Do not get me wrong I love my iPhone and think that what Apple has done over the years to be truly amazing. They are one of the great comeback stories in business and specifically technology history. However driving to work and listening to the DJ’s on the radio, talking about the release of the iPhone 5s, they were talking about how antiquated the iPhone and iPad were starting to look. As much as I wanted to disagree I could not, Apple products are starting to look middle aged. It is hard to believe but it is six years since the launch of the iPhone. Apple was huge and very sexy. It seemed like they did not age, but only got younger. But in the end time draws lines on all our faces. Apple is getting kind of dull.
Apple had a tremendous run of success after the return of Steve Jobs. It is a long list: Macs with Color, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, the Apple Stores – not to mention the ecosystems it created for app developers and the innovation of touch screen (they were not the first but they did it better). In baseball terms they were a power hitter. Hitting the ball out of the park with consistency. More than any company they seemed to understand how technology could influence the consumer and fundamentally change their buying behavior. Probably more than any company on earth Apple has fundamentally changed how people work and interact with one another over the past 15 years.
When we look at what has come out of the latest release we see larger screen sizes for the device. We see new colors, like gold. We see thinner devices. We see new apps. All good stuff, but also stuff that the competition is already trying to do and do better. The competition is fierce. Out front you have Google and Samsung. It would also be foolish to dismiss Microsoft with its hoards of cash. Do not expect Microsoft to be RIM anytime soon. These latest features are nice and simple enhancements, it is not really innovation. They are improving on what already exists. Like almost every successful consumer product, from the refrigerator to Lego blocks.
Icons are a part of the tech industry. The industry moves so fast and those people who create new landscapes literally an impact hundreds of millions if not billions. Case in point; Facebook has over 1 billion users. By default Mark Zuckerberg’s name will be etched into the history of the industry. In Apple’s case they may have had the biggest legend of all in Steve Jobs For those who read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs (if you have not click here),, it tells a story of a very obsessively passionate man. His attention to every detail in what he did from what we know of him, to his bizarre diet habits. to his relationships can be translated into the success he created. When you lose someone like that, despite his efforts of a succession plan in Tim Cook, something massive is lost that cannot be replaced.
One thing Apple has in its favor is the immense loyalty of its user base, it has always had that. A pretty compelling argument can be made that loyal base is what kept Apple alive during the era of no Steve Jobs (that and a rather large investment by Microsoft). Apple has managed through it’s current run of success to seemingly expand that base. That being said I would be hard pressed to say if you have 100 million users that more than 20% are that fanatically loyal. A great thing to have but a small piece of what is now a much larger pie.
I see a few things happening on the horizon that will either sink or allow Apple to swim. I think cost effective design will be increasingly important to differentiate devices, yes it is nice to have a killer app, but those are ported to other platform pretty easily. This is usually done out of necessity and not loyalty. Apple still has Johnny Ive (the man at Apple when it comes to design) and he may yet have a few home runs left in him. The second and bigger challenge is creating new market opportunities. Apple created and profited from digital music and they did the same for the smartphone and tablet. The next area seems to be the television and though Apple has its Apple TV product it has yet to make a significant breakthrough in this area. Not to mention the word is out and the Cable providers are not going to be willing to let their industry go the way of Apple (or Google)
When you create a mass market, like Apple has done it creates a awesome opportunity and one that Apple is still managing to grow globally. But when everyone has one it is not that cool or exciting anymore and people eventually look for something to differentiate themselves. Tim Cook could grow the business immensely and in the end be perceived like Steve Ballmer. A sharp businessman but not a visionary. I don’t envy Apple, yes they have changed lives, in fact they have added to history. But to come up with new innovations every three to four years that have a significant cultural and social impact is no simple task. Especially when the man who drove so many of those changes is no longer alive What we are left with today is more or less the status quo. Events, New features, product launches, etc..It is tried and true and rather boring. Apple is going to continue to expand as there are still many untapped markets, but that is just business as usual for many companies and just results in another stale MBA program lecture. It is hard to stay sexy especially as you hit middle age. For every George Clooney there are at least a hundred George Wendt’s. What was once a sharp blade is now becoming dull as time and use catches up with it. Can Apple reclaim it’s glory? Only time will tell but as of now I am rather bored.
Good Night and Good Luck
Han sHenrik Hoffmann September 18, 2013