Thursday, September 27

Boomerang: Apple's "It Just Works" Promise to Customers

iPhone Maps app icon: what's wrong with this picture?
Mapplegate, the PR fiasco surrounding Apple's new iPhone mapping software, doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. You can read all about the details elsewhere but I wanted to make a couple general observations.

First, flashback to 2008 and Apple's launch of their cloud email/calendar syncing product called MobileMe. From MacRumors and Fortune:
Mr. Jobs called the MobileMe team into a town hall meeting in one of Apple’s auditoriums after the service launched with problems and garnered unflattering reviews from noted tech commentators like Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal. 
Mr. Jobs reportedly asked the assembled engineers and other MobileMe team members, “Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?” When one of those employees then volunteered a satisfactory answer, Mr. Jobs followed up with, “So why the fuck doesn’t it do that?”
He (Jobs) then spent some 30 minutes berating the team, telling them that they had “tarnished Apple’s reputation,” and that they, “should hate each other for having let each other down.” 
He added, “[Walt] Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us.” 
Jobs appointed a new executive on the spot to run the MobileMe team. 
The MobileMe story may suggest that the iron fist with which Jobs ran Apple may now be missing, but it also helps explain why Apple's new map software problems are getting so much media attention.

Ever since Jobs returned to Apple the mantra he emphasized over and over again about new products was "It Just Works". What you're seeing here is what happens when, contrary to what you promise customers, something not only doesn't work but actually fails in very unpleasant ways. From NY Times tech guru David Pogue:
99 percent of it (iOS6 Maps), Apple says, is accurate. Unfortunately, when the overall data set is that huge, even half a percent of faulty data means a lot of flaws. And the trouble is, you never know when you’re going to encounter one. One wild goose chase, and you’ll find it hard to trust the software again. 
So Apple has written a beautiful, well-designed app — and fed it questionable data. It’s as though you just got a $1,500 professional coffee maker and then poured moldy beans into it.
The actual map with safe instructions
Whenever Apple stumbles, be it Maps, MobileMe, antenna-gate, Foxconn sweat shops, and my personal favorite (because I experienced it) - the irrecoverable Time Capsule hard drive failure - people pounce. People love to call out hypocrisy and shoot down 'hollier than though' types at the first sign of indiscretion. They did the same thing with Google and its 'Don't Be Evil' motto everytime Google engaged in an anywhere remotely questionable practice. It also doesn't help Apple right now that it's the world's largest company in terms of market capitalization and price to perfection, meaning it can't afford to execute sloppily.

The blow to Apple's promise to customers that everything just works certainly doesn't help the company. But whether or not Apple's maps fiasco figures prominently into this blog's prediction that Apple is nearing its high water mark remains to be seen. For more on the future of Apple, Holman Jenkins of the WSJ also has a good read.


  1. P.S. A lot of people on the internet tend to lump people who write about Apple into either the 'fanboy' camp or militant anti-Apple haters.

    For the record, I am not an Apple-hater. I am an Apple-appreciator.

    In my household there are several MacBook Airs, an iPhone, and even a second Time Capsule. Apple makes some of the best hardware and software around, and Apple has been incredibly good to me in terms of customer service.