What separates Apple from the rest of a long list of technology competitors? One can argue many points but perhaps the differentiation boils down to a unique perspective on how products work. Apple designs and builds the hardware. Apple designs the software that works with the hardware. That unique perspective and ability to build and integrate the whole widget sets Apple apart from other technology companies which seem to focus on hardware or software, but not the full integration of both.
Historically, Apple’s successes are obvious. Apple II, Mac, iMac, Apple Stores, iPod and iTunes Music Store, iPhone, iPad, even Watch retain the company’s unique perspective on how technology should work. In the early days, that perspective was drive much by Steve Jobs. Upon his return to Apple in 1997, the perspective took on new life and the string of products turned the company into Apple Inc., instead of Apple Computer, Inc.
My fear is that with Steve Jobs gone Apple may have lost a crucial component which drove successes in the 21st century. Keys to Jobs’ success at pushing Apple into the 21st century were his imagination of what could be done, and his unique perspective of how to get there.
Imagination and unique perspective. Does Apple still have it? Has it changed? Is Apple better today under a competent management team that executes product development and manufacturing well, but does not seem to have as much imagination and that unique perspective?
Under Tim Cook, Apple has learned how to make money. Enormous sums of money. How? Efficiency and focus.
Here’s what bothers me most about Tim Cook’s Apple.
The product line is positively famished.
Competitors left and right manufactured similar products that are thinner, lighter, faster, less expensive, and, in many cases, do more than Apple’s flagship line; Mac, iPhone, iPad. The iTunes Store remains the largest online media mall, but made almost irrelevant thanks to commodity steaming services. Apple’s stores are unique, yes, and not easily copied to monetary success (Microsoft has dozens of similar stores, but could use some customers in each one), and no other technology company integrates products, software, and services as well as Apple.
That leads me to a laundry list of unanswered questions.
- Where are the game changing, world changing, industry disruptive products of the future?
- Why does Apple have trouble keeping up with technology specifications eagerly adopted by competitors?
As to Apple’s apparent diminished creative ability and lessened imagination, one need look no further than the many tens of billions of dollars spent on dividends and stock buybacks, neither of which have helped the stock price, and neither of which have helped the product line. In other words, Apple has so much money it doesn’t know what to do with it all.
That smacks of a diminished creative ability and lessened imagination, does it not?
Sure, Apple has made a few strategic investments but they pale in significance to how much money has been thrown away to shareholders and buybacks. $3-billion for Beats. $1-billion for the Chinese version of Uber. A few hundred million on a technology office in India. Many billions more on R&D investments, much of which came after Apple Watch.
Look as some of Apple’s current product line and you’ll get a sense that all is not well in the hallowed management halls of One Infinite Place, Cupertino, CA.
The Thunderbolt display is as antiquated as displays get, matches nothing in the current product line, and should embarrass company officials. The Mac Pro? No love since its introduction a few years ago. The latest iPhone sports updated internals in a case that is three years old. Yes, Apple updates the iPhone flagship models every year, but still sells older models. Why? Because it can.
Even Apple TV v.4 was behind the times upon release. Where’s the 4k video? I love my Watch, as do most of Apple’s un-numbered Watch customers, but more because of notifications, complications, and glances than applications. Other than those three categories, I never open a Watch app. It’s just too cumbersome to launch apps on Watch.
It’s not that Apple doesn’t have the money or engineering prowess to fix those problems, the company doesn’t seem to have the imagination or perspective that was so apparent in the Jobs’ era. That needs to change.