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What Steve Jobs really wants

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What Steve Jobs really wants

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In a previous post, I commented on the curious obsession that Apple enthusiasts have to shout to whoever wants to hear it that “Apple is not after market share”.

I read and hear this claim much more often than you think. Just this morning, I was reading an article showing that Apple was losing market share to Android and a few comments down, you find:

Just as in the PC Arena, Apple was happy to keep a 5% market share selling macs that were more expensive than PCs and making fat margins.

Or on this article, from Fortune:

Apple don’t need or want market share. They do want profits. That is all that matters.

Just a few hours ago, John Gruber linked to yet another article showing that despite Apple’s decreasing market share, they are making an insane amount of money with the iPhone.

Maybe we should start betting: whenever an article that is negative to Apple is published, say how many comments it will take before the “Apple doesn’t want market share” claim appears.

In this post, I’d like to dig a bit deeper into this claim, and for those of you who don’t like to wait, let me give away the ending: Apple cares about market share. A lot.

Simple math

Obviously, I have no idea how product decisions are made at Apple or how they are pitched to the board, so I’ll just use my imagination. Picture Steve Jobs explaining a brand new product that he wants Apple to build to the Apple board, and he then says “We’ll be making a lot of money at this price point so we’re shooting for 10%, maybe 5% market share”.

Big laughs, right?


Pop quiz: If you are making a lot of money with 5% market share, how much money will you be making with 10% market share?

That’s right, twice as much.

So please, explain again why a company would not be interested in getting as big a market share as possible? Maybe because being marginal is “cool”? It makes you “think different”? (these days, I think that people not using an iPhone are the ones “thinking different”). So let’s just agree that this claim is preposterous so we can move on to the interesting stuff: why do Apple advocates keep making this claim? And, do they really believe it?

I don’t know the answer to the second question, but the answer to the first one is what I call “failure post rationalization”.

The syndrome

“Failure post rationalization” is actually very easy to explain with a simple anecdote: have you ever read or heard from someone who went for a job interview, was rejected and then said “but it’s okay because I didn’t want to work there anyway”?

Well, that’s it. That’s “failure post rationalization”. There’s really nothing wrong with it, it’s quite a natural feeling, often perceived as a defense mechanism. Sometimes, recognizing that we failed at something is hard to admit, so our psyche takes a little detour and it tries to explain that it wasn’t really a failure, more like something that you actually wanted but never realized. It makes people feel better about themselves, a bit like religion or ice cream.

So when Apple advocates say “Apple is not interested in market share, all they want is profits”, they are actually post rationalizing a failure to gain market share. Apple creates products to get both market share and profits but when they fail to achieve a commanding market share, advocates explain this by saying that Apple didn’t want market share in the first place.

Now, there is something deeply troubling about Apple *advocates* (not Apple employees, not Steve Jobs) making this claim over and over. Keep in mind that failure post rationalization is a very personal feeling. It’s something you do about yourself. Imagine that your friend comes to you and says:

“You know I was interviewing for this new job the other day?”
“Yes, how did it go?”
“Bad, I didn’t get the job”
“It’s okay, you didn’t want to work there anyway”

Bizarre, isn’t it? You are trying to comfort your friend, but that’s probably not the best way to go about it because you don’t really know whether they wanted that job or not (most likey, they did, or they wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of interviewing in the first place).

When Apple advocates are trying to rationalize articles that are negative toward Apple by saying that Apple doesn’t care about market share, they are in effect acting like you telling your friend that he didn’t want this job anyway. I’m betting that Steve Jobs and Apple executives roll their eyes whenever they read this… “Well, we do want market share, but thanks for coming to our defense”.

Now, I know why you would say something like this: he’s your friend and you are trying to make him feel better, but why do Apple advocates feel so defensive when they read negative articles about Apple? Why do they feel the need to come to the defense of the company? To feel better about their own choices, probably? But what does their personal choice of buying an Apple device have to do with Apple being attacked?

It’s mystifying to me.

What’s even more puzzling to me is that anyone who says that Steve Jobs and Apple are not interested in market share know very little about Apple’s history and close to nothing about Steve Jobs’ past.

The man behind the curtain

I got my first “real” computer (not counting HP programmable calculators or Sharp’s awesome PC-1211) around 1979. It was an Apple ][ and I was ten years old. Saying that it changed my life would be an understatement since there is no doubt in my mind that I caught the hacker bug at exactly the time when I wrote my first Applesoft Basic program. Over the years that followed, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs became my idols and I set out to learn as much about the computer they created as about themselves. I bought and read two biographies about Steve Jobs in the following years, and I never saw him in the same light after this.

Leaving the person aside since it’s not relevant to my points, let’s focus on the businessman.

Steve Jobs has achieved an amazing number of things throughout his life, and here are some of his achievements and recognitions:

  • One of the best CEO’s of this decade.
  • A product visionary.
  • Creating products that lead to high, if not highest, user satisfaction.
  • A leader that understands what users want and who can make it happen.
  • Personal wealth.
  • Wealth for his company, his employees and many other people.
  • The creator of many disruptive innovations.

There is one thing that’s missing from this list: ubiquity (actually, there’s also charity work, but let’s leave that aside for now).

Think about this list for a second. With such a track record, would you really care that much that your latest product is generating millions of dollars or that your company tops user satisfaction? It’s nice, of course, but Steve Jobs has done that over and over again, it can’t really be that exciting any more.

What would be exciting: if instead of Windows, 90% of the computers on planet were using Mac OS and 90% of cell phone users were using iPhones.

That’s it, that’s Steve Jobs’ last challenge. The one thing that probably keeps him awake at night.

Market share.


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