Apple reinvents the iPhone 5


There’s a story I heard years ago when I lived in Michigan. It was told by someone lamenting the state of General Motors in the 1980s. I assume it was apocryphal because it’s a bit too pat, but as is the case with a lot of apocryphal stories, its seeming plausibility says a lot about the times in which it was told. It goes like this:

GM’s engineers were eligible for awards for design innovations which created some sort of efficiency or which led to increased sales. One year an engineer determined that by painting the caps in the engines different colors it would prevent people from putting fluids in the wrong reservoirs which had been a somewhat annoying problem for some customers. They adopted his design. He got an award. 

A year or two later, there were reports that, because of the design of the engine, the placement of the caps and the kind of paint used, the paint on the caps was burning off and creating an unpleasant smell. The same engineer who suggested painting the caps suggested not painting the caps. They adopted his design. He got another award for undoing what he had done a year or two prior.

I’m reminded of that story today because Apple, a couple of years after abandoning it’s small, single-hand-sized iPhone and revealing a bigger iPhone designed to compete with Samsung’s large smartphones, revealed a new “light and compact phone designed to fit comfortably in your hand.”

I wonder if they tested the paint for heat tolerance. I wonder if the guy who did got an award. 

And before you complain: no, this is not tech commentary. I’m sure it’s a fine phone. And no, I don’t think Apple is in for the same trouble GM faced 30 years ago. It does strike me, however, that there are a lot of ways for companies to lose their way. Even if they’re still doing OK. And I wonder about Apple in this regard sometimes. 

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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