Tell me if you’ve heard this one: “Steve Jobs never would’ve let [PRODUCT/SERVICE/INCIDENT] happen.”
That declaration has distorted the way the press writes about Apple and how it operates. The claims of his alleged perfectionism and ability to “sweat the details” didn’t just elevate the CEO to “best thing since sliced bread” status, it mutated the perception of the company for industry insiders and the public.
Perfectionism was the driving force behind the hackneyed “reality distortion field” and has only gotten worse in recent years. Shortly after his death, publications and blogs lauded the man, calling him “an ingenious perfectionist,” a “design perfectionist,” and waxed poetically on how the original Macintosh took more than three years to develop due to Jobs’s “obsession with detail.” There’s no denying the man was brilliant, but let’s take a step back.
Based on those and many other articles, we’ve been led to believe Jobs was untouchable. After all, this was the man who brought us major hits like the iPod, iMac, iPhone, and iPad. All four of those devices either brought Apple out of obscurity or pushed it to the head of the class.
When you look back at these products — all released under Jobs’s watch — you notice what set them apart from the competition: durable polycarbonate plastic, anodized aluminum, glass, chrome, superior build qualities, stellar support, and higher resale values. Apple’s products may not have been perfect, but because they were so much better than the bland junk being churned out by other companies, it began to appear as if Apple could do no wrong.
Unfortunately, it was a little too easy to overlook the flaws and we were saddled with a conundrum when Steve stepped down as CEO in August of 2011: Would Tim Cook be at least as good a CEO as Steve Jobs?
Anyone who had been watching the company for the last several years knew that answer: Yes. Cook, as COO, was the one to streamline Apple’s supply chain, thus increasing profit margins. He also steered the ship while Jobs was on medical leave in 2004 and 2009.
Now, with Cook at the helm, the company is under even more scrutiny than in years past. Every decision, every choice, and especially every mistake is currently under the world’s pettiest microscope and even worse, is amplified ten-fold thanks to the “echo chamber of suck” that is the blogosphere. “Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs” is the running theme these days, and while Cook is unlike Jobs in some cases, the sentiment also implies he is an inferior CEO compared to his predecessor.
Who else would apologize for poorly performing products, or allow vendors to go unpunished for leaking images of unreleased hardware other than Steve’s lesser replacement?
For one, component leaks are nothing new to Apple. The iPhone 4 was lost in a bar while Jobs was still in charge and the press had a field day. There were articles about how the prototype was found, the subsequent raid on a prominent blogger’s home, and how it was so unlike Apple to let this happen.
Before that, there were leaks of the iPhone 3G S’s hardware and software. This wasn’t because Apple was “slipping,” but, rather, because any mention of a new Apple product sends the public and the press into a frenzy. New iDevices mean more speculative articles, more op-eds, more money for leaked pictures, and of course, more ad revenue from page impressions.
It became the M.O. of the media to perpetuate the idea that Jobs was an obsessive, secretive perfectionist with a mean streak who ran a company against a straggling competition. However, unbeknownst to that same media, it ended up proving Apple was just like any other company. It had flaws, it made mistakes, and it even owned up to them.
For reference, below are several “-gates” of which Apple has been the subject:
- “Antennagate” — Soon after the iPhone 4’s release, it was discovered that users who covered a certain section of the phone’s antenna with their hands could cause the device to lose reception. What did Apple do? It held a news conference and gave everyone a free case.
- “Locationgate” — News reports came out claiming iPhones were tracking users’ locations. In reality, the devices were logging locations of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around those users’ current locations without their knowledge. The resulting kerfuffle was declared “Locationgate” and misreported as “Apple tracks everywhere you go, ooga booga.”
- “Glassgate” — Ryan Block was upset when he discovered that slide-on cases for the iPhone 4 tended to scratch the phone’s glass back if dust or debris became trapped between it and the case. Eventually, this non-issue petered out and had no effect on iPhone 4 sales.
- “Scuffgate” — A recent problem affecting iPhone 5 owners who handle their phones in the same hands as their keys.
- “Mapgate” — The latest “scandal” to hit Apple has iOS 6 users up in arms because the original default maps application (which used Google’s map data) has been replaced with a brand new version utilizing Apple’s own data, which is arguably inferior depending upon the part of the world in which the user lives. Tim Cook has since issued an apology and suggested several alternative apps to use for better location information.
Regarding that last “-gate,” several pundits saw the bungled Maps launch as another notch in the “Apple is doomed without Steve” belt, claiming “Steve Jobs never would’ve released iOS 6 like this” and “Steve never would’ve apologized,” but history has shown both of those claims to be untrue.
It’s easy to forget that a company as omnipresent and highly-regarded as Apple makes mistakes almost as often as it encounters success. Apple is an anomaly in that it’s one of the few companies users are quick to defend when things go wrong and then forget about those problems soon after. Apple’s products are well-built, well-marketed, and well-supported, and they come from a company that takes what it does very seriously.
When a product as gorgeous as the iPhone shows a defect or flaw, it’s magnified like a bloodstain on fresh snow. And when a company that consistently outperforms the rest of the industry stumbles, it’s like watching Gene Kelly in a room full of marbles. The illusion of perfection is shattered for those who believe the subject is infallible.
No company is perfect. No product is perfect. And no matter how hard he tried, Steve Jobs wasn’t perfect, either. However, unlike any other company, Apple strives for perfection in everything it produces. Apple is climbing a new mountain with several of its products, like the updated Maps app and Siri, and it’s going to encounter problems along the way. It would behoove us all to remember Apple slipped a few times on the way up several other mountains when Jobs led the way, too.