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Thursday, February 22, 2007

3 Big Reasons I'm Not An Apple Enthusiast

I2m_greenmyapple As a marketer, I should be in love with Apple.  After all, I have an iPod and a Mac at home - and Apple's marketing success offers lessons for anyone wanting a great case study on how to position products, launch them into the market, and use distinctive product design to connect with consumers.  Getting underneath this polished exterior of brilliant products, however, the culture and identity of Apple leaves much to be desired in my opinion.  They are notoriously closed, have rarely embraced any of the potential of social media -- very few blogging employees or podcasting (apart from Job's product launch presentations), and a corporate policy discouraging active participation in the many Apple communities online.  None of these are new complaints, but the one that seemed to be picking up steam in the early part of this year was criticism of Apple's obstructive DRM policies governing music or movies purchased from iTunes. In response, Steve Jobs recently created waves in the music industry by publishing an essay where he defends Apple's stance on Digital Rights Management for music by outlining how the big 4 music studios have forced Apple into this situation and that it could be solved if only these big labels would allow Apple to sell DRM-free music.  It was reading that essay that inspired this post.  At the risk of sparking disagreement with many readers of this blog who are loyal Apple fans - here are my three big reasons why I am not an Apple enthusiast:

  1. Aside from Product Design, Money Comes First:  There is a very customer-centric approach to product design from Apple, but when it comes to marketing products - moneymaking seems to come first.  iPods configured for a Mac cannot be used on PCs until they are reformatted.  You no longer get a power charger with an iPod - that must be purchased separately.  The Green my Apple campaign is a great collective example of all the policies that Apple has which are anti-green.  Ironically launched by a group of admitted Apple enthusiasts, the website does a great job of breaking down the popular myth that Apple is a green environmentally-friendly company.  A quick visit to their site shows many areas where Apple is far behind PC manufacturers and many other companies.  It is a perfect example of some truths about Apple well hidden by smart marketing.
  2. Two Sided Approach to DRM - Despite Jobs recent effort to deflect criticism of Apple's DRM policies to the movie studios, the current situation works in Apple's favor.  Most content that is purchased on iTunes can never be used on any other device, or moved out of the iTunes.  Even if all music is opened up, the situation would still remain with movies and TV shows sold on iTunes.  Each offers the same controls and it was recently reported that the sole movie studio holdout for offering films through Netflix's impressive new video download service, as well as Walmart's collection is the Disney collection.  The reason?  Most point to Disney's ties with Jobs and the studio's dedication to iTunes as the key barrier.  Even as Jobs asks for music studios to allow open access to their content, he is contributing to Disney preventing the same access to movies controlled by their studio for Netflix and Walmart.  That seems wrong.
  3. Spoiled Brat Reputation for Business - As the recent iPhone case showed, as well as the brilliant VH1 satire ads of the "I'm a Mac" campaign pointed towards ... Apple does have a bit of a reputation among tech companies as the spoiled brat that always wants what it wants regardless of rules or laws.  They wanted the iPhone name, so they took it.  They notoriously control marketing and PR - not letting any partners speak about any initiatives unless they allow it.  The "green fees" for working with Apple are very high, as any reseller, vendor or supplier would tell you.  It is like negotiating with a child, and often seems like a necessary evil for doing business with Apple.

At the end of the day, Apple has an admirable marketing machine and great product design - which has fostered lots of Apple devotees.  I understand that, and admire how they got there.  My criticisms are not likely to have much of an impact, and I may be alone in these views judging from my many marketing and blogging peers to seem to be big Apple devotees.  But for me - until any of these big three issues change, Apple will continue to be a company whose products I use on occasion, but whose brand I just can't get passionate about.

Comment Spam Update (02/23/07): Apologies to all those who tried to post comments but got the comment spam warning.  It turns out I added "MP3" to my blocked word list due to a load of spam about free MP3 sites I had gotten several months ago.  I have removed the word from the blocked list and this should allow you to make it past the filter.  Let me know if you are still having problems posting a comment.

Update (5/2/07): Steve Jobs has published an open letter about Apple's new green policies addressing some of the criticism and laying out changes for the future and steps Apple is committed to taking to become more green (and Greenpeace takes credit).

Update (7/5/07): Engadget just published a story about Apple's history of taking what they want and "ripping off artists" in their marketing and advertising.  Apparently this is a trend that did not start with their grabbing of the iPhone name outlined in point #3 above ...

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Comments

oh rohit, and i thought you were so cool ;-) i must admit after switching from a pc to a mac about six months ago i an sold on the product. still have me "green my apple" background, if that counts for anything.

1) True. Much like with Prada, you're not quite sure why you're paying more, but people do. Sadly, Chinatown knock-off iPods suck ;-)
2) True. But really every tech company does this - they're hedging their bets. But I'd say they're firmly committed to the idea that their better design can defeat competitors, even in an open-content playing field, so any delay they're causing is just to build market momentum in their favour.
3) True. I suppose it's part of the dictatorship. But the hype does build press attention - how many other tech gadget releases end up on the homepage of CNN? So all that secrecy and control pays off from a marketing point of view.

However, for me the good design trumps all these. As people have pointed out, design dictatorships produce great things, and that's true of Apple in its current incarnation. And in a world where poor design is so rampant, I'm even more inclined to support a (mostly) benevolent great-design dictatorship.

Hi Rohit,

You're entitled to your opinions, but you're inaccurate with a few statements:

iPods configured for a Mac cannot be used on PCs until
they are reformatted.

That's because Microsoft Windows can't read any disk formats but its own--Macs can read Mac, Windows, and UNIX. You should also note that iPods are shipped from the factory configured for a PC, and only become formatted for a Mac if they are first used on a Mac. So this all doesn't make money for Apple but optimizes the device for the consumer's primary system.

You no longer get a power charger with an iPod - that must be purchased separately.

When Apple stopped shipping power chargers, the cost of the iPod went down by more than the cost of the charger. You don't need a charger since you can charge via your computer connection. And if you own more than one iPod, do you really need a charger for every one? Not including chargers helps save the consumer money and reduces environmental impact. Speaking of which...

Green my Apple campaign

Read Greenpeace's admitted "small print"--this campaign ignores many important environmental areas and focuses only on chemicals (not energy efficiency, waste reduction, recycling, etc.). For Apple's side, see Apple and the Environment.

[DRM] works in Apple's favor

You must remember that Apple did not set up DRM on its own, but at the behest of record labels. And the result has been a substantial market that would not have otherwise gotten off the ground.

Most content that is purchased on iTunes can never be used on any other device, or moved out of the iTunes.

Not true -- it can all be moved out of iTunes by burning it to CD and moving it to any device in MP-3 or other formats. So you can't move the DRM version, but only an unrestricted version--you could even consider this a gain for the consumer rather than a hindrance. Compare the
restrictions of the DRM of other providers...

They wanted the iPhone name, so they took it.

No, they came to an agreement. If money changed hands as has been theorized in the press, then the more correct statement would be, "They wanted the iPhone name, so they bought it."

So I respectfully disagree that the reasons you have given support your positions. I happen to take issue with your arguments as well but I'll leave that to a future discussion :)

100% agreed on all three - well written!

I would also venture to expand this list with one more point:

#4 - Quality and Support.

Or I should say "my experience with their Quality and Support" (as this differs for everyone)

From the small (7 iPods in 6 years) to the large (numerous hardware failures within desktops), their hardware quality has made me second guess purchasing their products. Sure, the Apple Stores have improved the Genius Bars (nice addition of pagers!) and have good people working there, but the costs for repair are not matched in Windows-based hardware. Yes, I know the economics behind this (less quantity produced, less providers, higher costs, etc.) but it is definitely a key factor in the reason I no longer have a Mac at home or at work.

For me - it is a love/hate thing - love the software, love the marketing, love the designs, hate the quality, hate the costs, hate the limited support.

Now, a survey I would love to see - how many people who own iPods would switch if they were not tied to the iTunes Store purchases and/or if there was another strong competitor (good looking, good software, etc.).

As soon as I see and vet another good MP3 player - goodbye Apple.

Hi John,

Thanks for commenting - I definitely appreciate your point of view as well. Just to clarify a few of my points and respond to you:

1. On configuration, I understand your point, and it's great that you can use an iPod on both operating systems - but trouble for me has come from trying to use my iPod on BOTH systems. Regardless, there is a built in limitation for PCs to recognize certain types of disks, so I might agree with you on that.

2. There are many users that travel places with their iPod but without a computer. The "you don't need a charger" argument to me just doesn't fly. As for the price difference - I would propose that costs were going down for iPods due to competitive market pressures and a natural reduction in price that happens to all consumer electronics products over time. The charger thing just seems like cutting a corner.

3. My view of the Green my Apple campaign was that they were not saying Apple does nothing ... only that Apple's efforts are not industry leading, as most consumers might expect them to be. The campaign seems to me to be about asking Apple to really walk the walk of a leader in this area.

4. DRM may have been driven by the studios, but that doesn't explain closing Apple's DRM technology to others in the industry. I don't buy Jobs explanation in his essay about opening the technology meaning that pirates could find a way to crack it. Anti-copy technology is already shared by studios on DVDs without this issue.

5. The basis for this was the highly frustrating 5 computer rule and the fact that most people who have changed computers or lost a hard drive for any reason are now down on their quota. As a higher percentage of a user's music and film collection is from iTunes, this may become a major issue. Regardless, the whole AAC versus MP3 format also factors into this comment.

6. The media has been very closed on terms of settlement, but my point was not about what has happened recently ... it was about Apple trying to negotiate for the name before MacWorld and the iPhone launch announcement, not being able to get the deal done, and choosing to launch with the name anyway. They wanted it in time for their big launch, and when they couldn't get it done legally, they just took it anyway. What comes next in terms of settlements was a necessity for Apple, but doesn't illustrate any fair play in my opinion.

Happy to entertain further debate about this - hopefully this post can spark some of that good discussion just as the Green my Apple campaign has managed to do about Apple from enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike ...

Did anyone prepend "i" to their product name prior to apple creating iPod? If not, then why aren't you more focused on being critical of boring companies like Cisco who can't create their own better products and just want to steal off apple's creativity? In my opinion we'd all be better off by spending our time adding to the law of large numbers criticizing creativity stealing and poor customer service that all of our corporations have resorted to.

> Did anyone prepend "i" to their product name
> prior to apple creating iPod?

Yes, Apple with the iMac! I can't think of an earlier example, though that doesn't mean there isn't one...

Wrong wrong wrong!

1. Money is what drives Apples ability to create GREAT new products. Please please get real (or become a North Korean citizen and see if you like the alternative).

2. DRM is not driven by Apple. Jobs negotiated the only DRM acceptable to customers and copyright owners and has stopped them raising prices. Blame where blame is due please.

3. iPhone name? CISCO's claim to it was already lost in Europe and weak everywhere else. With iLife, iMac, iWork, iTunes etc., who had the greater right to the name? And please stop suggesting Apple goes all soft and gooey, it's already the best IT/CE business there is.

If Apple followed your Alice in Wonderland advice, not likely, it would hardly impove anything.

Thanks for your excellent post about Apple. I love their products but over many years and a lot of high-cost purchases, I have found their attitude towards their customers to be extremely harsh. I am a professional user - my company has bought more than a dozen high-end Apple computers over the years, plus high-end software. Yet when Apple's own software has a bug that stops us from using it with the two new maxed-out Mac Pro's we bought from them, (as we are experiencing currently), they won't even talk to us on the phone about it. All they will say is that they know about the problem and that they do not announce updates in advance. Period. We spent close to $15,000 on the two computers and related Apple software. The computers have been unused for six months while we are still waiting for the software update. But even after aggresively trying to reach someone in authority through both Applecare and Apple Corporate Customer Relations, our inquiries have been repeatedly rebuffed and all we get is the same line about not announcing updates in advance. When we bought the computers, the website indicated this combination of hardware and software would work. Months later after many complaints from many users, a small footnote has now appeared on the Apple product data sheet website page indicating this combination is not yet supported. We are seriously considering returning the computers and migrating to Windows, even though we like the Apple hardware and software design better, because Apple has completely let us down and has expressed absolutely zero appreciatiion for the tens of thousands of dollars we've spent on their products over the years.

Rohit,

In response to your #5 of the above post, if it turns out you've gone through the allowed number of computers or hard drives, a button appears in your settings for the online store that allows you to reset the devices. You'll have to reauthenticate each device you want to use, but that should solve your quota problem if I understood you correctly.

Also, I'm not so sure you want to use DVD protection as an example of a multi-party DRM system that works. It's rather easy to make a copy of protected DVDs. Perhaps you were referring to some form of copy protection that I'm not aware of. If so, my apologies.

That's all. I can see how the rest of your points could be problems for someone.

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