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Op-ed - Written by on Monday, June 28, 2010 13:42 - 1 Comment

Jeff DeChambeau
The Real Truth behind Fake Steve

Truthiness” is probably the best word to describe The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, a blog that more often than not does too good a job at parodying what Steve Jobs might be thinking on any given issue. Of late, the posts have been really ringing true, and there was even a bizarre “life imitates art” moment where Fake Steve made a comment about how the suicide rates at Foxconn are actually lower than the Chinese average, only to be parroted a few days later by Real Steve. Awesomeness of that aside, yesterday’s post “There is no spoon” has more truth to it than any statement issued by any company in recent memory.

I’ve held off writing about Apple to avoid being yet another one of those bloggers who’s doing so, but this latest Fake Steve post bumps the discussion up to a new level. Yes, Apple products run the exact same hardware as PCs, but cost more. Yes, they are aesthetically very well designed. Yes, they tie plastic bags and coffee cups as first-rate examples of planned obsolescence. And yes, I should have a second point in favor of Macs here, but I can’t think of one. What’s going on with the iPhone and iPad ecosystem simultaneously empowers consumers–by giving them access to some powerful and easy to use technology, thanks to some very nicely designed apps–and disempowers them–by casting computers as non-technological sealed-boxes that do only which actions are on a neatly manicured whitelist. People seem to like it: and the devices are selling with little sign of slowing down.

Using the example of the recent signal issues with the iPhone 4 as an example, Fake Steve’s post cuts right to the core of why Apple’s doing so well. People are confused, sell them an answer:

Probably the biggest thing I’ve taught the team at Apple is that people never know what they’re supposed to think about anything. This is true in Hollywood, in the book business, in the art world, in politics. And especially in technology.

So we put out a new phone and everyone is sitting there wondering what they should think about it. What I realized many years ago — and honestly, it still amazes me — is that most people are so unsure of themselves that they will think whatever we tell them to think.

So we tell people that this new phone is not just an incremental upgrade, but rather is the biggest breakthrough since the original iPhone in 2007. We say it’s incredible, amazing, awesome, mind-blowing, overwhelming, magical, revolutionary. We use these words over and over.

It’s all patently ridiculous, of course. But people believe it.

I own a MacBook but won’t ever buy another. Because I own one, and am seen as a tech-savvy guy, it offers legitimacy to this idea “macs are better/safer/faster/more stable/easier to use.” They aren’t. Even still, I’ve had people who admit to knowing absolutely nothing about computers tell me about how macs really are better, and that Microsoft has no idea what it’s doing (Windows 7 is a great OS, really it is). What it amounts to is that the whole computer space is one that’s confusing and overcomplicated to most consumers, and Apple is in the middle of the market with attractive devices that work decently well, saying “we’re better” with confidence and the appearance of authority. People are responding to the message, strongly.

I’m kind of surprised actually that this strategy isn’t found in more places. Fake Steve points out that religions have done a great job honing the strategy, but that discussion is outside the scope of this post. How would consumers react if Toyota or Ford simply stated “We’re better. Buy us.”? In fact, the only example at the front of my mind where there’s such a strong chorus preaching that “the new way is better” is with the Web 2.0 space. Yes, there’s a lot of value in collaborating, but not every 2.0 tech is as world-changing as it is confusing. Many an analyst has made quite a living saying “this is the next big deal, you need to learn it and you need my help.” The truth is that for many companies traditional communications (face to face, phone, email) are still functional and and will continue to be; sometimes older technologies will continue to work just fine. In cases where collaboration technology is desired or beneficial, the purchasing decision doesn’t have to be rocket science.

There’s a lot of money to be made off confusion, I just question how sustainable the approach is. Or maybe I’m just being profoundly naive, and this is the way it’s always been.

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