"Real artists ship," Steve Jobs famously told his employees at an Apple retreat in January 1983.
The context of this quote was important: Jobs introduced this particular mantra to his Macintosh team exactly one year before the Macintosh was actually unveiled to the world in January 1984 -- an event Aaron Sorkin will detail in the first scene of his upcoming three-act movie, "Jobs." But furthermore, Jobs held this retreat in the same month that Apple launched the Lisa computer, which would go on to be a major failure in many ways -- not the least of which was its price tag -- putting even more pressure on the Mac team to succeed for Apple.
One year before Jobs walked onstage to introduce the Mac to the theme from "Chariots of Fire," his team still needed to build it, and they felt the pressure of the world on their shoulders, as if Jobs' pressure alone wasn't enough.
The Macintosh name was in jeopardy, as Apple was having trouble resolving a dispute with the McIntosh audio labs to use the name in the first place, but nomenclature aside, the effort was spearheaded by a relatively small but talented staff that all reported to Jobs, who was often intense and degrading during those times.
And yet, given all the issues and obstacles the Mac team faced -- not the least of which was "squeezing" technology to make it smaller and cheaper -- Jobs managed to hold his "band of pirates" together with a mixture of hardship and distraction, and sure enough, the Macintosh delivered on time.
For years after the Macintosh launched, Apple succeeded every time it delivered on time, a maxim that deteriorated once Steve Jobs was ousted at Apple and John Sculley and Gil Amelio led the company, but was revived upon Jobs' return to the company in 1997.
Apple had an incredible, mind-blowing run from 2001 to 2010, but one of the main worries when Jobs died last October was how Apple would continue to innovate, but also maintain and advance its level of excellence, without him.
Unfortunately, while the company is as innovative as ever, the service in which it's being delivered is falling by the wayside.
Apple is working on the retail portion of that, seeing to the removal of former Dixons CEO John Browett and beginning its search for a new chief to lead its retail stores. But on an innovation level, Apple is having trouble delivering an "insanely great" new product.
Let's look beyond hardware for a second, including the lackluster iPad Mini, and talk about software: While seeing a new OS X and iOS each year is great, the most-used and most-talked about pieces of software, including the Maps application and Siri, are simply sub-par. What's worse is that alternative applications made by other parties threatening to outstrip Apple in these consumer technologies and extend their lead even further.
The Maps situation is unique and somewhat understandable -- Apple has done its part by removing Scott Forstall from his post -- but Siri is a very poor experience too, especially compared the speedier and more accurate Google Voice, which is just one feature on Google's free third-party iOS app.
iTunes has also gotten the short end of the stick, even though it's possibly the most-used application anyone uses on their computers. It's great that Apple's redesigned iTunes, but did it really need to be delayed another month? Apple has had plenty of time to work on iTunes, and with so many issues on the hardware side, was delaying this really the only option? It's frustrating to know that there was no real excuse from Apple on the delay besides "we needed a little extra time to get it right." I knew the release date, you knew the release date, so why didn't you deliver again?
But while new software is certainly a big frustration among Apple users, one of the biggest disappointments in 2012 is the likely rumor that Apple will delay the release of its new iMac. Apple's Tim Cook noted his concerns about the iMac's production in an Oct. 25 conference call with investors, citing "significant shortages" and the "short amount of time during the quarter to manufacture and ramp those" extremely high-tech desktops, especially given the robust demand.
We know that Apple that these products, once they're eventually delivered, are all bound for greatness, but it's concerning to see Apple slipping like this. It's even more concerning that companies that actually were found to have illegally used key IP from Apple -- namely, Samsung -- are starting to beat Cupertino at their own game.
Apple is a courageous company to repeatedly push the boundaries of technology year after year, but Steve Jobs knew that as a master salesman, it's important to not make promises you can't keep, for the sake of the customer. Jobs did everything in his power to push his own employees to deliver on time -- delays were always a last case scenario -- simply because Jobs knew that no problem was ever impossible, especially for "the crazy ones." If Apple hopes to retain its dominance, it needs to not only promise crazy new things, but it needs to do everything it can to deliver on those promises, every time.
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