The Problem With Platforms and Perfection

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What happened to Apple? Everyone either loves them and talks of their inevitable ongoing success, or loves to hate them, and talk of their impending implosion.

Earlier this month, well-known Harvard professor Larry Lessig wrote an extensive article listing his travails with upgrading OS X, iOS and iWork all in the same week. Of course, upgrading everything at once is probably a bad idea, but Lessig admits it openly.

Apple appears to have run particularly afoul of bad customer management - essentially real product management - since its latest upgrades.

While Lessig takes a serious swipe at Apple's mishandling of its customers, it appears to have fallen afoul of two tensions:

  1. Platform adoption vs network exclusivity
  2. Product perfection vs customer support

Platform Adoption vs Network Exclusivity

iOS used to be a platform for others' services, and Google used to be a Web services company. As those once-close partners, have encroached each other's territories - Google with Android and Apple with its (somewhat pathetic) iCloud - each has tried to steer its customers entirely into its own walled garden.

Apple is now dependent on iOS as a platform for its iCloud services. It has an interest in using iOS as a wedge to get customers onto iCloud. This is understandable, but if you make the experience with other services too difficult, customers who want to stay with Gmail or Drive or Dropbox will abandon iOS, and not those other services.

It is human nature: when someone makes you choose between "her or me," you become angry at being forced to choose and take it out on the one who forced you (Apple), even if you are rationally better off the other way around.

Product Perfection vs Customer Support

Apple built its products around the near-perfect customer experience. Do that for long enough, and you begin to believe that everything will always just work, and so you have no need to communicate problems - in advance or after the fact - with customers, because there will be none.

That culture works really well, and saves lots of money, when you actually put out a near-perfect experience. But the moment you stumble - and everyone inevitably does - your past ease-of-use and the culture it engenders becomes a handicap, as you no longer have the organizational structure and muscle memory to manage the experience.

Like Soviet Coach Viktor Tikhonov in the 1980 Miracle on Ice, if you are used to always winning, you don't know how to come back when you actually start losing.

Here's hoping they are reading Lessig's article - and mine - and beginning to learn how to work with their customers again.