look at Apple "haters" you know. Most of the time, when you probe below the surface of their outrage, you find that they don't disdain the actual products nearly as much as the values of Apple as a company or that Apple products push you to drink the Kool-Aid — become part of the ecosystem and "give in" to what they consider to be the dark side. I believe this is why the open vs. closed silliness played so well with early Android adopters, for example.