I spent most of the last two days with failing iPhones at Apple Stores in New York, and with the same phones at home, trying to get them restored into working order.
The story has a happy ending, in the sense that I now have a working phone. It's my fourth identical iPhone 5s. The first one died of water (my fault) and the next two died on their own.
By coincidence, my wife's fairly new iPhone 6s Plus developed a dislike for cables, and would only take a charge from a certain cheap pink aftermarket one we got at a drug store. So she spent time yesterday at the same 5th Avenue Apple Store where I spent a couple hours standing in lines and at counters, getting the (hopefully) final working replacement for my most recent failed replacement phone. But the store Genius couldn't replicate the problem: the phone worked fine with an Apple cable. So the Genius blamed the aftermarket one, even though my wife's Apple cable was one of the many others that didn't work. Still, credit where due: the Genius cleaned the contacts in the cable socket, and maybe that was the whole problem.
Meanwhile, in the midst of all this, I witnessed thick crowds of people, ourselves included, gathered in dependency on one company that does an amazing job of selling and servicing its products, mostly on site. I'm guessing there were 500 or more people crowded into the 5th Avenue store, and half that many in the 14th Street store.
I would love it if iPhones, and Apple, were more open and substitutable. But I've had the Android experience as well, and for our business and family purposes, the Apple experience is better, if also more closed.
I'd say more about that, but I've said it already in Giving Silos Their Due, and Phil Windley did an even better job explaining the same thing in Decentralization is Hard, Maybe Too Hard. Phil: Man-made, decentralized things are difficult to pull off.
But so is shouldering the burden of half the people on Earth depending on your centralized services. At some point the silo cracks. I see that happening for Apple. They could hardly be more successful, and that's the point.
Yesterday especially, I understood why Apple not only minimizes the variety of their products, but also replaces them so slowly: it's damned hard just to manage products that need a lot of service, and customers for whom those products are used constantly, and — in the case of phones — as extensions of their minds and bodies.
But iteration isn't innovation, and that's about all Apple has done since Steve Jobs died, almost five years ago. Really, what have they done?
A watch. That's about it. And maybe that was a Steve thing too.
Okay, they added Beats headphones, but that wasn't an innovation and frankly cheapened and divided Apple's simple and singular corporate brand.
Their computers and phones are fine but stale and no longer top-rated by Consumer Reports. Their displays are no longer competitive. (And maybe even discontinued.) Their attached storage maxes at a paltry 3Tb. Their wi-fi hotspots are good, but no longer ground-breaking. Apple TV is nice, but arguably no better than competing products from Roku and Amazon. Their only radically innovative computer is the cylindrical Mac Pro, which is now several years old and strictly for pros.
Simply put, they make nothing new that everybody craves. Just stuff that's good and lots of people use.
So, while Apple remains admirable in many ways, ya gotta wonder if it has gone as far as it can.
Back when Windows 98 came out, Bill Gates was asked about competition from Apple. Bill replied that Windows 98's competition wasn't Apple, but Windows 95.
When Apple came out with OS X, Steve Jobs held a funeral for the old operating system, complete with a black casket on stage. (As I recall, anyway.) Do we see anything of the sort happening with Apple under Tim Cook? Until he does something equally bold, even theatrical, I gotta wonder.