Apple's Communication Breakdown
Today's column may make me slightly unpopular among some fans of Apple. (The first expletive-enriched response landed in my inbox at 12:49 this morning.)
But I think Apple's making trouble both for its customers and itself by neglecting to talk to them outside of tech-support interactions and Macworld Expo keynotes. I'd compare this company to a reporter who answers all his reader e-mail -- but never does any Web chats, blogs or any other sort of one-to-many communication. That kind of outreach can enlighten individual customers (or readers) but winds up leaving the bulk of them wondering what's going on.
Compare, for example, how Twitter keeps its users in the loop with both a detailed system-status log and a corporate blog -- then look at Apple's paltry MobileMe status reports. (When I asked an Apple publicist earlier this week if the company had any comments about MobileMe's record, he suggested I look at the coverage of Steve Jobs' leaked memo announcing a reorganization of this service's management.) For that matter, try to find an equivalent on Apple's site to the public bug databases of open-source developers.
Apple compounds this problem when it neglects such elementary feedback loops as the release notes accompanying its software releases. This week's iPhone 2.0.1 update and its nine-character "bug fixes" description really set me off in that regard; why would the company choose to provide so little detail about a quarter of a gigabyte's worth of software download? It's not even smart marketing: As I joked to a co-worker, the placebo effect of this upgrade ("they said this improved performance, and my computer really is snappier now!") would have been much stronger had it come with a detailed inventory of fixes and optimizations.
It's not as if Apple's DNA does not allow it to speak directly to its users. Look at its Surfin' Safari blog, which chronicles the development of both Safari and its open-source WebKit code in as much detail as any of Microsoft's Channel 9 blogs (yes, that name was inspired by United Airlines' practice of letting passengers listen in to air-traffic-control chatter). Jobs, too, has been willing to give people a peek behind the curtain in some of his open letters about digital music and environmentally sound manufacturing -- not to mention his famously personal Stanford University commencement address in 2005.
Still not convinced? You can harangue me during today's Web chat, starting at 2 p.m.
In the meantime, you can let me know what you think right here. If you're an Apple customer -- or you're thinking about becoming one -- do you feel you're getting enough feedback from the company about what it's up to?
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