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Macworld 2010: John Gruber on Apple’s Top 10 Issues

Sections: Apple News, Conferences, Features, iTunes, iTunes Movie/TV Rentals and Purchases, Mac Software, Macworld, Mobile Me / .Mac, Originals

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John Gruber
John Gruber, author of Daring Fireball, outlined what he felt were the top ten issues facing Apple (but not necessarily with solutions) at his Macworld 2010 presentation. In no particular order (except for the first, biggest, one) they were:

  1. Steve Jobs: Comparing Jobs to Walt Disney, a man who built an empire by seizing opportunities for growth (television, animated feature films, theme parks), Gruber pointed out the elephant in the room: can Apple survive when Steve is gone? It certainly floundered when he was kicked out in the Sculley era, but Gruber theorized that Jobs took his time in the wilderness to learn how to build a company where management and product aren’t separate, and pointed to the work of Pixar, which consistently turns out quality films due to its corporate culture.
  2. AT&T: Pointing out that trying to use his iPhone in Philadelphia resulted in one or two dropped calls, but that his experience in San Fransisco was absurd and comically bad, Gruber spoke about how Apple doesn’t like to partner with other companies; the Apple Stores being a prime example. In the case of cell phones, however, Apple doesn’t have a choice. As to whether the AT&T network problem can be fixed, Gruber pointed out that Apple executives will either not comment on issues, or will say something that you can generally believe that Apple believes, and in a recent investment call, Apple’s CFO said that they’ve looked into AT&T’s plans to fix the network, and have faith in it.
  3. Computers: When he was a kid working with the command line, Gruber said he believed that the future of computing was going to be HAL, the computer from 2001: a Space Odyssey that understood human speech. But the future turned out to be the Mac GUI. Now, when people speak of the future of computing, most people envision virtual reality a la Minority Report. But is the iPad the future of computing? Simpler, not more complex? Gruber also pointed out that Apple will now have two computer interfaces competing against each other at the same time, something that’s never happened before: the Apple II, he pointed out, was dying as soon as the Mac appeared.
  4. The App Store: Criticism of the App Store, according to Gruber, falls into two camps. One is that Apple is headed in completely the wrong direction, and needs to reverse course. He used the Android Marketplace as an example, where users are free to buy approved apps, or set their phone to download apps from other sources. The other type of critics say that Apple is headed in the right direction, but they’re a few degrees off and need to make a few changes. Gruber suggested that the second type may be drowned out by the first to such a degree that Apple didn’t listen to any criticism, resulting in delays for things such as bug fixes. Likening it to the pre-internet days where developers had to try and ship products with no bugs because patches were hard to push, Gruber noted that antecdotal evidence suggested that Apple is moving faster, perhaps by “throwing more people at the problem.”
  5. Security: Gruber drew a comparison between safety and security, suggesting that Windows may indeed be more secure than Macs, but that Windows needed to be more secure (like having better locks on your doors) but Macs were safer (like living in a low-crime neighborhood). One concern was that Apple was slow in rolling out security fixes for publically disclosed bugs, a danger since they were the largest user of such software (Microsoft develops their own).
  6. Mobile Me: “Why does Mobile Me exist?” Gruber asked, to chuckles from the audiences. The synching works well, he said, the web apps seemed to be created because Apple felt it needed some web apps, and by a quick show of hands he noted that iDisk is far less popular than DropBox, a small company with a much better product than Apple.
  7. Backups: The problem with Apple is that everything is focused on local storage, to the point where certain iPhone users don’t even back their phones up to their Mac. The experience is entirely focused on the computer in your house, as contrasted with cloud computing and the Android’s approach.
  8. Apple TV: Entertainment executives, said Gruber, seem to be entirely focused on getting things back to The Way They Were. Movie execs want you to watch movies in a theater, TV execs want you to watch a program when it’s broadcast (and with commercials), and music execs want you to buy expensive CDs that you only have one copy of. So when Apple figured out a way to make money of selling music over the internet, what the TV and Movie industry saw was “Apple didn’t make music sales back the old fashioned way.” Gruber talked about how certain movies weren’t on Apple TV (he was looking for the James Cameron hit True Lies) and that there were often blackout periods before films were available (in an attempt to make you buy the DVD). Gruber noted that Boxee, which allows you to watch video on a computer or a TV (“They’re all just displays.”) got in trouble with Hulu—set up to let people watch TV and movies with commercials by entertainment companies because the execs had a wall between what a computer is and what a TV is. And it’s going to be hard for Apple to negotiate “… with people that stupid.”
  9. Arch Rivals: Apple needs rivals to remain competitive. Rivals help you focus. But Apple is so dominant in certain fields that he worries they’ll turn into Microsoft, which isn’t really a competitive company any more. Gruber went on to praise the Palm webkit, saying he hoped it would do well, so as to spur Apple on.
  10. About Box Credits: Closing with an out-of-left-field complaint, Gruber noted that Apple’s About Boxes are really boring, containing only the name of the app, the version number, and the copyright. They used to have the names of the coders, something which Apple stopped doing when Steve returned. Code can be art, said Gruber, and artists should be allowed to sign their art.
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  • Rick Hamell

    Yet a frustratingly annoying lack of a mention of Apple in the Enterprise environment. Until Apple really gets in gear and makes some small changes, such as not forcing an OS upgrade tied specifically to hardware revisions, or fixing some of the numerous small NFS and SMB mount bugs, or better Enterprise iPhone security (and ability to remotely wipe iPhones) they're going to remain a small player in the desktop market.

  • Sam B.

    Agree with him completely. Right on, Gruber!

    PS: Hate to be the pseudo-editor type, but shouldn't it be "Palm webOS" and not "Palm webkit?"

  • ash

    That was entirely refreshing.