Interpreting Apple

One of the hardest things for me as a blogging Apple employee always had to be watching the public misapprehend the company’s intentions while remaining prudently silent.  Apple is slowly opening the lines of communication to its stakeholders these days (witness the recent series of letters from Steve to Apple customers–a veritable deluge of communication by Apple standards!), but in general I think it has traditionally done a far worse job of managing its relationship with its loyalists than many ostensibly less enlightened companies.  As a result its reputation has often suffered unnecessarily.

The latest example I’ve seen of this is the consternation over Apple’s failure to seed the Leopard GM build to developers.  A lot of the negative reaction toward this that I saw on Twitter was probably, at its root, based on an assumption that is frequently fed by Apple’s poor standards of communication: that Apple as a whole disdains (or at least disregards) third party developers, and therefore as a matter of policy the company had decided to deny developers the GM (perhaps to extract more money from them?).

Well, I may not work there now, but I did work in the OS division of Apple for several years (I even briefly worked as the liason to a major third party developer, Adobe), I’m pretty familiar with how things work there, and I’m still in touch with a lot of people who worked on Leopard.  And I don’t believe for a minute that this was true.  I’m convinced that the key fallacy behind this, and a lot of other mistaken ideas about Apple, is the idea that the company always operates as a homogenous entity, and that everything it does is as a result of some company-wide, top-down animus.  The reality is usually a lot more mundane.

I have known this to be true in cases where people give Apple too much credit as well as not enough.  One of my favorite examples was a post of Dave Winer’s some time ago in which he saw Apple’s addition of a certain feature to a certain Apple app as evidence of a brilliant, fully-meditated stratagem of Apple’s to dominate a certain market.  I had been privy to some of the discussions about adding the feature in question, and my perception was very different.  Rather than coming from on high as part of some master plan, the initial feature request Radar had originated with an enthusiastic low-level employee from an entirely different team, and it was initially denied because the right people didn’t see the value in it.  It wasn’t that Apple as a whole decided that it wanted to dominate a new market–it was, at least initially, the idea of just one person operating independently.

By the same token, on the negative side, I suspect that the explanation for the missing seed (pure speculation on my part, to be fair) has nothing to do with any malicious or greedy organizational intent (or even plain old indifference) on the part of Apple, but rather with the fact that the time between the GM build and the Leopard ship date was likely too short to make an advance seed practical.  I would guess that the OS people were quite motivated to get the product in the hands of the consumer as quickly as possible (and meet the difficult October deadline) without introducing any unnecessary delays.  If the particular Apple employees in charge of seeding were out of line in this situation, I would guess it was only in the sense that they understimated the importance of such a seed in many developers’ minds in their hurry to get an already delayed release out the door.

My point in all of this, I suppose, is that when it comes to interpreting Apple’s actions, Ockham’s razor is usually the best guide: the simplest explanation is to be preferred.  Apple, like any company, is composed of a large number of pragmatic individuals, most of whom don’t have any sort of agenda beyond trying to do their job and meet what are usually pretty demanding project deadlines.  The scary Japanese guy who thinks AppleScript engineer Chris Nebel has an anti-Japanese agenda and is trying to sabotage AppleScript localization would be better off assuming that any perceived sins on Chris’ part are sins of omission.  And the people who were haranguing Apple over its disdain for developers would be more fair not to ascribe malice to something that could be easily explained by ignorance.

Of course, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem if Apple could just get better at communicating with its customers and developers.  Here’s hoping that things like Steve’s DRM letter and iPhone refund are the start of a move away from Cupertino’s obsession with total secrecy, and that misunderstandings like this can be resolved or avoided altogether through reasonable dialogue in the future.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend


20 responses to “Interpreting Apple

  1. I can't imagine that actually making the GM seed available is a task that takes more than ten minutes. Perhaps the actual approval takes far longer. Apple had no problem getting the GM build out to reviewers, so obviously something is amiss with seeding it to developers. Hopefully your memory goes back to the release of Tiger, when the exact same thing happened — developers didn't get it until release day. I don't recall Tiger being behind schedule, so what would be the excuse there?

  2. Or maybe not Occam's razor, but Heinlein's razor: Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity (or laziness)

  3. I think what is just as irritating, is that developers got an email from Apple saying they were DHL'ing us a free copy of Leopard this upcoming week.Developers were stuck purchasing Leopard on Friday (or in my case pre-ordering it a few weeks back, with no advanced notice we'd be getting it free) OR delaying upgrading/testing our programs for a week.I don't think it was intentional as an Apple company policy. I agree that the OS guys had a deadline to meet, and likely didn't have anything ready early enough to make a developer release useful.

  4. (first time reader, first time poster…)

  5. As Holland said above, it would be a lot easier to swallow this explanation (Not enough time) if it hadn't happened with Tiger, and if there hadn't been advance review copies for the press.

  6. @Holland: I suppose you could be right. Actually, piracy concerns could also have had something to do with it.

  7. Well, I may, in the final analysis, be wrong about the reasons for the refusal to seed, but I think we all agree here that a lot of the problem comes down to Apple's cult of secrecy and lack of communication.

  8. Agreed…and more importantly that there is active ill intent, which I agree is just not the case the vast majority of the time.

  9. The cult of secrecy thing is something I just don't get, every time it rears its head and demands thinking about. Why does Apple behave this way, when it's so clearly opposite their interests? Open source friendly development, brilliantly simply designs, competing fairly where others seem unable to tread … and yet with daft things like the date of the next model refresh being as classified as a nuclear missile firing command!I guess this is just the yin and yang of it. Apple are so good at so much of the whole thing that they must have their weakness somewhere, right? Paranoia then … at least when it comes to inexplicable manufactured mystery.

  10. … and yet with daft things like the date of the next model refresh being as classified as a nuclear missile firing command!

  11. Well, I think there are some things that are worth keeping secret. I would defend Apple's right to keep products in development a secret. The problem, I think, is that that obsession with secrecy carries over into a lot of other area's where it's not really justified and can be, in fact, detrimental–such as in Apple's relationship with its developers.

  12. The only problem with applying Occam's razor here, I think, is that nothing was done to correct the situation once people started bringing it to the attention of anyone they could find at Apple. Despite the cult of secrecy some things leak readily, and it seemed everyone knew when the GM was declared. Over the following almost-two weeks there was a rising tide of anger and frustration, not just on places like blogs and Twitter but also through official and unofficial channels to Apple. Still, nothing happened.

  13. Very shortly after I joined Apple in 2002, a colleague in Pro Markets explained to me just how much the secrecy is worth to Apple in dollar terms. He pointed to the issue of Time Magazine he had in his office, with the G4 iMac on the front cover.

  14. I want to agree with Buzz and JCR on this, both of whom worked at Apple during my time there. People often ascribe this strange supernatural unity to Apple. That everything was planned, that whatever happened was what Apple intended, usually to justify their actions or opinions.

  15. Buzz, I'm glad I brought that feature back up again. 😉

  16. Well it's Apple's own fault that people ascribe unity to Apple — we never get to hear from any of the individual parts. Basically the only way anyone ever hears news from Apple is through official, top-down style channels.It puzzles me that Apple doesn't encourage folks who are ostensibly evangelists to blog openly about cool Mac OS X technologies and well, evangelize. Microsoft does a really good job about encouraging employees to blog, as I understand it.

  17. It's easy for a manager to say "we can't send out one more build…it's too close to the deadline, and if too many showstopper issues are found, we'll miss the deadline."

  18. Hi,Is it possible you could get me second hand Mac for free, something decent enough to run Tiger? I emailed your boss Mr. Jobs a few months back asking for a Mac, but I think I rubbed him the wrong way by asking for a brand new MacBook Air. He responded politely though with a 'Sorry, but no, Steve' – 'Sent from my iPhone'. Seriously though, I just can't afford a Mac because I'm a student on a very tight budget and would really be forever grateful. I live in the Caribbean and can afford shipping. If you can't help, no problem. If there is any additional details or personal information you need, please do not hesitate to email me. Best Regards,Dee

  19. The Nike Air Max Lebron vii is the ideal shoe for basketball player. Nike Air Max Lebron vii basketball shoes is designed to enhance the comfort and stability, Nike Air Max Lebron vii followed a full charge of air unit is more wear-resistant uppers used in high-strength fibers. We offer the rare opportunity for you to get the high quality Air Max Lebron VII Sneakers. Welcome to buy Nike Air Max Lebron vii in the online store. Take action in time in case of stock out.

  20. Reply post : “Interpreting Apple”

    hi, can i place an ads on your blog ?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s