Apple Is The Industry Gold Standard - But Why?

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Speaking at the iPhone 7 launch Tim Cook claimed that “the iPhone is the industry gold standard. The phone by which all other phones are compared” and its hard to argue with that statement. Furthermore it’s probably true to say that across the industry Apple is considered to be the gold standard.

I’m not sure that Apple has earned the right to that claim in recent years.

There’s no question that Apple gets an easy ride in some sections of the media, which allows it to gloss over the major problems that its products have. The screen size argument is a good example. Everybody else was producing and selling large screen phones in quantity whilst Apple was still arguing that the 4” screen was all customers needed.

When it did launch its big screen design commentators luxuriated in the arrival of the phone and its screen real estate, despite the fact that Apple had managed to deliver a big phone with a relatively small screen and a bigger phone with a still comparatively small ‘big’ screen. Then there were the other mistakes that Apple made with its design. Dismal battery life, a fragile chassis, a slim body that had to be enclosed in a case.

Even though Apple was playing catch-up, the iPhone 6 physical design was botched. It excelled in one area only – it looks good in ads and photos. Gold standard? Not so much.

At least the iPhone 6 was a leader in other areas then? Again that’s hard to justify. iOS remains a static icon based UI, tethered to a number of clunky bolt-ons – why two shades for notifications and settings? Why only use half the screen for one? The camera is good but far from class leading and its software inconsistent.

With the 6S Apple introduced little that was new and with the 7 marginally more so.

Now the Apple Watch. It sold mainly to absolute Apple diehard fans, and amongst the few that I know who purchased the Watch nobody is wearing it anymore. Apple got next to nothing right with the Watch, and whilst it sells relatively well that doesn’t excuse its mistakes.

The MacBook? Possibly the most compromised machine ever made at launch. Underpowered with an ergonomic nightmare of a keyboard and a trackpad. Phenomenal battery life and screen, but at what cost? And whilst the performance error was resolved by the 2016 update the other issues are here to stay.

iPad Pro? A half hearted attempt to clone the Surface. The original iPad was probably the last seminal product Apple produced. By the time the iPad Air 2 arrived Apple had pretty much nailed everything you could ask for in a mobile focused tablet device. Except that by then the market had strongly indicated that tablets weren’t what it wanted. With the arrival of the iPad Pro Apple deviated from its original targets and managed to make a product that was worse in every way than the machines it was designed to compete with.

For now I’ll put to one side the issues with iCloud, Apple Music and iTunes, even though each on their own is just as indicative of product quality. Tax woes? Let’s park those too, for Apple is far from alone in having problems in this area.

In the last five years Apple’s mantra has amounted to ‘bigger or thinner’ and that’s a weak ideal to hang a claim to being the industry standard upon. Especially when we know that others are doing it so much better.

For a company which spends copiously on R&D I have to wonder why there are so many misses in its recent catalogue. And when it gets things wrong why is the company so afraid to throw them out and start again? Tim Cook has access to a war chest like no other in the whole of human history. Replacing a weak product should be an easier decision for Apple than other company out there. Steve Jobs wasn’t afraid to kill the things that didn’t work. Tim Cook appears much more so.

There’s no question that Apple does what it does well, it plays to its market and its customers and plays them well. Does that make it the industry gold standard. I would argue not.

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