Clearly, I ain't no boy. And unlike the millions of people worldwide who proudly carry an iPhone in their pocket, I'm also no fan of Apple.
But, before the religiously loyal Apple fanboys start using my photo as target practice, I'm also no mega fan of Microsoft, or any one particular brand. Rather, I'm a fan of any system and technology that is able to keep churning, and that doesn't crash on me just when my deadlines are due.
Whenever a discussion revolves around Apple and its products, I'd always say I was a fan of Apple until I became a user. I say that not because I think the quality of Apple systems are questionable--on the contrary, I think the company produces some pretty solid products. Rather, that statement largely reflects my realization that no system is completely crash-proof or foolproof, for that matter.
When I was issued the old Apple Powerbook in my previous job, I was elated to finally be working on a system that so many had said was crash-free and would never give "the blue screen of death". Wrong, and right--I didn't get a blue screen. Instead, I got a grayish-white screen of death...so dead that I had to physically remove the battery to "un-hang" my laptop and do a reboot.
Granted, the Powerbook was running on Mac OS 9, the lesser predecessor of a much-improved Mac OS X that is the staple of Apple systems today. But, my experience then made me realize no system is infallible.
So, over the years, while my friends ooh-ed and aah-ed over iPods, iMacs, Macbooks and iPhones, I'd roll my eyes and look the other way. It reminded me of a line that actor Jeff Goldblum's character says in the second installment of the dinosaur epic, Jurassic Park. "Yeah, ooh, aah, that's how it always starts. Later comes the running and the screaming."
So, it was with some reluctance that I purchased my very first Macbook couple of weeks back--primarily because I needed an application that's native to Apple systems. I was glad to see that the company has introduced some pretty cool functions since my Powerbook days. I was duly impressed by the user interface, ease-of-use and especially by the trackpad, which put all my four fingers to good use.
Then, I experienced the first application crash, where the software did a force relaunch. Hah, still no crash-free system, I grinned. That said, I'm still happy with my new Macbook buy. But, I can't say the same about how Apple is managing support and the company on the whole.
Last month, it released the iPhone OS 3.0, which includes new functionalities such as system-wide search and cut-and-paste. More importantly, it includes fixes to 46 bugs in the iPhone and iPod Touch. Here's the thing, though, while it's free for iPhone users, iPod touch users will have to pay US$9.90 for the update.
Apple's defense is that it can't give away to Touch users due to some GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) compliance issue. I think that's a complete cop-out. If that was really the case, the company should then separate the 46 bugs, make it freely available as critical security patches to safeguard its customers' interest, and repackage the other new tools as a paid update.
I think it's ludicrous that anyone should have to pay for security patches that could potentially crash the devices you built, and sold to your customers--it's worse if these are security vulnerabilities that also put the rest of your customers' systems at risk. If that's the case, customers involved in the 2007 product recalls in China should also pay to have their products fixed.
Apple also needs to relook its management of information that the industry has a right to know. Journalists here are well-aware that it's near-impossible to get comments from the company, which prefers to remain tight-lipped on most occasions--except when it needs to drum up media publicity for new product launches.
I'd assumed that the reticence was due to a global directive that decrees official statements can come only from Apple's head office in the States. But, it seems it's really a problem that lies with the company.
When news leaked last month that CEO Steve Jobs had a liver transplant, industry watchers expressed concerns over Apple's unwillingness to disclose sufficient data with investors. "The board has proven again and again that it is being treated like an operating division of the company rather than the supervisor of the CEO," said Nell Minow, editor of the Corporate Library, which specializes in corporate governance.
Regardless, and more so because of how large the company--or brand, in the case of Apple--it cannot choose to operate in any way it pleases because it's still answerable to its shareholders, as well as customers.
If Apple prefers to operate only in a way it sees fit, and not what the market demands, then it should take itself off the stock exchange and live a quiet life as a private business entity.
Jobs did wonders for a company that was once ailing, but if he had instilled the culture that has since vexed investors and analysts, then perhaps it may be time for a leadership change. And now is as good an opportunity to do that, as the company has proven it's fully capable of operating without Jobs at the helm during the CEO's six-month hiatus.
Apple has enjoyed tremendous success over the past decade, especially with its iPods and iPhones, further cementing its foothold among its almost cult-like legions of fanboys. But, the company needs to admit that it isn't immune to flops and will continue to face strong competition on all fronts, including Android, Symbian, and of course, Windows.
Above all, Apple needs to rethink its Asian strategy, seriously.