Doomsday: An End Times prophecy for Apple as we know it
A Glorious Past
Though this should come as no surprise, Apple today is vastly different from its former self. Whether we look back five, ten, or even thirty-six years back to their conception, we can find striking differences in how the corporation has changed with the times and different leadership. Steve Jobs is credited with not only saving Apple financially when he returned in 1997, but changing the company's vision and direction forever. While systematically ignoring the status quo, Apple hired developers and engineers who shared his radical vision for the future of technology.
What made both Jobs' and Apple great was not always the technology they implemented to make their products, but the adaptive use of current-day technology to drive towards the dreams of the future; designing not what consumers wanted today, but what they'd probably want tomorrow.
In 1998, with the introduction of the iMac, Jobs and industrial designer Jonathan Ives brought life and color to a market dominated by bland grey machines designed for business. This was the start of the branding phenomenon that Apple would soon become renowned for.
In early 2001, Apple released their flagship Mac OS X, a radical new operating system designed to be used by average and professional users all out of the same box, continuing to be a few steps ahead of the consumer's desires.
Later in 2001, when the tech world seemed to be screaming for an effective portal music device, Apple released the iPod. Building off of the early success of MP3 players, the iPod not only represented the Apple brand but a uniform system that made a statement about the user.
The success of these three advancements lasted well into the 2000s, with different iterations each one adding upon the success of the last. Apple began to regain market share and generate a culture of loyal consumers. However their success was limited to the PC and music player realms.
Up until 2007, the plight of the cellular phone word can be summed up in a decision. Pick one: Lightweight/Fashionable, Durable, or Productive. Phones like the Motorola Razor, an assortment of Nextel i3xx/i4xx/i5xx/i6xx devices, and the Blackberry represented these areas respectively. With the marginal size of the durable phone market, Apple sought to combine the other two commonly sought after categories into something intuitive and useful. Even when consumers weren't focused on such a merge of functions at the time.
After some development and heavy discussions with AT&T, Apple released the iPhone, providing a cellular platform that reached towards examples set in science fiction of the past. A platform that again screamed the Apple brand, and provided both the casual and professional user a way to stay connected to their online life anywhere they went. The nature of the iPhone brought focus on cell network speed and capacity, and (arguably) accelerated much of the cellular standards development we have seen over the past 5 years.
Recently, Apple has again coasted on their brand, regularly updating their hardware and software with relatively minor (yet still intuitive) augmentations. I've left out many of the other things Apple has done in their recent history to save whatever shred of being concise I had, but this section does Apple justice in painting the picture of Apple's strategy under Jobs. Always asking "What do they want?" and then going beyond whatever the answer is. This creativity and innovation has been the driving force behind Apple's massive growth and profitability, and is the point of my concern.
Here's my fear: Apple, without the defining vision of Steve Jobs, will lose their edge. As a subscriber to this idea I already pick out small "hints" to suggest this idea might be right, but I certainly won't know until much more time has passed.
If you look at the newest generation of iPods, you see what can be described as tacky design and a seemingly identical format. The difference between an iPod Nano and an iPod Touch is becoming negligible, and the rather uneventful updates to iOS in the past few generations appear static in comparison to competitor products that have seen major evolutionary changes in a smaller timeframe.
Rather than looking to the future, Apple (joining the rest of the tech world) has gotten wrapped up in large legal battles focused on securing proven technology. In their success Apple has historically looked toward the future almost exclusively, with focus on 'the next' and not 'the last'. Yet here Apple stands fighting like a threatened animal over the current generation of products. Steve Jobs legacy is with Apples reform and renewed energy in the 2000s, yet the empty shell he leaves behind has gone from serving as a resilient shield against the unknowns of the future to an alamo for the current Apple leadership to regroup and refocus.
The problem with this is that I see no real motivation in Tim Cook and his people to keep raising the bar. Competitors like Google have taken advantage of this stagnation to take up the agressive spirit Jobs once held and push forward as the best in their field. Google now holds a brand as strong as that of Apple's, and present themselves as the advocate of the consumer.
Not only has Apple lost their lead in the market, but now we find them at odds with a new generation of consumers that is increasingly more informed of technological advances. This makes it more difficult to anticipate what the consumer of tomorrow might want in their devices, because in many cases they are already vocal about it. Now the key is staying multiple steps ahead of the consumer, adding stress to the already daunting task of filling their own shoes.
Perhaps this is just the nature of the industry as it changes on its own, but if my memory serves me correctly Apple has never been one to follow the industry. If this is the direction Apple is headed, then my bet on who will lead the market in innovation will not remain with them for much longer.
TL;DR: Apple appears less to have been less innovative in the past year - and based on the agressive approach their main competitors (Google, namely) are adopting - I predict they may find themselves back in 1986 all over again.