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Why Apple has lost its simplicity

Technically Incorrect: An adman who helped create some of Apple's most famous campaigns suggests Cupertino's brand just isn't as simple as it used to be. Is that a good thing?

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Tim Cook. Leading Apple in a complex world.

Screenshot by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho/CNET

Apple's different these days.

But is today's different better than yesterday's?

There's a certain feeling that, as the company releases more products and more software, there are more problems.

The Apple Watch may (or may not) be a success, but how can you get excited about a product that moves some people because it makes them feel more polite?

Then there's Apple Music, which befuddles many and enthralls precious few.

Is it that the thrill is gone? Or is it merely that the simple has left town?

Writing this week in the Guardian Ken Segall, former Apple adman and creator of the iconic "Think Different" campaign, offered a sober -- and sobering -- view of today's Cupertino.

"A growing number of people are sensing that Tim Cook's Apple isn't as simple as Steve's Apple," said Segall. "They see complexity in expanding product lines, confusing product names, and the products themselves."

Segall finds very painful complexity in the way Apple now names its products.

He said that making the S versions of the iPhone signals to customers that this is an "off-year." The phone might have a technological advancement -- Touch ID, for example -- but you still get the impression that it's just a souped-up version of last year's model.

This, he said, makes marketing a lot harder. Still, it was Steve Jobs who created the S designation in the first place. The need to push out more phones more often, however, seems to have driven a lack of critical thinking.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

At heart, though, there is one simple explanation for all the complication: Apple is a far bigger and more complex company than it used to be.

It didn't have to be. It chose to be. It chose to expand its offerings to more people in more countries in more ways.

With that came the need for a CEO whose skills of organization were greater than his skills of inspiration.

One of the symbols of Apple's increasing complexity is the Apple store.

These retail outlets -- so vital to Cupertino's idea of making customers happy -- have become claustrophobic. Inside it's din, not calm.

New retail head Angela Ahrendts is bringing in a redesign that attempts to inject at least a little air back into the places. It isn't easy when there are now so many customers invested in the brand and so many more gadgets that break down.

Moreover, Apple's heart is in hardware. As phones become more utilitarian, there's more pressure to make software simple and excellent. Cupertino hasn't quite managed that -- Apple Music being just one example.

There are rumors, too, that many of Apple's engineers are still far more interested in working on hardware projects than software ones. Gadgets are concrete things. Software is a mere icon.

How odd that the company that built its whole ethos on the idea that something just works is now faced with trying to remind people that it's still true. And this at a time when people's lives are becoming ever more complicated.

The original "Think Different" was about creating a situation in which customers were so enthralled by the design that they didn't have to think. It's not quite the same anymore.

That doesn't mean it's all dire.

As Segall says, no brand has managed to steal Apple's mantle of simplicity. Google, for example, is so frustrated with all the different iterations of its software on various Android phones that it's reportedly considering shaming the manufacturers into urgency.

Still, the American Customer Satisfaction Index showed that the phone making people happiest isn't an iPhone. It's the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

So imagine if a brand did come along that suddenly felt simpler than Apple. Wouldn't many people surge toward it?

Isn't one of the fundamental human cravings in an ever-more complex world for someone -- anyone -- to take some of that complexity away?

And if this brave new simple brand succeeded? What would happen? The brand would get bigger and greedier.

As it did, the simplicity would begin to disappear.

It's like any human relationship. As the great philosopher Barbra Streisand once explained: "Can it be that it was all so simple then?"

Time doesn't necessarily rewrite every line. It just farms out the writing to a team that doesn't always agree on which direction to go. And then the story gets bloated.