I remember watching the keynote speech for the first iPhone, back in 2007. Steve Jobs described how Apple was going to release three new revolutionary products—“an iPod, a cell phone, and a revolutionary Internet communications device”—only to reveal that it was actually all the same product. Nine-year-old Cormac was absolutely fascinated by this latest piece of technology. I remember looking through a magazine and commenting to my dad, “Wow, it even has a camera? How do they have enough room in the phone for that?”
My awe and amazement was not just restricted to the iPhone launch, and I felt this way each time a new Apple product came out. The design paradigm of simplicity, intuitiveness, and silver always resulted in the most beautiful pieces of technology that I had ever seen. When each new product was released, I would hop on my computer, go to the online Apple Store, and envision my next computer or phone. Jobs’ company captured both me and the world with its new designs and innovations.
How was Apple able to do this so consistently? Certainly there was a multitude of factors accounting for their success, but what is clear is that Steve Jobs was the keystone. Together with Jony Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Jobs helped conceive some of the sleekest and most well-designed pieces of technology that were ever sold on a massive scale: the Macintosh, the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and more. The reason was Jobs’ infamous narcissism. Back when the Macintosh computer was first developed in the early 1980s, Jobs set an absurd production schedule that asked the engineers to do too much work in not enough time. He destroyed the work-life balance of those engineers by asking them to work on the project to meet a specific and ever-expanding list of demands, such as designing the heatsink to not include a fan, and developing MacPaint, a graphics painting software. Jobs’ narcissism meant that he didn’t care about the complaints of his engineers; he was the most important person in the entire building, and consequently his vision had to be achieved to perfection.
Jobs’ penchant for beautifully simple designs and his stubbornness when it came to modifying his vision resulted in some of the most incredible pieces of technology ever to go on the market. However, without his vision, Apple has begun to lose what made it special.
Under Jobs, Apple adhered to the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). With Tim Cook as CEO, Apple has begun to branch out to try and capture all aspects of the technology market. The iPad line is a great example of this. Currently, Apple sells five different kinds of iPads: a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the iPad Air 2, the iPad Mini 4, and the iPad Mini 2. Under Jobs, Apple sold a then-current version of the iPad and the previous version (for a reduced price). The same is true of the iPhone. Apple currently sells five different kinds: the iPhone 7 Plus, the iPhone 7, the iPhone 6S Plus, the iPhone 6, and the iPhone SE. Under Jobs, they sold just three (the current model, the previous model, and the one before the previous model). Now, rolling into the Apple Store and saying “I’d like to buy an iPhone” is no longer a simple operation.
There are a couple of problems with having such a large product line. First, there is an issue with the allocation of resources. The more products that Apple tries to develop, the less time and resources they have to spend on each individual product and the software associated with it. Consequently, the quality is forced to decrease. Another problem is the ease of and satisfaction from making a decision about which product to purchase. A study from Sheena Iyengar, Professor of Business at Columbia University, describes how “people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.” The greater the options, the more difficult it is to make a decision. In addition, according to the New York Times article that Iyengar is quoted in, research suggests that when there is “an excess of choices,” they “often lead us to be less, not more, satisfied once we actually decide.”
I no longer get very excited when I hear a new Apple product is being released, because it doesn’t feel unique anymore. Apple’s design innovations nowadays only include minor changes (bigger iPhone, smaller iPad, better iPhone camera). I’m starting to lose confidence in their ability to make intelligent design decisions, exemplified by the removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The software has begun to degrade, not improve. The best word to describe the average experience navigating through iTunes on the Mac or in iOS is clunky. The software engineers have continued to add features, but navigating through them is no longer intuitive and simple. It feels like a whole bunch of people at Apple had ideas for features, and the designers just threw them all together at the last minute. Without a singular, stubborn vision, Apple is beginning to fall off the tracks. I do not desire Apple’s eventual downfall, but something has to change. Their current design and innovation strategies are failing to evoke that nine-year-old enthusiasm and passion inside of me. I want my narcissist back.
Chester is a member of the class of 2020.