Apple Claim Chowder: Product

With an Apple Event fast approaching, I’m reviewing critiques of past Apple Events to see how accurate they were. Turns out, not very. Critique is needed and welcome. Repeated errors? Not so much.


Apple’s products receive a lot of criticism and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Some of the criticism seems unfair to me but I usually refrain from commenting since values are both individual and subjective. However, perhaps it is worth noting that:

For all that Android has improved, and we see the difference as a matter of taste, iPhone still outsells Android at the same price 3:1 ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) ~ 3/30/14

Some of the criticism of Apple’s products is objectively flawed. The first mistake critics routinely make is to hyper-focus on a single missing or underdeveloped feature and then declare the entire product useless or dead on arrival. The world isn’t black and white. Not every feature is essential and not every flaw is fatal.

The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. ~ William James

Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life. ~ Edward L. Bernays

If you see the world in black and white, you’re missing important grey matter. ~ Jack Fyock

The second mistake critics make is even more embarrassing. Critics often flat out get a product’s priorities wrong. They misinterpret the job the product is being hired to do and promote a particular feature or set of features as essential when, in fact, those features are less than essential and are sometimes actually an impediment to the product’s long-term success. I’ve highlighted features such as keyboards and Flash, below, but the “island of misfit features” is very crowded indeed.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least. ~ Goethe

Knowledge is power only if man knows what facts not to bother with. ~ Robert Staughton Lynd

Products get bloated one lazy decision at a time. ~ @destraynor

Critics think the flaw lies in the product but quite often it is the analysis, not the product, that is critically flawed.

3d person - puppet, in a hat of the clown with bells


Sometimes highly technical people forget that the world is not comprised of highly technical people. ~ Wes Miller (@getwired)

Specs are a ceiling. You’ve got to have them in order to get great performance and without them, your potential is limited. However, specs are not a floor. The greatest specs in the world are no guarantee of a great product. Many products have a very high ceiling but a very low floor. In other words, they have great specs but their actual benefit to the user is very low. A focus on specs as the be-all-end-all of a product has led to some poor analysis, as we’ll see, below.

Never underestimate the power of a simple tool. ~ Craig Bruce

    Top iPhone Killers
    1. LG GD900
    2. Samsung Pixon12
    3. Samsung OMNIA HD
    4. Sony Ericsson Satio
    5. HTC Touch HD

    In order to be considered an a iPhone Killer, the phone must have a large touchscreen. And provide something unique that’s not found in an iPhone, whether it’s GPS, higher data rate, vibration feedback, video recording, HD video, higher resolution camera,, 1 June 2009

Author’s Note: Notice how the criteria used to define an “iPhone Killer” is entirely based on specs and features.

    Google phone Nexus One, whose launch is one of the most-awaited ones in 2010, boasts of tech specs that make iPhone look like a wimp. ~ Nick Brown, IB Times, 30 Dec 2009

    Nothing from the iPad specs that I’ve seen really shows any great cause for celebration. ~ John Breeden II, Government Computer News, 28 January 2010

    We very carefully chose our tablet processor, the Nvidia Tegra 2, and to really compete it will take [Apple] some time. You know, [Nvidia] is well known for graphics. ~ Jonney Shih, Asustek Computer, 3 February 2011

    Technically Playbook is already on a par with iPad and the new devices will be based on its OS. ~ John Criswick, CEO, Magmic, 19 March 2012


    Watch the iPhone 5 launch with a critical eye, and you’ll see a device that has a smaller less-brilliant screen than competitors. It has a slower CPU and graphics processor. It’s more fragile. ~ Rob Enderle, Digital Trends, 15 Sep 2012

    Google has beat Apple at its own Retina-display-thumping game. Meet the Nexus 7, the eye-popping 323-pixels-per-inch wonder. ~ Brooke Crothers, CNET, 27 July 2013

Mo(o)re computing power no longer makes technology feel better, so ‘design’ is how we choose. ~ johnmaeda (@johnmaeda)


Engineers want power and they will sacrifice simplicity in order to get it. Giving up simplicity is really not much of a sacrifice for them since they thrive in complexity anyway.

I think a nerd is a person who uses the telephone to talk to other people about telephones. And a computer nerd therefore is somebody who uses a computer in order to use a computer. ~ Douglas Adams

Engineers like to solve problems.  If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems. ~ Scott Adams

Most people do not have the mind-set of an Engineer. They/we don’t want to work on their computer. They just want their computers to work.

    ’RIM didn’t expect iPhone to take off the way it did because it was so badly flawed from Day One,’ the former RIM employee said. ‘They believed that users wanted great battery life, great security, great mail handling, minimal network use, and a great keyboard experience. They never expected users didn’t care.’ ~ Former RIM Employee, according to Reuters, 16 March 2011

[A]s designers and engineers in general, we’re guilty of designing for ourselves too often. ~ Bill Moggridge

People get to buy the products they want, not the products engineers think they should want. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)


Keyboards are a prime example of where the iPhone and iPad critics got it wrong. Critics viewed the keyboard in isolation and concluded that keyboards were superior to typing on glass (which they are). Consumers viewed the product as a whole and concluded that it was worth giving up the keyboard in order to get all the many other advantages afforded by a large, unfettered, touch screen display. The critics’ hyper-focus on features blinded them to the overall benefits being afforded to the consumer.

    iPhone which doesn’t look, I mean to me, I’m looking at this thing and I think it’s kind of trending against, you know, what’s really going, what people are really liking on, in these phones nowadays, which are those little keypads. ~ John C. Dvorak, 13 January 2007

    As nice as the Apple iPhone is, it poses a real challenge to its users. Try typing a web key on a touchscreen on an Apple iPhone, that’s a real challenge. You cannot see what you type ~ Jim Balsillie, Co-CEO, Research in Motion, 7 November 2007

    Not everyone can type on a piece of glass. Every laptop and virtually every other phone has a tactile keyboard. I think our design gives us an advantage. ~ Mike Lazaridis, Co-CEO, Research In Motion, 4 June 2008

    We of course build plastic mock-ups that we show (to customers)…we had a slate form factor. The feedback was that for (our) customers it will not work because of the need to have (a physical) keyboard. These were 14-year-old kids, who, I thought, would be most willing to try a virtual keyboard but they said no, we want the physical keyboard. ~ Mika Majapuro, Worldwide Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Lenovo, 22 February 2010

    The pure slate form factor has failed all these years because, other than for vertical applications, people want and/or need a keyboard for regular use. ~ Jonathan Yarmis, Ovum, part of Datamonitor Group, 6 April 2010

    We’re finding — if you look at the surveys, you can see that large amount of the customers that have purchased touchscreen devices in last two years, they intend to get a device with the QWERTY keyboard on it now, right. I mean, they’ve got into a point where they’ve realize that a touchscreen alone is not enough; so that’s important. ~ Mike Lazaridis, Co-CEO, Research In Motion, Inc, 16 April 2010

    [Computers in Education are] never going to work on a device where you don’t have a keyboard-type input. Students aren’t there just to read things. They’re actually supposed to be able to write and communicate. And so it’s going to be more in the PC realm—it’s going to be a low-cost PC that lets them be highly interactive. ~ Bill Gates, Former CEO, Microsoft, 25 June 2012

    Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution. ~ Clay Shirky


    [Apple’s] decision not to support Flash…will have a limiting effect on the iPad’s sales potential. This is because one of the key use cases of the device, as marketed by Apple, relates to web browsing or consumption of online content. Absent Flash, iPad users will not be able to enjoy Flash-driven content, which is used in a considerable amount of websites as well as web-based games and videos. ~ Francis Sideco, Senior Principal Analyst, Consumer and Communications, iHS (now iSupply), 2 April 2010

    For those of us who live outside of Apple’s distortion field, we know that 7″ tablets will actually be a big portion of the market and we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to customers who want a real web experience. ~ Jim Balsillie, Co-CEO, Research In Motion, 20 October 2010

    (W)hile Apple’s attempt to control the ecosystem and maintain a closed platform may be good for Apple, developers want more options and customers want to fully access the overwhelming majority of web sites that use Flash. We think that customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple. ~ Jim Balsillie, Co-CEO, Research In Motion, 20 October 2010

    Such a shame. Add this to the list of interesting places on the Internet you can’t see on your [iPad] device. Of course, if you had a Toshiba Tablet, you would enjoy the entire Internet. Yep, Flash sites too. ~ Toshiba ad when viewed on iPad, 22 January 2011

    Despite Apple’s claims, Flash is and will be important on the Internet for many years. ~ J. Gold, J. Gold Associates, 2 March 2011

    Since the experience of using an iPad is much more like using a computer, Apple’s (well perhaps Steve Jobs by himself) stubbornness to reject flash and not support many standard web widgets makes the experience on iPad inferior to a computer, bar portability. This is not the case for Android (and likely Windows 8). ~ Gutone, Seeking Alpha, 2 July 2012

All great truths begin as blasphemies. ~ George Bernard Shaw


    They are in a pickle. Their pickle is security. When the first big security flaw even happens in one of the large enterprises, you will see this turn around. Wait for the day this happens. ~ Thorsten Heins, CEO, Research In Motion, 29 Jan 2012

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. ~ Upton Sinclair


New products are often dismissed as being nothing more than mere “toys”. Here’s the thing — it’s not much of an insult ’cause people really, really like toys.

The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play. ~ Arnold J. Toynbee

My childhood may be over, but that doesn’t mean playtime is. ~ Ron Olson


Thought exercise: Try to picture the above scene with the participants using pre-2007 phones. Pre-2010 tablets. Netbooks. A Surface Pro 3.

    The iPhone is an expensive toy for the wealthy and self-indulgent… Michael Pachter, Wedbush Morgan Securities, 14 August 2007

    Apple’s iPad 2… (is) still just a toy. ~ 
Zach Epstein, Boy Genius 2 March 2011

    (S)top with the iCoolAde, it’s a toy. ~ Shogan, TechTalk, 5 July 2011

    Apple…doesn’t want you to realize that Steve Jobs’ ‘magical’ toy is really just a Margaritaville frozen drink maker. ~ Rick Aristotle The Motley Fool, 7 July 2011

I remain very confident in the future of anything of which it is said ‘you can’t use that to do real work’ ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)


Lessons Learned And Unlearned

In [computing] as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others. ~ paraphrasing André Maurois

Tech companies — even great tech companies — make two great mistakes. They build great products and they build great products that they, themselves, love.

Doesn’t sound like a mistake at all, right? Only here’s the thing. The twin questions that these companies should be asking is What and by Whom ((paraphrasing Jean Louis Gassee who is, himself, paraphrasing Horace Dediu)):

  1. What is the job the product is being hired to do; and
  2. Who is doing the hiring?

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, no one wants to buy a great product — they don’t care about specs or features. They care about whether the product does the job. And they care about whether the product does the job that THEY want done, not the job the creator of the product THINKS they want to do.

I don’t think the jobs iPads are hired to do in business are understood. ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco)

If it can’t do any useful job then it won’t get hired. Conversely, if it nails an unmet job, it will be blindingly successful. ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco)

Critics who focus on feeds and speeds rather than needs; who focus on features rather than benefits; are never going to get it right because they’re focused on the product when they should be focused on the consumer of that product.

The aim…is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. ~ Peter Drucker

Apple Claim Chowder Series:

Evolutionary Or Revolutionary
Business Models

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

47 thoughts on “Apple Claim Chowder: Product”

  1. If I accept your spec argument in it’s entirety (I largely do, but not absolutely), then OSX is the high floor.
    I wonder what your thoughts of are about the price of the 27” iMac which IMO is not price competitive on specs (low ceiling) being it costs $2000, only bears an i5, and is not user serviceable for upgrades and improvements. Surely an i7 would have not negative impact on the experience.

    1. My point is not to focus on specs but to focus on the overall user experience. Specs cannot be (but routinely are) viewed in a vacuum.

        1. Respectfully…..
          They matter to you, a techie, but not the average consumer unless they are being conned/up sold by a commission paid sales rep.

          You are not Apple’s target market, so their machines, specs, upgradability, and prices don’t appeal to you.

          They do appeal to some people, which is why Apple makes much more profit selling 4 million Macs a quarter than HP makes selling 15+ million Windows PCs.

          HP makes more total profit selling printer ink than selling PCs.

          That is a bad business model, and the reason that HP didn’t sell their PC division. They need HP PCs to sell HP printers, and the profitable HP ink cartilages.

          You seem to be thinking too much about specs, while HP and Dell are concerned about keeping their companies in competition with Acer and Asus.

    2. The iMac i5 is still a modern, high end quad core processor. Faster than what Dell offers in their i5 27″, not that much slower than the i7 upgrade Apple offers. Also Dell’s 27″ i5 does not offer the nVidia graphics. I’d say for a 27″ i5 machine, it is arguably competitive. Even Apple’s lower tier i5 27″ iMac is faster than any of Dell’s i5 AIO offerings from what I could find on their website. I could have missed their faster i5s, though.

      Not to get into a specing contest, but I don’t think Apple’s hardware offerings are that far off. That’s all I plan on posting about this, since it isn’t the point of the article.


  2. Great post… When I think of the sad state of tech journalism supported by ad clicks…

    I ask who is the critic? A journalist, a CS/IT expert, hardware engineer, or anyone with business or marketing expertise? Usually just a journalist writing what their editors tell them for click bait.

    It reminds me of film critics. Many have never written a screenplay, or worked in production, directing, casting, lighting, editing, marketing, or distribution of a film. Yet they complain of a result/film/process that they have never participated in? These people are hailed as experts?

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