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. 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.


  2. 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?


  3. ‘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.

  4. #4… I have no idea what Gruber’s talking about. I’ve never heard any outside “pundits” complain about the App Store’s “closed”-ness. And none of the smart developers complain, they just do the work, follow the rules, and rake in the cash. As Gruber himself says, Nintendo controls their market as tightly (or tighter) than Apple. And Apple is dumping resources into the store to improve it all the time, so what would make it unsustainable at this point?

  5. It is Apple’s control and in house approval that makes their devices and products secure. Flash should not be used and the people on the internet will have to choose to use an open SECURE standard or push away the users that use Apples devices. You know, the users that are willing to buy the best and spend their money. Isn’t that the customers that they are looking for? What is the loyalty to Adobe or Microsoft have to due with the open access of any company’s web side!

    Notes 4 & 5 are a joke!

  6. Point #3 is the one that is potentially most damning.

    “…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.”

    This is ridiculous. There was no overlap from Apple II to Mac. The Mac was a replacement for the II. They both were desktop computers. Their objective was the same, just the Mac was much better, a huge step forward. In short (to be redundant) a replacement.

    This is not true with the iPad. While I will agree that there is significant overlap, the iPad – as it stands now – is not an all-purpose computing platform. If some of these limitations slip away over time (limited storage being a big one), then perhaps it will take significant share from the laptops.

    Of course there will be many people who cannot afford both an iPad and a laptop. If their needs are light (no video editing and limited photo editing and word processing) then the Pad will be all they need.

    If you need serious editing capabilities, however, you will need a full-fledged laptop. (As I said until such time as the iPad becomes more powerful.)

  7. Ten items only? Is that all you could come up with? I’m sure Dvorak can add a few more ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” /> Let’s not count how many problems Windows has.

  8. Apple has always had these pitiful grubby observers tell them how they are doing everything wrong and advising them what to do. It’s endless, from get out of the hardware business, to copy microsoft, to every detail of the iPhone. It’s a miracle Apple has survived while doing everything wrong.

    How many $180B companies does Gruber manage?

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