When Apple Became Microsoft, and Other Business Tragedies

Steve Jobs was a hologram -- you could see in him whatever you wanted to see. Visionary, mean boss, bully, genius of the century -- all were true.

The sad thing is that his company, just a year after his passing, has surrendered what made it special.

The core difference between Apple and its competitors, especially Microsoft, wasn't innovation, sleek design, or savvy marketing and sales, as critical as each of those elements are to Apple's success. The real differences: Apple's insistence that no product go out the door until it is absolutely perfect.

This was the biggest point of difference between Steve Jobs' Apple on the one hand and Bill Gates' Microsoft and all of the other technology companies on the other.

Microsoft viewed and views the world as a bunch of unpaid beta testers. Its attitude is this: We're going to unleash a new piece of software, operating program, hardware device, or whatever. It's going to be buggy. It's going to be a mess. You'll get back to us, and you'll tell us where the problems are.

And you'll pay us for the privilege to do so.

That's Microsoft's model, and as the 700-pound gorilla, or 7,000-pound gorilla, or 7 million-pound gorilla, it could get away with it.

Enter Apple, under Steve Jobs.

Sometimes he would set a deadline and make it stick, as he did when he introduced the first iPod. But by and large, nothing left Apple until it was absolutely perfect.

You weren't just paying for the innovation and the sleek design. You were paying for the experience of perfection.

Tim Cook may be a great manager, a great barbecue guy, and a terrific Little League dad, for all I know. But so far he's proven himself singularly lousy at carrying on Steve Jobs' most important legacy: the delivery of perfection.

Here are three disasters that have occurred in the last 12 or so months, all under Tim Cook's watch:

1. Apple Maps. What a stinking mess. Anybody who's used it -- and I'm one of them -- can tell you that the thing is so mistake-filled that even Microsoft would be too shame-faced to launch it. And yet, Apple was so insistent on detaching from Google Maps that it put an inferior product into the marketplace.

I've seen stories about people who have been told to cross airport runways in Alaska because of the directions they got from Apple Maps. Just this week, my daughter and I were looking for a restaurant in Los Angeles and instead we were giving options...in Krakow, Poland. I kid you not.

2. Siri. Siri works incredibly well about two-thirds of the time. The other third, it dials the wrong person, takes down your dictation incorrectly for the text, otherwise screws up, or declares itself unavailable for tasks right now: please try back later.

Tim Cook's Apple, defending Siri, hid behind the fig leaf of beta-dom -- they claimed that Siri was still in beta, and that's why it was okay that it made all those mistakes.

But wait a minute. Apple's the company that never released anything in beta. That's what Microsoft did. That's why you paid the premium for Apple. Oops.

3. The 7.0 operating system. It's an ugly mess. People are literally getting nauseous or seasick from the floating icons. The operating system, from a user's standpoint, is not nearly as intuitive or attractive as the previous version. But Apple won't let you go back to 6.0, claiming security reasons. Are you kidding me?

There's no way on earth that Steve Jobs would ever have permitted Apple Maps, beta Siri, or the 7.0 operating system to leave Cupertino.

He would never have shipped anything that was less than perfect.

Apple's stock has taken a massive beating on Wall Street, and I don't think anyone's terribly surprised. And in the marketplace, Apple's devices have lost their coolness factor to Samsung, to Android, and for all I know, to Microsoft.

Apple stands at the crossroads. After Walt Disney died prematurely, his company hewed to his vision, and after some misfires, runs stronger than ever -- based on Disney's own relentless pursuit of perfection, to borrow Lexus's tagline. Tim Cook stands at the turning point. He can either turn Apple into Disney or into Microsoft.

He can either stand for perfection or be responsible for trashing what made Apple so unique.

I'd keep going, but I'm heading to the phone store. Gonna get me a Galaxy. I've had enough.