To be clear, the argumentation presented here is not in defense of Ping, which is decidedly mediocre, but in defense of Apple. As an early respondent to Apple’s new service rollout, commending the company’s strategy (together with many others) on the afternoon of its release,Â I feel obligated to now defend Apple against widespread criticism. It’s silly to think so, I know, but with popular enthusiasm for Ping dwindling fast, a little advocacy and some perspective can’t hurt. At the very least, this could be more original these days than the alternative, as referenced.
First, it is unfair to judge a social networking product that has been in the market for days on the same basis as anything that has been around for years. When Facebook was rolled out, for example, or (less comparably) Twitter, none but a handful of very early adopters knew about these services, and the features offered were far lesser (in quantity as well as quality) to what we today take for granted. With increased usage and popular attention, social networks improve. With passing time and experimentation, consumer applications do also. This brings us to the second point: Apple’s product development culture and its product rollout style.
This may be best to illustrate with contrasting images; and as is standard procedure when contrasting Apple to anything, Google serves as natural counterpoint. While probably unfair to single out unsuccessful launches such as Buzz or Wave absolutely, the style demonstrated by both of these – and by Google’s general approach to product development – is noteworthy. Lacking a better way to describe, let’s call it the “everything-and-the-kitchen-sink” method. This is a style characterized by muchness, by something for everyone, by assortment and selections to keep several planets busy after the core market is saturated. And yet, we still mainly use search, YouTube, and Gmail, and we had no idea what to do with Wave. In short, Google begins with largesse, and eventually shrinks to the core. (Which may be a result of its technology-focused culture.)
Apple, on the other hand, does the opposite. The iPod at its initial launch had almost no features at all, other than the buttons normally found on a casette deck. Now, it is a web-browsing device with 250,000 apps and a built-in camera. Between these two milestones, the company spent considerable resources understanding the market, perfecting a design, listening to the customer. This approach is more patient and long-term oriented, and it is one that allowed Apple to segue from iPod to iPad seamlessly. It is a style based on progress in stages, building incrementally and with a distant view. Throughout Apple’s history of innovation, the first version of anything is never the last, but an original point in a series that extends and improves from the origin.
As I read countless complaints and panicked advice related to Ping, from Apple’s admirers and detractors alike, I can’t help but feel that we misunderstand the situation. When Google introduces a product that has – literally – everything built in, any semblance of incompleteness or market dissatisfaction will be an ominous foreboding: let’s face it, there is nothing left to do. When Apple, on the other hand, launches a product that is obviously incomplete, unsatisfactory by most standards, and with almost nothing built in, this is neither a positive nor a negative indication. This is how Apple does stuff. For better or worse, and with exceptions, the company has proven that a long-term plan is always followed. We must stay tuned, relaxed, and watch the stock price continue to outperform.