‘Playing the Long Game Inside Tim Cook’s Apple’

Excellent, must-read cover story for Fast Company by Rick Tetzeli (co-author of last year’s also excellent Becoming Steve Jobs biography). It’s about as accurate and insightful as a “state of Apple” profile could be. I wish I had written it.

What Apple has accomplished with Maps is an example of the kind of grind-it-out innovation that’s happening all the time at the company. You don’t hear a lot about it, perhaps because it doesn’t support the enthralling myth that innovation comes in blinding flashes that lead to hitherto unimaginable products. When critics ding Apple for its failure to introduce “breakthrough” devices and services, they are missing three key facts about technology: First, that breakthrough moments are unpredictable outcomes of ongoing, incremental innovation; second, that ongoing, behind-the-scenes innovation brings significant benefits, even if it fails to create singular disruptions; and, third, that new technologies only connect broadly when a mainstream audience is ready and has a compelling need. “The world thinks we delivered [a breakthrough] every year while Steve was here,” says Cue. “Those products were developed over a long period of time.”

That one paragraph goes a long way to explaining what Apple really does. Tetzeli also makes a compelling argument that Apple is better positioned on artificial intelligence than any of its competitors, because they’re the only company that’s with you everywhere — from your desk to your wrist to your car.

I spoke to Tetzeli while he was working on this piece, and I’m quoted a few times. This one begs for an explanation:

Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has come to seem quite fallible to many people. Its recent products have seemed far less than perfect, at least compared to the collective memory of its astonishing iPod–iPhone–iPad run from 2001 to 2010. There are the public embarrassments, like its 2012 introduction of Maps, or those 2014 videos of reviewers bending, and breaking, an iPhone 6 Plus. Apple Pay hasn’t become the standard for a cashless society, and the Apple Watch “is not the watch we expect from Apple,” according to John Gruber, editor of Daring Fireball, the preeminent Apple-centric website. Then there are the design flaws: Apple Music has been saddled with too many features, as if it were something designed by, God forbid, Microsoft; the lens on the back of the iPhone 6 extrudes; the new Apple TV has an illogical interface and confusing remote control.

If I recall correctly, the context of that remark was related to the Sport/steel/Edition tiering of the Apple Watch product lineup — particularly the $10,000-and-up Edition models. But it could have just as easily been about the slowness of the software. In hindsight — especially now that we’ve seen the zippy WatchOS 3 — Apple Watch was released before it was ready, which is un-Apple-like.

Monday, 8 August 2016