You Manage What You Measure

Two points from this week’s episode of The Talk Show worth highlighting. Gruber and Om Malik are talking about how Apple struggles with the Internet, and how that might be related to the fact that the company pre-dates the web.

First, John mentions at one point that Apple products, since the company’s inception the experience design has been around the unboxing: you bring an Apple product home and use it by yourself. This can’t be overstated. I would go even further and say this blind spot isn’t just about the Internet, it’s about collaboration in general. Apple products are designed for a solo experience. It’s about the brilliant artist, tucked away in an attic, creating a masterpiece and unleashing it upon the world. If you work collaboratively with others on a day to day basis, as most people do, Apple’s products will continually frustrate you.

To take one example, surely no one at Apple has ever had to co-author a Keynote deck with several people, or the experience of doing so presumably wouldn’t be nearly as dismal. As it stands, you end up emailing 85MB files around to one another because you can’t store it on the server (doesn’t play nice with versioning) and iCloud doesn’t support granting other users access to your files. Oh, and there’s no easy way to bundle the fonts in with the presentation, so the app is constantly throwing errors about missing fonts. Again, none of this matters if you never interact with other people, which is presumably how Apple thinks you’re supposed to use its products.

The second point John makes is that iCloud backups work really well. He says iCloud backups have really high adoption rates, and that being able to bring a dead iPhone to an Apple store and have your backup magically appear on the replacement device is a wonderful thing. I have no doubt about that. But it’s worth pausing a second to think about why iCloud backups work so well. My guess is because someone’s measuring it. Apple has a huge financial incentive for a customer to walk into a store with a dead iPhone and walk away happy. It’s someone’s job at Apple to figure out how to optimize that experience. So that person is going to push and push for iCloud backups to be rock solid.

For Google and Amazon, improving server performance by several milliseconds can mean tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue. So there’s a huge incentive to make improvements. What’s the financial incentive for Apple to improve iCloud Core Data? It will make some developers happier, which in turn might make them make better apps, which in turn might make more people buy iPhones. It’s a triple bank shot, in other words. And it’s really hard to put into a spreadsheet.