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Leave it to The New Yorker to criticize Apple's '30 years of Mac' celebration


Leave it to The New Yorker to interpret Apple's celebration of 30 years of the Mac as proof that the company has lost its way without Steve Jobs at the helm.

In an article titled, "Why is Apple being so nostalgic?" Yukari Iwatani Kane (formerly of the WSJ) uses Apple's recent and unusual acknowledgment of its past successes as a jumping off point to trot out a number of recycled and tired arguments intent on showing that Tim Cook's Apple of today bears a number of similarities to the problem-riddled company Apple would eventually become in the late '80s.

Remarking on the recent "1.24.14" ad Apple released on Monday morning, Kane writes:

But, as beautifully as the video depicted how the company's products have changed the world, it was also another reminder of how much Apple has changed since those days-not least because the old Apple, under Jobs, looked forward, not backward. "I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long," he had famously said. "Just figure out what's next."

The new Apple doesn't look backwards either. I can't think of any other time Apple has expended this much time and energy in celebrating a past achievement. That Apple is acknowledging and celebrating the Mac's 30th birthday merely reflects the unique and far-reaching impact the Mac had on the computing industry. Apple's celebratory exception, in this case, proves the rule.

Cook even made a point of emphasizing the rare nature of Apple's Mac celebration while speaking at a live concert held at Apple headquarters last week.

Hell, there's even video of it.

"We don't spend a lot of time looking back," Cook said. "We spend all of our time looking forward and working on the next big thing. But we're making an exception for today. Because 30 years ago today the Macintosh was born."

Kane continues:

In fact, the latest video was the second commemorative video that Apple had released in the past two weeks. That was on top of the birthday promotions on Apple's home page and in its stores, media interviews with ordinarily inaccessible executives, and a commemorative assembly for employees at Apple's headquarters.

Is this really cause for concern? Really? Given how ostentatious some tech companies with money to burn can be, Apple's celebratory efforts seem rather tempered.

Next, Kane proceeds to talk about the Apple Jobs left behind when he was effectively ousted from the company in 1985. Over the next few years, Kane writes, Apple was seemingly doing well without its co-founder leading the charge, what with growing Mac sales and ever-increasing revenues.

But behind the scenes, the absence of Jobs began to play out in a number of harmful ways. Kane interviewed longtime Apple marketing manager Steve Scheier, who said that the company in the late '80s began hiring the wrong people and making mistakes it shouldn't have been making.

Kane writes that Apple, instead of getting to the root of the problem, began basking in the glory of its past achievements.

Apple began celebrating its past glories with commemorative T-shirts, a garden of Macintosh sculptures, and a display of an old Apple I in the cafeteria. Engineers obsessed about getting credited in every program that was released.

It's a simplistic explanation, but even if we take it as painting the whole story, Kane's attempt to draw a parallel between that Apple and the Apple of today falls way flat.

So what about now? Apple's supporters point to the company's billions of dollars in quarterly profit and its tens of billions in revenue as proof that it continues to thrive. But Apple's employees again know differently, despite the executive team's best efforts to preserve Jobs's legacy. People who shouldn't be hired are being hired (like Apple's former retail chief, John Browett, who tried to incorporate big-box-retailer sensibilities into Apple's refined store experience). People who shouldn't leave are leaving, or, in the case of the mobile-software executive Scott Forstall, being fired.

There's so much wrong with this paragraph I don't even know where to begin.

First, Kane writes without any shred of evidence that Apple employees "know" that Apple isn't really thriving, despite billions in revenue.

The bit about hiring people "who shouldn't be hired" is just as confusing. Sure, Browett was the wrong guy to fill Ron Johnson's shoes, but Cook let him go not even a year into his tenure. No company, not even under the masterful command of Jobs, is immune from making hiring mistakes -- remember Mark Papermaster? What really matters is the ability to quickly acknowledge a mistake and fix it.

The firing of Browett, I think, reflects highly on Cook. It demonstrates that he can own up to a mistake and values making right decisions more than his own ego. Meanwhile, Browett's soon-to-be replacement, one Angela Ahrendts, was a hire that was greeted with seemingly universal praise.

As for people leaving who shouldn't, it's hard to say just what Kane is referring to here. Sure, Apple has famously lost a number of talented engineers and managers to feisty startups and established tech giants over the past few years. But that's just par for the course in the tipsy-topsy world of Silicon Valley, where valued employees often jump ship for other opportunities. So while Apple may lose talented folks, they're also incredibly capable of attracting A+ talent from other companies. Indeed, a number of stories over the past few months suggest that Apple has quietly been assembling a team of top-notch engineers and physicians with expertise in medical sensor technologies. So while it's unquestionably important for Apple to retain its top talent, this is a challenge faced by any big company in the tech sphere.

Next, Kane all but says that the firing of Forstall is further proof that the wrong people are leaving Apple. But again, Kane provides no evidence to back up the claim that this was a disastrous move. If anything, rumor has it that Forstall was let go because he was a divisive figure who was notoriously tough to work with. And again, it's proof positive that Cook is more than capable of making tough decisions.

Funny enough, Kane next brings up a series of recent Apple "mistakes," with her first example being Apple Maps. Never mind the fact that Forstall, as the head iOS at the time, was ultimately responsible for the software. And never mind the fact that a new worldwide mapping solution that works flawlessly from day one is a pipe dream.

Other mistakes Kane reference include Apple's "short-lived Genius ads" and Apple's more recent manifesto ads. Sure, the Genius ads were nothing to write home about, but Apple was quick to cancel them upon realizing that they fell flat.

And are we really categorizing mediocre ad campaigns as "mistakes"? Besides, Apple really seems to have hit their advertising stride over the last 18 months or so.

As is often the case -- and The New Yorker article is a perfect example of this phenomenon -- people seem to afford an Apple without Jobs no slack whatsoever while ignoring that Apple under Jobs' command was not without its fair share of flops -- the G4 Cube and the Apple Hi-Fi come to mind. Can you even imagine what people would say about Cook and the state of Apple if the iPhone 4 antenna controversy transpired with Cook as CEO?

Other Apple mistakes Kane puts forth include iOS 7 (apparently full of "bugs and flaws") and the fact that Apple hasn't created something new and amazing since the original iPad in 2010. Perhaps folks should remember that true innovation can't be set to an arbitrary timetable and that there was a solid 5.5-year gap between the iPod and the introduction of the iPhone.

Wrapping things up, Kane writes:

Although the company's C.E.O., Tim Cook, insists otherwise, Apple seems more eager to talk about the past than about the future.

It's hard to see how Apple, in any way, shape or form, seems more eager to talk about the past than the future. Save for Apple's recent Mac celebration, Kane once again provides no supporting evidence.

In short, Kane curiously attempts to spin one week of Apple celebrating the Mac's 30th anniversary into a representative sample of Cook's two-and-a-half-year tenure as CEO. It's pretty weak sauce.

The article concludes with a head-scratcher:

Even when it refers to the future, it is more intent on showing consumers how it hasn't changed rather than how it is evolving. The thirtieth anniversary of the Macintosh-and the "1984" ad-is not just commemorative. It is a reminder of what Apple has stopped being.

I'm not even sure what this is supposed to mean. In the first sentence, Kane writes that Apple is more focused on showing consumers that it hasn't changed. But in the next, Kane chastises Apple for not being the type of company it was back in 1984. So Kane seemingly wants Apple to be the same type of company it was 30 years ago, but, at the same time, believes it needs to show consumers that it's evolving.

Gotta love The New Yorker.

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