'At Apple, 'they' really are after you': One insider's view of life in Cupertino

'At Apple, 'they' really are after you': One insider's view of life in Cupertino

Summary: The former CEO of Apple's big Israel acquisition Anobit shares his experiences of Apple culture and how the company's 1990s 'near death experience' still shapes it today.

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All high-tech companies profess their belief in noble ideals like worker advancement, teamwork, and 'transparency' - but on the ground, there can be major differences in culture. Take, for example, the differences between Intel and Apple, according to Ariel Maislos, former CEO of Israel's Anobit: "They say that Intel is full of paranoids, but at Apple, 'they' really are after you."

Maislos is in a unique position to know about what goes on inside Apple: he worked for the company for about a year, after Apple acquired Anobit in December 2011 for a reported $390m. Last month, Maislos left Apple for what were said to be personal reasons - although the rumour is that he is planning a new start-up.

Ariel Maislos
Former Anobit CEO Ariel Maislos (left) shares his Apple experience with Shlomo Gradman, chairman of the Israel Semiconductor Club. Image: Shmuel Auster

While he would never have discussed the company when he was still working there, Maislos is no longer an Apple employee, meaning that he is free to discuss the life at Apple, if not the technology he and the Anobit team were working on after the acquisition. Maislos shared some of his experiences with a rapt Tel Aviv audience recently at an event sponsored by the Israel Semiconductor Club.

A series of start-ups

Maislos is a serial entrepreneur – Anobit, a fabless designer of flash memory controllers, was his fourth start-up (his second one, Passavé, which he established with some army buddies when they were all in their early 20s, was sold in 2006 to PMC-Sierra for about $300m). In between Passavé and Anobit, Maislos ran a web advertising technology company called Pudding, "but we essentially started Anobit right after we finished with Passavé," he said. "We had several ideas about how to improve some major issues in flash technology that interested us from our time at Passavé."

Among those improvements, based on the company's patent portfolio, is a technology that claims to extend the lifespan of MLC NAND used in many consumer devices. "It took me and Ofir [Shalvi, one of Anobit's co-founders with Maislos and Ehud Weinstein] a year and a half to figure out the solutions," Maislos said.

So how did the deal with Apple come about? "We weren't looking for a particular landmark or exit," Maislos said of the three Anobit founders. "We're all serial entrepreneurs who have already participated in several exits, so we had enough money to fund the company ourselves, without the need to sell out. We went full speed ahead into our work, without looking back."

But Apple, it turned out, was very interested in Anobit. "We had already had a close working relationship with Apple," Maislos revealed. "When you are working in the flash memory industry, it's kind of hard not to come across Apple at some point, as a partner or a customer – and they were a very big customer. We developed a very good relationship with them, and a mutual appreciation developed between both companies."

Everything you do has to be amazing

In 2010, Intel invested $32m in one of Anobit's financing rounds – nearly half the money Anobit had raised to that point – so Maislos was quite familiar with the Intel culture, too. While Intel engineers are given assignments and are rewarded for ingenuity and creativity, he said, it's a given at Apple that engineers will be at the top of their game. "At Apple, you have to run ahead just to stay in place, and there are very high expectations of everyone. Apple expects everything you do to be amazing.

"At Apple, you have to run ahead just to stay in place, and there are very high expectations of everyone" — Ariel Maislos

"That is not the case at Intel, where no one expects you to be 'amazing'," said Maislos, although Intel does reward those who give their "A+ game".

Maislos believes that the reason for the exceptional pressure is the result of Apple's "near death experience" in the late 1990s. On the eve of Steve Jobs' return to the company as CEO in 1997, Apple was said to be barely three months from bankruptcy – and that experience still deeply affects the way Apple does business. "Intel, too, has had crises that it recovered from," said Maislos – and those recoveries have given Intel officials the confidence to believe in the company's continued survival.

At Apple, on the other hand, "no one can imagine a future in which the company fails", and to make sure that that eventuality never comes about, the corporate culture demands much greater levels of personal excellence than at Intel, or any other tech company, for that matter. It's those standards, Maislos believes, that has put the company where it is today. "Apple has had several important defining moments since that crisis," he said. "It's a company that is extremely focused on its goals. Working there was an amazing experience."

Topics: Apple, Intel, Tech Industry

David Shamah

About David Shamah

David Shamah has been writing about Israeli technology news for over a decade, both in print and on the web, and knows the Israeli tech scene and its start-ups inside out.

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48 comments
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  • Individual Brilliance, Collective Stupidity

    What a pity Apple's corporate culture is so focused on control instead of openness, patents instead of products, litigation instead of innovation. It seems to have failed to learn that lesson from its last brush with death, and it's sleepwalking down the same road again.

    Who will play the role of Steve Jobs and save it this time?
    ldo17
    • "Facts" not in evidence?

      Or just a lie? Given the iPhone's market share in the handset world has climbed continuously, Apple has made a lucrative business model for third party developers (with others scrambling for crumbs), 3rd party accessory designers actually thrive just how is this going down the same path?

      Apple's economy of scale has turned them into a monopsony with purchasing power that is unrivaled. So how is this marching down the same path?

      Oh, it isn't.
      Bruizer
      • How is this marching down the same path?

        They had product that did well so they sat on their butts and did nothing to improve. If you're old enough to have lived thru that, you'll see they are making the exact same mistakes they did before.

        What has Apple actually "innovated" since 2008? And if you say Siri, remember Google did voice commands before iPhone. And Google Now does it better. Not opinion; YouTube it.

        The UI is getting stale. 'But it works. So why change something that works?' That was the same mentality they had prior to bringing Jobs back in and it almost killed them.

        To be more exact, they are marching down the same path in their mentality. "We're the best, nobody can beat us and we're not going to change." That was true in the 80's but they weren't ready for the 90's. This was also true in 2007/2008 but they aren't ready for what's next.

        Want proof? Since the iPhone came out, has Apple driven the innovation such as keyboard swyping, NFC, screen size? Little things like notification shade, folders, taking panoramic pictures, 4" displays -- Apple played catch-up in all these areas. Where exactly have they innovated since 2008?
        tallbruva
        • No innovation in Apple?

          Come on! No innovation since 2008? You kidding. You are saying Retina Display in iPhone 4 is not innovation? Apple "invented" the term Retina Display for phone screens. AirPlay is not innovation? Now people watch TV/Movies on TV via Apple TV Airplay more than using their PCs. iPad has no innovation in it? It killed the entire Netbook category in PC!! In 2012, when every android phone manufacture is trying to make quad-core phones to gain performance. Apple made their chip twice as fast, and smaller, and more energy efficient, and remain duo-core. So there is no innovation. And Apple is just doing catch up? I will just laugh.
          anxonli
          • No it's not...

            Retina Display was merely evolution. Screen Resolution has been increasing for decades. In fact, many of the phones out there that are not retina displays have a higher screen resolution. Sure, Apple was the first to release a "retina" phone. But realize that's because they command more $$$ for their phones.

            Wait you're bragging that the chip is a two core. There are many Android phones with fast and efficient 2 core chips.

            But processing power, screen resolution, are incrementals. They are not innovation. And Apple has become extremely slow on innovation.

            iPhone 5 finally brought a 4G phone. 4G Android phones came out around the time of the iPhone 4. So we had to wait two extra generations for 4G.

            Things like panoramic photos have been available with downloadable apps for years.

            Location based alerts took Apple 3+ years to do. And they did a piss poor job.

            No, Apple has not released a new "feature" on it's phones in the past two generations (4S/5). That's a fact...

            Oh, I take that back. One new and highly requested feature that I really love. "Restricted Use Mode", which lets me lock the screen to a given area so I can hand the phone to my toddler.

            That was a VERY good innovation.
            theSaj
          • You know a lot about innovation

            Lately I have been reading people talking yes talking about Apple lack of innovation but what have you invented lately.
            Talk is useless and the world have full if people like you just talk and yet produce nothing that is changing lives.
            Sad dude and get a life while you are at it.
            AdanC
          • Resolution is not PPI

            Those phones with 'higher resolution' are in almost every case also significantly larger than the iPhone.

            Try again.
            Vulpinemac
          • My Lumia 920 is better

            "Resolution is not PPI"

            The Nokia Lumia 920 WP8 smartphone has higher resolution AND higher PPI than the iphone 5.

            iphone 5: 640x1136, 320ppi
            Lumia 920: 768x1280, 332ppi

            But we will soon find out that resolution and ppi don't count today.
            toddbottom3
          • And how long has your Lumia 920 been out on the market, Toddy?

            Point made. Sure, others will eventually surpass Apple's current numbers, but Apple still manages to move ahead again somewhere else.

            By the way, nice choice on WP8; I really do hope it manages to smash Android's runaway lead but as long as OEMs continue to push commodity products that are cheap and unreliable--and therefore cheap, Android will maintain its lead.
            Vulpinemac
          • Ok, even I will admit that came out bad.

            Cheap, unreliable and flimsy; that's what I should have said.
            Vulpinemac
          • Re: are in almost every case also significantly larger than the iPhone.

            You mean, the way the Ipad Mini is significantly larger than the Nexus 7?

            Oh wait, when the Apple product is the larger one, we're supposed to say it "offers more screen real-estate"...
            ldo17
          • Ok, you did try again--several times

            And each argument is worse than the one before it.

            1.) Resolution: Already rebutted.
            2.) 2-core chips: Those other phones had them, but Apple's is faster and more efficient than those other brands' 4-core chips. Which technology then is the more innovative?
            3. 4G phone: Again, why offer a 'feature' that can't even be used? It becomes a bragging point with no purpose. Apple's 4G came out when there was enough infrastructure to make it worthwhile. NFC will be the same--if they feel they've made it secure enough to protect the user from walk-by data thieves.
            4. Panoramic photos: Take a look at all those other panoramic photo technologies. Do they have the ability to accommodate moving objects in the image? Do they offer truly seamless stitching between snaps? I'll grant that nobody is perfect, but Apple's version is better than all the other mobile versions and even challenges Photoshop itself for seamless stitching.

            No, every one of your arguments is an excuse, not a legitimate debate. I'd much rather have a product work RIGHT than have a useless 'feature'.
            Vulpinemac
          • Your arguments aren't excuses, they are simply wrong

            1) Resolution: Already rebutted your rebuttal.

            2) Wrong. The 4 core Samsung G3 crushes the iphone 5. Still a fast chip in iphone, pity that ios bloatware slows it down so much. See WP8 for how to design an efficient OS.

            3) The benefit of not future proofing your devices is that when you announce 10 year old technology in your new phone, some percentage of your consumer base will believe you invented it and discard their 1 year old device to buy your latest and greatest. This is about profits for apple and nothing to do with protecting consumers.

            4) Nokia has the better camera and the better software. And yes, the Lumia 920 CAN remove moving objects in an image and seamlessly stitch together not just panoramic pictures (boring, been done for years now) but also stich together different parts of a group picture.
            http://mynokiablog.com/2012/09/05/nokia-lenses-nokia-smartshoot-and-cinemagraph/
            That's innovation.

            "I'd much rather have a product work RIGHT than have a useless 'feature'."

            Oh. When did you get rid of your iphone?
            toddbottom3
          • You really mean that?

            No, the 4-core Samsung G3 does NOT crush the iPhone 5 where it really counts--it barely exceeds the 2-core's capability and falls behind in gaming.

            You really do need to look at what the iPhone and other Apple products do--because future-proofing is impossible and reliability tends to gain more repeat customers than 'bling'.

            Hey! Great! You can do something manually in the Nokia that is handled automatically in the iPhone--granted in panorama mode only.

            Um... what was the price of that thing again? I'll bet it's close to the price of an iPhone, too.

            Of course, I know how to really bog that poor thing, too. Just jailbreak it and activate the rest of Windows 8 that's on board.
            Vulpinemac
          • Vulpinemac, You are too funny

            You can say what you want, but 4G has been amazing for me for nearly 3 years. It has been so fast that many times I used my phone as a hotspot rather than log on to slower wi-fi hotspots. So you can make up your little reasons if it makes you feel better, but you should realize that the smoke you are blowing is deluding only you.
            larsonjs
          • Evolution Innovation

            Screen resolutions on phones have been increasing since the beginning.
            The iPhone platform has been fairly stagnant and Android products roared past the iPhone4 and arent slowing down. The iPhone5 brought the iSheep up to date but they are still trailing.

            Until Apple brings out a product in a new niche, or adds something radically new to one of their existing products they wont be innovating.

            Update Innovate
            Non-Euclidean
          • Retina display is not innovation - it is simply a marketing term

            Apple is brilliant at naming things that make you think they are innovating. Retina Display is a great example. It is a spec. that's all, but it sure sounds better than 1080p or whatever it is. Fusion drive is another example. It's simply Apple's version of the ubiquitous drives that are hard drives with a small SSD accelerator. By the way, Anxonli, how far behind was apple on adopting 4G? I thin it was 2 years.
            larsonjs
          • Apple did not have the first phone with a retina display

            The first retina screen (>300PPI) came out at the same time as the first low res iPhone... in mid 2007... on the 3" screen of the Toshiba Protege WinMo smartphone. 313 PPI.

            It was advertised at the time as the first "print quality" screen, which is no doubt why Apple later felt they had to invent a different term for the same eye resolution calculation. After all, Apple would've hated to say they were not the first.
            kevindarling
        • No Innovation?

          How about the iPad? Apple was the first company to make a tablet of its kind! That was in 2010. They also came out with one of the truly greatest displays for mobile devices. And how about the integration of iCloud in all of their devices, the best working cloud service available today. I think that Apple is doing fine in the innovation department.
          mcdylan02
          • Ipad was truly groundbreaking!

            I will agree with you. The Ipad was truly innovative. Even though many had brought out tablets before, Apple brought one out that people wanted to buy! The ipad is their last great product.
            larsonjs