Peak Happy

Meghan Kelly’s VentureBeat article about the iCloud password reset flaw a few days ago still hasn’t been updated to reflect Apple’s reaction, which was, as usual, to squash the bug and move on, according to this Verge post posted that same evening. The problem, as it existed earlier that day and was exhaustively reported on by several tech news agencies and re-posted by several mainstream news agencies, does not exist anymore - in fact, it lasted less than a day. If you were to read the article, as I did today after catching a link to it on the front page of the Post, you wouldn't know that.

Now, I initially attributed Kelly’s negligence to update her article as just that: negligence. Something stuck out to me as odd, though - before Apple announced that they had solved the problem, they responded to a few news outlets and confirmed that yes, there was a problem, and they were working on a solution, that they care about security, blah blah blah. That comment was reported on by the same news outlets, and Kelly updated her post to include the comment. So, why did she include the comment from Apple, but not the fix from Apple?

That was when I reread the title of her post: “New Apple flaw lets hackers change your Apple ID and iCloud passwords”1

Not "Apple security flaw". Not "Apple password reset flaw". Not even "Apple iCloud flaw", targeting it to a specific product area of their company. It's a flaw with Apple themselves. That's the reason this is a story at all - that's the news, and it would still be the news whether they fixed it that day, that week, or ever. Hot off the presses: Apple Is Not Perfect. No big deal, except it's inclusion in the Washington Post Social Reader gave it a headline on the front page of the Washington Post.

Of all the recent discussions about the problems facing Apple going into 2013, I think this is their biggest. It's the one that will color the perception of every product they release, will direct every PR move they make and will influence everything from their tech support to their stock price. Apple's biggest problem is that they are held to a standard that not even they can possibly meet anymore.

This has been a long time coming. It started January 10, 2007, they day after Steve Jobs went on stage at Macworld and announced the iPhone. Tech journalists and Apple fans alike still share stories about the day before. I wasn't even in the game at that time, I only heard about it later from many very, very excited people.2

What was so remarkable about that day was, well, the phone for one, but more importantly that it marked an astonishing feat in product marketing.

Up until that point, I think it's fair to say that no product had been hyped, speculated about, critiqued on its mere concept, hypothetically mused about, and fervently anticipated than Apple's entry into this market. Seriously, read some archives of some tech sites and see what it was like. Even more remarkable was that every prediction was based in literally nothing: Apple had announced nothing and kept its entire campus sealed shut, and not once did a design leak, a part find its way out of Thailand, or an employee whisper a thing.

And then, amidst a murmur of anticipation like nothing else, Apple did the impossible and surpassed every expectation. Multitouch, full web browsing, fully featured email. Every bullet point was greeted with thunderous applause and joyous screams of delight. Don't believe me? Watch it. They can't contain themselves.3

Apple hit a point very few companies or artists ever get to hit: Peak Happy, or the moment where they cannot possibly be loved and adored any more than they are at that moment. Michael Jackson had one. Michael Jordan had one. Apple had one.

Just one.

Apple's next few years were the best years any company has had in the history of people keeping track of companies. That fact is without dispute. Any company, given the opportunity, would give anything for the opportunity to have the worst of Apple's last 24 quarters. It's like they printed money that came with an app that also printed money.

But nothing they did could come close to how well the iPhone annoucement went. That was Peak Happy, and everything they've done since sits in its shadow. Every release since that time has, in some way, come up short: the iPhone 3G and 3GS were remarkable iterations on the concept and drastic improvements to the original iPhone, but they battled insanely high expectations; the iPhone 4 set the standard for the already-fiercely-competitive industry, but the phone was no longer a surprise and it suffered criticism for an antenna design flaw; the iPhone 4S was a substantial internal improvement, but it was regarded as boring because it didnt have a new outer shell.

Never mind that each iPhone has sold more phones than all iPhones that preceded it combined. Never mind that it's still the most popular individual phone in the world, and never mind that it's year old version is the second-most popular phone in the world. Never mind the J.D. Power ratings, the explosion it created in the enterprise that has changed the landscape of IT forever, the development community, or the extrordinary amount of money they have made.

Those aren't the areas in which Apple is expected to compete, and their preformance in those areas are not the way the public measures Apple. Their judgment of Apple is and, for the forseeable future, will be based on how they currently measure up to their highest point. That's easy for some companies, but impossible for Apple.


1. Yes, that is quoted directly in context, with the (updated) flag removed. They apparently don’t need to title-case titles at VentureBeat. And can I also add that they append text to the clipboard when copying text, bringing them into the lead for Most Annoying Internet Experience of the Day?4 
2. That was shortly followed by, no joke, the first time I was told by a phone salesman from AT&T that "the iPhone was nothing, the phone you should really be excited about is this thing coming from google called 'Android'." No joke - The then-Cingular-now-AT&T store in West Windsor, NJ.
3. My favorite part is at 31:10 where Steve Jobs does his best Larry David impersonation.
4. See, that’s title-case, assholes.