5 armchair CEOs whose advice would destroy Apple

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Chris Rawson
August 27th, 2011
5 armchair CEOs whose advice would destroy Apple

Steve Jobs has stepped down from his role as Apple's CEO, and Tim Cook has stepped up to the plate. The web has gotten most of its reminiscing out of its system, so now it's time for the wild-eyed and empty-headed analysis! Huzzah!

Tim Cook said nothing at Apple is going to change under his leadership, but that hasn't stopped "analysts" from compiling wish lists for Apple's future anyway. Today the tech sector is pretty much bursting at the seams with dunderheads whose advice for Apple ranges from merely misguided to downright tragic. I've singled out five whose advice for Apple's future is so monumentally bad that it's like telling your gullible cousin he should brush his teeth with dog food. I've arranged them in rough order of lunacy.

1. Apple should make a QWERTY iPhone

ZDNet's Matthew Miller seems to think that Steve Jobs's departure from Apple means the company will abandon the design philosophy behind its most successful product ever and tack on a physical keyboard. Why? "I think there are millions out there that would love to see an iPhone with a QWERTY keyboard and if Apple can design one as well as it designs the iPhone then it could be the best physical QWERTY keyboard ever and there would be a lot more people who would jump on an iPhone." Umm, okay.

This is just a guess, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that "lacks physical keyboard" hasn't been a big factor in the extremely low adoption rates of the iPhone so fa- hahaha, sorry, I couldn't keep a straight face for the rest of that sentence. If you're holding your breath waiting for Apple to slap a physical keyboard on the iPhone, well, I hope for your sake you're not underwater.

Putting a physical keyboard on the iPhone would be a back-pedalling decision from a design perspective. Apple's not known for slapping extra things onto its products if it doesn't think most people will need that feature, and gumming up its flagship product with a physical keyboard would set a dangerous precedent. If you're going to do that, why not put a "real" keyboard on the iPad, too? And how about five USB ports, and a 3D camera, and a built-in handle, and a cupholder, and some fuzzy dice?

Leave design decisions to the designers.

2. Scott Forstall should run Apple, not Tim Cook

From the Department of Insensitive Headlines comes Ed Oswald's "It was time for Steve Jobs to go." I'm not going to dwell on his analysis of the timing of Steve Jobs's departure; instead, let's look at Oswald's plans for Apple's future. "I'm not the biggest fan of Cook at the helm of Apple. I don't really think he is the right person long term," Oswald says. Well, you're entitled to your opinion, I guess, but why not? Oswald says it's because Tim Cook doesn't take center stage the way Jobs did, and from there he decides that means Apple will be run by committee from now on and plunge into the same chaos that doomed it in the 1990s.

Who would make a "better" CEO according to Oswald? "If you ask me, I've always been a fan of iOS chief Scott Forstall. The man has impressed me in his increasing number of public appearances at Apple events: he has the charisma, and shares Job's [sic] vision and knows how to express it well. Forstall is the next long-term CEO of Apple, and not Cook."

So this is how we gauge a CEO's potential performance: not on the real numbers he turns in, but by his stage presence? Oswald's "analysis" would be a lot easier to swallow if fellow betanews writer Joe Wilcox, who's wrong about Apple far more often than he's right, hadn't pointed out that Apple's revenue has more than tripled in the past two and a half years under Tim Cook's guidance as Chief Operating Officer. Cook has already been in charge of the day-to-day at Apple for a long time, and the company has been more profitable than ever.

If Steve Jobs thought Forstall was the better CEO long-term, why did the Apple board (and Steve) build a succession plan around Tim Cook instead? Maybe because Steve Jobs and Apple's board knew far better than Ed Oswald who'd be able to successfully helm Apple once he stepped down? Apple also just awarded Tim Cook one million shares of Apple stock if he stays on until 2021, so there's that.

Strap into your safety gear, because it only gets dumber from here.

3. Apple should become less secretive

Popular Mechanics' take on the matter is the opening salvo in a trifecta of wooly-headed calls for more "openness" from Apple. According to Glenn Derene, the company "must be more open about upcoming products. And to be honest, it's not even clear that Apple's secrecy gives them any tangible business advantage."

You're absolutely right. I'm sure that pre-announcing products months in advance, then being forced to delay the shipping date later is a far better business strategy. I mean, look how well it's worked for Microsoft! And given that companies like Samsung are already shamelessly aping Apple's designs, I'm sure that problem won't get worse at all if Apple lifts the veil of secrecy surrounding its future products.

Derene also advises that Apple should be less "vindictive" from here on out, and of all things, he cites Apple's blacklisting of Gizmodo as an example of that vindictiveness. Gizmodo, the outlet that paid several thousand dollars for stolen property, dismantled it for the world to see, blackmailed Apple into admitting the device was real before returning it, and then had the gall to publicly humiliate the engineer who lost it in the first place. If enacting media sanctions and pursuing legal action against them is "vindictive," Derene probably would've called me genocidal if I'd been in any position to pursue my own ideas for punitive actions against Gizmodo.

For an encore, Derene says Apple should "stop being so full of itself," and basically attacks every facet of the company that gets people excited about its products. Sure, Apple could stop advertising itself and its products as "special" to its customers, but why should it? It is, and they are.

4. Apple needs to open up

Proving once again that she's never met a free/open source (and legendarily consumer-hostile) operating system she didn't like, PCWorld's Katherine Noyes says "Rather than maintain its completely closed and locked-down approach to the technologies it makes, the time is right for Apple to open up." I know to a Linux enthusiast every nail looks like it needs to be pounded with an open-source hammer, but does that really mean you have to cite MacDefender as evidence that Apple needs to be more "open" than it is?

You remember MacDefender, right? The harbinger of the end of Apple's "free ride" when it comes to malware? I know my antivirus logger on my Mac has been going nuts since then -- wait, no it hasn't. And let's not forget that the "open" mobile platform Android has been getting slammed with malware, while the "locked down" but equally popular platform iOS has -- wait for it -- absolutely none. Kind of kicks that "security through obscurity" argument right in the chestnuts, doesn't it?

Noyes also argues that Apple's vertical integration has worked against compatibility and interoperability. I apologize if you just did a spit-take all over your keyboard. I'm sure she can't be talking about interoperability amongst Apple's own products, because that's unassailable even by the thickest of skulls. Instead, she's probably talking about interoperability with PCs, which leads me to think she's stuck in that late-90s world that so many pundits seem to be trapped in, where Macs can't read .doc files and can't network with PCs in any meaningful way -- you know, the kinds of legacy issues that haven't been actual, current problems for the better part of a decade.

She also argues that Apple's "closed strategy just isn't going to be sustainable over time" without providing a single number for evidence. I've got some numbers for you to go look up when you've got some free time: Linux's profitability as an "open" platform versus Apple's profitability with two "closed" platforms. Linux's marketshare among non-server consumers versus Apple's. The amount of money "open" Android has made for Google (not handset manufacturers) versus the amount iOS has made for Apple.

I don't know where the Linux guys and gals picked up the idea that "free as in beer" would somehow translate into billions of dollars, or that "free as in speech" would mean greater platform security, but the past decade or so of evidence is not exactly on your side.

A drum roll now for the worst advice I've heard today, and possibly all year:

5. Apple should license iOS

I'll let Ken Goldberg speak for himself before I beat him with a shovel refute his points:

Extending the reach of iOS beyond iPhones and iPads is a real opportunity to dominate the ecosystem of appliance devices. It would unleash the creative force of thousands of developers who meet secretly all over the world and perform monthly druid rituals hoping to influence the Spirits to open up iOS. The fire wardens are getting testy, Tim. Let's just get this done! Make iOS even more pervasive, and make your mark!

You know that old saying, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it?" Do you remember what happened the last time Apple licensed its OS to third parties? It damned near killed the company. It's arguably the worst decision Apple made in its entire history. Once Mac OS was available on cheap, crappy clones, guess what happened? People stopped buying Macs!

It's been a while since I've heard the "Apple should license (x)" argument. It used to be a regular thing with Mac OS X, but that's died down in the past couple years. Even in the early days of iOS, before Android started taking off, people were clamoring for Apple to license its mobile OS to third-party handset manufacturers. And really, why shouldn't Apple undercut its own hardware business by allowing its OS to run on less expensive and inferior products? After all, it's not as though Apple's low PC marketshare is doing it any favors (other than being the most profitable company in that market), and it's not like the iPhone is bringing in any money for Apple compared to what Android's bringing in for Google. Right?

But for the sake of argument, let's say Apple follows Goldberg's advice and licenses iOS to third parties. Here's what happens next:

  1. Handset manufacturers initially say "no thanks" to iOS because Android is "free."
  2. Then they realize, wait, MONEY.
  3. iOS runs on fifty disparate devices rather than less than a dozen.
  4. Developing for iOS becomes a fresh hell thanks to device fragmentation.
  5. Customers blame Apple when their $99 LG POS can't run Infinity Blade. Predictably, a class action lawsuit ensues.
  6. Half as many people -- or less -- pay $199 for an iPhone when they can pay $99 for an LG POS instead.
  7. Apple's profit share from iOS devices goes down the tubes.
  8. Apple's stock tanks.
  9. Wired runs a cover story with an Apple surrounded by thorns and two words: "PRAY. AGAIN."
  10. Without Steve Jobs to save Apple again, the company really does die.

Apple is a hardware company. Unlike Microsoft's software hegemony, Apple makes the overwhelming majority of its profits on selling tangible products: iPhones, iPads, and Macs, in roughly that order. How much money does Google make off of Android? Considering it doesn't charge anything to license Android, virtually all of Google's mobile platform profits come from advertising. In a year, those profits are roughly equal to what Apple makes in three months, just from the iPhone. Meanwhile, Google has recently paid $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola, probably in order to shield itself from patent attacks on Android. This means that as of today, Android is essentially a net loss for Google and will be for years to come.

That's the company strategy Goldberg wants Apple to emulate. I'm gonna go with "No" on this one.

Here's my advice for Apple and its new CEO: stick with what you've already said. Don't change a thing, and for all our sakes, don't listen to any of these people telling you what you "should" or "must" do, because it's five slices of wrong in a dipstick sandwich.

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