How I want Apple to talk

I’ve bought a lot of Apple products over the years, even though I’ve been consciously choosing other alternatives the past few. Granted I’ve got a horse in this race, but here’s how I would prefer Apple communicate:

  1. Get your CEO to either talk, or not. Put some skin in the game, put your rep on the line with attributed statements. The lack of confirmation, denial, or clarification from Apple PR about rumored quotes from The Great Man is telling.
  2. Can that “controlled leak” strategy. Stop relying on “inside sources” to float trial balloons like “Bing on iPhone”. Deal honestly with partners and the public.
  3. Let your employees speak. I’ve seen a few Apple staff bloggers and tweeters, but precious few, and even fewer of those speak about their work. When Adobe hosted the first iPhone DevCamp there were Apple employees who did not disclose their affiliation; when I attended MIX06 I saw Apple employees who said they worked for Yahoo! or other companies.
  4. Urge your external evangelists to speak with attribution, and put their own personal rep on the line. The sheer number of pro-Apple comments filed under untraceable names like “ken” or “steve” does not, in a post-EllieLight world, inspire confidence. Urge your fans to avoid acting as marketing interns would.
  5. Reduce the unprecedented contractual secrecy; let partners speak as freely as they speak of other initiatives in the industry.

Folks in Cupertino don’t have to listen to me. I’m just going on-the-record here with how I’d prefer they act. It’s their call what to do.

(PS: Add one more request, to people in Apple PR, please don’t send an email complaining about this post to Adobe PR. There’s a comment field here which you can use to communicate your concerns more effectively. If you’re a person who stands up for your beliefs, I’d like to learn more of what’s important to you, thanks.)

28 Responses to How I want Apple to talk

  1. Mike says:

    Well said, Apple’s attitude towards the public is one of the main reasons I rarely buy their products.

  2. ♥ I liked the frankness showed in this post.
    ♥ I large innovative companies energy flows from it’s senior leadership !
    ♥ Those senior influence the behavior of their subordinates
    ♥ Aggressive “I Control & Dictate Everything” kind of culture is bad in a long term !
    ♥ History has lot of examples as a proof, when such I Control Everything kinda people goes off the scene, institutions falls severely!

  3. Wilhelm Reuch says:

    What is it you think is unclear? Listen to Jobs presentation of the iPad. The other stuff is just uninteresting rumours.
    How du *you* feel about the failure of the open web? That one company controls so much content with a single locked plugin?
    That you cannot create and innovate a device for using the web without the support of Adobe Inc. and – in practice – surrendering your platform to Adobe Inc.?

  4. James Katt says:

    Regarding your points:
    1. Steve Jobs talks. He is the one presenting.
    2. Apple only talks about products it ships. That is their policy.
    Once you realize that, then you will realize that anything else is just rumor mongering and should be ignored. Thus “controlled leaks” should also be ignored.
    3. Apple’s employees do speak. But they have to follow Apple’s policy: Talk about products that are shipping.
    Realize that Apple does NOT deal with vaporware. Apple does NOT make promises it cannot keep – like Microsoft or Adobe. When Apple speaks, it tells you what it is doing, not what it promises you it will do. It is simple and brilliant a strategy.
    4. Apple has huge numbers of rabid fans. Any other company would completely be jealous. No other company has as high a satisfaction rate as Apple. Certainly Adobe is one of the bottom ones.
    5. Partners to Apple have to abide by Apple’s policy. They can only speak about products that Apple is shipping.
    Remember: Apple does not deal with vaporware and empty promises. Apple is very clear about what products it will bring to market. It does not deal with speculation. This is why Apple can be trusted as a brand. “It just works.”
    Adobe, on the other hand, has the worse programmers for a large company on the planet, second only to Microsoft.

  5. Hector says:

    Apple’s secrecy is what makes them one of the most talked about companies in the world.
    The controlled leaks help build up the hype towards their product announcings and they’re not necessarily a lie, do you really think apple hasn’t talked with Yahoo!/MS about Bing on the iPhone? They probably have to, just to have a favorable negotiation with Google.
    Btw, you’re delusional if you think Apple really has a leash on mac zealots. MS is still despised among the zealotry in spite of Jobs “urging” in 1997 when the Microsoft deal was struck.

  6. Jan Voght says:

    Very interesting and engaging! This honest back and forth helps the long run for the long term. Thanks!

  7. John Dowdell says:

    Jeff Atwood recently changed his moderation policy at

    “1) No more anonymous comments. While I would prefer to allow anonymous comments, it is clear that at this scale I don’t have time to deal properly with anonymous comments. If you want to say something, you’ll need to authenticate. If what you have to say isn’t worth
    authenticating to post, it’s probably best for both of us if you keep it to yourself anyway.
    “2) Comment moderation will be more stringent. If you don’t have something useful and reasonably constructive to say in your comment, it will be removed without hesitation. You can be as critical of me (or, better still, my arguments and ideas) as you like, but you must convince me that you’re contributing to the conversation and not just yelling at me or anyone else.”

    Me, I also think any citizen should be free to use a paintball gun on graffiti gangs and, in my past, have had several sordid incidents when witnessing litterbugs.

  8. E.J. says:

    Given how successful Apple is in generating hype and free publicity at a level unapproachable by anyone else, the element missing in your post is an explanation as to why Apple should change how they communicate. Given their success, what’s broken? How would this fix it?
    [jd sez: As in the first paragraph, I have been an Apple customer, but not recently. To reach me, they’d need to normalize their business practices, and those five points are aspects Apple would have to fix. Their call whether my business is worth it.]

  9. Falk Lumo says:

    Apple may have reason to lock out a competing vendor’s proprietary technology (Flash). And not to be nice in doing so.
    But I don’t see why Apple does exactly the same to Java (and JavaFX). As it is open source more or less.
    So, we don’t know the entire story yet.
    It could be wise by Adobe to make the case using Java as a sample.

  10. Rod Trent says:

    I’ll talk. And, so will the thousands of customers that have complained for years about Adobe products due to poor integration, horrid performance issues, completely lack of security, and poorly developed installation methods.
    [jd sez: The title here is “How I want Apple to talk”. I assume you’re not implicitly saying that you are Apple, within that explicit set of claims which seem to assert “you have no right to talk”. I’ve left unpublished a bunch of other comments that similarly miss the mark. If you wanted to pursue a particular issue that might be possible, in your own blogpost.]

  11. Kevin says:

    I have been an Adobe user for years, and an Apple user for some years less. If the attributed statements are really from the “Big Man” I tend to agree with him. Adobe is pricing themselves out of the game, buggy over priced products is not a means to keep loyal customers.
    [jd sez: May have been a misperception there… I think CEOs should publicly document charges if calling others “lazy and buggy”, or disavow such rumors. In comments here came digressions about pricing.]

  12. What’s odd to me is that you state that your recommendations are about how Apple could get your business back, but you don’t address anything that consumers care about. Price? Not your issue. Features? You could care less. Speed? Frequency of updates? Security? Nada….
    [jd sez: That’s true. That’s why I titled the post “How I want Apple to talk”, and deleted the other six paragraphs of this comment which attempted to change the subject in lieu of a response.]

  13. kevin says:

    I’m not sure why you didn’t publish my previous comment since it directly addresses your post.
    I wrote that Apple’s CEO does speak in public. He did so in 2008 at the Apple Shareholders meeting and spoke specifically about Flash Lite, Flash, and the need for a product in the middle. The comments can easily be found on the Internet.
    There’s no need for him to speak again in public about Flash since nothing has changed since then. Adobe’s answer is coming but it’s not here yet.
    Just like Apple does, you should ignore all rumors about products or Apple’s motivations for what’s in or not in its products.
    [jd sez: I haven’t been publishing a lot of (true) trolling here, whether from a clear ID or not… in your case, you asserted that an on-the-record statement exists, but did not link to it, and so added a digression but no furtherance of the discussion. (I suspect you’re thinking of a different set of actual Jobs quotes, not the recent “lazy buggy” stuff that’s been frothing up the blogosphere, which is the topic under discussion here.) And if Apple does not disclaim rumors, yet has been known to seed rumors, then we simply should not assume anything about future rumors. That’s why I’m asking for some consistency, some clarity. Straight talk is good. Transparency. Openness.]

  14. John says:

    Why should Apple do any of the things you suggest?
    Can you provide some data to back up any claims that such changes would be beneficial to them?
    [jd sez: “Folks in Cupertino don’t have to listen to me. I’m just going on-the-record here with how I’d prefer they act. It’s their call what to do.” Who knows, I might just buy another iPod some day. 😉 ]

  15. This is the stupidest blog entry I’ve read in a while. Exactly why should Apple be more open, so their competitors know exactly what they plan to do in the future?
    [jd sez: Perhaps so that well-meaning partners would not have to unduly wonder whether the company’s leader actually called them evil, lazy, buggy and old…. 😉 ]

  16. willmo says:

    In your point #4, are you trying to imply that Apple has paid astroturfers? If so, do you have any evidence of this? If not, how do you expect them to control people who are simply their customers?
    I do agree with point #3. Apple seems to be overly paranoid about letting its engineers talk. Although paranoia and secrecy make sense when it comes to the select few people who work on the ultra-secret, high-impact projects (like the iPad and especially the iPhone) before they’re announced, it’s counterproductive to muzzle the ones who work mostly or entirely on open-source projects like LLVM.
    [jd sez: For #4, the reality is indeterminate; we do not know. That’s why I wrote “The sheer number of pro-Apple comments filed under untraceable names like ‘ken’ or ‘steve’ does not, in a post-EllieLight world, inspire confidence. Urge your fans to avoid acting as marketing interns would.” You are backing your words with the identity of “willmo” on a gmail account. We know that there is political astroturfing, and that it has been applied to business, so the transparency of real identities does seem essential these days.]

  17. Glenn Fleishman says:

    It’s naive to think that any CEO (former Sun head Schwartz aside) does anything except to maximize the return to shareholders and his or her own wallet.
    Apple’s earnings would seem to obviate any change in executive behavior, no matter how arrogant, impolite, or inexpedient is may appear to be.
    As a reporter on Mac and iPhone stuff, I would love to pieces if I could call Apple and get people on the phone to answer questions all the time. However, I recognize that Apple’s behavior ain’t hurting it in the marketplace.

  18. nik says:

    Apple speaks when it needs to, and focuses on making great, well-integrated products.
    Its “way of talking” is part of the marketing strategy, which has clearly paid off (pun not intended).

  19. brian gillespie says:

    It appears to me that Apple is doing things properly to advance their cause. I mean they are very successful with their current strategy. I would change that strategy because of the reasons you’ve outlined.
    Adobe seems really hurt by the Apple accusations and is pulling out all the stops. To bad you (Adobe) didn’t fix the Flash deficiencies years ago, that was lazy of Adobe.

  20. Eric says:

    Funny, Apple is wildly successful, making money hand over fist, and growing their markets. They make half the profit of Microsoft, their market capitalization is bigger than Dell and HP combined (all the while with teeny tiny market share), and no reason to think the advice people have given them over the past 10 years would have made that one whit better.
    It wouldn’t. For example, people keep telling them to build netbooks with razor-thin profits. Why in the world would they spend all that time and energy diluting their brand to make other people feel their poor choices are valid? It ain’t gonna happen. Apple keeps proving they were right to do it their way, and the pundits are not. When that changes, so will Apple.
    While I would like to more openness and transparency, Apple apparently knows what they are doing. They may be arrogant, but they’re not stupid.

  21. Peter Baird says:

    Regarding external evangelists (#4), I too have been puzzled by the recent jihad declared by the Apple faithful (which I normally consider myself) against the Flash Platform. What puzzled me was that I’ll be the first to admit that there’s been a significant performance gap between Mac and Windows for quite some time… in fact if we all think back to the days of PowerPC, Pre-AS3, Pre-JIT compiler, Pre-bitmap caching, more than 5 years ago, the performance gap was even greater, and even more noticeable. But it’s only recently that there’s been all-out warfare (i.e. “Kill Flash”) declared on Flash by the Apple Faithful.
    But then I realized, what’s fueling all the anti-flash sentiment of late is actually a desire to see flash content on apple devices… not necessarily delivered via the Flash player, but the rich immersive web content that currently isn’t available to the iPhone and iPod. That’s not to discredit the comments about the Player performance, I believe they are sincere, they’re just a convenient excuse for both Apple and the Apple faithful (otherwise we’d see a lot more “how to uninstall Flash Player” posts rather than “try out ClicktoFlash”, where right now it’s all about ClicktoFlash). Now that Steve Jobs has made it clear that the Flash Player won’t be coming to iPod/iPhone/iPad (or has he? Who knows other than rumors), the only way for the Apple Faithful to get the rich content that they actually want on their devices is all-out warfare to try and convince the content producers to move their content to a format that will run on their devices.
    And the irony is that I really do believe Flash performance is really just a convenience excuse, even for Apple. I won’t go into all the reasons, but it’s clear to me that its more of business decision than a performance decision to disallow flash.
    It’s heartening to me that people really do want engaging immersive experiences on the web, even on their devices. But it’s disheartening to me that there so many “civilian casualties” such as Photoshop and CS in the “Apple-Good/Adobe-Bad” narrative that’s being spewed right now.
    – Peter Baird / Adobe

  22. arlen says:

    “1. Get your CEO to either talk, or not.”
    Seems like they’re taking the second alternative you’re offering, to not talk. Especially with a company like Apple, expecting them to drop everything every time some bozo repeats something that Steve Jobs allegedly said would probably drop their productivity by a factor of 2 or 3. So instead they choose to let the rest of the world make all the claims they want, and just ignore them.
    [jd sez: He sorta-talked on the different “Adobe is lazy, buggy and old” stuff, but didn’t take responsibility for it, didn’t say it was an error, didn’t clarify, nada. He spoke but did not speak. I don’t respect that. The tablet launch was another example… see]
    “2. Can that “controlled leak” strategy.”
    Ok, fair request. But anti-productive. Controlled leaks are a time-honored way to see how the public will react to a major effort. It’s a low-cost test market project. Since nearly every business on the planet has used that strategy, I really think this particular requirement is a Bad Idea, and suspect it’s only on your list because it’s been your personal ox that’s been getting gored recently, and if the Flash v iPhone foo-faw wasn’t going on, it wouldn’t be here.
    [jd sez: More that I’m tired of Techmeme showing that technews to be a set of manufactured clusters of things which may or may not be. We’ve been manipulated on the tablet since December. It’s a church.]
    “3. Let your employees speak.”
    Don’t get this one. Must be a personal fetish of yours. I buy from lots of companies without hearing from their employees first, and it doesn’t faze me in the least. Most companies exercise restraint over what their employees can say in public; Apple moreso than most. I just don’t see that as a big problem. I’ve seen other companies where the employees can talk, but can only say good things about their company, regardless of how they really feel they have to put a good spin on it in public. So is requiring employees to essentially lie better than saying they can’t talk at all? Personally, I’d prefer the silence.
    [jd sez: I’d feel better if I knew the people behind the technologies, not just the autocrat and what we thinks I should think. And my opinion of Apple plunged rapidly once I witnessed Apple employees not even daring to identify themselves at industry events. When combined with the marketing manipulation, it’s foul.]
    “4. Urge your external evangelists to speak with attribution,”
    This is unclear. If external evangelists refers to paid contracts, I can agree with this. If it’s just apple fanboys you’re referring to, telling them to do anything at all is pointless, as they’ll just ignore it. That’s been clear for a decade or more. (full disclosure: I was an early Evangelista, id number in the mid three digits. But as it slowly turned from being a truth squad into a hit squad, I left. My experience with that group showed that the fanboys *are* out of control, so require Apple to rein them in is futile.)
    “5. Reduce the unprecedented contractual secrecy;”
    Preserving the secrecy makes the Apple “unveilings” into events, rather than ho-hum, another announcement. Problem (for you) is, the unveilings are good theater that helps sell products. Apparently not to you, and that’s fair enough. But I suspect it works for more people than it fails for, which makes it a valid marketing strategy.
    Lots of companies make marketing decisions that I don’t like. To mention just one as an example, Adobe’s decision to eliminate the best illustration program I’ve ever used (FreeHand) annoyed me no end, and may yet (combined with some other issues on OSX intel machines) result in them losing me as a customer. Still, I’m sure that for every me that walks they’ll pick up someone else, so overall it was probably a good move for them.
    And I think that’s the real point here. Apple chooses their marketing strategies carefully, and while they work for some folks, they don’t work for others. So does every other company on the planet. Pronouncements like this make for good theater, probably make you feel better personally, but really don’t matter a whit, any more than my dissatisfaction over Adobe behavior matters to Adobe. To paraphrase Micawber: One walks out, more than one walks in, result success. One walks out, less than one walks in, result failure.

  23. Jeff Johnson says:

    Back on topic… but targeting iPad.
    Agreed with JD – the minute the iPad is in my hands and i can package ipa to it, i will join in with rigor.
    Until that time, the battery life, the features, are all word-on-faith.
    So in the interest of the desired “Openness” all are hailing, i would encourage Apple and Adobe to do as JD suggests.
    Throw verified bench-markable specifics into this discourse, “skin in the game”, whatever.
    I for one would like to correct the HTML5 as flash in a way that is useful to the non-developer. Both have value and purpose but Apple has muddied this water in a client-confusing manner. There are now misinformed people that think I should be able to convert stuff like to html5 and that is just not possible … but i have now the issue of convincing them because “Apple says so?” WTF signal-to-noise on this is worst-case covered in warts Apple put there.
    If a battle there must be, then man up and do it please, use facts that must prevail, have test-worthy authority and proof cases.
    — CTNdigital = design-centric developers in a shop with both apple and pc- active in beta programs. We take touchscreen interaction very seriously, use Adobe tooling.

  24. Chuck says:

    I totally disagree with your comments, I use a MAC and Windows box and when I go to sites I use a blocker to stop Flash. Flash is a CPU hog and it is buggy, I only turn on flash 1 out of 100 times when I am browsing the internet. I feel Adobe needs to look at its self and see what they can do to improve, the mobile arena is changing more people like HTML 5 and H.264. I have a iPhone and have no problems going to sites that I want to visit. The sites with a blue lego on my iphone get ignored by me.
    [jd sez: That wasn’t what I was talking about… you can confirm this for yourself, up at the top of this page… just skip that section about external evangelists preferring first-name pseudonyms, may cause too much stress…. 😉 (And Flash Player is actually an amazingly reliable and performant little engine.)]

  25. Stephen Doon says:

    I admire that you’re requesting Apple behave in the same manner as Adobe is – you’re standing by the way your employer is acting.
    But let’s examine how this strategy is working for Adobe, just over the past few weeks.
    1. Your Flash evangelist posted offensive images to a Flash blog, claiming that an Apple product was effectively broken without being able to display porn. He also didn’t actually check the facts he was claiming – many of the sites worked fine on the the Apple product. This made him and Adobe look silly.
    2. You CTO made a definitive statement that Flash has never shipped with a security problem, only to have the Flash Product Manager admit, the very next day, that Adobe had shipped Flash with a reported exploit for over 18 months. This made him and Adobe look silly. (Side note: why hasn’t Lynch apologized for his mistake? Wouldn’t that be an essential part of public discourse?)
    3. Adobe and its staffers constantly talking about the lack of Flash has started the public questioning the necessity of Flash, rather than rallying them behind Adobe’s cause. It’s possible this whole discussion would have gone away if only Adobe hadn’t consistently reminded people that the World’s most influential technology company thinks Flash is replaceable. I would argue that this desperation makes Adobe look weak.
    So, I understand that you, John Dowdell, would like Apple to behave a particular way, and if they took your advice then you might buy a new iPod. But can you honestly say that their current approach is harmful compared to the public blunders Adobe are making. The open/talkative approach from Adobe seems to be a disaster.
    [jd sez: Got it… we should strike all bikinis, approve all lotteries, and then have our marketing VP deny it’s a problem…. 😉 I’m challenging the guy to either own his “lazy buggy” or not. (Ya’ll can see why I’m not publishing most of the Gruber-driven comments to this post… making an exception for this Google-Footprintless “Stephen Doon”.)]

  26. Richard Fink says:

    Gee, expecting Apple to behave like a publicly traded company instead of a cult?
    I second the motion.

  27. Brian Miller says:

    Great points.
    Apple once had me as a customer, but as I became a more sophisticated user, I drifted closer to solutions from Intel, Microsoft, Palm, and yes, Adobe.
    Ultimately, Apple does what is best for Apple — as perhaps it should. However, there’s an all-too-frequent tendency for Apple to suggest that what’s best for consumers may not be best for Apple — and block it.
    Proprietary interfaces blocking out competing products (iTunes/Palm), “internet access devices” that block out open Internet standards like Flash, charging for ringtones, and device app monopolies make lots of money for Apple in the short term — at the cost of customers’ best interests. In the long term, however, Apple is going to have to become more customer-centric, open, and engage directly with its community.

  28. Brian says:

    [jd sez: I’m publishing this one, just because he made me CEO or something…. 😉 ]
    I’m surprised this public back-and-forth is taking place between executives of two esteemed organizations in this manner. A quick review of public forums reveals that even though an owner can get around without it, there is clearly a demand for Flash on iPhones/iPads, and there is clearly a benefit for Adobe if Flash were to be installed on iPhones/iPads. Both companies would benefit from a compromise
    What should actually be taking place here is Mr. Jobs asking Mr. Dowdell to fix his laundry list of lazy or buggy problems, and Mr. Dowdell reaching a reasonable compromise on those issues, and then getting Flash on the platform for the sake of the consumers. As for the alleged comments of Mr. Jobs, I’m virtually convinced he said those things, regardless of whether or not he owns up to them. He is, however, a professional and while he may have slipped in front of the wrong people, is keeping himself outside the drama. Furthermore, I have a hard time believing that Mr. Dowdell really thinks his singular iPod purchase would influence Apple to affect these changes to any degree, despite the large audience he commands. Perhaps the intention is to influence the the use of votes (read: dollars) away from Apple products until they agree to install Flash on their platforms. Realize this, as I think history has shown (as with the Fox News v. MSNBC feuds): these public disputes only further entrench the believers into their respective camps.
    On the other hand, far be it from me to admonish industry titans such as these two gentlemen, but they both have vast resources at their respective disposals. I say to you: Why don’t you talk to each other directly and leave the ignorant public out of the question. Or is it simply not “cool” anymore if the whole world can’t view your drama? If it isn’t reality-TV, it isn’t worth watching? Please. All I ask is that you be professional.