Apple giveth, Apple taketh away

27 Jun

When I was a teenager, I was an extremely diehard supporter of what was then called Apple Computer, Inc. It's a little embarrassing to think about now, because as an adult I'm pretty opposed to the idea of anyone's identity being that closely tied to a company that they patronize or work for. Nonetheless, at the time the association made sense to me. In that era, Apple was not the corporate behemoth they are now. They were a fledgling company whose only products were computers and software for those computers.
Furthermore, their product offerings represented (I felt) a low-grade rebellion against monolithic ways of using computers. Their interfaces were simple and elegant and prioritized the user having a positive experience, whereas Windows was a big evil obfuscated mess. I was into Linux too, for all the usual reasons, but that's beside the point. I remained a (often vocal) Apple devotee because I found them plucky and insistent upon values in computing that appealed to me, and I also loved getting into arguments on the Internet at that age.

Today, Apple is the most successful consumer electronics company in the world. In Q4 2010, their market capitalization was the largest of any tech company in the world, and third overall (behind only ExxonMobile and PetroChina, as it were). I would contend that Apple's commitment to high-quality user experiences has persisted, but it's morphed into this oddly arrogant way of dealing with their customers.

The reason I started thinking about this is that last week, Apple released Final Cut Pro X, the new version of their once-venerable editing software. I have a substantial number of friends who edit video for a living, and almost all of them use Final Cut Pro 7. Within a few hours of the release of FCP X, they were all proclaiming loudly their plans to start learning Adobe Premiere, because Apple had sold them up the river with this totally stripped-down toy of an editing program. It wasn't just my friends, either.

I don't know too much about video editing, so I'll have to take them at their word that it's about as bad as they say. The thing is, it totally fits with how Apple has done business for the last few years. Rather than respond to what the customers say they want, Apple decides what the customers ought to want, releases the product that fits that description, and implies, basically, that the customers need to just get on board and stop complaining. Usually their decision is uncontroversially good and everyone goes along with it. Every once in a while, though, you get some backlash and it's kind of interesting. In all cases, though, Apple does not ask what customers want, they tell the customers what to want, after they've already created it.

I've been using a Mac since I was 4 years old, and I continue to do so today because it is simply the best consumer laptop available, and because Mac OS X is the operating system on which I can be most productive. I don't really see any reason I'll ever stop using a Mac, unless Apple one day decides I shouldn't want to, and that I should want this cool new thing instead, and I'd be a fool to feel otherwise.

Maybe they'll be right. Or maybe this is just Steve Jobs' way of bringing Buddhist philosophy to the masses. After all, isn't the way to attain true happiness to just learn not to want what you can't have?