Apple leverage

By now you’ve read Marco Arment’s post on Apple’s declining software quality. You’ve probably read the responses by Lukas Mathis, Daniel Jalkut, John Gruber, Casey Liss, and any number of others. And if you don’t click away pretty soon, you’ll be reading mine.

I’ve been meaning to write a post on this topic for a couple of months. This post on Apple’s continuing problems with cloud services was a step in that direction but was too focused on one particular failing. My unwritten post was more along the lines of this tweet from Craig Hockenberry:

Don’t underestimate geeks complaining about software quality. Many were responsible for Apple’s resurgence:…
Craig Hockenberry (@chockenberry) Jan 4 2015 9:08 PM

We are Apple’s best customers. By “we,” I don’t mean fanbloggers1 in particular, I mean power users in general. Those of us who learn the deep details of the software we use, or who write scripts and Automator actions to speed up our work. We’re not Apple’s best customers because we buy lots of Apple products (although some of us do). We’re its best customers because of our leverage.

I’ll bet you know several people who bought a Mac, an iPad, or an iPhone because they saw you using one and noticed how easily you did things that were difficult for them. They may have asked for a demonstration of Fantastical; they may have asked whether they could still do X, Y, or Z on a Mac; they may have asked for a recommendation on which iPad to buy; but however it happened, you were largely responsible for Apple sales beyond your own collection of devices. That’s leverage.2

It’s not because you were incessantly proselytizing iProducts. You never had to do that, despite what idiots like Dan Lyons think, because you had the goods. Apple’s stuff really was easier to use, both initially and as your expertise increased. All you had to do was use it, and those around you would see it.

Now it’s true that, as Daniel said, Apple’s software has always had problems. And John is right when he says that no one has come in and taken the crown of usability away from Apple. But…

Are you as enthusiastic about demonstrating recent versions of OS X as you were about Leopard? Have you avoided family members who keep asking you why their iPhones don’t have enough free space to install iOS 8? Do you think it might be better if your friends stick with Android because then you won’t feel responsible if some of their data doesn’t sync?

I think a lot of us have lost our spirit, and that’s a problem for Apple. Apple may not think so—its financial statements would argue that it’s in great shape—but it’s being buoyed by an excellent run of hardware releases and a certain amount of inertia. Eventually, though, it runs the risk of becoming another Microsoft, with users who do more complaining than praising. When a company’s best users lose their spirit, it loses their leverage.

  1. Before reading Dan Lyons’s post, I had no idea my penchant for footnotes meant I had pretensions of being David Foster Wallace. I thought I was continuing the academic style I’ve been writing in for 30 years. Live and learn. 

  2. Can you imagine how many Apple devices have been sold to lawyers because of David Sparks and Katie Floyd?