Most people seem to think Apple will always be the Apple so many people have come to know and love in recent years, but Steve Jobs would be the first person to remind us that even the mighty can fall (and fall hard). With the introduction of the iPad Mini, could Apple be starting back down the slippery slope of merely tweaking existing products instead of inventing groundbreaking new ones?
As you probably know, one of the very first things Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple and became the iCEO was to kill off the multiple products with slight variations and confusing naming schemes to concentrate on a few very focused products instead. The era of Steve may have indeed officially ended as it has been reported that the iPhone 5 was the last product he had any active input in. While the iPad Mini will certainly sell well, fewer people queued up outside Apple stores to be the first to buy the device when compared to other recent and memorable Apple product launches such as the first iPad or any iPhone premier.
If nothing else, the iPad Mini launch, a falling stock price driven by a recent executive shakeup and parody videos galore provide an opportunity for Apple employees, analysts and fans alike to question whether or not the company still has the magic touch. Does Jony Ive have any foam models locked away in his secure workspace that can still truly surprise? Can Apple pull off the tricky yet necessary content deals needed to make the long awaited iTV a dazzling reality? Is Tim Cook simply a stellar manager or can he prove his mettle as a superb innovator (or at the very least manage to enable other serious innovators to thrive)? Will Apple continue to be the one to out-innovate its own product lineup before competitors even have a chance as it has in the recent past? In short, is real innovation dead at Apple?
To help you make up your mind, here’s what the our Tech Think Tank has to say on the matter:
No: Apple’s Team is Too Talented to Fail
They say success has many parents, and failure is an orphan. With innovation, the mythology is reversed: great ideas erupt spontaneously from lonely tortured tyrant-geniuses working from their parents’ garages, while failed products are built by faceless droning committees and expensive marketing agencies. I just don’t buy it. A singular vision can buoy a company, but the success of Apple still resides in its team: designers, developers, and engineers. While schadenfreude may be entertaining, the talent at Apple’s disposal sets the odds against a looming end to their reign.
Yes: Without Jobs Who Will Say No?
I think Apple is through. I’ve been bearish on them since Jobs died. Not because I think he was a product visionary, or that it matters that he didn’t touch the next product, but because I think he inspired others. He was a great salesman of things and ideas. He sold a clear and compelling vision for products, both internally and externally. Without that, Apple will devolve into multiple product lines and competing visions—like they did in the past. I took a class in college called, Without God, is All Permitted? It was about ethics. Here, Without Jobs, is All Permitted? This is about proliferation of features. Who’s to say “no?”
No: Stop Inventing Reasons Why Apple Has Fallen
Steve Jobs has only been gone for a little over a year and the financial and tech communities are falling all over themselves inventing reasons why the mighty Apple has fallen. Apple is the most successful public company in recent memory. When you’re at the top of the mountain, everyone tries to tear you down. Every little move is examined under a microscope and pundits come to all kinds of outlandish conclusions proclaiming the end is near for the most innovative and loved technology company of the last 40 years.
To better answer the question of whether Apple’s magic is gone, let’s take a look at the tech landscape since 2001. Name another company besides Apple that has redefined three major product categories over that time. You can’t. By introducing the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Apple has single-handedly created three market-leading products that have become the standards by which all other competing devices are judged. When has that pace of innovation ever happened before?
While it’s true that companies like Samsung, Google and Amazon have made inroads in the smartphone and tablet markets, Apple remains to this day the leader. So it’s too early to tell whether Apple’s magic is beginning to wane. My sense is Apple has some interesting surprises up its sleeve for 2013 and beyond. The recent rush to rev the iPad and introduce the iPad Mini are signs they are clearing the decks to spotlight new, revolutionary products. My prediction is we’ll see new products redefining how we watch television and continued advancements in making user interfaces much more intuitive including using voice and touch gestures. Technology is evolving at a tremendous pace and I foresee Apple at the head of the pack for years to come.
Yes: Apple Is In A Creative Rut
Virality begins with creativity. When new products are introduced that are familiar to people then it’s no longer innovative but a comparison. The release of Apple’s iPad Mini didn’t get the buzz or sales it was hoping for because it was a comparison to Amazon’s Kindle Fire or Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. We expect Apple to produce new products that are unexpected. The iPad Mini fell short of the expectations. Yes, I believe Apple is running out of ideas because rather than improving our life with innovative products, they are in a creative rut and focussing too much on improving product features that are widely expected. Unless a new iPhone can automatically drive my car—I’m not impressed.
No: Apple Will Still Surprise and Excite Us All
There is a great Steve Jobs quote “The way we have succeeded is by choosing which horses to ride very carefully”. Apple isn’t really about making things that are radically different for the sake of it but rather things that are designed, regardless of the status quo, to be as good as they can be for the task in hand. The iPhone started off being revolutionary and has continued to be the market leader since that day, the changes we see are small but impressive, such as the recent changes to the size and weight of the iPhone and iPad Mini. These iterative changes might not be headline worthy but do improve the experience for a consumer and the sales figures back this up. Sales figures of 3 million devices in the opening weekend for the iPad 4 and Mini are impressive when you consider it took 28 days to sell 1 million of the first generation of iPad. Apple hasn’t lost its magic but there hasn’t been a relevant horse to ride just yet. In the mean time they continue to make the best devices on the market better and when that horse arrives they will deliver it in a way that will surprise and excite us all.
No: Apple Can (And Should) Mine Big Data
Apple’s multi-product issue seems to be rearing it’s ugly head again as the product giant scrambles to maintain consumer loyalty in a post-Jobs world, but their biggest issue is not their hardware products, it’s their move to mobile data. It’s no secret that Apple has been sitting on a treasure chest of mobile consumer data since they launched the iPhone, but they have failed to make use of that data in a way that can continue to benefit the company. They are going up against the likes of Google and Facebook in a race to master mobile data for the sake of advertising revenue and it’s this rushed progress that is not only diluting the product, but weakening the brand. Case in point—Apple Maps. So is innovation is dead at Apple? No—it’s just been deemed low priority. Instead of keeping up with the Jones’—who honestly don’t have it all figured out anyway—Apple should get their greatest minds together and develop a data-driven, revenue building product that will put them ahead of their big data competitors in the same way they pulled ahead in hardware. Lay low and get it right guys or don’t bother at all.
What Do You Think?
Leave us a comment to let us know what you think. Is Apple’s Magic Officially Gone? Yes or no? Why or why not? Also, do you have a burning tech question you want the panel to answer? Leave us a comment to let us know!