Apple, tear down that wall

Abbi Perets, Macworld
10 June, 2013
View more articles fromthe author
Here are several reasons why the company could – and should – benefit from a little less secrecy

You buy a new iPhone on day one and, due to its new shape and size, you can’t get a decent case or connect your new phone to your old accessories. It’s a niggling problem, sure, but it’s just one example of how Apple could improve our lives by tempering its legendary secrecy.

Prior to the iPhone 5 launch, rumours about its new features abounded. But many consumers – and vendors – didn’t see its dock connector in person until launch day. As a result, vendors had to rush to update their accessories, in some instances without adequately testing the products. Clearly at least a handful of vendors were privy to Apple’s closely held secret, because a few cases were out around the launch date, but choices (and stock) remained limited for weeks.

Likewise, developers had to head back to the digital drawing board – or suffer the indignity of seeing their apps run with black bars at the top and bottom.

iWork in secret

That’s not the only area into which Apple could let a bit more sunlight fall.

According to Inside Apple author Adam Lashinsky, many Apple employees work in a vacuum, in “lockdown rooms”. But when staffers can’t see the whole picture, they can’t always make good decisions. Might the launch of Maps have gone smoother if more employees – and their spouses and close friends – had been able to conduct more real-world, prelaunch testing?

Don Melton, who led the original Safari project at Apple, wrote on his blog, “We operated the project like some CIA black op – with loyalty oaths and all.” He recalls how difficult hiring the development team was, “Since I couldn’t tell them what they were working on until they took the job.” The fact that Melton even has to point out that his team wasn’t under physical lockdown – the way other groups were and would be – is a bit terrifying from a human resources perspective.

The black market

When you walk into an Apple Store and ask for an in-demand item that’s out of stock, don’t expect a lot of information. Yes, the store can put in an order but, according to one former employee, that location may not receive the items it requested, since the corporate powers decide where units are needed most.

This lack of information from Apple HQ creates black markets. I was in Singapore in late October 2012 – after the iPhone 5 had been officially released there – and I stopped by six or seven Premium Apple Resellers. None could tell me when they would get a shipment of iPhones. Yet they were surrounded by unofficial sellers with plentiful stock – at a hefty mark-up. Apple is obviously not receiving the extra profit on those sales and such price gouging only frustrates even the most dedicated Apple fan.

Why not communicate more clearly with consumers and sellers? Apple is said to have the best supply chain in the business; this seems like a good opportunity for Apple to apply one of its strengths to its stated mission of delighting customers.

Here comes the sun

Fortunately, Apple may be lifting the cone of silence. In October 2012, the company announced a restructuring that put several important executives – Jony Ive, Eddy Cue, Craig Federighi and Bob Mansfield – in positions to oversee larger groups of developers. If we’re lucky, this restructuring will, as the press release promises, “encourage even more collaboration between… hardware, software and services teams”. We can haggle over whether ‘even more’ is the appropriate phrase to use, but at least Tim Cook seems unafraid to kick down a few windowless walls and open things up a bit.

by Abbi Perets, Macworld






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