“Why do we do it? Because we can. And because we think people will like it.”
That was the answer I remember an Apple executive giving to one of my colleagues who had asked why it was important for the icon on the clock app on the iPhone to show the actual time. After all, it was just an icon, right?
Apple has always had this reputation of being the maverick in the tech boardroom – the one that does things VERY differently. And this was perhaps never more evident than during the second tenure of Steve Jobs (1997-2011), when the Cupertino company literally turned the tech world on its head with products like the iMac, the iBook, the MacBook Air, the iPod, the iPad, and of course, the iPhone. Almost every product had its share of critics, and bitter critics at that (“a phone that does not let you send files over Bluetooth? Are they nuts!”) but Apple simply carried on in its seemingly mad manner. Unabashedly unapologetic about thinking and doing things differently.
And Apple kept winning. They did not call the brand “insanely great” for nothing, with stress on the “insane” part, let it be remembered.
Well, there had been whispers that the “insanity” part was kind of dying out ever since Tim Cook took over the reigns. To use a football simile, if Steve Jobs was the Special One, Tim Cook was the Normal One. Both were amazing in their own way, and yes, Apple remained a great company and was more successful than ever (the first Trillion Dollar company) but it seemed to have lost a bit of craziness, at least in terms of perception. It still did the odd (pun unintended) thing from time to time – removing the 3.5 mm audio jack, putting in a notch, and so on – but by and large, it seemed that the brand had checked out of the tech madhouse and shifted into more comfortable, affluent quarters – coming out with multiple product variants, having more conventional features, and sometimes even following trends instead of setting them. Not everyone liked it, but hey, it is kind of difficult to argue with the kind of success that Cook’s moves were yielding.
Well, yesterday, Apple checked into the madhouse again.
Yes, it had made its intentions about making its own processors (“silicon” to use the jargon of the valley named after it) abundantly clear months ago. But still, when the moment came to pass, its impact was undeniable. For, let’s face it, this was a change that not many had asked for. Whatever problems people have had with the Mac computer and notebook range, the processor performance – heck, performance itself – has never been one of them. Professionals, content creators, students…no one had any real complaints about the Macs, barring that constant wish for a lower price tag.
Moving to its own processor also would not be easy. Suddenly making software (apps) for the new platform would be a big challenge, especially for folks used to making them for the Intel Macs. There is actually a risk that some developers would not want to invest the extra time needed for the new platform and would instead retreat to the tried and tested and far more popular Windows-Intel/AMD ecosystem. And of course, there would have to be dozens of realignments in Apple’s own Mac design and construction.
Now it would be common sense for a company to do all this if things were going wrong for it. I mean that is the time when you tear up the old rules and try something new. But that is not the case at Apple. The brand has been doing surprisingly well in these pandemic times and its MacBook Air is the highest-selling notebook in the world (yes, notwithstanding all the moans about “just two USB Type C” ports and the price). Its products have generally been doing well. It has an ecosystem that developers and consumers are very comfortable with. It did not need to do anything this dramatic. Especially in times that were as uncertain as these.
And yet it did.
Why? I suspect the answer would be similar to the one given by the Apple executive to my colleague at the beginning of this piece:
“Because we can. And because we think people will like it.”
It was vintage Apple. And while the words were those of Tim Cook and his team, the vibes were those of the Man in the Black Turtleneck. Complete with a bit of the old “we don’t give a damn what others do, we will do it this way and if it don’t work, we will do it some other” cussedness.
Will it work? It is too early to say. But what cannot be denied is that after a period of seemingly toeing the tech line, Apple decided to draw one of its own. Just like it used to. It now becomes the only player in the PC market to have its own processor and operating system, giving it access to a level of customisation and optimisation that hardly any – IF any – of its competitors have. The question arises as to why did not anyone think of doing the same? Well, perhaps because they never felt the need. Perhaps they were comfortable with the processor coming from one brand, the OS from another and so on, and the economies that came with such an arrangement. Perhaps because they were content with the status quo. Or perhaps because they simply did not think of investing the way Apple did – remember, this is the company that invested in its own processors and software for mobile devices as well.
Or let’s make it brutally simple – perhaps because they were not Apple. They are not tuned to Think Different the way the Cupertino Crowd is.
With the “M1 Inside, Intel Outside” move, Apple has got back its insanity. The insanity that got us amazing products that changed the world of tech, rather than super-efficient ones focused on doing what everyone else did, only a little better. “One more thing” was a line made famous by Steve Jobs. Yesterday, Tim Cook made it his own. And in his gentle manner told the world, in not quite so many words:
“Look out, we are crazy. Once again.”
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