I really enjoy your comments on Apple. Today we had an office discussion about Apple’s vulnerabilities as a hardware manufacturer. In full transparency and noted expected mockery, I did not like the iPhone 1 because it didn’t have physical buttons. And clearly I was wrong. However Apple’s gotten it wrong a few times too.
The $1,000 monitor with no evolution and “stuck” price annoys me to no end. If I’m all in on Apple, I’ll pay double for the matching monitor, but not up to 10X.
But the biggest annoyance clearly is what you’ve pointed out here. The endless dongle fiasco. I’ve bought a few Macs, and I never bought the latest MacPro because of the lack of USB. And I also rarely use USB. For example I buy the $70 bluetooth magic mouse and the $100 magic keyboard. Dongles are unattractive and an added expense. But as I have learned with using multiple monitors on macs, I just hate having to search for the correct adapter when traveling or working from a different location. I hate not having one when I need one.
I’ll admit too that I have an Apple Watch. Which I 100% stopped using for the past 30 days. Why? The darn charger. It’s obscure. I only have 1. Is a watch such a necessity that it deserves the attention of one more thing in the “charge” queue? (Isn’t that the beauty of a Rolex in that it doesn’t need to be wound or have a battery?) And the obscure charger is just one more thing I need to keep track of and take with me if I’m overnight anywhere. So even a few days without it breaks me out of my habit and I’m used to living without it.
When it comes to phones and tablets, I much prefer the lighting charger to micro USB. But yet again, in a household of many devices and family users, my ratio of micro USB chargers to lightning chargers is far too short for the latter. And in a family environment the number of available chargers is like the number of available bathrooms when everyone is getting ready for their day.
This is like the fourth time in a year where you’ve posted something on Apple that’s resonated 100%. And maybe we both think these little things are kind of a big deal and ubiquitous. It’s reinforced my doubts about how Apple makes decisions and makes me question their buyer feedback loop.
When you start to question the decisions of brands you are heavily vested in, these annoyances have bigger implications. You begin to doubt the brand and start to calculate the switching costs beyond one device. You calculate the switching cost of the brand. That cost can include all of the hardware swaps, or the cost of retraining yourself or your team on new platforms.
These little changes like dongles, seem marginally annoying, but sometimes accumulate. When you see a pattern it usually occurs when a company’s leadership changes. The company can still perform well financially for many years but the leadership slowly transforms the brand from under your feet as a buyer. In Apple’s case I think it’s just a function of having the CFO replace the founder. Much like what happened to Disney after Walt had passed away.
I’m often disappointed with companies who replace CEOs with CFOs and sometimes COOs, as both are less buyer focused. They focus more on other important things but are far too distant from the buyer feedback loop.
I accepted that an Apple without Steve Jobs would lack “one more thing”. It makes me wonder if buyer focus is a discipline or a passion. Can you have a buyer focus without the “one more thing”? Maybe great product is 100% correlated and a function of great service. Could the worlds greatest innovators just be merely the worlds least tolerant of “not good enough”?
I think that’s Apple's challenge today. With Google now making a serious play on phones and laptops, I expect them to put a dent in Apple. When your products mature and the innovation gap tightens, even when faced with sizable switching costs, a tin ear for the buyer is a huge liability. Changing out utilities like cable providers is a huge pain but many of us have gone through that process because a provider has annoyed us as a buyer where it was worth paying to get them out of our life.
Apple should know that better than anyone. They came into their own as the better alternative to the PC stack.
As a founder you can look back at mistakes you’ve made with focus. Over time you reflect on how focusing on this or that could have been the wrong thing.
It’s impossible to focus too much on the buyer.