Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Apple 4.0

Steve M was* a master Healer and Teacher at the Upper Peninsula Health Education Corporation (UPHEC), but his true love was HyperCard. He should have been a programmer.

One of Steve's jobs was to civilize an obnoxious (think Jobs sans glamour, sans genius) young physician. The other was to convert me to the way of the Mac.

That was 1989, in the days of Apple 2.0. Steve Jobs had been gone for four years.

It wasn't hard to convert me. In those days Microsoft was taking over the world, but their Intel products pretty much sucked. Their Mac products, Word and Excel in particular, were far better than their Windows equivalents.

The Mac had a rich range of software, like More 3.0. The Mac cost about 20-30% more than roughly similar PC hardware, but Mac hardware and software quality was excellent (no viruses then, so security was not an issue). Apple networking was a joy to configure, though the cracks were starting to show. Apple networks didn't seem to scale well.

I stayed with Macs during my Informatics fellowship - until 1997. By then, twelve years after Jobs had left Apple, they weren't obviously better than the Wintel alternatives. Apple's OS 7 had terrible trouble with TCP/IP; it was even worse on the web than Windows 95. Windows 2000** was better than MacOS classic and Dell hardware was robust.

It took twelve years for post-Jobs Apple to become as weak as the competition. We were a Windows household from about 1997 to @2003, when I bought a G3 iBook. By then Apple was back. The Apple 3 recovery took about 5 years.

Now we're in the Apple 4.0 era. I suspect it began about 2010.

Apple 4.0 will behave like a publicly traded corporation (PTC), instead of the freakish anomaly it has been. It can't be Apple 3.0. On the other hand, I'm hopeful that Jobs last invention will turn out to be a new way to run a corporation; a reinvention of Sloan's GM design. It's clear that this is what he's been aiming at over the past few years. I stopped underestimating Jobs years ago. If anyone can fix the dysfunctional PTC, it would be Jobs.

Apple 4.0 won't have the glamour of 3.0. It may, however, do some things better. I believe Apple's product quality has been improving over the past two years. They're beginning to approach the quality of early Apple 2.0. Apple 4 may start to play better with others, even begin to support standards for information sharing instead of Jobs preference for data lock and proprietary connectors.

Apple 4.0 will have less art, less elegance, less glamour -- but it might have more engineering. Less exciting, but better for me.

I'm optimistic.
* Still a great Healer, but our UPHEC passed on. Steve isn't teaching these days.
** Windows 2000 was better than XP and Vista and Windows 7, but that's another story. Microsoft's post 2000 fall was much more dramatic than the slow decay of Apple 2.0.

Update 10/12/11: I respond to comments on quality and connectors in a f/u post.


Jeffrey Dutky said...

This is a great post, but I have to take issue with one thing: "Apple 4 may start to play better with others, even begin to support standards for information sharing instead of Jobs preference for data lock and proprietary connectors."

Apple 3.0 was already doing this (though there are some glaring counter examples: ADC is thankfully gone, but the iPod port is still with us), and there is even a video of a Steve Jobs disavowing his former preference (Rands in Repose has the video of Steve speaking at WWDC 1997). He gave a Q&A session on the last day. He specifically says that Apple needs to stop being different when it doesn't also make Apple significantly better. We have seen this with most Apple products in the Apple 3.0 and Apple 4.0 period (ADC and iPod port excepted): Apple has been moving to industry standard interfaces in a big way, and, even when they have to make something new, they have worked with industry partners to ensure that it's not a proprietary thing (e.g. USB, DisplayPort ant ThunderBolt).

Anonymous said...

Corporations act the way they do because of incentives. So unless Jobs changed the structure of the Apple corporation in some fundamental and lasting way, you'd expect reversion to mean after a few years. What kinds of permanent changes do you thing Jobs made to Apple's structure that would prevent the normal corporate incentives from reasserting themselves?

JGF said...

You're right Jeffrey, I gave too much weight to the proprietary iPod connector. My bad.

I hope thunderbolt picks up more support soon, but it truly is a standard.

JGF said...

Corporations balance many incentives. Their is a primeval ant-hill like emergent desire to grow and live -- independent of anything else.

There is a need to satisfy shareholder demand - one way or the other.

Executives must extract large funds.

Analysts must be pleased.

Senators must be bought.

Customers should be satisfied.

There are many, many roads a corporation can take.