The thing about us consultants is that we give advice even when nobody asked for it. The world’s biggest company surely doesn’t need my help. Even more so since I have historically and openly criticized it at every corner. But, like my friends always say, I probably have a secret wish to one day buy an iPhone. So here is my best shot at how this might come to pass:
1. I loved IBM laptops. In this blog I wrote an almost erotic in intensity elegy. I still check out the odd Lenovo I see somewhere to see if that keyboard has the old IBM magic, the design details.
2. Tim Cook is essentially an IBM person at heart. 12 pretty important years in his personal development made him so. IBMers are a breed apart, the corporate ethos was much more intense than Apple those days.
3. IBM hardware was always top quality and slightly more expensive. You could usually pay 20-30% more for a machine with similar specs. Remind you of someone?
4. IBM always made conservative decisions about specifications, I/O, software and other components. Which meant that you have a much better chance to still be relying on the machine even a decade later. Which justifies the price difference retrospectively many times over.
…and therein is the difference. I tried to revive an IBM laptop and a top of the range Apple desktop of about the same era. Started up the IBM, pressed F2, it came back to Windows XP factory settings. Left it online to update itself and it is ready almost anything. The Mac impressed my kids more with its massive monitor and fancy hardware. “We want to play with the one with the Apple!” they chanted as I struggled to prepare it for use at their school. To no avail. Getting OS9 to do anything (especially online) requires almost root level hacking skills. Meanwhile the ΙΒΜ was playing all their latest Flash game favories, YouTube videos, and I could even load up some ancient DOS games I found lying around back from my gaming days twenty years ago.
Anecdotes aside, here is the point: there will always be a need for high quality hardware. Even more so if it is matched with great design. Even more so if it has a tidy ecosystem to make it easier to use. This does not however require stone walls and proprietary tricks. We don’t want Apple to invent a new connector for our monitors, much less so for our mobile phones. We are willing to pay Apple to produce 20-30% more expensive hardware because they have put more effort in its design and quality. In its ease of use. In good marketing, which means getting the right people using the platform; it benefits everyone on the platform after all when this happens.
Apple is doing none of this right now. But Tim Cook has a seriοus personal – leadership problem. He can’t get people to forget the (inevitable) mistakes he makes like Steve Jobs did. No glossing over. He talks simply. No magic involved. So why doesn’t he take Apple towards the good old hardworking IBM ways he broke his teeth on? If he doesn’t, Samsung will. And I will still prove my friends wrong for another decade by not buying an iPhone for another ten years…