For example, over the past 18 months, Apple abandoned its Xserve rack mount server; eliminated support for smart cards and other kinds of token-based hardware security systems; released a version of Final Cut Pro in June 2011 that was optimized for consumer use and lacked critical functions used by professionals for eight months; removed “power user” features from its online offerings; and removed critical functionality from the Macintosh graphical user interface on both Lion and Lion Server.
Taken one at a time, each of these decisions made good business sense. Most of Apple’s customers—the digital consumers—weren’t using these products and features. Apple clearly can’t be all things to all users. But in each of these cases, the company avoided the extra effort required to satisfy creative elites, catering to the mainstream market instead. This strategy is sure to be profitable at first, but in the long run, it will rob Apple of the very differently thinking content creators and software developers who made the Mac great.
Many of what we think of today as Apple’s most innovative products were not cooked up in some secret Steve Jobs laboratory; they were developed by people whose companies were acquired by Apple. What we now call Final Cut Pro was acquired from KeyGrip in 1998. Siri, the AI at the heart of the iPhone 4S, was created by a startup funded by SRI International and acquired by Apple in 2010. Even Apple’s multitouch technology was bought from Fingerworks in 2005.
Apple certainly has the money to keep acquiring innovative companies. But the Mac, iPhone, and iPad make up an ecosystem that was powered by the creative class—a class that Steve Jobs attracted by making products that he personally wanted to use. They came to the Mac because they shared his demanding standards and aesthetics. The machines his company is building today are aimed at a decidedly different market segment. In the long run, this will endanger, if not destroy, the Apple ecosystem.
Simson L. Garfinkel is a contributing editor to Technology Review and the author or coauthor of 14 books on computing, including Building Cocoa Applications, which explained how to develop applications for MacOS 10.1.