The year 2016 was a very interesting one for Apple, with its fair share of praise and controversy. Mostly, it seems that the company attracted negative attention for issues such as delayed product delivery, a failure to upgrade desktop Macs and the release of the apparently no-longer-pro MacBook Pro. The Mac is probably the biggest sore spot at this point in time.
Whilst I agree that it wasn’t Apple’s best year, I do think that as usual, Apple unjustifiably copped far more of a beating than many of its competitors, even with impressive product innovation and comparatively stellar sales. Consider the amazing design and engineering work involved in the AirPods, Touch Bar and wheelchair-focused fitness functions in watchOS 3, for example. In addition, Apple pushed its services even further, with a revamped Apple Music interface, differential privacy and the biggest release of iOS yet, opening up even more opportunities to developers in the form of iMessage apps.
Perhaps one of the most discussed topics of Apple’s business in 2016 was the decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone. Heated discussion developed online following the iPhone keynote, where Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller stated that in making such a decision, Apple had shown ‘courage’. Schiller was mocked immediately for saying this, but I believe this to be the case. Like the removal of floppy disk and optical drives, Apple made a decision to drive a more wireless future.
In the Tim Cook era at Apple, I believe we now also see a reversal of the once-famous Jobsian ‘reality distortion field’. Whilst Jobs once apparently distorted reality around product launches, tech journalists now distort reality, praising companies such as Google and Microsoft for announcing products that either never get released, or that sell only a fraction of what Apple achieves. Remember when Microsoft’s bot turned into a Nazi online? Yep, people forgot about that. Remember when Google copied the external design of the iPhone 6 with its Pixel, leaving behind the not-so-successful Nexus line? Yep, people didn’t really care about that either.
The topic of courage and Apple’s different way of doing things was brought to my mind again after finding an excerpt from one of Jobs’s appearances at the D Conference, from back in 2010. In this excerpt, from the 2 min 15 sec mark, Jobs elaborates on what Apple believes it takes to make a successful, effective product. It involves making compromises and saying “No” to things that may seem crazy to exclude. Check it out below.
Apple has always made controversial decisions, and even the most devoted loyalists seem to forget this. Is the Mac being forgotten? No, of course not. The focus is instead on iOS, where the most consumer appeal and sales are happening. Entirely new input technologies like the Touch Bar do not occur in product categories that are being phased out. Likewise, whilst Apple is apparently exiting the display and router (AirPort) business, this is most likely another example of sharpening the company’s product focus. Remember when Apple used to make digital cameras, printers and even a gaming console? All of those products were given the chop, and when Jobs returned in 1997, he reduced the entire company’s product line to the famous consumer-pro matrix. In recent years, Apple has proudly stated that it is the company whose products all fit onto a single table.
What Jobs said in the video above remains true today. Indeed, the company can always listen to its customers more, and it should not ignore the interests of the pros and loyalists who kept it going in its darkest times. I do think, however, that more exciting things are still on the horizon. Apple continues to show courage in its design decisions, and is never afraid to do what may be unpopular for success in the long run.