[This is a response from Dave Nagel of Apple to Dave Winer’s editorial in TidBITS-251. -Adam]
You’re wrong in thinking that we neither value our developers nor recognize their contributions. We do – very much – on both counts. On the other hand, you’re right in saying that we have shanked the developer program in the past. The gentlemen you mention certainly did their magic, but I fear I also contributed shortly after "taking the helm."
We are working hard to fix these problems – and to improve the fortunes (literally) of our developers. I have constantly been on the bandwagon during the past six months – inside AppleSoft and out – about the importance of doing what we can do to make our developers successful. Recently, at our three international sales meetings, I tried to rouse the field people into being much more aggressive with helping "local" developers succeed with their products and their businesses. Of course, the best thing we could do would be to increase our market share – but that’s a longer story (which will unfold by itself, I am sure).
We are in the process of revamping our developer programs with a view to helping the smaller developer. We also are trying to work more closely with key large developers (the usual suspects) since their support for the platform is both central to success in the commercial market segments and important for the press. To succeed in the platform game, it’s clear we have to deal effectively with both the trade and popular press – you can’t imagine how much time this takes. [It must take a lot, since the Apple PR people haven’t yet called me back from a question I posed back in September, and we never get any press releases or official release information. -Tonya]
So there are a number of things we are doing – and I am very serious about that. Does it mean that I’ll always do everything right by the developers? Probably not (from their point of view), but I am trying hard to balance the realities of our current business model with the need to do everything possible to help developers – both large and small – succeed better on our platform than on the other platform.
I know the good old guys are no longer around and, from your perspective, Dave, there are often a bunch of "suits" in their places. But the world and our business are more complex than when the pioneers were around. So… different folks, different problems, different behaviors – some for the better, some for the worse. What does seem to be a constant is that virtually everyone at Apple does want to make a difference – the culture here is still far, far from being IBM-like. I think we’ve lost a lot of the "major personalities" and this has created a different experience for those of you who deal with us.
It has been a difficult transition for us over the past couple of years. Our profitability (gross margins) were more than halved in a little over a year. That factor alone created incredible pressures (apart from the layoff – itself a delightful experience). Those pressures are certainly felt by our employees, virtually all of whom work incredibly hard to make our platform a success. Admittedly, it’s been difficult at times to keep morale high: employees are barraged every day with popular and trade press opinions that we’re going to be crushed under the Gates steamroller. (Maybe if he starts spending more of his time in those old book auctions…).
And, of course, there are a lot of start-ups right now (particularly in multimedia) and many of our employees are being targeted. We’ve always had a superior work force – it’s one of the real strengths of Apple. I don’t know if you know, but Bill opened a recruiting office in Cupertino just down the street from our R&D facility. Morale is pretty good now (it was certainly at a low point six months ago) but these things can change quickly. Keeping morale high is a major goal.
So, we have changed and will continue to change. But don’t pay too much attention to superficial details. There is a certain core of the culture that’s intact – there’s a tremendous passion at Apple to do great products and to be a great company. The styles are different and perhaps the pressure is greater; the go-go, indulgent 80’s are over and folks here are hunkering down and working without some of the flamboyance of the past.
I feel more positive than I’ve felt for years. We have a good strategy; we have some fantastic technologies and great people; we’re developing some new and aggressive marketing talent; we’re working on mostly the right things; the other side has its share of problems to look forward to in the next couple of years; and we’ve adjusted to our new financial model extremely well. Obviously, I don’t want to appear to be too much of a Pollyanna – success is certainly not guaranteed. But I truly think we are better situated to succeed than we have been. And I can guarantee you it’s going to be as exciting as hell the next couple of years!