Where Apple's Headed

in macOS edited January 2014
Didn't know what forum to post this in, but this one seemed at least most appropriate to me. I am writing an article, about Apple's direction these days, and I wanted to post it here for your reactions and constructive critisism. Please note I'm not one, but this is the core of the article, though. Thanks!

Note: This article is not intent on ?bashing? on Apple. It is simply a discussion of Apple?s current direction and the possible consequences (good and bad) of this...


\tI've been watching Apple for a long time now, like many of you, and I've seen the changes in Apple?s direction and focus throughout the years. Now I look at today's Apple and where it stands. And I see note a few things in terms of direction:

Mac OS X:

\tA step in the right direction. Sort of. It's a powerful and flexible OS, leaps and bounds above the classic Mac OS, thanks to preemptive multitasking and a slew of other technical features, it benefits from the support of the open source community, plays well will Linux and the integrates well into the server environment thanks to it's UNIX roots.

\tBUT, Apple abandoned the old Mac resource fork and now we use file name extensions, something Apple stood vehemently against in the old days due to its inherent flaws and non user friendly qualities. Furthermore Apple did not even consider it a priority to improve and enhance the Mac?s metadata handling (Apple could have adopted an even superior alternative method to the resource fork), instead implementing an inferior system (file name extensions) than was used in classic Mac OS!

\tAnd what of the interface inconsistencies and bad interface implementations, such as the brushed metal ?drawer window? interface, which totally clashes with the normal Aqua, and presents numerous metaphor and location problems-- and the window even graphically changes position when switching between them!

\tAnd, though the desktop remains basically the same, Apple neglected a clear opportunity to refine and take the Macintosh graphical user interface to the next level, instead relying on interface concepts older and less intuitive than the Macintosh itself (column view, the dock, etc.-- NOT a bad thing, just definitely nothing new or better than before). What happened to icon ?piles?, a ?zooming interface? perhaps, other concepts? Is there really nothing more than the old office desktop metaphor, with some old fashioned column directory view thrown in, worth implementing?

The little music player that could:

\tFortunately it turned out to be a huge success for Apple, for which I am happy, and I too now own one and use it daily. I have nothing against the iPod, and I do think it?s arguably the best handheld music player out there. But, I find the focus on the iPod excessive. Not that I mind it, but lately the Mac seems to have taken a back seat to the iPod, which is rather puzzling for me, because that?s mainly what I love about Apple. (That and the Newton and the Apple II before!) Of course, Apple is making more than a healthy gain from the iPods, which is nothing bad, and there is talk of the ?Halo effect?, so this could be a blessing in disguise.

Content Distributor:

Far be it for me to dictate what Apple?s role as a company should be, but I?ve always thought as Apple as a creative company, which creates intuitive tools and products that others in turn use to create, whether it?s writing (desktop publishing), music (GarageBand, etc), movies (from iMovie up), or any other field.

\tQuite a few years back now, Apple tried out it?s own Internet service (eWorld). Back then, the Internet was much younger, less mature, and I suppose Apple felt it could provide the user with a better online experience, and enhance it with its own content to subscribers (like AOL). It failed, and Apple called it quits not much later. In fact, when Apple first partnered with Earthlink Steve Jobs reiterated that Apple would not be entering the ISP market, after considering it again, years after eWorld.

\tYet, Apple is now into music distribution. Surely, online music distribution has benefitted from Apple?s care for user friendliness. Though the content may be creative in nature, distribution in itself offers nothing in terms of creativity nor creation, and Apple is not providing the content (others are). Most of the content is what?s already out there, not unique to the Apple store. And although Apple seems to be providing a potential outlet for independent artists, the primary reason for the Music store seems to be the sale of iPods. There is also the quicktime trailers. (Probably done to make quicktime more ubiquitous.)

\tSo, it seems to me that Apple is capitalizing in a big way on non creative venues as well. Nothing inherently wrong with that, and Apple needs to survive, but this is not what comes to mind when I think ?Apple (Computer)? . And I wonder if this entails some unseen sacrifice of other, more creative and productive products or services from Apple.

\tSteve Jobs has publicly declared his admiration for Sony, and perhaps this is part of his plan to put Apple into play into other businesses, such as Sony is engaged on so many fronts (consumer electronics, PCs, gaming consoles, music and movie distribution...)

Software tools and suites:

\tThis I think Apple has got right on the mark! Apple has developed a comprehensive suite of both consumer and professional tools that give the end user the power to do more, more easily (the power to be your best...). To me, THIS is what Apple?s about. I don?t even have to name the apps. And where Apple was seriously needy (AppleWorks) it is finally filling in with Pages (and Keynote) and I think a spreadsheet application is likely to follow. I think Apple has done great in making (or buying and refining) its own software, rather than rely on a slew of sometimes rather unreliable companies, though the market is open enough to allow many other apps and competitors.

Getting along with ?the little guy?:

\tThere was a time that Apple actually acknowledged (and compensated) a shareware developer for something as seemingly obvious as a clock on the menu bar. Now, it seems like Apple directly competes with shareware developers, the very people who?ve contributed so much to the Macintosh experience, in my opinion. Apple even seems to take other small Macintosh developers? ideas and implement them themselves. Even if that is not entirely true (which I hope), it certainly appears this way, and Apple needs to encourage developers, not destroy them.

The collective ?Apple?:

\tEvery Apple application, from the Finder to the Calculator and SimpleText used to list its respective programmers. A few years ago, Apple dropped this practice, in favor of an all encompassing ?Apple? signature. This seems to run counter to the traditional individualistic Apple style-- where Macs where ?signed? by their engineers. Jobs? public reason for the change was to block other companies from recruiting Apple programmers.

\tExcuse me, but why would they leave if they love their job and pay? This implies that Apple is either not treating their programmers right, or is afraid of exposing their programmers? names for fear of them being lured away. That doesn?t sound very confident, promising or individualistic to me. If programmers are ?artists? as Jobs is famous for saying, then why would they hide an ?artist?s? name away? Micro$oft, of course, has no such view and has never publicizes individual names in a program. But that would be insulting to almost any other artist. So it seems Apple has adopted a Microsoft view on this. I am not particularly fond of that change in policy.

Macs, choice:

\tAlthough still frustratingly cautious, Apple seems to be allowing more variety and choices in the Mac lineup. Enter the Mac mini, for instance. Although not ?perfect?-- How rarely something is! It is an improvement, and provides many Mac users with what they?ve wanted for a long time.

All these changes, events and behavior signal Apple?s general direction today. What?s your take on the Apple of today?


  • Reply 1 of 12
    hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 12,273member
    As an article it could use more balance and a little bit more discovery. You take Apple to task for eschewing resource forks versus file extensions without explaining why resource forks are superior. When people read your writings they want to learn something that they previously did not know. They want to be enlightened. Give them the synopsis and end with the "take home message" and move on.

    When you are talking about "taking xxx to the next level" the first thing that pops into the readers head is "well what would that be?". Offer some suggestions about how to improve the UI perhaps highliting the more egregious GUI faux pas and how you'd fix them.

    iTunes. Rather than focus on the ubiquitous songs you could focus on why someone would like certain features of iTunes music store. Why iMix will expose them to knew artists. Why Discovery music downloads are a free treat every tuesday or the iTunes essentials. Part of adding value is what you above and beyond your competitors.

    Beware of calling something the "Microsoft" way. You are likely to turn off a good portion of your readers who feel that stattement is a bit too loaded. Also given the information you've provided it seems like Apple was rather unique in giving credit to programmers. Thus, it wasn't the "Microsoft" way but rather the de facto standard of the industry. I don't think you'll find many employees out there that wouldn't mind having a bit more money coming on their paycheck. Working for Apple is a dream...but it's still work. There's no reason to divulge the staff you have working on products. They are compensated financially for their efforts, any additional credit can be handled internally.

    My take on Apple's direction-

    My own take on Apple goes a little something like this. They are frankly executing very well. I'm a bit dismayed that they are eating their own retail channel with no signs of abatement by creating Apple Stores everywhere. They are delivering excellent software upgrades and consumer confidence looks to be very high. The iPod, in my opinion, "is" more important than the Macintosh. While the Macintosh's sales have stagnated the iPod enjoys a %500 increase year over year. What sane company wouldn't "mine this gold" for every nugget.

    Apple's goal should be to further the success of the iPod. Reclaim as much lost gound in the education space. And focus on their Digital Content Creation and future prospects in the Enterprise. The mini is a step in the right direction but Apple must remain vigilant.

    The future is bright, dare I say Steve Jobs considerable compensation is worth it. No one else could do what's he's accomplishing right now.
  • Reply 2 of 12
    A few notes:

    MacOS X still fully supports resource forks. It is true that they are encouraging developers to develop applications to work just fine without resource forks, but all the code exists for working with resource forks (primarily in Carbon, but you can use them in Cocoa projects), in fact many of the Cocoa file classes will use that information if it is available. The finder is also resource-fork aware.

    In 10.4 the posix environment is being improved so that basic commands (cp, mv, rsync, etc) are resource-fork aware. And if you examine the details about the package format you will see that it can simulate everything that resource forks do and more. But it requires some sort of marker on the folder that defines the package: this can either be a filename extension or a resource fork marker (both are created by default).

    And Apple has been a very good partner to developers. If you take a look at the details in the Konfabulator, Sherlock, and LightSwitch cases you will find that either the ideas were already present in software Apple had already shipped (but in need of refinement), the authors were offered employment at Apple multiple times (but rejected because Apple would not pay them for work they had already done, but would have to be abandoned anyways), or the the actual implementation that Apple brought out was significantly different than the software (and only bore surface resemblances). Excepting Sherlock the other two cases have all of these characteristics.

    Look into the details and I bet you will change your mind.
  • Reply 3 of 12
    a_greera_greer Posts: 4,594member
    I dont know much about mac/os resource forks, but I know that in my experiance they were as stable as a house of cards: at school, the only place i used os8-9, they would crash all of the time, if you would go to a website that netscape didnt support, it would crash, not apples problem i know, but 8 times out of ten, that app crash would crash the whole OS, if not, it would make it so slow that it was unuseable: I remember thw iMac labs being rebooted as much as the 95 labs and about 10x as much as the 2k labs in HS, but I will admit, the one exeption was a g3, beige desktop that ran os9 in the newspaper room, with max ram running only photoshop...no net connection...that thing was smokin' for that era.
  • Reply 4 of 12
    a_greer: Your comments have nothing to do with resource forks. The main problems with Macs in labs is/was that they were never supported. They would sit without any mac tech support for years. The fact that they could do anything at all at that point is a testament to the relative stability of even MacOS 8.

    Those Win95 labs you compared them to probably had dedicated support people and got re-imaged every couple of months. I have seen this pattern over and over with the administration (usually the IT guys) complaining how Macs are "unstable". But this is all very off-topic.
  • Reply 5 of 12
    andersanders Posts: 6,523member
    Regarding the GUI:

    Apple is still refining it with every 10.x update. From what I have seen of Tiger drawers is on its way out.

    back in 1984 Apple made a tremendous effort when they developed the first real GUI for the desktop. And they even used time to have experts sit and fiddle intellectually with details like error messages and other stuff. But they also had a huge advantage that only came one in the history of computers: They didn´t have to subdue themselves to the expectations from loyal or switching users or standards, defacto or not.

    The dock is a good example. In 9 people complained they didn´t have a simple point´n´click app switcher like the process line in Windows. Apples challenge was to make a better implementation of it. They made it a launcher as well while delegating condition indicators to the menu line. They then turned down the need for a start menu while keeping it separate from things that isn´t apps or documents. A simpler and more elegant solution in my opinion. But at the same time breaking with the "important GUI elements must stay fixed" paradigm and several others. But when they made the first Mac GUI they wasn´t forced to take elements in that didn´t fit with the paradigms (like the dock). Today it is impossible to make a GUI as elegant as the first Mac GUI because computers are something completely than back then.
  • Reply 6 of 12
    buonrottobuonrotto Posts: 6,368member
    Aren't the forks on the way out due to the use of Spotlight Store for metadata and the added portability of the system software onto other and upcoming filesystems? Resource forks IIRC are tied to HFS, which could limit advancements with the system over time. Not to mention that this lack of dependence on forks makes Mac files more portable. Now if they could do something about the DS Store files OS X leaves behind on Windows drives.

    As far as the UI consistency, consider that 1. computers are a whole lot more ocmplex than they were in 1984, and the old Mac OS had 17 years to refine itself, actually, more like accrue stuff i nthe UI. I would also argue that things like the old pop-up drawers on screen edges, the app switcher, the control strip, windowshade and other Classic Mac OS features were not exactly the most consistent or simple features. They were usually confined to the Finder, not available to other apps, and they were often times band-aids to stave off dealing with bigger problems. They were usually stole -- er, adopted from third-party hacks, too. (Let's not pretend that the whole Sherlock 3 and Dashboard controversies are anything new to the company.)

    What people see as a lack of consistency is in part to a few things. 1. a CEO who can gum up the works,like he apparently did at the last minute with the Macworld builds of Tiger, and 2. a decentralized group of UI designers. They don't get UI advancements adopted universally from the get-go like they did in the Classic OS (I would argue this wasn't always the case anyway since people seem to consider some features as being universally accessible, when they were in fact available to only the Finder), but they get more opportunities to try new ideas in specific apps. For that reason alone, while you sacrifice some consistency, you get much more UI development in a shorter timeframe. The old HI group at Apple back in the day were pretty close to what you would call an ivory tower. By the time Jobs came back to the company, these guys were fairly notorious for not being in touch with software development in the rest of the company and had a reputation for writing white papers about things that were never actually implemented or even attempted in praxis. I think the trade-off has been frustrating at times, highly beneficial at other times. The idea to stick with what "worked" in the Classic OS is pretty misguided too. The Finder is particularly furstrating when it tries to be both progressive and familiar.

    Finally, as far as content distribution, I think Apple is heading towards this, but as a vehicale for their hardware/electronincs sales. The iTMS adds value to the iPod. iLife adds value to the Mac. Apple is in for a real tough time if it tries to go against the cable and satellite companies. If you want to look at where Apple is heading, look for fields for content distribution where markets are still emerging and no one has clear control.

    OK, I'm sick of typing.
  • Reply 7 of 12

    Originally posted by hmurchison

    I'm a bit dismayed that they are eating their own retail channel with no signs of abatement by creating Apple Stores everywhere.

    I have wondered about this too. My thinking is that there maybe three key factors in this decision:

    1. Wanting more control over the retail/product presentation situation.

    2. Seeing down the road to a case where retailers were simply going to outright dump them...and needing to be proactive in the sight of that possibility (probability?)

    3. Wanting a bigger piece of the profit pie.

    I think it is quite possible that once Apple completes its retail build-out that it will dump all but a very few retailers.
  • Reply 8 of 12

    Originally posted by Chris Cuilla

    I have wondered about this too. My thinking is that there maybe three key factors in this decision:

    1. Wanting more control over the retail/product presentation situation.

    2. Seeing down the road to a case where retailers were simply going to outright dump them...and needing to be proactive in the sight of that possibility (probability?)

    3. Wanting a bigger piece of the profit pie.

    I think it is quite possible that once Apple completes its retail build-out that it will dump all but a very few retailers.

    I think we need to start thinking of Apple differently. They have for years been more like a retailer (say Gap) than a manufacturer like Dell.

    Apple does not make its computers. It designs computers like the Gap designs cloths. Then it contracts with some asian firm to sew/assemble the product. Then it markets said goods to consumers. When you focus on the design and marketing it makes more sense to have your own stores just like the Gap.
  • Reply 9 of 12

    Originally posted by Chris Cuilla

    I have wondered about this too. My thinking is that there maybe three key factors in this decision:

    I think you should add another major reason:

    The retailers have only been going after the corporate accounts, while being essentially indifferent to consumers. Half the Apple Certified Retailers that I have been to either had pathetic retail hours (close at 6, not open for long on weekends) or were attached at the hip to a University. The rest were stores like CompUSA.

    These apathetic stores do nothing to increase Apple's mind- or market-share, and have only been cherry picking the market. By creating the AppleStores and placing them in high-traffic malls Apple has done far more for the brand than the Apple Certified Retailers program. There was no reason that anyone else couldn't have done the same thing, but they didn't. Apple has brought out a great competitor, and those businesses that are not up to the standard are feeling the pain.
  • Reply 10 of 12
    A couple points:

    The column view method for file browsing is the powerful tool for this job I've ever used, bar none. Who cares if it wasn't "innovated" by Apple? NeXT computer innovated column browsing under the leadership of....Steve Jobs. So give me a break by saying it isn't an innovation. It's fast, intuitive, and permits a user to drill down DEEP hierarchies without getting lost. Try that on OS 9 and you end up with a mess of windows and little spatial sense of where you are.

    Secondly, getting along with local retailers wouldn't have been a problem if they did their job right. For every local retailer that made Apple shine, there countless others staffed with windows droids who knew nothing about Macs and wouldn't even bother trying to sell them. I've walked into Mac retailers in the days of OS 9 and found nearly every Mac frozen. The Apple store gives Apple the control over their image that they so desperately need, and IMO is worth the trade-off of driving local mac retailers out of business.
  • Reply 11 of 12
    Resource Forks:

    \tMy intent in this article is to argue what Apple's general direction is by pointing out several key behaviors/changes/events/products which may indicate Apple's current thinking and direction, as a company.

    Now, resource forks:

    \tI am aware that it is still technically feasible to use resource forks in Mac OS X, but it seems to be discouraged by Apple, and Apple itself has abandoned it in its own applications. Now, this in it self, as well as the issue of metadata, which is related resource forks, is quite big in itself. Without hesitation I would recommend that anyone interested in a good, well written article about this (the best I've seen!) read John Siracusa's article on Ars

    \tWhat I am saying is NOT that resource forks are the end all, be all of metadata. In fact I would agree that we need something new and better for several reasons, but what is concerning is that Apple hasn't actually gone ahead and fully implemented a true, superior successor to resource forks, setting us back considerably.

    The GUI, the column view:

    I see the point about the GUI having to be "evolutionary" and somewhat conforming to user's expectations. But, that's exactly my point.. Apple became Apple, and got ahead by being "revolutionary", not evolutionary. It's time to break with the old paradigms or at least take them to a new level of refinements. What could these new ideas and refinements be? Well, I am not an interface expert (there are so few these days), but I have read on possibly more practical interfaces like Jef Raskin 's zooming interface , for example. I just think there's more out there to be explored, yet we seem to be "stuck" with the old paradigms. Te thing is, with a computer it would be completely possible to keep the "old" interface paradigms and let the user choose between it and the "new"-- just press a button! It's not like we have physical limitations to abide by, like that with the interface of a car's controls.

    Oh, and I agree column view is very useful, and so is the terminal-- I am not criticizing Apple for not "innovating" them, in fact like was mentioned, the NeXT OS used these-- and I think they SHOULD be there in Mac OS X-- But, all I am saying is that they are neither "new" nor "innovative" nor anything to make a big deal about these days.

    A for the old Mac OS GUI team being an ivory tower-- I don't think they revolutionized the Mac GUI in the way I speak of, but then again they were also limited by the legacy OS-- with Mac OS X, Apple had a whole new opportunity to depart from the old, set new standards in the GUI, but I think it was largely lost (on the GUI front, not the technical front)

    iTunes, Music Store, iPod:

    \tYes, there is value to iTunes and it adds value to the iPod. What I like most is the ability to play and availability of audio books (even they they are a bit pricey!), and how artists can upload their songs relatively easily. I just worry that this will take Apple in a totally different direction, away from creation and towards mainly distribution, but perhaps this is just baseless worry on my part. And of course, it would be silly for Apple NOT to capitalize on the success of the iPod.

    The Apple Stores, retail:

    \tThis is another point I neglected, but important nonetheless. Regardless, Apple seems not to be playing fair with retailers, and I agree that Apple will probably dump the majority of them once the Apple retail stores are in full force.

    \tAs far as looking at Apple like the Gap, though I see some similarities, I digress. Clothes and Computers are such different things that I do not think that they can be directly comparable business-wise. Macs aren't just about design, they are about technology, value, productivity. Setting down a pattern to produce cut up faded pairs of jeans is not the same thing as coding Mac OS X or designing the iMac G5. And Dell does less "manufacturing" than Apple does.

    Thanks for the great feedback guys!
  • Reply 12 of 12

    Originally posted by GamoGuy

    The Apple Stores, retail:

    \tThis is another point I neglected, but important nonetheless. Regardless, Apple seems not to be playing fair with retailers, and I agree that Apple will probably dump the majority of them once the Apple retail stores are in full force.

    I have seen the arguments from retailers, but I am just not convinced that Apple is actually giving much of an advantage to the Apple Stores, and there is a lot of evidence that they are playing fair. Most of the retailer complaints have been about product constraints right after product intros, but that is just when it is easiest to sell and item. They conveniently forget to mention that they have been relying on those events to make money because they have not done the work to keep their business going during the mid-cycle.

    The Apple stores are successful because they work well all the time, not just at the peaks. I don't think that Apple should try and get rid of the other retailers, but it should not ignore an under- or poorly-served market because it would create more competition for another retailer.
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