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Apple’s Greatest Strength and Weakness: They Are Control Freaks (aka Beware Proxies for Success)

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 28, 2007

Sometimes a company or individual becomes fixated on a particular idea or process that is “almost right”.  By “almost right” I mean that the idea or process optimizes something that is very close but is not exactly what the world wants optimized.  Growth is an “almost right” for the stock market.  The market really wants earnings, but it will take growth almost forever as a proxy because it knows (or thinks it does) that with enough growth earnings are inevitable.  I call these “almost rights” Proxies for Success.  What is particularly difficult about proxies is they’re generally not seen as such.  Rather, they’re seen as the “reasons for success”.  Cause and effect become confused.  And when the old “reason for success” quits working, or worse, causes problems, then it really gets confusing, and often bitter and confrontational.

Having impeccable taste in user interface and being a total control freak in imposing the resulting vision is Apple’s proxy for Great User Experience.  As we’ve discussed before, the World wants Great User Experience. 

Apple has always had this quality of being total control freaks about their usually brilliant notion of user experience.  It stems from Steve Jobs, and it has infected the culture to an extent that its probably irreversible.  And let’s be clear, we don’t really want to reverse it.  The proxy results in fabulous products time after time when other companies struggle just to release a bit of UI face lift or a new OS that’s way better (Microsoft will be extending the availability of Windows XP in case you were worried).  But let’s also be clear that emphasizing total dictatorial control over a vision for how it should be is only a very near proxy to Great User Experience.  Any time you pursue a proxy rather than the Real Thing, there comes a time of disappointment and perhaps failure.

I’m watching in horror the logical conclusion of that close-minded proxy in action as Apple is systematically bricking iPhones in an attempt to ensure that anyone with the temerity to try to exert a little control outside Apple is soundly flogged.  As Fred Wilson says, “They’ve gone from being the cool company to being the evil company.”

The Times says, “There is something futile about the way Apple appears to be fighting some of its most ardent fans.”  Futility is the ideal word to describe what happens when a proxy goes wrong.  It is futility because the chief protagonists who are employing the proxy believe it is the one true way to success, and they will futily continue to press home their proxy with all their energy until that success comes back.  But since it is only a proxy, the success may not come back.  Futile indeed.

The lawyers are, of course, telling us that Apple is 100% within its rights (forget that this isn’t right).  Lawyers and negotiators employ proxies as a strategic weapon quite consciously and intentionally, so it makes total sense to them.  But then, the Great User Experience has seldom been felt at the hands of a lawyer.

Even if one wanted to agree on some level to support Apple on this, perhaps out of some sense of loyalty to past glories of the proxy, the idea that they’ve only given a week of warning before dropping the bomb is unconscionable.  How many people would’ve already gone too far past the pale to turn back?  Why not make available a “relocking” solution directly from Apple? 

Scoble is quite right to say that Apple has a PR nightmare brewing.  There’s not much more to say on this one, but I would expect the floggings to continue until morale improves.  One does not give up one’s proxy easily.

5 Responses to “Apple’s Greatest Strength and Weakness: They Are Control Freaks (aka Beware Proxies for Success)”

  1. […] Alazraki wrote an interesting post today on Appleâs Greatest Strength and Weakness: They Are Control Freaks …Here’s a quick […]

  2. […] Comments Fieldhot.Com Apple… on Apple’s Greatest Strengt…Apple’s Greate… on User Experience is the Most Im…cornelschoeman on Is Conventional […]

  3. […] wrote an interesting post today on Appleâs Greatest Strength and Weakness: They Are Control Freaks …Here’s a quick […]

  4. […] feedback?  I’m still at, “Hmmm”, when I look at Apple bricking iPhones and being a total control freak about everything.  Is this the world you want to surrender total control to?  Not me.  I’ll […]

  5. […] what other ripples does this create in the pond?  What does it do for Apple, whose iPhone is pretty darned closed, thank you very much?  What of the Google Open Handset (aka Android) initiative?  Will Verizon […]

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