The Macalope Weekly: The Axis of Dumb

There are many places you can read quality analysis of Apple and technology. Alas, these are not them. Yes, this week we look at pieces from Business Insider, Forbes, and our old pal, Rob Enderle. Prepare yourself for … The Axis of Dumb.

Best advice ever

It’s time once again to check in on what’s going on over at Business Insider and, yep, they’re still whacking at a piñata on which they’ve crudely written “Apple.”

This time guest poster Kevin Meany is there to tell us all about how “Apple’s Ads Reveal A Major Identity Crisis” (no link, but tip o’ the antlers to the Jony Ive parody account on Twitter).

Its latest TV commercial is subdued but significant.

Ah, the commercial. The spot that launched a thousand antler-bangingly dumb pieces.

Isn’t there something else you can write about? Something people have complained about less than this really quite good advertisement? Like maybe twerking?

It’s both a corporate anthem and an apology.

It might be an explanation, but it’s not an apology.

It’s hard to see the gadgets in some shots. (Is that exuberant guy in the restaurant holding a Kindle?)

Yes, that’s right, the guy in the Apple ad is holding a Kindle.

There’s a pretty good reason why Apple doesn’t need to show off their products in this ad. It’s because Apple has defined each of the product categories presented: digital music players, smartphones, and tablets.

The commercial could easily be one for any of Apple’s many competitors—“Designed by Samsung in California,” say.

It’s become a cliché to ask if a writer is high, but are you literally high right now? Because that seems the most charitable explanation for having made such a contention.

In begging for “time” for those among us awaiting the next Big Thing, the company owns up to an innovation crisis.

Is the Macalope the only creature writing about Apple who can do simple math? It was six years between the iPod and the iPhone and three years between the iPhone and the iPad. It’s now been just over three years since the iPad, and Apple has promised new products this fall and next year. How is keeping up its industry-leading pace an “innovation crisis”?

Sure, its loyalists swooned this month when Apple announced it would share information about its new iPhone two days earlier than it did in 2012.

OK, which one of you guys swooned? Was it Larry? Come on, we’ve talked about this, Larry.

But this next iPhone—the “big news” this week: it will be available in a new color, gold—won’t dazzle.

The only difference with the new iPhone will be the color. This much we all know as fact, even though it hasn’t even been announced yet.

We are witnessing a corporate identity crisis.

Keep writing “crisis” so we’ll know just how bad things are at Apple.

Once an anti-establishment brand, the company today has become the type of corporate behemoth it mocked as it democratized technology. There are iPhones in almost every pocket …

Business Insider, where a piece need not make sense, it just needs to senselessly bash Apple. On the one hand, Henry Blodget bashes Apple for having significantly less market share than Android, and on the other they publish a piece claiming Apple’s the establishment because everyone uses iPhones. The Macalope’s no statistician but it can’t be both, guys. Not that you care.

C’mon, Apple: Creativity is at your core. Find it again and flaunt it …

Oh, such good advice! C’mon, Apple! Get out there and creativize! Make with the smarts! Do the thing with the devices already! Shiny new!

If only Apple had thought of that.

Questionable analysis

Writing for the online collection of dogs-running-in-circles-and-scratching-themselves that is the Forbes contributor network, Rob Tanner wonders about:

“iPhone Screen Size: Might Apple Have Been Asking The Wrong Market-Research Questions?” (no link for Forbes but tip o’ the antlers again to the Jony Ive parody account on Twitter).

While the screen size of Android phones seem to grow on an almost daily basis …

… to ridiculous sizes that few people will actually buy because they literally don’t fit in their pants …

…the iPhone has increased in size only once during its life …

LAME.

With the imminent release of the iPhone 5S seeming unlikely to bring an increase in screen size, Apple AAPL +0.22% fans seem likely to face another year being dwarfed by their Android-toting rivals.

Dwarfed by screen size, not quality of user experience.

With a significant body of high-end smartphone consumers seeming to genuinely favor larger screens …

A significant body that remains well below the body of people who favor iPhones. Check sales of Samsung’s bigger-than-a-breadbox phones and you’ll find that they’re collectively well below the number of iPhones Apple sells.

… Apple’s apparent reticence to offer a more sizable iPhone is becoming ever more puzzling with each passing hardware refresh.

It’s not puzzling if you have a clue as to how Apple designs phones. If, as expected, the company sunsets its 3.5-inch models next month, that leaves it open to making larger iPhones next year. The popularity of the 3.5-inch models has been driven by price, which is why the company is expected to ship a lower-cost 4-inch iPhone.

Large phones are just another in a string of products that pundits insisted Apple had to ship now, NOW, NOW!!!, or face immediate doom. Remember netbooks?

No?

Well, that just proves the point, then.

Given [Tim Cook’s] oft-cited love of data, I have no doubt Apple has done a tremendous about of usability testing suggesting the current iPhone screen size is in many ways optimal from a usage perspective.

Not having seen this data, let me now attempt to refute it.

Certainly, I have little doubt that an iPhone 5 would perform better in usability testing than would a prototype iPhone with a 5-inch screen. However …

No! No “however”! Full stop!

… in Best Buy …

What part of “Full stop!” did you not understand?!

… or on Amazon, few consumers mimic this degree of testing.

Tanner proceeds from the assumption that larger phones are more popular than iPhones. Which would be fine, except for the fact that it’s totally bogus.

The possibility thus exists that in their desire to engineer the perfect product for the customer, Apple may nonetheless have built the wrong product for a large segment of the market.

Ugh, is there anything worse than a professor who himself has not done the reading? Aficionados of bigger screens may be a large segment of the market, but the iPhone’s success shows that it’s not the largest segment of the market. To date, Samsung has shipped around 100 different smartphone models. Apple has shipped six.

If this is the case, then such a failure must ultimately be partially a reflection of Apple’s market research, raising the possibility that they may have been asking the wrong questions.

Somebody’s asking the wrong questions, that much is certain.

Sympathy for the devil

Every once in a while there comes along a post that simply must be read to be believed. So sit back, grab a beverage and a napkin for the inevitable spit takes, and enjoy Rob Enderle telling us:

“Why Steve Ballmer’s Early Retirement Is My Own Greatest Failure”.

As you likely know, Steve Ballmer is stepping down under a cloud at Microsoft, and I too think he is getting a raw deal. What you don’t know is that I feel I’m partially responsible.

Oh, Rob, honey, we blame you for everything.

In 1999, I actually thought of Steve Ballmer as a friend (I still do actually; but I may be delusional).

“May.”

Hmm.

“May.”

Huh.

I’d had a private meeting with him and a few other analysts to talk about how he was going to fit into his president’s role.

We see you like a big, sweaty bull in a corner office.

Then a couple of years later, I met with a very different Steve Ballmer. He was angry and combative. I wondered where both my friend and what would have been a far more successful plan had gone.

Where was that little boy that I knew so many years ago? We used to ride bikes together! And now he’s all grown up! And really mad about something.

(It might have been the advice you gave him.)

Two things came out of the meeting with Steve in 1999: One that he executed on and falls into the success column for his time at Microsoft, and one that he didn’t execute on and goes to the core of why he appears to be leaving the CEO job as a failure. Let me set the stage.

First, have you ever seen Dexter? Well, let me just say the whole room being covered in plastic wrap was slightly off-putting. And, for some reason, there was a monkey in the corner quietly grooming a goat. That was just weird.

I’d known Steve for some six years at this point, having met him in person at an analyst retreat I accidentally caused to be cancelled.

Long story short, do not get into a drinking contest with Clippy.

I’d had a number of one-on-ones with Steve, as well, and he’d almost gotten me fired once (although he stepped in and saved my butt) …

How charmingly passive-aggressive!

Over the decade, Steve became more and more isolated and the product failures started to mount.

He took to carving out of butter intricate little representations of the people he felt had wronged him. And then angrily eating them.

So I think the cause of the problem with Steve is his relationship with Bill Gates. Steve was at the top of his class at Harvard, Bill dropped out. Yet Bill has always been held up as better than Steve.

Whoo, well, if it’s a competition thing, then getting asked to step down sure isn’t going to help much. Yeeowtch.

As a result, Steve became excessively combative because he felt he stood alone at the top, unreasonably compared to his closest friend and inadequately supported by him.

OK, two words: boo and hoo.

Look, the Macalope was never all that enthusiastic about canning Ballmer as a solution to Microsoft’s ills, but heck if he’s going to get weepy over the psychological traumas of a man paid millions and millions of dollars to do a job.

You see, I did eventually see that Steve was failing but couldn’t come up with an effective way to prevent the failure. Every time I tried, I just made Steve angrier.

Hey, every time you bang out something about Apple, you make the Macalope angrier, too. It’s not really that uncommon.

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