There’s an expression – “crossing the Rubicon”. I’d often thought it pretentious and didn’t really know what it meant until I went looking. As it turns out, the expression effectively means “passing the point of no return”. This sums up my thoughts quite succinctly at the moment with regards to Apple. They’re going through interesting times right now – the percieved failure of the iPhone 4 has perhaps for the first time in years, shown the company up in a negative light (and in the interests of full disclosure, let me say right now that I have three iPods of varying ages and run Windows 7 on my work laptop, Ubuntu 10.04 on my personal laptop and VMware ESXi on my test equipment – pretty much as platform agnostic as you can get. Oh, and a BlackBerry work phone and a Symbian personal phone).
As such, it’s been interesting to see Apple’s reaction. Earlier in the decade, they re-invented themselves from being a cutting edge design company almost out of ideas to a massive corporation who’ve arguably redefined the music business with the iPod and iTunes and changed the mobile phone landscape with the iPhone (dubbed by The Register as the “Jesus phone”). It’s interesting however that in terms of the “lifecycle” of a company, they’ve gone from being the plucky underdog to the cocky behemoth, and maybe this is where their problems are just starting.
Cast your mind back to August 1995. This is when Windows 95 was released to much fanfare and Rolling Stones themed advertising, at this point it could be argued that computing became fashionable, less geeky and, well, a bit rock and roll. By and large, people queued up from ridiculous times to get their hands on a copy of Windows 95, and subsequent versions of Office etc. became must have items, whether you needed them or not.
However, as time went on, many discovered that Windows 95 and a few years later, Windows 98, were maybe not quite as you’d imagined them. Or indeed how they’d been sold to you in many a high street electronics chain. It started to become de rigeur to have a pop at Microsoft, criticise them for having buggy software or complain at how it was a full time job to keep reloading Anti Virus software from floppies in the days when a consumerised Internet was still in it’s infancy. Hell, Windows Update didn’t exist in those days of Windows 95! From being a bit rock and roll, Microsoft became everyone’s punch bag. No-one can really be sure when the tipping point came along (perhaps even as late as the release of Windows Vista), but once it did, it became almost impossible to claw the good will of the people back.
And so we return from the cautionary tale of Microsoft to look at Apple. It was telling recently that a friend of mine who bought pretty much everything Apple has decided for the first time to go down the Android route. He’s a bit sick of being dictated to by Apple as to what he can and can’t use on his device that he owns. He doesn’t like having to tether himself to iTunes, which in itself is not software loved by the masses but tolerated for what it provides. He doesn’t like the fact that Apple have something of an arbitrary position on what it will and won’t allow into it’s App Store, where the Android Market is somewhat less regulated (although it should be argued that this is currently to it’s detriment).
It’s telling too that developers are looking further ahead and thinking that Android may represent a more sustainable and transparent platform to code on, though it’s worth bearing in mind that this project is run by Google, who themselves checked in their “do no evil” mantra at the door some time ago. Consumers have also been pretty pissed off that Steve Jobs told an irate iPhone 4 customer to “hold it differently” when his new device kept dropping phone calls arbitrarily. If this is what Apple have become, have they too crossed the Rubicon?