As a part of the cultural shift we have all noticed at SolidWorks, one of the things I have heard from time to time is that SolidWorks is trying to emulate the success that Apple has had. You can’t really blame a company for wanting to do that. Apple’s success has been legendary, whether deserved or not. But here’s the problem. The original SolidWorks — lets just define that as the SolidWorks under Hirschtick — was in some respects already more Apple-like than most companies. They had cult-like loyalty, a CEO that customers could relate to, and an 80/20 product that was somewhat dumbed down in favor of usability, and that product could replace more complex stuff in some situations. Those are the most positive aspects that SolidWorks and Apple seemed to share, but the original SolidWorks had other positive traits that Apple didn’t have: They really did at one point listen to their customers. The product has always been fairly priced for what it did. Early SolidWorks would occasionally admit a mistake.
Part of what made SolidWorks so attractive was that Hirschtick was an engineer. “By engineers For engineers” was more than just a motto. Engineers want to buy from engineers, we distrust MBAs, salesmen and marketing types. But the CAD market has “matured” in a way – there are few companies that just sell CAD any more, and to some extent, they sell less and less directly or solely to engineers, so appealing to engineers seems to make less marketing sense than it used to.
For Apple, the transition from being an odd-ball laughingstock to defining tech-as-fashion is one that’s hard to quantify in some sort of formula. Is it the industrial design? I find Apple designs to be actually rather boring, inhuman, sparse, and cold. Is it the software? Software that’s locked down and limited isn’t appealing to everyone. The main thrust of Apple products seems to be good quality hardware, but “dumb it down, market it back up” so it doesn’t do much, but you make it look magical. So that you are buying sturdy stuff, but stuff that isn’t really cutting edge. “Power” and “capability” are not words that I associate with Apple products. “Easy to use” and “simple” are. It’s as if Apple wants to create a “worry free” product that does about 80% of what is available. Which in the end, is also something you could probably say about SolidWorks.
Take Siri. You might be tempted to confuse Siri with “power”, because it was developed into an early consumer-level AI system. (Started out as a DARPA project). I don’t think the intention was to help pathetic loners find tomato soup on rainy days, but just to dumb down the search interface. I might make fun of it, but it’s not all bad. I use Vlingo, an Android based voice interface that doesn’t do the useless gimmicky conversational tricks that Siri does, but it activates commands, apps, searches, reads and writes text messages and emails, and other useful stuff. Great for driving.
The way Siri is portrayed in ads is I think a little pathetic. Apple is mainly about technology for people who hate technology. To be fair, I do know a couple of people who are highly technical who own Apple stuff, but these guys are exceptions. Apple users are like – the people you see in movies using computers. Austin Powers learns the internet on an Apple. Tragically hip, baby.
What is it about Apple that some people just really hate? Maybe it would be a patent for a rectangle with rounded corners. Or the new connector that shuns USB standards just so they can bilk another $29 out of their beloved customers. Now, I’ll give them this, the Lightning is reversible, and there’s nothing that annoys me as much about USB as the fact that I can never tell which way it goes in. Still, is that worth an entire new market of proprietary connectors, adapters, and replacement accessories? Not very sustainable, that. But then sustainability has always been and will always be secondary to profitability. Sustainability is only invoked when it increases profitability, not when it limits it.
Maybe the “walled garden” is actually more of a prison than a garden? Is that iTunes lock-in really such a beautiful thing? You used to be able to buy music where ever you wanted to, and keep it where ever you wanted to, but not anymore. Maybe what annoys people about Apple is the premium price for a product that isn’t very flexible (as in customizable), or one that lacks some really basic functionality, like Flash, user accessible file systems, near field communication, 4G missing until iPhone 5, replaceable batteries, SD card slots, wireless charging, and need I say turn-by-turn directions. Was the “you’re holding it wrong” antenna-gate not enough? You really need Apple Maps?
Or maybe its that unrelenting smugness and the over self-application of the word “beautiful”. Or maybe it was the unfathomable arrogance of a guy who thought he could cure pancreatic cancer better than doctors? Or maybe it’s just those insufferable fanboys. I suppose in a post-Apple world, science will discover that marketing and brand-worship are indeed the strongest forces in the universe.
Since the original SolidWorks already had what some consider to be Apple’s best traits, what is it that this new incarnation of SolidWorks is now trying to emulate? In the mid ’90s, mid-range CAD, SolidWorks included, was sucking up to Microsoft because Windows was the future. Now, SolidWorks is sucking up to Apple, even though Apple is probably at or just past its peak, and is likely just declining from here        . SolidWorks releases eDrawings for iPad and iPhone, even though the proportion of portable devices at work is definitely in favor of Android. SolidWorks is riding on the tail end of the Apple trend, which is one way to predict failure rather than success.
The Mac curiosity goes back a long way. John McEleney bought a Mac for his home computer. There has been other software that ran on Mac, like the defunct concept modeler Cosmic Blobs. (Where have we heard that “concept modeler” thing before?) We’ve had some new SW employees on this blog defending Apple, and of course Bernard Charles making love marks with extended reality on an iPhone onstage at SolidWorks World. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but SolidWorks has included some Apple software in their installation for a couple of releases now. “Bonjour” is a network discovery software that Apple uses to relieve users of the need to configure the network. If you have SolidWorks installed, you have this Apple software installed as well. You can uninstall it, but it will re-install itself again later. Just like other invasive software for iTunes. If you’re into interesting facts, the “Bonjour” software used to be named “Rendezvous”, that magical combination of Apple, and of course French.
So what is it that SolidWorks is going to emulate in Apple?
- Decline. Though not intentionally, I’d bet.
- “walled prison” where you are locked inside a cloud-based app, and you can’t use 3rd party software of your chosing, and where your data is locked in a format and on a server that you can’t access directly
- Dictated terms. Options? Black or white. Because we know what you need better than you do.
- Unbelievable arrogance, which if you remember is also what put PTC on the bottom of the CAD pile.
I think they will fail at cult status. Lightning can’t strike twice, and the group in charge now does not have the magic touch that Hirschtick had. I don’t think they have what it takes to keep the success going to make the jump (with SolidWorks) from V1 to V6. It’s like sending Gerard Depardieu with a ukelele to replace The Beatles. It’s not clear that they understand the part of the market that only buys CAD. I don’t believe Dassault understands SolidWorks customers at all. On top of all the market conditions, it remains to be seen what the V6 SolidWorks replacement software will be like. It’s possible to make great software, and still completely lose in the market place. Look at Solid Edge.
Anyway, SolidWorks and Apple. I think the time to emulate Apple is over. Of course these plans take time to implement. What’s lacking is a single focused vision of product development tools. Bernard has a vision, but as Evan Yares pointed out recently, isn’t something that you or I will be able to relate to.
You just can’t make up stuff like that.