Not even 24 hours after Apple’s new iPad announcement, John Gruber at Daring Fireball resumed his vicious assault on female tech bloggers by quoting “Apple’s Press Conference Showed a Brand Unraveling” by Jolie O’Dell at VentureBeat.
It’s an op/ed that says there were no major problems with the presentation, just “a few minor but glaring inconsistencies” that were worth spending several paragraphs describing in context and explaining how they foretell the imminent downfall of Apple Inc. as we know it. For want of a tucked-in shirt, the $540 share price was lost.
The article’s actually not much worse than the bulk of the tech punditry circling the product announcement. Sure, it does try to make the case that Apple is falling apart after Jobs’s death, and it does so by making spurious comparisons between products released now and products released when Jobs was already no longer CEO of the company. I suppose it’s less compelling to acknowledge that it’s been a couple years now since Jobs was in charge of day-to-day operations, or to point out that Apple hasn’t actually released an industry-changing product every year since Jobs took over.
And it’s easier to write:
Last time Apple was without Jobs, it came out with a lineup of duds.
as long as you conveniently forget about the Apple Hi Fi.
But I guess it’s inevitable for a charismatic leader of a company to get praised for all his successes while the not-quite-successes get conveniently ignored. I just hope that it doesn’t reach Disney fan intensity, where 55 years from now we’re still having to hear “What would Steve think?” And I hope that people, even people surrounded by tech “news” all day, still have enough of a handle on reality to recognize how silly the complaints are.
O’Dell complains about the word “resolutionary” as something Jobs’s perfectionism would never have allowed. I think it’s goofy, but no goofier than anything else Apple marketing has done in the past 15 years. Maybe it’s just a case of their thinking differently.
One thing O’Dell doesn’t complain about, although it seems just about everyone else has, is that the announcement was just a “modest” or “unremarkable” update. As if it’s no big deal that they were able to quadruple the resolution of the iPad screen. Except the entire device is a screen. People have apparently forgotten back to a few weeks ago, when the speculation was that a “retina” display on the iPad would be kept to a much more expensive “HD” model. I’ve got to wonder whether releasing the new model without a significant price bump somehow undermined what an achievement it is to get that kind of pixel density on a mobile screen.
I’ll admit I was getting a little excited about the rumors of haptic feedback, even though they were based on pretty implausible speculation (all that just from the words “and touch” on an invitation for a touch screen device?) But that’ll probably come in the 7th or 8th revision of the iPad.
Which will apparently still be called the “iPad.” And we’re all supposed to be upset about that, for some reason. I’m not just singling out O’Dell here, either; this is something several people are actually complaining about.
O’Dell says that calling the new version “new iPad” is an inconsistency in branding that wouldn’t have been allowed under Jobs’s reign, even though it’s the weird iPhone naming pattern that’s inconsistent throughout the line of Apple products. Did you remember that the iPhone 3G is actually the second version of the phone? Followed by the iPhone 3GS? And the iPhone 4, which was actually the fourth iteration of the phone and not to be confused with “4G” cellular networks? And the 4S, which was the fifth iteration but dropped the “G”. Not since SimCity has a franchise shown such a reckless disregard for numbering.
O’Dell gets it right by saying (the obvious) “Likewise, the Apple brand stood for beauty in simplicity.” What could be simpler than “iMac,” “iPod”, “iPhone,” and “iPad?”
What struck me the most about the article, though, was this bit:
But Apple’s ethos is about so much more than hardware and technology: It’s supposed to be, as this outsider sees it, about aspiration, dreams, desires, the future, even Utopia. In a word, it’s only 30 percent about the tech and 70 percent about the branding.
(psst… “it’s only 30 percent about the tech and 70 percent about the branding” is 13 times more than “a word.”)
I’ve seen this claim made hundreds of times over the years, but this is the first I’ve seen it made by someone speaking favorably about Apple (Steve Jobs-era Apple, anyway), instead of being followed by complaints about the “Apple tax” or intellectually bankrupt words like “sheeple” and “fanboys.”
I’m assuming (and I’m being charitable in the assumption) that it’s rooted in a mis-interpretation of a talk Jobs gave about branding around the time of the “Think Different” campaign launch. But the point of that wasn’t that branding is more important than technology. The point was that the company’s core values are more important than specifications and speed bumps.
At the time, even the idea of a tech company having “core values” was unusual. The environment at the time was more like the various Android phones and tablets trying to differentiate themselves for having 4G LTE and Ice Cream Sandwich with an AMOLED screen and a 1.5GHz single-core processor instead of focusing on what you can actually do with them.
Pointing out that the new iPad has a higher resolution screen is talking about specs. Launching the new higher resolution screen along with a mobile version of iPhoto, showing how the better screen, faster wireless networking, and cloud storage can help you organize and share your photos as journals — that’s Apple branding. And “iPad HD” or “iPad Retina” or even “iPad 3” is diametrically opposed to that branding. Saying “The iPad is the best tablet you can buy, and this is the best version of the iPad, and hey look at this happy family and their adorable children” fits the brand perfectly.
It’s been going on for well over a decade, but it still surprises me whenever I see someone making the claim that Apple’s appeal is mostly marketing. So much tech writing describes MacBooks, iPods, iPhones, and iPads as “status symbols,” taking it as a given that people buy them for the huge, shiny (or glowing) Apple logo on the back as opposed to what’s inside. That kind of knee-jerk reaction is baffling to me, and I’m someone who often has a hard time getting past the preconceived notion that anybody who drives a BMW is a douchebag.
Every Apple computer I’ve ever bought has turned out to be the best computer I’ve ever owned. (Except for the mice; the mice all universally suck). Every time I’ve tried to go with a Windows PC to save money, or to get some feature that’s not available on the Apple equivalent, I’ve gotten burned — burned enough that I’ve actually lost money in the transaction. I couldn’t care less whether it says Apple on the outside, as long as it works as well as I’ve grown accustomed to expect. Saying that it’s “only 30 percent tech” is pretty ludicrous, when no other company handles the technology as well.
Are there really people who buy these things for the logo, or because Steve Jobs told them to?