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Apple's bad seeds


Michael Baker

Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo: Reuters


Just as Hurricane Sandy was about to cut a swath across the north-eastern US on Monday night, 3500 kilometres away in Cupertino, California, Apple CEO Tim Cook was cutting a swath of his own, this one through the executive ranks of his own company.

The heads on the chopping block belonged to Scott Forstall, head of Apple's mobile operating system, and John Browett, senior vice-president of retail.

Both men had been associated with recent slip-ups. Forstall was identified with the defective Apple Maps program that went over poorly with consumers when it replaced Google Maps on iOS 6, leading to a public apology from Cook being posted on the company's website in late September.

Forstall was also not known for his ability to create harmony with fellow executives, reportedly refusing to even sit in the same room with one of his peers.

Browett's immediate departure as head of retail after only six months was not surprising either. As overseer of Apple's retail stores, he had dared to suggest back in August that Apple's store operations were too bloated and he planned to slim them down. Browett proposed to cut back on staff numbers at selected outlets and reduce the hours worked by some employees at other stores.

Bad move, according to many in the uproar that followed.

After being pilloried in the blogs and tech columns, Browett was forced to apologise and retract his decision. Apple issued one of its public mea culpas, trotting out the usual corporate blah blah of "Our employees are our most important asset and the ones who provide the world-class service our customers deserve."

It's true that Apple's retail stores are heavily identified with service and typically have a lot of blue shirts swarming around. The question though is whether or not Browett really had a point and ended up being hoisted on his own petard simply because his decision made bad PR rather than bad operational sense.

Even Apple can have too many or too few staff at a store and any company that cannot finetune it's workforce to match demand for fear of a PR problem is headed for trouble. It is hard to believe that Browett didn't make the original decision to cut staff hours without having done a lot of homework.

The store staffing issue will resonate in Australia where Apple still has plenty further to go with its retail rollout. The problem is not just one of numbers of people on the shop floor but also their quality. The customer experience at Apple stores is not uniformly positive even now, and as any retail chain expands it has increasing difficulty maintaining quality control over standards.

But the problems in Cupertino reflect more on the rough time Apple is having with its product releases.

Dan Swinhoe, an analyst with IDG Connect, a division of technology media company International Data Group, suggested in a post last week that Apple's aura was fading. Under the header Are We All Suffering From Apple Apathy? Swinhoe articulated the public reaction to the latest series of Apple products such as the iPad Mini as follows: “And now, for the first time since the rebirth of Apple, people and the press are asking, "Do I care? Do I need it?" And it seems that the answer is no.”

Michael Baker is principal of Baker Consulting and can be reached at and

29 comments so far

  • The cracks are starting to appear...

    Date and time
    October 31, 2012, 11:00AM
    • I think the cracks have been there a long time but were covered up by Jobs and his media friends. Apple is no longer the 'can do no wrong' media star and is now proving that it is just another technology company like the others. Not so special after all.

      Date and time
      November 01, 2012, 9:03AM
    • The cracks may well be appearing, but not on the basis of any of the evidence trumpeted here. The 'do I need it? No' refrain is run out at every one of Apple's less dramatic launches, ever. So nothing new there.

      Wired also reported Forstall cashed in about 90% of his share options back in April, so perhaps not the dramatic departure click-hungry publications are portraying.

      Also, the operationally-sound, PR-disastrous staffing question ignores the obvious: was it strategically sound? Apple rewrote the retail experience book and staff are key to that. Dixons -under CEO Browett - are moribund when it comes to service and are now on the cusp of shuttering.

      Date and time
      November 01, 2012, 12:08PM
  • Do I care Do I need it??? Huh? Do You blindly buy each and every product they release? NO? How about NOT buying it then?? Duh!

    Talk about 'Brand Troll'. Apple too successful for you? Need to cut them down to size?

    I think it is a great product in a really convenient size for MY needs and I WILL be buying one.

    Word of advice? Don't buy stuff you don't need.

    Baker Failer
    Date and time
    October 31, 2012, 11:02AM
    • You must be tired regurgitating these lines every time an negative article about Apple comes out. What exactly is the point of your argument other than angry shouting hoping to prevent people talking about issues?

      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 2:30PM
    • Will it really fill that void that nothing else could fill? My favorite comment in relation to the ipad mini really suits you. "My imac is far too big, my macbook air is too big, my ipad is just abit too big but my iphone is too small, luckily for the ipad mini, phew". I have apple products but would never say that everything they build is just what is needed. The amazon kindle fire HD is a much better device overall clearly.

      Date and time
      November 01, 2012, 5:28PM
  • Well it seems after the underwhelming response (and rightly so) to the same-same iOS and iPhone 5, Cook has finally realised that Apple actually needs to innovate to compete with the likes of W8 and Android. Incremental updates can only satisfy long time customers for so long before their friend's competing devices start looking and acting far superior. While I'm sure the new Apple products will sell and sell well, flogging the dead donkey is not a long term solution. Hopefully this reshuffle will help Apple innovate.

    Benzine Bunny
    Date and time
    October 31, 2012, 11:03AM
    • Underwhelming? The iPhone 5 pre-orders sold out in record time and iOS 6 has seen the fastest uptake of an OS in history. You may not like Apple or their products but plenty of people do. They would have sold even more iPhone 5's if the decision to make the unique aluminium unibody hadn't slowed production.

      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 5:00PM
    • JoBlo,

      Not too long ago, RIM/Blackberry was in same situation. Sales kept growing and profits kept increasing, but the signs were there that they were past the peak. Same here.

      iRony here is, this is a company that claims software is everything, but keeps pushing product upgrades that just give nothing more than a faster CPU.

      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 7:55PM
    • @Yash
      Rather than just saying the signs are there, how about explaining which signs point to the imminent collapse of Apple and life as we know it? It's easy to say something, quite another to demonstrate it.

      As JoBlo quite rightly pointed out, Apple simply can't make enough of their products to satisfy demand. Does that sound like a company in trouble to you? RIM in their heyday would have begged to be in such a position. ANY company would give their eye teeth to be that position. Unfortunately, RIM's success came from obscurity; they were the only ones doing what they did. As soon as some decent competition came along in the form of iPhone and, later, Android phones, RIM's cracks were obvious for all to see.

      Apple will be around for a long time to come.

      Evidence, please
      Date and time
      November 01, 2012, 1:35PM

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