Letter To Steve Jobs Re: All You Can Eat Apple

I used to send these letters on nice paper to ensure a response, but now I think I’ll post it and it’ll probably get there quicker via Google Alerts. Check here for the response, if any…

September 14, 2009

Steve Jobs
Apple Computer
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014

Hey Steve:

Here’s the idea: “All You Can Eat Apple”

That’s it. It’s beautiful in its simplicity – exactly what the Apple brand is all about. Blow it up to 48pt and put it on an all-white page next to a graceful hand clicking on a cinema screen. It works!

I should probably just stop there and let you stew on that for awhile, connect all the dots. But no, lacking the minimalist discipline of even the most junior Apple product developer, I’m about to lay a bunch of expository prose on you instead. Also, I have other ideas for tier naming, based loosely on the poetry of W.B. Yeats, before customers get to the All You Can Eat level.

That aside, the core of the idea is that instead of buying discrete Apple products at random confluences of innovation and morbid insecurity, customers pay a subscription fee and get regular auto-refreshes of the latest Apple wares. This will accomplish certain business ends, the exact nature of which you can hire certain business people to determine – I see flatter, smoother upward lines going across a tasteful blue-gray chart, instead of those spiky lines you see on charts that look more like Richter scales and have lame color palettes. And on the flip side it will keep folks like me from wanting to write letters like this.

The correct fee structure gets complicated, I know. Maybe the only thing holding this whole idea back is the limited number of people who are both Apple fans and able to operate spreadsheet software. Ask the average Apple fan about multiple regression and they’ll think you’re talking about getting together with several of the old high school crew. So let’s just say there’s an entry-level subscription of $3,000 a year. For that you get an annual MacBook and iPhone upgrade, and a .me account. Or whatever – there’s some economics in there, I’m sure.

In this particular scenario, there’d be a special allowance of $3,000/year for folks who came up with the idea.

The genesis of this idea is that sometimes I get mad at Apple, Steve. I do get mad, and I’m not entirely sure why. I think it has to do with the way the maddening pace of both incremental and substantive product evolution is handled, which seems, of late, less designed to make me feel increasingly empowered as to keep me poised precariously on the verge of being outmoded, obsolete, possibly even ugly. That chubby PC guy in your TV ads looms like a threat – this could be you if your MacBook ages to ¼” too thick, or .2 GHz too slow.

Being an Apple fan is like being in love with a girl who you assume has been getting continuously more attractive since 1984 all because of you, while it slowly dawns on you that she doesn’t even know your name. It gets worse as you get older.

I had one of the first Macs, I’ve had several since, and now I have 2 iPods, an iPhone, an iMac, 2 MacBooks, iTunes and .me subscriptions, and a bus shelter size poster of Einstein with the Apple logo on it (mounted on masonite). And in all that time, the only reward for my loyalty comes annually when you don your mock turtleneck to mock my current gadgetry by releasing something that says, in essence, “think of that MacThing you bought 3 months ago as your grandma’s sofa wrapped in plastic and smelling of mothballs. Because now we offer iThis and MacThat!” And then the hand models come out and gesture effortlessly at touch screens and click mice while screens morph and shift and Twitter crashes under the weight of the Pavlovian RTs. My hands are puffy and unmanicured, is what you’re trying to tell me, and I have last year’s iWorks. You know what? My hands and iWorks worked just fine until you went and made me yearn.

In short, now more than ever, you’re in the fashion business. That anti-establishment idealism about Apple – back when it seemed like a movement fueled by a line of empowerment tools – has become something sustained by peer pressure or consumer yearning, more like clothes or music. You went all rockstar/fashion icon on us, and now we’re supposed to like Apple. To not like Apple is to be old, chubby, dim-witted, ugly. For now.

I know you’re super successful right now, but I do feel a little backlash coming. It feels like it did right before that dark period when the soda pop guy kicked you out and then came the march of the clones (I had a PowerPC myself, just to spite Apple). It’s the same vibe that’s starting to make the chubby PC guy in the TV ads more sympathetic than Justin Long. I mean, I kinda want that guy to backhand Justin Long lately, even though I like Justin Long. Justin Long is funny, he was great on Ed, and I think he’s probably nice in person. Why does Justin Long have to make the poor nerdy chubby guy feel like a poor nerdy chubby guy? It’s gone on too long, this constant, subtle berating. Try as you might to make him likable, the fact is that Justin Long keeps insinuating himself into the immediate proximity of this schlep and taking pains to kindly point out his flaws, wrap him in something silly, or just be present to witness his humiliations. Why can’t Justin Long just speak his piece and then stay away, only offering advice when asked? Every so often, Justin just shows up and reminds the guy of his inadequacies. Thanks! Why does he do that?

Is Justin Long secretly afraid that he’s not good enough in some way, like maybe Justin Long costs about twice as much?

Here’s the thing: at some point, it’s the chubby PC guy running down the aisle in those flimsy red Dolphin shorts hurling a hammer at a giant screen showing a close-up of Justin Long, and then the slack-jawed audience flees the building.

You also feel it when you go into an Apple store and try to buy something, only to be confronted with the reality that Apple says “poo poo” to cash registers. Well, there was nothing ever wrong with the cash register, Steve, because you always used to know where to buy stuff and you didn’t have to find a roving consultant in a colored T-shirt and beg to give them your credit card. It’s double the affront that the good ol’ fashioned checkout counter’s been replaced by something called a “Genius Bar”. You might find some bright folk there at the Genius Bar, to be sure, but genius goes a bit far. And if it’s the customer you’re referring to as the Genius, well, perhaps you haven’t listened to questions like “so how do I make pictures in my camera go INTO the computer box?” for the 35 minutes right before you find out the Genius Bar lost your appointment. As an aside, a disturbing number of these colored T-shirt people want to engage in conversations about things like what bands you like – it happens enough that it seems like somewhere in a training manual it must say “remind customers that they’re THIS close to being that schleppy PC guy if they don’t play along”. I had a guy who wouldn’t LET me pay for a new MacBook until he showed me the new combinations of mouse fingerings, none of which I’ll ever use.

In short, a nice mail-order business would replace this brand touchpoint just fine, thank you.

What you’re getting from this letter, I hope, is something of a love/hate message. The product is strong, but there’s something about the whole brand experience, or the way you encounter certain enthusiasts of the brand, that sometimes makes me want to hate it anyway. And I think there has to be a way to “graduate” from some of the fashion trappings of the current Apple. What I want is a way to re-engage for the long haul on a basis that does not seem so darned persnickety. I’m not buying Macs to be fashion forward, Steve, but you can still save me from my chubby PC guy fate.

So let’s forget for a moment that in the entire time I’ve owned an Apple product I’ve never received early info on new products, a discount, or any sort of personal acknowledgment. Just treat me as the slobbering gadget-obsessed database entry that I am, and put me on a reasonable obsolescence schedule that neither makes me the object of derision, nor requires that I camp in front of a glowing retail store until the people with the colored shirts come and unlock the door to dole out iPhone porridge and MacBook gruel. Just figure out what it’s going to cost me per annum to stay relatively up to speed with this stuff and leave me be. Send me my updates in the mail, maybe, for fear that I involuntarily break wind in one of your heavily lacquered retail environments.

Again, there’d be a 1:1 corollation between any per annum fee and the discount afforded the originator of the idea that spawned the fee.

I hope this letter finds you well. Sincerely glad to see you back in action. Now let’s start a re-revolution, eh?

Best Regards,

Josh Kelly

San Anselmo, CA

~ by joshuakelly on September 15, 2009.

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