Has Apple Now Become Sony?

On my show the other day I was voicing my recent escapes into frustration that appear to be happening far more often than any other time I can remember. The problem with this “escapade” is the reason for it. e.g., my interactions (and needs) with my current Apple™ products.

Let’s get this out-of-the-way as usual: I am and have been, for quite some time, what many might call an “Apple fan-boy.” My first business computer back in the day was an Apple IIc®. Like most, I toggled back and forth over the years between PC based platforms (i.e., Windows® based) and Apple devices via one product or another. Then, over this past decade, I completely replaced all prior PC based items with Apple. e.g., computers, software,  iPad®, iPod®, you name it. The reasoning behind it was simple: everything seemed to work intuitively, seamlessly and across all the varying devices.

But that was then – and this is now – and my latest “escapades” have decisively proven out that the word “intuitive” has been jettisoned right alongside with all the other no longer “supported” software or devices. As for “innovation?” All I can say to that is what product are you looking at, e.g., Apple devices or, Apple the stock?

If your answer is “Apple the stock?” Then take solace that “Cook and Crew” has you covered, for even the once heralded technophobic investor known as Warren Buffett is buying. Buying the stock that is, right along with Apple’s massive ongoing share repurchase program of its own.

This is what appears to be Apple’s primary focus today. The problem with it is – once the stock value story is over – so too may Apple’s dream days of basking in the Wall Street floodlights. And that day may be far closer than anyone believes. But then again, the new digs to bask in that afterglow may be far more useful than the place for innovation that seemed to be the narrative that preceded it.

Or, said differently: what better place to reflect and bask on the laurels of Jobs, but in the building he also envisioned and began.

Again, I’m not just piling on to the ever-growing negative commentary after Apple’s latest event. (on a side note, how many even noticed they had one? I know I only realized after-the-fact, and that in-itself surprised me.) But “ever-growing” is a relevant term.

As I iterated in the beginning of the article this all came to bear as I was having what may have been my single most frustrating day with my Apple products than ever before.

One of the first things I must note for illustrative purposes is that I upgraded all my current Apple computers (yes, multiple) just last year. The problem?

I purchased, then upgraded via 2012 models. The reasoning? You can no longer upgrade Apple products. i.e., if you outgrow what ever you purchased at the time – you have to now buy, once again, an entirely new model.

The issue with this is, for many circumstances and users, many a 2012 model once upgraded to its max potential is less than 1/2 the cost, if not more so, than its newer equivalent.

That’s not being “cheap” or frugal per se, that’s just using plain common sense.

Apple under Cook’s tenure has now turned the once coined “Apple tax” into a means of outright extortion. And it’s pissing off many a person like myself.

I know music producers that were once avid Apple users (million unit selling producers, not basement types) that are absolutely furious and no longer use Apple hardware such as the one heralded Mac Pro® (aka “Trashcan Mac”) because of both the price, the inability to upgrade it, and – it is still the same model offered in 2013.

Again – a 2013 non-upgradeable post purchase piece of hardware at 2018 prices! (e.g., $6 – $7K if you max its hardware which is almost a prerequisite if you’re doing serious work and can’t afford the chance of needing that little “extra” once you’re well into certain projects.)

Their remedy? What’s now known as “The Hackintosh.” i.e., a PC based hardware platform that can run Apple software.

The issue with this current workaround which one knows ticks Apple off, as it should, is one that should be used internally as warning within Apple, not just some “gnat” that needs to be squashed. Or said differently…

How is it that one can purchase off the shelf hardware equivalents, if not better, or more robust than currently offered by Apple, and build, at home, with simple do-it-yourself skills something almost as reliable as a current Apple product? And, in some cases, for less than half the price?

Shouldn’t something of this nature push a company that was purposely designed to be “cutting edge” to use its resources to do the same, if not surpass what is currently available rather, than spending time and resources in finding ways to not allow its software to run on them?

Apple today appears to be mimicking the music industry’s way of dealing with issues rather, than the way Jobs showed the industry how to make music a better experience, while making more money.

And, let’s not forget – it was in that way of thinking that propelled Apple to have the resources which it capitalized on and helped propel it to where it is now.

Speaking of music: hows your experience with the newly updated iTunes®? Here’s mine: What a freakin’ joke.

This is supposed to be the place to interact and purchase all your latest and greatest Apple experiences of music and more. I personally can no longer tell if I’m looking at an Apple interface – or an old Yahoo™ page, along with about the same intuitiveness for interaction.

I’ll just give you one example: Try creating a playlist to use on your iPod. If you don’t create a new one everyday so that this “new” process becomes engrained enough to dispel the previous – it is not only cumbersome – it’s beyond stupid. e.g., to create a new playlist, you no longer just drag and drop – you now have to open a new window – to drag and drop. And, finding where that “action” is when you’ve been doing and using the same easy (and intuitive) feature and process for years, has been akin to a new adventure or exercise in “Finding Waldo®,” every – single – time. And this was part of the revamp and upgrade!

“But wait…” as they say on late night television, “…there’s more!” The issue here is – much more.

In 2014 I penned an article titled, “Did Apple Just Become Microsoft?” At the time this was quite the controversial statement in both business and finance. So much so that even Market Watch™ picked up on it in an article by Shawn Langlois in his “Call of the day” section. To wit:

And with the potential move to buy Beats, Apple could very well take the final step in its (d)evolution into Microsoft. That’s pretty much how Mark St. Cyr sees it. Of course, he’s not the only one piling on such a purchase. Music critic Bob Lefsetz calls Tim Cook a clueless operations guy. But St. Cyr takes it a step forward by comparing Apple to the lumbering software giant. In a “complete and utter cave-in to Wall Street,” Apple’s latest report wasn’t consumer-products based; rather, it was designed to play Wall Street’s game, he says.

“Dividends, debt, splits, and more,” he said. “I don’t think the iPhone has added as many new features at once as the new features released in Apple the stock.” That’s how Microsoft does it, said St. Cyr as he waxed on about the Apple you knew is no longer. “I hope I’m wrong, but the actions are beginning to not only speak for themselves — they’re screaming.”

As I said, in 2014, that was a very controversial call. How has that “controversial call” worked out these years later? Great question, and let’s use the same venue for its relevancy, shall we? For as Rod Stewart once crooned, if “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” Then the following screenshot should tell one all they need to know in this current saga.

From an article in June of this year, again, to wit:

 

(Source)

Are you beginning to see the reasoning behind my current consternation?

As I alluded to in the beginning this entire frustration theme was borne when I was smack dab in the middle of a project, when suddenly, I found what I had thought (or believed) I could do easily – turned into one of the most frustrating adventures I could remember.

Rather than go into details about it, let me begin to bring what happened in stark relation to what Apple is now offering and the abject tone deafness, as well as alarmingly lack of innovation for the foreseeable future.

One of my issues was due to something which, once again, was a feature I believed was either still available or, at the least, would be easily remedied. To my utter bewilderment not only was this process not intuitive – it was if I was working still using a Windows Vista® platform. It was mind-boggling frustrating.

But as frustrating as it was is pale in comparison when I later gained my composure and viewed the highlights of the new releases coming via the recent Apple event.

To my amazement and complete disbelief, there was virtually nothing for Mac’s. New Mac Pro? Nope 2018-19 looks to be offering the same 2013 model. New products? Yes, new operating system or reboot. Issue? Just how many features will power users like myself lose, once again, as the product seems to get dumbed down ever further?

Want to see a demonstration into said absolute tone deafness? Here’s a quote via Apple’s Lisa Jackson as reported by BI™. To wit:

“…Apple’s Lisa Jackson said at Wednesday’s event: “Because [iPhones] last longer, you can keep using them. And keeping using them is the best thing for the planet.”

Here’s the issue I, as an avid Apple user and consumer, have with that statement:

During my escapade noted above I grabbed my older iPad (which I haven’t upgraded because, it still works for my purposes yet, my wife has the latest and greatest) when to my surprise as I ventured to the Apple Store® to research a possible fix using my current model – I was not allowed to even enter because, I now needed at least iOS® version 10 or better to even enter the store.

No, not that I could only look at the current offerings and just drool over them because, they wouldn’t work on my current model. No – you can not enter – be gone you now worthless past revenue pawn. Only 10’s or better enter here!” That was the impression for an Apple user with a house full of Apple devices is now treated.

Here’s what I have to say about the now “locked door” and the way I found it to be locked:

“Are – you – f’n  – kidding – me?”

It was during this time I was absolutely running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to come up with solutions to a problem I deemed should not be happening in the first place on my Apple’s. Then – Apple serves me the equivalent of locking the front door of its store while I can see everyone inside perusing and more, and not only won’t open the door, but pulls down the shade in my face so I can’t see in to begin with.

So how does that type of “new” experience for someone like myself square up with Ms. Jackson’s idea of: they last longer so you can use them longer?

Hint: I immediately began looking at Window’s based platforms once again.

The reasoning was simple: This kind of frustration was why I jettisoned PC’s and switched over to Apple to begin with. But now? If this is how using Apple computers and software is now going to be and devolve? I might as well get this kind of frustration and only pay half the price – if not even less.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed that under Cook’s tutelage customer “innovation” has been replaced with Wall Street diligence. Here’s a recent observation (and summation) from Seth Godin via his blog. To wit:

“Apple became the first company to be worth a trillion dollars. They did that by spending five years single-mindedly focusing on doing profitable work. They’ve consistently pushed themselves toward high margin luxury goods and avoided just about everything else. Belying their first two decades, when they focused on breakthrough work that was difficult and perhaps important, nothing they’ve done recently has been either. Tim Cook made a promise to the shareholders and he kept it.”

I’ll just add, he’s kept it so well, as I stated earlier, even Warren Buffett is now a believer and a buyer. That alone should be all one needs to know in helping to understand where the Apple under Cook has deviated with the Apple of Jobs.

But with that deviation comes a very high, and too some, crippling price tag.

Jobs always exuded the aura that producing great products that people will pay up for, producing considerable net profit margins, should be the key focus – not the stock price. For if you did the former the latter would take care of itself.

Cook on the other hand seems to have done the latter, and if you live by the share price – you’ll perish by it also.

Back in October of last year I penned another article, again, asking some very pointed questions about Apple, in-particular about Mr. Cook, titled, “Are Tim Cook’s Days As CEO Numbered?”

This article made its way, once again, across the media. The difference this time was that not only did it make its way across almost all of the largest sites (i.e., it landed on the front page of the Drudge Report™ for just one) as we stand here today, we also have a bit of history to see if what I stated then may not have been as “crazy” as some first stated. But rather, is more in-line with what I like to explain as “Sometimes I have to remember where I’m standing is over the horizon to many, let alone, what I’m seeing from that standpoint.”

Should these “markets” suddenly come under extreme pressure borne out of some sudden upheaval currently under watch or, out-of-the-blue, the share price of the “priced for perfection” group of stocks currently known as “The FAANG’s” could find themselves in a place both they, as well as many a-current mainstream business/financial pundit never thought possible. i.e., Calls for CEO change to mitigate (in theory) any stock market carnage. Or, further and unrelenting carnage.

As I started off with the title of this article, I referenced Sony™, the reasoning was simple: The Microsoft comparison appears to have been met in far greater detail that I first thought. So why the Sony? Here’s that reasoning…

For those that remember right before the crash of the dot-com era, Sony was “the” and I do mean “the” brand name product that people seemed willing to pay up for with reckless abandonment. All it seemed they did during the late 80’s and 90’s was release newer versions of the same old thing. (Remember when “Trinitron®” was a thing?)

Now we have Apple offering new and improved name branding, and what do we get? “XR” and “XS” The problem here? It’s not XS meaning excess or, something seemingly intuitive. No XS is pronounced “Ten -ess” and XR is “Ten-are.”

Great branding, huh?

Oh yeah, and in what seems to be typical Apple fashion (pun not intended) once again, a new “coming soon” Apple device is missing in action. e.g. wireless Airpower© charger. Jobs was a fervent defender of what is called by many as “shipping.” i.e., actually delivering a product out the door and into a customers hand.

Now it seems it’s more like, Take a number and wait, then, wait some more.

And to put that “tone-deaf” statement I included earlier made by Ms. Jackson for even more comparison of what seems to be an absolute real-time example of what I’ve contended over the years about much in Silicon Valley? i.e., rarified air turned into exhaust fumes. Here’s the quote one more time. to wit:

“…Apple’s Lisa Jackson said at Wednesday’s event: “Because [iPhones] last longer, you can keep using them. And keeping using them is the best thing for the planet.”

So now, compare the above to what was not mentioned. Again, quoting from the aforementioned BI article. To wit:

“— Fans of other Apple products got hit with some bad news, and none of it was mentioned during the event. Apple quietly discontinued several devices Wednesday, including the iPhone 6s, the iPhone X, and the iPhone SE. The iPhone SE and the iPhone 6s were two of our favorite iPhone models and incredible values in their own right. The iPhone SE was notably the last iPhone with a 4-inch screen; those with smaller hands must now embrace Apple’s larger screens or look elsewhere, maybe even for a used iPhone SE.”

Are you beginning to realize why myself and others are beginning to become a little bit further over the edge of perturbed than we used to be?

I mean, are you now supposed to gamble away $thousands upon $thousands on the now going on 6-year-old Mac Pro  with maxed out 2013 specs, that’s not only an un-improvable or non-upgradeable hardware model meaning, that’s the best it’ll ever be, unless they release something newer tomorrow for you buy it all over again? That is, if they ever make a replacement for it to begin with, or worse, discontinue it all together. Or the worst of all worlds which they seem to be doing more of lately: Announce a newer and greater version – then – either delay or never deliver it to begin with. (Hint: see current Mac Pro for clues.)

Sony seemed to follow this same “marketing” gimmickry back during the 90’s. Maybe there was a reason for it. Let’s see if there’s any correlation we can conclude if we look back at an old “picture” of Sony’s share prices and compare them to Apple’s of today, shall we?

Once again, let’s view them as we hum that ole Rod Steward song, once again. To wit:

(Source)

On the left is Sony’s share prices represented via a Monthly bar/candle chart. On the right is Apple’s using the same.

So what’s the point of the two? Easy, as you can see looking at the lower portion, or X-axis, Sony’s share prices and “could do no wrong product cycle marketing” took place directly into the bubble now known as the “dot-com era.” Apple’s is much the same, only it is directly related (my conjecture) into the bubble known or coined as “the central bankers’ bubble.”

The problem with bubbles of any sort? Here’s another hint, again, to wit:

The best its (Sony share prices) been able to do since that prior “bubble” is get back to where it was when an even greater bubble that burst in 2007/08 now known as the “Great Financial Crash.” Again, all during what a few like myself point to as an even greater bubble now known as “Central Bank Fueled Mania.”

What does one think will happen to both Apple the stock, as well as a CEO that has made his name on that story should this “market” suddenly falter?

As always, no one knows, but if past is prologue, maybe the Sony comparison isn’t as far fetched as some may think at first blush.

Sometimes there are others that come to mind and make you think twice for comparisons. And then some, come from the most unlikely of sources. Here’s an example:

You know somethings doomed or, at least should be giving you clues that one should take heed, when the marketing and branding department puts forth a name or moniker for your product that will cause the need for everyone to endlessly correct everyone away from intuitively pronouncing from what they believe or, think it is.

To think the “ten-ess” issue wasn’t observed or noticed at the C-suite levels, but yet, allowed or reasoned off as “a good idea” tells me all I personally need to know. Case in point:

Does anyone besides myself remember, Ben Affleck or, Jenifer Lopez visible frustration where in nearly every interview they had to correct either the interviewer or, someone else, that their movie title was pronounced, “Gee-lee” rather than the intuitive Gigli or “jiggly.”

The result?  Let’s just say, now some 15 years later, a response of “What movie?” says all that needs to said.

I have a feeling XS pronounced as “Ten-ess” will join this pantheon of other innovation classics, right along with New Coke® and Betamax®.

But only time will tell. That, or a sudden “market” panic.

© 2018 Mark St.Cyr