Criticizing Apple’s Patience

I’ve noticed an interesting theme from some of Apple’s more prominent and vocal pundits. Perhaps this is a theme that has always been around or is simply a rinse/wash/repeat process. Either way, I’m sensing it at the moment. It seems much of it is focused on criticizing Apple for not experimenting more or having more moon-shot projects made public. We know companies like Google, Amazon, and even Facebook do some research in public and let people try things that are half-baked. While Apple places the “beta” tag or “hobby” moniker on some things as they did with Siri and Apple TV, these products were still good enough vs some of the really half-baked products we have seen others put into the public. The narrative today seems to be around things like Siri and AI. Too often, the Amazon Echo is the product people are using to shine a light on Apple and say they are behind. While a deeper analysis of the technology would reveal Apple is not as behind as people imagine, I’d like to spend some time to make an important point about what makes Apple so different from other companies when it comes to product or idea experimentation in public.

Apple has done something few computing companies have ever done. They have managed to make a product which is bought and loved by consumers on every part of the adoption curve. The iPhone appeals to early adopters, the mass majority, and the technology laggards. There is no single consumer product that has done this at anywhere near the scale of the iPhone. Most importantly, understanding the vast majority of Apple’s now more than 600m iPhone owners are made up of those who are less techy, less geeky, and more the “average” customers who appreciate ease of use and simplicity to do what they want to do. Most of Apple’s customers have chosen the iPhone because it works best for their needs and lets them not worry about the technology. This is precisely why Apple cannot experiment with half-baked products and release them to their customers.

Unlike the customers of many other companies, Apple’s customers do not have the patience to tolerate half-baked technology. This is why Apple has always been recognized as being patient. They don’t enter the market first, but they do enter it when the time is right, with a solution that works and works to the standards that anyone can use it simply, easily, and enjoyably. Being an early adopter myself, I have tolerated some very painful experiences trying out new flashy gadgets. Most people do not have the kind of tolerance for technologies not ready for the mainstream. Apple does not have this luxury and, as much as their early adopter customers want to see them push the limits with things like AI, or voice, or VR, and believe they are behind because they are not doing these things, they forget they are not like the majority of Apple customers. I’m confident that, if Apple was to release more experimental technology, the kind most their competitors do and get away with it, it would dramatically hurt the trust their customers have with them to provide easy to use, delightful experiences. Because I can assure you, most early technology is anything but easy to use and delightful.

We should not criticise Apple for their patience in bringing technology to the market only when the time is right. This is the very thing that made them into the company they are today. They have built a significant amount of trust with their customers which could easily be destroyed by bringing technology out too early.

I understand the perspective of those who want Apple to do more, sooner and present the perception of leadership that comes with doing so. But being visionary and leading with quality is very different than throwing half-baked tech out to the world, even if that half-baked tech contains some parts of the future in it. Yes, we would all love to know where Apple is headed and what their vision of the future is. However, their patience to bring things to the market at the right time does not mean they are void of vision. I think it just means they like to surprise us.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

22 thoughts on “Criticizing Apple’s Patience”

  1. Ben, we wrote our two articles separately but we came away with the very same conclusions. As I recently wrote, Tim Cook is being criticized for not being Steve Jobs because he is displaying the very same discipline and patience that Steve Jobs did.

    It’s true that if you release a product too late, you get left at the station. But it’s also true that if you and your product arrive at the station too soon, you get run over by the oncoming the train. No product should be released before its time.

    1. Equally important in my opinion, is the marketing and distribution efforts to make the “time” come to you.

      Take the Apple Watch for example. Launching to an early adopter audience simply requires an Apple event or a Google I/O. However, that’s not enough for the time to come. For the time to come, you have to raise awareness among the “early majority”, and that’s the job of Apple marketing and the Apple Stores. It’s something that no other tech company does well, and it’s so hard that Apple often fails as well.

      So Apple waits patiently for the technology to mature enough, but at the same time coordinates marketing to accelerate awareness and willingness to purchase among the early majority.

      Google and others don’t have the ability to market directly to the early majority, and try to create huge early hype among the early adopters to compensate. However, as Chasm theory suggests, the gap is too wide for that.

      1. Microsoft was once well known for creating hype, but eventually came to be known as creators of vaporware. If a lot of what you promise never happens or doesn’t live up to the hype, that can be incredibly damaging to your brand.

        Google is creating another problem as well, a lack of trust that a given product or service will still exist in a year or two. Hype is fine, but follow through and stability are better.

        1. Again, only nerds and early adopters are obsessed with product pipelines; most people are only interested in products that have launched, and their peers already know about. Therefore, vapourware itself does little damage to the brand image perceived by most consumers. I would say that applies to Microsoft too. Amazing thing about Google is that their hype does capture people’s imagination, especially in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately though, the hype is inconsequential to their broader sales numbers.

          Of course, vapourware will damage your reputation among corporate IT folks.

          1. Perhaps this stuff only matters ‘inside the bubble’ so to speak, among nerds and early adopters.

          2. That is what I believe. Selling B2B is different though because the decision makers will tend to be quite knowledgeable about tech.

            Hence I think it makes a lot of sense for Microsoft and Intel to talk about their pipeline, but much less so for Google, Facebook. Unless of course we consider both Google and Facebook to actually be B2B companies (selling ads space to advertisers).

  2. You just made the point that those Pundit are making Ben from an Apple perspective

    Apple culture of never shipped out half-baked product work great when the value is in Hardware and Software integration but when the value shift to Cloud base services and personalize contextual learning AI system that follow you everywhere the same culture that used to be their strength will be their weakness

    and the fact that many of you keep on pointing to SIRI as an AI system tell me that you either don’t get the point that these people are making or maybe you guys just doesn’t understand what an AI system is.

    1. actually I’m making a distinction between an AI and IA (intelligent assistant). Interestingly, Elon Musk broke it down the same way in his interview yesterday at code. I’ll dig into this for subscribers soon, but when you dig into deep learning / self-trained neural networks you see the difference between the two and realize that Apple needs to focus on one and others can focus on the other. My agent can benefit from communal AI but some agent needs to learn me intimately and uniquely. That is where Siri can come in and it can be done by protecting my identity and self learn, vs. be trained like Google has to do with broader machine learning..

      1. How can SIRI become a self-learning system with only your personal data? If it cannot understand the difference between the context of what you love, what you want, what something like a dog means to you compared to other people, the difference between you and others, including the context between you and everything around you.

        The idea that SIRI can become a self-learning system for each individual using only their personal data is ridiculous unless you do not understand what it mean to build a AI system.

        SIRI is a preprogram assistant by human, that provide answers to a set of specifically pre-program query that are popular which may give the impression of being good or accurate, when in fact it is rudimentary. For it to evolve into a self-learning system will require a totally different system and years of training from vast Data.

        1. Again, you are talking about two different things and making the incorrect assumption that my personal assistant to who has learned me and everything about me can not still benefit from the vast AI ecosystem of other people including Google. If you believe every human in the planet will have a google personal assistant you envision a world not steeped in reality. Google will make their AI on iPhone and available to other agents because it is their business model.

          I encourage you to start reading more white papers on deep learning and the breakthrough in their algorithms. It will allow for vast learning with much more limited data sets. This is why cars can now be self-taught to drive with significantly less miles driven than those that had to be trained with gobs of data. But again, I emphasize AI will not be done in silos and who a consumer hires as their personal assistant is still up for grabs but also will not be isolated from the larger AI universe.

          1. How do you envision Google building a AI system Runtime on a platform they do not control, we are not talking about application such as Google search or Photo we’re talking about AI system runtime that require system level access.

          2. As I said, most things I’ve read and most AI experts I’ve talked to make a distinction between a specific purpose intelligent agent and general purpose AI/machine learning. And per Elon’s points which I agree with, there will not just be one AI there will be many. Some open, some closed, but they will likely interoperate.

          3. I haven’t listened to it yet but I will. I did ask him on Twitter if he believes it is winner take all and he said no so there you go 😉

          4. I haven’t listened to the podcast either (unlike the very professionally managed Techpinions podcasts, which is always just 30min long, most tech podcasts are too long in my opinion).

            However from an independent perspective, I would agree that Amazon has the best shot in the short term, mainly because it has a very clear use case and the infrastructure to support it.

          5. specific purpose intelligent agent and general purpose AI/machine learning require machine learning system to develop recognition technique and contextual awareness, and you cannot do that from just one simple size Data of only one user

            Of course there will be Open Source AI tool in fact Google and Facebook did just that but the difference is what you do with it hence the value of good Data, talent and experience in the field

    2. Regardless of the current meme, I think there will always be a place for well-thought out products.

      1. The real value of the iPhone wasn’t the hardware, but rather what was inside

        In a world with vast sensor where everything will become computerise will require a central brain to manage it all in the same way that your brain manage all the cells in your body,

        You cannot create a system that works independently of the rest, in the same way as the World Wide Web is not just a server independently from the rest

        The AI system will be to our physical and digital world what Google search is to our web today

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