Gruber: Apple’s 10 biggest problems

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber “came to Macworld Expo 2010, however, not to praise the company but to probe its vulnerabilities,” Phillip Elmer-Dewitt reports for Fortune.

The problems, in the order he delivered them:

1. Steve Jobs: The pessimistic dig on Apple, says Gruber, is that it’s a supremely well-organized company organized around one irreplaceable guy. The optimistic view is that Jobs has structured it to run like his other company, Pixar, which manages to turn out hit after hit, year after year, without a charismatic celebrity leader.

2. AT&T: [Apple sticks with them because] AT&T so desperately needs the iPhone that Apple can extract far better terms from them than it ever could from Verizon. Meanwhile, however, AT&T’s service problems are draining Apple’s good will.

3. Computers: Gruber thinks he’s seen the future of computers, and it is the iPad. “It’s really, really good,” he gushed. If you are sitting on a couch and you need a computer, most people are going to reach for the iPad, not the MacBook Pro. And that puts Apple into uncharted territory. For the first time since the original Mac replaced the Apple II, it has two overlapping computer products. And although it took a few years for the corpse to grow cold, the Apple II basically died the day the Mac arrived.

4. The App Store

5. Security

6. Mobile Me: It’s great for syncing your iPhone to your Mac, but what’s the point of Mobile Me’s Web apps?

7. Back Ups: Time Capsule is the right idea, but it’s not really a solution for all those people who don’t even know they’re supposed sync their iPhones to their Macs.

8. Apple TV: Gruber is not one of those who talks about Apple TV as Steve Jobs’ one dud. He likes Apple TV, but says it has a fundamental problem: [Content or the relative lack thereof]. Hulu is a wonderful solution but when Boxee figured out a way to put it on TV, the Hulu guys freaked out. They have “this crazy brick wall in their heads,” Gruber explains, that perceives computers and TVs and two fundamentally different things. They worry about ad-supported Hulu getting on TVs when they should be worried about people bootlegging their content for free and watching it with no ads. “I don’t see,” Gruber concludes, “how Apple can get from where they are to where they need to be when they are negotiating with people that stupid.”

9. Arch Rivals: A company needs direct rivals to stay hungry, but when they get big enough they tend to run out of them… Apple’s closest rival in smartphones, Gruber maintains, is not Google (which will rake in the Web ad riches whether Android succeeds or fails), but Palm, whose WebOS he admires.

10. About Box Credits: If software is a form of art, as Apple insists it is, “artists should get to sign their work.”

Full article, with full explanations of each of the 10 points above, here.

MacDailyNews Take: Some of these are a stretch. Number 10 is seemingly there only to fulfill the promise of ten points. As for number 9, Apple has plenty of arch rivals and self-motivation; they don’t require a floundering group of castoffs with chips on their shoulders in order to motivate them. There is plainly no need for Palm’s webOS; it’s superfluous in the current marketplace; a redundancy. Unless some other company decides to junk their current OS and snaps up what’s left of the company for webOS (which we strongly suspect is the real dream of Elevation Partners), Palm has no reason to be. If not saved via a buyout, Palm is dead. Number 6 isn’t really a vulnerability on the order of, say, how the company will someday run without Steve Jobs. Number 3 is many years off. It certainly won’t happen as quickly as Mac took over from Apple II because Mac had greater capabilities than what it succeeded, not less. Unless and until iPad evolves to do everything a Mac can do and more, the Mac will not only survive, it will thrive. All that said, it’s still an interesting, thought-provoking list and therefore a recommended read.


  1. It’s a weak list. Guess he had to come up with something to make it slightly interesting. He should have just talked about Microsoft vs Apple 10 biggest problems and do a comparative analysis.

  2. Definitely a stretch in parts; wasn’t the first item pretty much disproven when Jobs went on medical leave? And I still don’t see the iPad as a replacement for a laptop or desktop computer, but rather a supplement; if you’re into heavy-duty desktop publishing or audio/video editing, or you keep your family’s household/financial records, you’ll use your “regular” computer. But if all you need is something where you can surf the Web, do some light word processing or number crunching, plus maybe read a book, play games or watch a movie, you can use the iPad.

  3. From No. 6: ” . . . it took Apple 75 days to respond to a hole in Open SSL — the open-source encryption system that is supposed to protect credit card data from getting loose on the Internet — even though the vulnerability was made public last September. ‘It happens again and again,’ says Gruber. Apple is the last vendor to respond, when it ought to be the first.” (emphasis added)

    Too true. Agreed about number 10, particularly since it’s not really limited to Apple. . . is it?

  4. I have always been impressed about Steve Jobs crediting the designers and developers during his keynotes. Other companies including Microsoft should learn from Steve Jobs example.

  5. I normally have a lot of respect for Gruber, but he’s wayyyyyy off base with #9. Apple’s real competition in the smartphone arena is coming from RIM and Google Android.

    If this were a movie, and Apple was our protagonist, Palm would be the evil henchman’s comedy relief sidekick, deluded into thinking that he’s actually a worthy rival for our protagonist. He isn’t. He’s only there for laughs. He’s not remotely a serious threat.

    Some of his other concerns seem off-target as well, particularly MobileMe – Apple wouldn’t put *that* much time and energy into creating it just because “that’s what the kids were talking about”. They’re far too focused for that to be remotely plausible.

  6. Did this guy not see what happened at Apple while Steve Jobs was sick and later home for a half year. Note 1 about “organized around one irreplaceable guy” has been disproved. As Apple spreads into multiple markets, Steve Jobs has one of the key people intro that product and it’s features during the keynotes.

    Has this village idiot ever watched an Apple Keynote in the past 2 years?

  7. Note 5. “Security”! Again Adobe has to address the holes in Flash and this is another example of why Apple products like iPhone, iPad touch and the iPad ARE secure.


  8. 1. Apple did pretty good without Jobs; he’s not the only incredibly gifted person at Apple. This is an overblown worry.

    2. Apple is holding out for a better negotiating position. AT&T;is investing billions to improve their network. And the longer this goes on the lower the prices will be when Verizon does come on board. Reality: not enough people are bitching about AT&T;for Apple to add Verizon yet.

    3. Why is this a problem?

    4. It’s new, it’s improving, Apple is being cautious. Next…

    5. What’s the issue with security? I’ve been pretty happy with the security the platform. Compared to Windows, OS X is Fort Knox.

    6. One of two complaints I have. Apple hasn’t figured out the cloud just yet. There is a lot of innovation that could be going on here. Missed opportunity.

    7. Not a silver bullet, but it works, sometimes, and that’s better than nothing. Here is where item 6 comes into play.

    8. An embarrassment. Seriously. One of my only disappointments with an Apple product. Give it a browser or give it Internet TV. Apple should be doing Boxee.

    9. Palm? Seriously? Makes me laugh. Frankly, Apple’s approach to innovate and dominate or stay out of a market is unique and doesn’t fit with this logic.

    10. What is he talking about?


  9. ‘Problem’ #2: is only partly right, and a whole lot wrong.

    Verizon uses old technology – CDMA – whereas most of the rest of the world uses some variation of GSM/GPRS, a more modern technology. My guess would be Jobs would’ve always wanted to sell it to the whole world not just the backward tech companies of the United States.

    Now whether they could’ve added the option – in the same way they offer NTSC or PAL as TV playback is another story, and an interesting one.

    But let’s not forget, like it or not, and the merits of either technology notwithstanding, GSM/GPRS has largely won this war and Verizon is on the side that lost.

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