Opinion: Apple after Jobs ... a whiff of "slapdashery"

You know who was really good at short-circuiting negligence? Steve Jobs

If there's one thing there's an inexhaustible supply of it's negligence. The Big N appears everywhere and it's indefatigable. As soon as you let your guard down for a second, it jumps up, slaps you upside the head, and runs around causing chaos.

So, if the Big N is always there, waiting for its chance, can we do anything about it? Are we doomed to always be at its complete lack of mercy? Well, although negligence is always there, waiting to pounce, we can minimize its effects by thinking things through so we know what we're trying to do and, through maniacal attention to detail, improve the odds for actually getting things done without snafus.

You know who was really good at short-circuiting negligence? Steve Jobs. The man was obsessive, detail-oriented, demanded ridiculously high standards, and wouldn't accept anything he perceived as sloppy or poorly designed.

IN PICTURES: Steve Jobs at Apple

Not surprisingly this didn't make him the nicest guy to be around if you worked for him but, as Apple's success has demonstrated, Jobs' approach worked incredibly well. A Jobs quote in CNNMoney/Fortune from 2008 underlined his philosophy: "My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better." He left as little to chance and negligence as possible.

That, however, was then.

It would now appear that in the new regime that runs Apple AJ (After Jobs), things have loosened up. There's a certain "slackness" that has appeared in the company ... what we might call a whiff of "slapdashery" perhaps?

For example, consider the last major release of OS X, "Mountain Lion," in July this year. It had problems. Would Apple admit to them? No. I wrote about my experiences with a newly installed Mountain Lion in a posting on my Forbes blog and, at that time, the Apple fanboys were still drinking the Kool Aid.

I was told by many who commented on the post that the problems I saw were somehow my fault! Of course, there was also a somewhat smaller contingent of commentators who, like me, had run into similar problems.

I tried to contact Apple to get a comment and or some insight into what the problems might be, but the company's PR people, despite them having grumbled to my editor, couldn't be bothered to return my calls and email.

Over the next few weeks I fixed my issues by fiddling with settings and re-installing apps, but I never actually found out what the real problem was or figured out what eventually fixed it. This was the first time that Apple had really disappointed me.

It wasn't so much about the issues with Mountain Lion -- teething troubles are par for the course with any operating system release -- it was the complete lack of any admission by the company that issues existed and lack of interest in the minority of users who, I suspect, either gave in and re-installed everything or, like me, who fiddled their way to stability.

Then we had the whole ridiculous snafu with Maps when iOS 6 was released.

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My favorite example of just how negligent Apple was over this can be seen from this screen shot ... the phrase "you can't get there from here" is apropos (in fact, there's a Tumblr blog with some fine examples of just how bad the maps were). Can you imagine Jobs letting such a thing happen?

So, we come to today when my iMac told me that updates were ready ... and, lo and behold, iTunes 11 was just waiting to take center stage.

Now, on the whole, I've been pretty happy with the iTunes updates and this much vaunted release promised a more polished interface.

But when it comes to "improving" interfaces I think most software companies make two big mistakes.

The first is the company assumes users want to change how they work (this has always been one of Microsoft's biggest confusions about its market). Just because you, the company, thinks it's found a better UI doesn't mean, a) that we really need a new UI, and b) we're happy having to learn something new when the old version is working just fine for us.

The second mistake is to assume there won't be any problems.

What's curious about the iTunes 11 release is that it was scheduled for October but Apple announced the product was being delayed until November because it "wanted to get it right." The final release date was Nov. 28 but most people, myself included, didn't get the update until the first week of December.

So, today, I got around to completing the update and launching the new version.

OK, some pretty nice UI polishing ... not bad. Lot of stuff reorganized, a few things appear different (and appear to change some previous default settings), but, yep, it's fine. That said, it seems a little slow ... it keeps getting "stuck" for 30 seconds or so ... maybe it's doing some optimization under the hood and it will all get sorted out ... fingers crossed.

OK, let's play a video ... and iTunes responded: "This movie requires QuickTime, which is not supported by this version of iTunes."

Am I missing something here?! Apple owns both products but one doesn't support the other?! Way to go, Apple.

What's clear is that Jobs must be spinning in his grave. The sheer negligence of not coordinating the release of QuickTime with that of iTunes is mind-boggling!

So, can Apple get back to basics? Can it return to being a brutal, "nothing but perfection" kind of organization?

I doubt it. I think it will hold its own pretty well for a few years and then, as is the fate of all hugely successful organizations, it will slowly but surely collapse, like a flan in a cupboard, under its own corporate weight. It will make great products for a while to come and we'll be happy to pay premium prices for them, but it will be negligence that eats away at Apple's supremacy.

Gibbs tries to stay on top of things in Ventura, Calif. Your detailed thoughts to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

Tags cnniOS 6steve jobsInternet-based applications and servicesapplicationstelecommunicationiosMapsmobileMountain LionAppleMobile OSesOS Xsoftware

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