Chasing After Innovation or Money?

Most nights, for the hour or so that I watch tv, I catch at least one Apple commercial. Of late, they’ve included particularly pointed byplay between “Mac” and “PC.”

At the same time, I’ve watched posts flying all over the web about the issues with Mac’s latest operating system, Leopard. And even if Mac users haven’t had issues, some question Leopard’s upgrade value. Before I dive into this issue, let me be clear: this post is not about the superiority of either the Mac or the PC but rather about Apple’s aggressive promotion, in spite of recent problems. Yes, I’m aware that Microsoft hasn’t really let up on its positioning of, “you must buy Microsoft,” but some of their marketing seems more ironic than demanding (the waste bin with iPods to promote the Zune comes to mind). Not so with Apple.

My question for today: Apple has based its brand on the concept of “Just Works;”so what happens when problems start popping up? Does the Apple brand lose credibility, particularly if they ignore that issues exist? The timing of the latest Apple ads has coincided with this very question. I’m also curious, did Apple always push this hard to establish its superiority over the PC? Didn’t they used to take the position that the products speak for themselves?

Steve Jobs, in a 2004 interview he gave to Business Week, pointed out two things about Apple:

You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together. Otherwise, you can get great pieces of technology all floating around the universe. But it doesn’t add up to much. That’s what was missing at Apple for a while. There were bits and pieces of interesting things floating around, but not that gravitational pull.


We have a second goal, which is to always make a profit — both to make some money but also so we can keep making those great products. For a time, those goals got flipped at Apple, and that subtle change made all the difference. When I got back, we had to make it a product company again.

I would propose that these two goals have flipped, that Apple is cashing in on the brand it’s built since its inception and that product development is secondary. I think that Apple, taken as a whole from the beginning to now, represents an amazing presence in an industry known for lookalikes and flame outs. However, based on Apple’s most recent performance, I’m less inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when they push so hard with their rhetoric.

The PC vs. Mac commercials were so brilliant in the beginning because they highlighted the truly random and oft-time frustrating parts of working on a PC. Now, the ads ring hollow because another story exists about Apple that makes the comparison between Mac and PC difficult to swallow. Yes, Vista problems exist. But Leopard has problems, too. Perhaps I’m unfair, but I expected Vista to have problems. I didn’t expect Leopard to.

At the end, I’m left wondering if Apple has taken that big step from the underdog competitor with a cult-like following into the traditional business world, and along the way, lost a bit of its soul. Apple started with a really bold idea back in the 70s. Over the years, they continued to launch industry-changing products. However, based on recent performance, it’s easy to wonder if the chase after money has superseded the chase after innovation.



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December 2007
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