Arrogance can bring down any tech giant. You’re only really allowed to get away with it when you’re the underdog or when your products or personality are truly spectacular. You can ride to success by being perceived as bold, different or even revolutionary, and people will love you for it. But the second you cross the line into arrogance, the backlash will begin and you’ll be knocked off your perch.
The best example today is Apple. It has shaken up plenty of product categories since 1998. It killed the floppy drive and the DVD; it has redefined user experiences; it has pioneered material design and engineering; it has sent competitors scrambling back to their drawing boards—and it's been adored by fans, customers and the media. No matter how difficult or disruptive Apple’s moves, practical criticism has often been drowned out by admiration. Now, in the past year, it would seem like it can’t do anything right. The iPhone 5 was heralded as “nothing surprising”, the tight control over Lightning adaptors and peripherals is widely seen as a greedy move, and the latest Retina MacBook Pros don’t have a clear target market. The court cases against Samsung and others have made Apple look like a petulant brat (even more so after the childish non-apology posted online and the attempts to hide it from visitors). Worst of all, the iOS 6 maps debacle has opened the company to ridicule and derision. More than anything else it could have done, choosing to ditch Google maps in favour of such a disastrously inadequate alternative because of an unrelated feud, made customers and insiders alike begin seeing the company as proud, high-handed and arrogant.
A blog parodying Apple Maps in iOS 6
The tide is swiftly turning against Apple. Reactions have been vicious and critics are becoming emboldened. Apple’s stock price, inflated by its string of successes over the years, seems to have peaked. The latest products to be launched have been criticised for the fact that they sold things in new sizes rather than revolutionary new things, even though people have been perfectly happy with every preceding generation of refreshes. The iPhone 4 “antennagate” issue a few years ago could have turned out far worse for the company than it eventually did, thanks to callous comments such as “You’re holding it wrong”, but it blew over eventually. Apple was perceived very differently then.
This holds true for many other companies and individuals as well. Microsoft has tried to push its weight around often enough and even Intel has been pulled up by various courts of law. Nokia and RIM both thought the iPhone couldn’t possibly upset their positions in the global smartphone market, and look at them today. Sony is a shadow of its former self; MySpace is trying out yet another reinvention; and even Facebook is beginning to alienate businesses.
Scott Forstall and Steven Sinofsky have also just recently departed Apple and Microsoft for the very same reason. Press reports describe both of them as impossible to work with, eventually leading to their exits despite both being projected as longtime CEOs-in-waiting.
Admittedly, it takes a rebellious personality to break the status quo. It takes guts and ambition to bring about the kind of revolution that we all love. But even revolutionaries sometimes become mainstream, and rebels become the majority. When that happens, it’s easy to become complacent and arrogant.
Perhaps, this holds true in all spheres of life; not just technology.