The last 10 feet

There is a well-known concept, called the “last 10 feet”. Now, I’m not sure where exactly where that term came from, but I remember hearing it a lot when high speed internet began being deployed across America. The problem, you see, was that they could pipe in internet at really high speeds all the way to the house in fiber or cable, etc. However, because the provider couldn’t control the “last 10 feet” from where their infrastructure ended and where the consumer’s began, the amount of actual internet getting in a home was far less than what was possible.

Today we see this term being used to describe the last link or gap between a provided service, attempt, etc. Basically, for me it describes missing a game winning layup in a basketball game when you just stole the ball, ran all the way down court, and were all alone to score and win.

But that last 10 feet can be very lonely and see so close and easy (all the hard stuff is done), that you get distracted or perhaps overconfident. You might even celebrate early and ultimately cause yourself to miss the basket and lose the game.

For me, I see companies doing this time and time again. My primary example lately is Apple. Yes, the sacred, golden Apple. Here is why I believe their Achilles heel is the last 10 feet…

You buy the apple device. You get the accessories, and then you go to use iTunes. Everyone I know (even Apple lovers) hates iTunes. To the point that even tonight on one facebook post I saw the following three quotes from separate people:

1) “So angry with apple today…My apple devices are almost useless because iTunes is so horrible.”

2) “I’m about to give up on all apple products”

3) “I hate iTunes”

And this isn’t the first time or even a rare thing these days to be hearing. Does anyone really like iTunes?  I don’t know anyone. Yet, this is the last 10 feet. It is the interface where consumers actually are able to make their devices useful – they get their apps, music, movies, and more through this program.

I hate making ringtones for my iPhone from music I already had…

I hate the syncing process sometimes…

The updates take forever and leaving it plugged in while it does is frustrating. Why can’t it do it wirelessly all the time like Android phones? I don’t want to be tethered to my computer. Plus, what about people who aren’t using a full computer anymore?

I really dislike the interface for organizing my apps in iTunes. So I do it on my phone…but now we’re back to the syncing problem.

And the whole proprietary song format? Ugh. I have WAY too many duplicate songs now. So I don’t buy music from iTunes. I use online services now. I don’t want the hassle of file extensions, etc.

And all the dang plugins and other background programs that hog my memory…sigh.

And these are all problems that have been around for years. Yet, Apple seems so distracted with the new and neat, that they forget basic user needs and functionality. They are so enamored by the layup they are about to score to win the game, they then totally choke. And it’ll get more and more frustrating for users till they begin to talk like the people I just described above. This is a huge problem, whether they see that or not. They delivered amazing all the way to the door, then left us with junk for the last 10 feet, making it almost pointless to have such amazing stuff all the way to it.

I’ll just finish by relating this…

In a 1997 WWDC presentation, Steve Jobs himself stated that Apple had been too proprietary.

“I think Apple’s had its head in the sand for the last many years. There has been so much that’s happened in terms of network computer, for example,  the Mac is probably one of the least network computer communities in the world…Because of all this “proprietaryness” in every way, because of the attitude and arrogance that we, not only can invent our own networking, and invent our own this and invent our own that and, listen, it’s in its own little world. The rest of the world, with so much investment, has passed it by…So I think the wisdom here is not to say we have to invent everything ourselves…So I think this whole notion of being so proprietary in every facet of everything we do, has really hurt us.”

Wow. There is A LOT of irony in that, isn’t there? Is he describing the past, or prophesying a distant future, that is going to become true for them today? I guess that’s up to Apple to decide. But I’m guessing the arrogance and attitude of Apple will continue to distract them in the last 10 feet. Or maybe, just maybe, they’ll find a way to extend their genius to that last 10 feet and win the game for us!

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