Commentary: It’s not so much about the profits. It’s more about how much, or how little, Apple has thought about its customers.
As they drift off for their one- or two-day vacations shortly, will Apple’s senior executives be patting themselves on the back? Or will they be slapping themselves on the forehead?
Apple’s 2016 was garlanded with the usual hype, but not somehow with the usual excitement.
Perhaps you’re excited by profits. Most real people, however, simply want to witness, feel and enjoy something that, to them, feels both new and exciting.
In this, Apple was quite woeful.
It began with an iPhone SE and a smaller iPad Pro. Utilitarian? For sure. Exciting? Perhaps not.
In March, respected Apple commentator Walt Massberg mused — or perhaps pleaded: “The iPhone 7 had better be spectacular.”
The iPhone 7 turned out to be as spectacular as Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but a little more waterproof. The headphone jack was gone and some very strange-looking AirPod headphones were promised and then not delivered until very late.
When you looked at Apple’s Phil Schiller insisting that removing the headphone jack represented “courage,” you thought that the only courage here involved offering that sort of twisted sell.
In 2016, Apple was all about the business and not so much about the customer. Odd, for a company that was built on its human instincts and whose products were always intuitively simple to enjoy.
Suddenly, it created a sense of wide-eyed disappointment, coupled with an enthusiasm for nickel-and-diming matched only by airlines and rental car companies.
You now need dongle upon dongle to connect things to your new MacBook Pro. If you lose just one AirPod — which is about as likely as you shed at least one strand of hair when your combing, it’s $69, thank you very much.
And here’s how another respected, longtime Apple commentator and former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée described the MacBook Pro launch: “Perplexing.” This is French for “Have these people lost the plot?”
In essence, Apple didn’t bother to communicate what possible difficulties a new product might make for the customer and allowed real people to see the product, work out its shortcomings and think anything from “dull” to “why?” to “what’s the point of that?”
Even the battery life indicator on the new Pro seemed amateurish and was removed.
Apple then compounded the irritation by releasing an ad that claimed the MacBook Pro was somehow at the pinnacle of great ideas. Perplexing.
With moves and movies such as these, Apple invites criticism because it has historically been very clever about how it launches and presents products.
This year, you almost got the sense that Cupertino would have preferred to downplay some of its events, as it knew it really didn’t have that much with which to excite people.
You can blame a slowdown in technological development generally. You can couch it, as fans of sports teams sometimes do, as a transition year. We’re going to lose a few games, but you should see our draft picks.
Indeed, my colleague Shara Tibken persuasively explained that there might be a lot to look forward to from Apple in the coming year.
At heart, though, the natives are restless and, perhaps unreasonably, expect far more. All this while Apple is involved in all sorts of political issues and is a company with far more tentacles than it used to have.
I’m typing this on my MacBook Air. My iPhone 6 is charging next to it.
The thought crosses my mind: “Why haven’t I upgraded these things?” And the sad truth is that nothing new feels like much of an upgrade at all.
Sometimes, when you’re at your richest, you become your poorest and your dullest. Perhaps Apple should be grateful that Microsoft came up with arguably the most exciting piece of hardware this year, the Surface Studio. And what would have happened if Samsung’s lovely Galaxy Note 7 had taken off, rather than exploding every time it did take off?
Apple might have always had business competition — big concerns like Microsoft that had a juggernaut quality.
Not so often has it had competition for hearts. Is Cupertino up to the challenge? 2017 will offer a clue.