John Gruber, author of popular Apple-focused blog Daring Fireball, just finished his presentation at the MacWorld conference in San Francisco, where he walked through what he sees as Apple’s top 10 issues. Many items should be familiar to people who use Apple products or follow the tech world, but there were some surprises, too. Even when discussing old complaints, Gruber found a funny and smart way to describe why they matter.
Here’s the list:
1. Steve Jobs — Jobs is to Apple what Walt Disney was to Disney, Gruber said. He’s the visionary who defines the company’s culture. And as everyone was reminded when Jobs took his medical leave of absence last year, he won’t be leading the company forever. Disney lost its way when its founder died, and the same thing might happen when Jobs retires. (Incidentally, VentureBeat’s Paul Boutin wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal about how Jobs’ other company, Pixar, has reinvigorated Disney.)
2. AT&T — The complaints about AT&T reception among iPhone users in the United States, especially in cities like San Francisco and New York, are never-ending. And while Apple will presumably end its exclusive relationship with the carrier at some point, Gruber noted that Apple chief operating officer Tim Cook recently defended AT&T during a company conference call. Apple also disappointed a lot of iPhone users with its AT&T partnership for the iPad tablet device.
3. Computers — Apple has never succeeded in having two computing platforms that thrive at the same time. For example, when Apple launched the Mac, the Apple II started to languish. Now Apple has the MacBook laptop and the new iPad, and after trying out the iPad, Gruber said, “I think a lot of people are going to choose the iPad over the MacBook Pro.” The overlap itself isn’t necessarily a problem, but “Apple has never pulled that off before.”
4. The App Store — Critics who want Apple to follow a more Google-like, open model for the App Store aren’t going to get anywhere, Gruber said. But even if you think that Apple is heading in the right direction overall, there are still problems with the approval process. There’s the slowness with which updates are approved, the arbitrariness of some App Store rejections, and the larger question of whether the approval process is sustainable as the App Store grows.
“It should only be about quality control, not competition control,” Gruber said, offering Google Voice as an example of the wrong kind of rejection.
5. Security — Apple is too slow about responding to publicly disclosed security issues in the open source libraries that it uses. For example, someone found a problem with “just about every implementation of SSL” last fall, Gruber said, and it took Apple 75 days to ship a security update. Apple shouldn’t be the last one to address these issues, it should be the first.
6. MobileMe — Gruber focused on a couple of different aspects of Apple’s mobile syncing services. First he criticized the web apps for being pointless and basically a me-too effort on Apple’s part because everyone was talking about web apps. He also criticized the iDisk service for not being worth the expense, especially when compared to superior file synching applications like Dropbox.
7. Backups — Apple has started to provide a way for its customers to back up their data with Time Capsule, but that still requires more work than necessary, Gruber said. The underlying problem is that Apple is focused on storing the data on your device. Google’s cloud-centric model seems superior in this respect, because if you use Gmail or Google Docs, all your data is automatically stored and therefore backed up in Google’s data centers.
8. Apple TV — This is one Apple product that has never taken off. Gruber said that’s because it’s really only good for watching movies and TV shows off iTunes, where Apple is forced to make deals with movie and TV executives who “want to go back to the way things were.” That’s why the selection is so bad and the prices are too high. And Apple will never get where it needs to be to make Apple TV a hit “when they’re negotiating with people who are that stupid.”
9. Arch rivals — Microsoft started becoming irrelevant when it ran out of big competitors to take on, and Apple risks a similar situation now, Gruber said. Google is increasingly brought up as a competitor, but it’s an uneven competition, especially in the areas where the two companies are really going head-to-head — mobile phones (Android vs. iPhone) and low-end computers (Chrome OS vs. the iPad). In each area, it’s not a huge blow to Google if its products lose, as long as people are still using their online services like Google search and Gmail. On the other hand, if the iPhone loses out to Android, that’s a big problem for Apple.
10. About box credits — Steve Jobs stopped crediting the individual team members in the “about box” of Apple applications when he returned to the company a decade ago, ostensibly to thwart headhunters. Gruber said he’s skeptical that’s a real deterrent — after all, everyone gets credited in Pixar films, and that doesn’t seem to cause any problems.
“Software can be an art, and Apple has been one of the leading practitioners of treating it as such,” Gruber said. “Artists should get to sign their work.”