Apple OnLine 4.0

August 10, 2010 holman

Apple doesn’t understand the internet.

This is something that every Apple fanboy knows and tries not to think about. It’s embarrassing, really. Apple’s industrial design is unmatched, their software UI is copied, emulated, and copied again, and their business focus is the envy of the town. But their internet properties are hosted on Tripod wrapped in a <marquee> built in FrontPage ‘97.

Just look at what they’re been doing within MobileMe: iDisk doesn’t come close to matching up with Dropbox, the online is a far cry from Gmail, and their Photos app is so wildly far off from being a competitor to Facebook or Flickr that it’s a stretch to even make that comparison.

It’s not a matter of talent. Apple has the money and draw to attract anyone they want to hire. I suspect it’s a management problem. It’s that senior management really understands software, that senior management really understands hardware, and that senior management really doesn’t understand the web. Even the little bit that grew out of MobileMe feels like some weird oddity: they’re the only Apple division that has their own development blog of sorts. Nowhere else in Apple are they really allowed to just continually roll out features and announce them in that fashion. In cases like that, it feels like they’re trying to act like a “normal” web startup, but the climate of Apple prevents them from really running free like one and building product people want.

Apple is particularly bad at social software. Flickr made it big because they made exploring photos super easy. Facebook Photos made it big because they made photo discovery super easy. Apple’s “Gallery” product offers zero exploration and zero discovery possibilities. What’s the point of a large-scale product like that?

I’m being a little disingenuous, though. It’s rare for any large company to have the imagination to build out new ideas. There are very few “established” companies that have interesting consumer web properties. You could argue Facebook and Google, but they’re both startups in terms of age. They were built by people that knew their respective craft inside and out, and that culture grew with their company. That’s why Apple’s so good at hardware and software- it’s grown within that sector for decades.

But we like to hold Apple to higher standards. We like to think that greatness can transcend fields. We’d like to hope that Apple can get a handle on social media, on the internet. But is that even a feasible desire? Can you switch core competencies that easily?

It makes me wonder if the obvious route is the only route for Apple: buy up the dreamers who can dream those new worlds, and then spackle some of it on your existing product lineup. Case in point: Lala. And maybe it’s a good thing. It perpetuates the Silicon Valley myth of huge liquidation events, it provides some innovation to companies who couldn’t otherwise dredge out of their own culture, all the while broadening the amount of consumers who gain access to that innovation.

On the same hand, though, you still wish that the company you start next Tuesday will be able to confidently handle new markets when they open up in 2021. The pace of technology is unforgiving.