Here’s an exercise for you.
Start with a basic premise: Apple has lost its way/ can’t focus/ has too many things on its plate/ doesn’t have a sense of the future like they used to/ hates pros/ etc.
Next, take everything Apple does for the next year and filter it through that premise, emphasizing anything that remotely supports it and ignoring anything that doesn’t.
There. I just saved you from reading Apple commentary for all of 2017. You can easily predict the blogosphere's reaction to anything Apple does.
I’m being facetious, of course, but it does seem that much of what passes for big thinking around Apple circles these days is basically confirmation bias.
We’ve been here before. Welcome to the late 90s.
Hey, I get it. I don’t like to admit I got it wrong. Or that I’ve been unfairly harsh about things that I later understood were actually reasonable compromises. Or that facts later came to light that made previous comments I’ve made seem silly.
It’s hard to face that we sometimes get emotionally charged when we first encounter news. But rather than changing our minds in light of new evidence, too many of us are doubling down on the emotion.
We seek out more support of our original premise, rather than reading the facts and then drawing independent conclusions.
If you let yourself fall into a confirmation bias loop in order to protect your ego, pretty soon everything you say or read has to fit into the premise, no matter the facts. That’s why dropping Airport devices is not an example of Apple tightening focus. It’s a sign that the car project has taken so much of Apple’s focus away that they no longer know what’s truly important anymore, so they are dropping products they shouldn’t. And so on.
Never mind that even if the car had once been a big project, it doesn’t appear to be anymore. Apple actually seems to be re-evaluating what is critical to the future of the company and taking steps accordingly. Isn’t that what everyone says Apple should do?
But Apple doesn’t have focus is the premise. It has to be true. It has to remain true.
Apple can’t actually fix what you think is wrong with Apple. What would you have to write and podcast about then?
It doesn’t help, of course, that the people who read your work cheer you on every day. Of course they do. You’re telling them what they want to hear. You are confirming their bias. They naturally love you for it.
So now you feel an obligation to the greater community to find evidence of the premise every day. You are doing community service. Aren’t they lucky to have you, finding more proof of the premise? Isn’t Apple lucky that you are here to point out everything they are doing wrong, which is everything?
Here’s another recent example of the crazily overblown criticism Apple is getting lately. Power bricks for the new MacBook Pros.
OH MY GOD, THEY DROPPED MAGSAFE! THOSE BASTARDS!
That about sums up the average reaction, right?
Let’s try that again, only we’ll start not with our premise, but with the pros and cons of the changes to the new power bricks. We’ll then draw a conclusion based on what we find. We’ll keep in mind what people have previously found lacking in Apple power adapters, and rate the new ones based on how well Apple addressed those concerns.
- If the cable frays, you can replace just the cable, not the whole brick
- Cables are available from anywhere, since they are standard, which means cheaper replacement options
- The Apple-supplied cable is thicker than the old cable, and thus less likely to fray in the first place
- The separated cable can be plugged into an external battery, rather than the wall, at least in theory. No need for an extra cable for the battery.[^1]
- The brick can be stowed separately from the cable, making it easier to put into slimmer bags
- The power cord can be plugged into either side of the MacBook Pro, since it has multiple ports that can accept power
- The USB-C connector on the brick can be used to charge other devices, such as phones, iPads, etc. You can travel with less stuff.
- USB-C is a great, solid, reversible, standard connector that makes firm contact and doesn’t get accidentally unplugged. It will soon be on just about every electronic device you buy, making the brick potentially even more useful for charging things in the years to come[^2]
- You don’t have to go to an Apple Store to buy an expensive replacement or spare, because anyone can make a compatible brick. Cheaper alternatives again, just as with the cable.
- The brick is smaller and lighter than previous bricks
- No cute little fold-out feet to wrap the cable, though the detachability makes that less necessary
- No MagSafe, which was a very cool innovation
- No light indicating when the device is actually charging
- Apple no longer includes an extension cable, though the duckhead is the same as older models and will accept your old extension cable(s), as well as international connectors.[^3]
Honestly, of all the cons, not having the charging light bothers me way more than the others. But no MagSafe and no included extension cord (which some people use) are reasonable gripes, to be sure.
I think there’s a legitimate argument to be made that the cons outweigh the pros on this, though I would strongly disagree, having owned my MacBook with a similar charger for over a year-and-a-half now, as well as just about every other form of laptop power brick Apple has made since the Wall Street PowerBook. But I can count on one hand the number of articles I’ve read that cite any of the pros, while you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting plenty of articles slamming Apple for all of the cons over the past few weeks.
Why? Because they started with “the premise,” and ignored anything that doesn’t support it.
Apple hates Pros. MagSafe was something Pros liked. So they killed it. There can’t be a legitimate reason for it.
In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that the designers of the new power bricks gave earlier criticisms of Apple power bricks serious thought, and effectively addressed the bulk of those concerns. In the process, they had to compromise on MagSafe, which is unfortunate. But ultimately I think it’s a good tradeoff. Standard is better than proprietary. Having multiple ports that can accept power and do other things as well is better than one unique port that can only do power. You can disagree, but you can’t say it’s not a reasonable stance, based on the facts.[^4]
Take a similar level-headed approach to most recent Apple announcements, and you’ll quickly get to a similar place on just about everything Apple is doing. There are legitimate gripes, but most of the things for which people lambast Apple are actually just the natural consequence of tough design decisions. They compromise where they have to, just like they always have. Some of the tradeoffs are worse than others. But they are tradeoffs, not vendettas against pros, or signals that Tim Cook doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Writing that story will do nothing for your retweet count, though.
Confirmation bias is a powerful thing. And it’s tough to overcome. But once you are aware of it, it’s easy to spot in the things you read and write. Be on the lookout for it. It won’t take long to find plenty of examples.
I’m not saying Apple doesn’t do plenty of things that are worthy of criticism. I’ve done my fair share of pointing out those issues here and elsewhere. And I do think there are good writers out there that are providing useful, reasonable, logical commentary on Apple these days.[^5] But I get the sense that the tail has been wagging the dog an awful lot lately, and that isn’t a good thing. Some of us have lost the ability to be objective. And with it, I think, a good deal of credibility.