Dear Apple, I’m leaving you

There follows a letter to Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple:

Dear Tim,

There’s no easy way to put this so I’ll just come right out with it. I’m leaving you. It’s been great (mostly) but it’s over.

I figured the least I could do is to explain my decision in full – I like to think it might help protect you from nasty break-ups like this in the future.

I’ve been with you, with Apple I mean, for 13 years now – ever since 1999. Perhaps you’ve forgotten: I was a spotty teenager; I bought one of your cute little translucent iBooks. Slowly but surely I painted most parts of my technological life a bright shade of Apple. Let’s see: I’ve owned two iMacs, a number of iBooks, countless Macbooks (I’ve currently got two on the go, for some unknown reason), an iPhone for almost five years, an iPad since the very beginning; iPods, iPod touches, iPod nanos – I’ve had ’em all. I even invested in an Apple TV and, wait for it, a G4 Power Mac Cube (yes, that was me!).

I’ll admit I became dependent on you – clingy, even. When I went to the States a couple of years back I shelled out hundreds of dollars to ensure I wouldn’t be without an iPhone – even though I was back at college and wasn’t exactly rolling in it. And like so many of those who fall in love with you, soon enough I found myself working part-time as your best PR spokesman: I spent hours persuading all my friends to buy your stuff. I even wrote a blog about what made Apple such a dynamic, innovative and successful company.

Like millions of others, I really believed the hype.

I never thought I would utter these words, but here goes: I’m leaving you. I have already traded in my iPhone for a Samsung.

Now, this is the point where I know I’m expected to say: “it’s not you, it’s me,” but I can’t, because the truth is: “it’s not me, it’s you”. Now, I know you don’t like lists (at least I presume that’s why you avoided including a task application in Mac OS and iOS for so many years) but it’s only right that I run through the issues:

1. iOS 6

Yes, I know I’m hardly the first to mention this – but that doesn’t make it any less valid as a complaint. It is truly, truly awful. I’m usually ready to forgive one or two niggles in a new iteration of operating system. After all, they’re usually outweighed by the improvements. In this case, I honestly can’t think of a single new feature that in any way enhances the phone. Every change you’ve made is negative.

The maps application is utterly horrendous; you must have known this is among the most commonly-used of all functional parts of a smartphone and that to change it quite so substantially would be seriously disruptive. Yes, I know you’ve magnanimously urged users to use alternatives, but the problem is that even if I try to use Google maps on your safari browser (it hardly ever works on Safari but let’s leave that for the time being), I can’t avoid the fact that crappy iOS maps are integrated into every other geographically-reliant app I have.*

I know you’re a pragmatic fellow: I suspect you might even give future users the option to change this. But the fact is that’s not the only disconcertingly disastrous issue with iOS. Take iTunes Match. In the previous iOS I could download any individual song in my iTunes Match library, so I could listen to it overseas without data or when in the Tube. Now your dreadful new operating system will only let me download whole albums and then won’t let me delete them afterwards, so my iPhone gets clogged up with stuff before arbitrarily deleting precious chunks of data when it reaches capacity.

It’s as if you think I should never have had the right to have chosen what songs to have, and to delete, on my own iPhone in the first place. Which I find a little controlling, to tell you the truth. As do I find the fact that you now seem to have decided to allow the iOS to decide unilaterally to use the telephone network rather than wifi when it so chooses. Given how badly you screwed up with the whole secret GPS-tracking of iPhone users, I’d have thought you realised we don’t like it when you behave creepily like this. It’s seriously not cool, but then more on that later.

All the new, exciting apps you’ve brought in are, I’m afraid to say, rubbish. Podcasts: dismal and buggy. Facebook integration: should have been there years ago. Passbook: erm – seriously? Siri’s improvements are lost on me because, like most users, the only time I’ve engaged with Siri is to see how many swear words he/she/it understands (answer: a surprising number).

Finally, for some reason iOS also seems to have broken the tilt-scrolling in Instapaper, which I resent because, well, I just use that app a lot.

2. You’ve lost it

Yes, I realise that’s going to sound harsh. But there’s no point in sugaring the pill.

I’ll be specific: for most of our relationship, there were two things I could rely on from Apple. The first was that your products would work far better than PCs. Windows PCs would get viruses, they would be difficult to fix, they would break down and leave you tearing your hair out. The second thing is that although you weren’t necessarily the most innovative company out there, you would just do it right. You weren’t the first company to make a smartphone (Nokia Communicator, anyone?) but you were the first to do it well. The same goes for mp3 players, for tablet computers, for family photo software, for media management (for the first half of iTunes’s life). You were never about innovation, but you were damn good at execution and flair.

Not any more. This is going to sound awful, but I can’t think of any big product you’ve re-imagined well since the iPad, and that was almost three years ago. iCloud? Not as good as dropbox, and actually more confusing. FaceTime? Slick, but still pales in comparison with Skype. iMessages? Mostly annoying, particularly when it sends messages twice. Siri? See the previous point. Safari? Not as good as Chrome or Firefox. Safari’s Reader function? Not as good as Instapaper. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Plus, my Mac simply doesn’t work that well any more. The contacts on my iPhone don’t seem to sync very well with my laptop. Aperture is extraordinarily slow and buggy, Pages and Numbers are a bit of a nonsense. It just feels like you don’t make the best software anymore. And it doesn’t fit together as seamlessly as in the past.

3. You’re not cool anymore

Again, this is probably a body blow, but it’s also true. It’s not merely that I now have to put up with your products being used by my mother. The fact is that Apple used to be edgy; it used to be associated with the counterculture; it used to be rebellious. I liked that. I liked the fact that you were uncompromising. When you introduced the iMac you ditched the serial ports and insisted everyone had to make do with USB ports, despite the fact there was approximately one printer in the world which worked with USB. You were the first to ditch disc drives and DVD drives. I’m not alone but I liked the way you refused to put Flash on your devices. Plus I liked the fact that unlike Google and pretty much every other big company you and your fellow execs would never go to navel-gazing networking conferences like the World Economic Forum in Davos. There was something cool about that attitude.

These days, you’re all too ready to compromise. Do you want to know the beginning of the end of our relationship? It was when you decided to include an SD slot in your MacBooks. Why? I can’t imagine the Apple of old ever doing this; there is no inherent reason why you need one in your laptop, save to compromise. And in compromising, you’ve become too complex. I remember the first iMac: it was the first computer you didn’t really need an instruction manual for. When iOS came out I found myself having to download the manual and wade through its 156 pages (156, FFS Tim!) to find out what you’d done with the settings I used to use. That’s the first time I’ve ever had to use an Apple instruction manual.

Apple used to be about purity, which in turn made its products simpler and more reliable; somewhere along the way, this got lost. Or rather, Apple under Steve Jobs used to be about purity: when he wasn’t at the helm in the 90s, it also made the kind of compromises I’m talking about here.

And then there’s your advertising. You were the company which came up with the best advert in history.

These days your ads are not merely awful and patronising – they are palpably worse than the competition.

Finally, there’s that legal letter you sent to Samsung when you failed, churlishly, to get their tablets banned. I challenge anyone to read that and not conclude you’re bitter, chippy and, frankly, a little unpleasant.

In short, you are so not cool.

4. You’re screwing us

You might be surprised to learn that the final straw for me wasn’t the maps debacle. It wasn’t iOS 6. It wasn’t even the fact that you’re not cool anymore. I’m not cool anymore so I probably shouldn’t really expect better from you.

No: the final straw was when you decided to replace the dock on the bottom of all your iPhones and iPads with the new “lightening dock”. I’ve heard your explanations: that it’ll allow your devices to be thinner, that it’s a faster connector and all that. I don’t buy it. The main reason you did this is the main reason you seem to be bringing your products out in ever shorter product cycles: planned obsolescence. You’re aware that the more frequently something is out-of-date, the more often we’ll have to buy more Apple stuff. Now, I was willing to put up with that when it felt as if there was genuinely progress between iterations, when there was a shed of aspiration about it, but by the time you unveiled the lightening connector I wasn’t so sure. All it means is that I have to throw out all the devices I’ve bought over the past years which plug into my iPhone: adaptors, radios, speakers and so on. It’s a really low-down thing to do – particularly since the lightening connector is patently not that much faster than the existing dock.

Anyway, I guess you could say it was a Eureka moment. Finally, I realised that you’ve been working your way here for years: the fact that you give up supporting old Macs far quicker than before; that you won’t let us download and delete our own music from your cloud. You realise there isn’t much money long-term in being a pure manufacturer. You want to turn yourself into a quasi-service, where we constantly need to buy or subscribe to one of your products. I see the point – it’s economic genius. The problem is that it’s not inspiring in the slightest; and the products are no longer wowing us enough to detract from the venality of it. And I’m just tired and, worse, bored of it.

5. I don’t need you any more

That’s right. I’ve realised – and it’s been a revelation – that I could get on perfectly fine without you. A couple of years ago when I moved to the States I couldn’t envisage a day without my iPhone. But today it strikes me I might be just as happy with one of your rivals. How do I know? Well… the truth is, I haven’t been entirely honest with you. I did spend a few months with someone else last year. Don’t be mad: I was between iPhones and I filled the lonely miserable gap with an HTC Android phone. And while I tried to ignore it at the time, the fact is, it was actually pretty good. Yes, there were niggles and a few annoyances, but we got along surprisingly well. And I’ll get on pretty well with it again, because the fact is, Tim: I’m leaving you for an Android. I can get everything I need from a phone from them as well. My email, my messages, maps that work, my contacts (they’re stored with Google anyway and that integrates far better into an Android phone); Evernote, Instapaper, Whatsapp, my tube timetables and bus times. I’ll probably ditch iTunes Match in favour of Amazon Cloud Player or Google Drive, and, frankly, good riddance after the way you’ve treated us mobile users of the service. I’ll miss some of the apps, I’m sure – Reeder to name just one. I’ll miss the hundreds of text messages sitting on my iPhone. I’ll miss… Actually, I can’t think of anything else right now.

I’ll hang onto my iPad for the time being. I’ll certainly keep the Macbook Air – I’m not quite ready to return to Windows yet. But right now, for the first time since I started buying computers, I’m no longer absolutely certain that the next piece of technology I’ll buy will automatically have your logo on the back.

Don’t take it personally. Well, do, if it helps inspire you to make better and bolder products. This need not be forever. You can still win me back: but you’ll need to do something special again, like you did in the good old days. Reinvent the TV, like you reinvented the phone. Revolutionise finance. Overhaul the home entirely. Think Different – as your predecessor Steve Jobs used to say. Perhaps the problem is you’re not the same person any more. You’re not Steve. Perhaps.

Either way, I’m tired of settling for mediocrity from you these days.


Yours affectionately,


* Though I admit some – some – of the 3D maps of cities are seriously cool. But prettiness is not enough to compensate me for the times you’ve got me lost.

Unequal world: enormous gulf in incomes between countries and regions

Brilliant graphic from the OECD showing the disparity in disposable incomes between different regions. As you can see, disposable incomes in the richest region of Paris (Ile de France) are roughly in line with the lowest-paid region of the United States.

UPDATE (13:45): As a number of you have pointed out on Twitter, the disparity between European and non-European countries in the graphic above has to be set against the fact that most European states have welfare systems which are more generous than those in place in the US and elsewhere.

Central London is no longer the most lucrative place in Europe

Before the financial crisis, inner London had the highest level of average disposable income (eg post-tax take-home pay adjusted for inflation) in Europe – peaking at almost €30,000 per person. According to Eurostat figures, it has now lost this crown to Luxembourg. The full data for this are from Eurostat and can be found here. They only run up to 2009 (though the latest numbers came out earlier this year), but I suspect the divergence may have widened since.

Limited liability is the real issue with banks

Steve Cecchetti at the Bank for International Settlements hits the nail on the head in this speech on financial regulation [pdf]:

The fundamental problem is that the private interests of banks and bankers can diverge from those of society at large. This is especially true when it comes to the stability of the system and the direct or indirect burden on taxpayers. The source of this conflict is limited liability: the fact that owners and employees are not held financially accountable beyond their actual investment. What this means is that the bank’s owners and managers have a call option on the firm.

I’ve argued repeatedly that one of the fundamental weaknesses in the efforts to regulate finance is that they have stopped short of re-examining whether it really is right to allow investment banks to incorporate themselves as limited liability companies – thus shielding their investors from the full cost of their collapse. Bringing back unlimited liability for banks may not be practicable (in that it would be an enormous revolutionary step which would naturally terrify anyone with a share in a bank) but it’s only right to step back and think about what went wrong in the ownership structures of banks that brought us to this pretty pass.