Has Apple reached the end of the line?

So I’m sat on a London bus going to buy a birthday cake, and I put, as I usually do, a set of boundary conditions around penning a blog. In this case, on my iPad, two short bus journeys totalling about 20 minutes.

And I’m pondering why, whilst I love my iPad 2, I very rarely use it. It is an item of beauty, of fashion and style. It is better than the original iPad by a million miles. The battery life is amazing and it integrates with all my other Apple stuff. It is always ready to use, always on the Internet with cellular Internet or Wi-Fi and never goes wrong.

So why then does it rarely get any use? When I go on holiday it is my device of choice – mostly because it is hard to work on it and temptation is kept at bay. At conferences where there is a lot of walking I sometimes use it. But the rest of the time it stays at home. And quietly downloads my email.

And then I think of Apple as a whole, I start to wonder when it last innovated. The iPod, in 2001. The iPhone in 2007. The iPad in 2009 and the unibody MacBook in 2008. Each of those were very interesting innovations. Like all good innovations, the technology wasn’t quite there to make version one a success.

What Apple has done amazingly well over the last 4 years is to execute on its past innovation. I have no doubt that their product line right now is the best, most polished it has ever been. Just like Nokia’s was in 2001. And that, you see, is the problem.

Because if Apple thinks that the new Apple TV, iPad 2 or iPhone 4S are innovations, they are dead in the water in 5 years time. The closest thing Apple have to innovation in the last 2 years is Siri, but their entire smartphone design is in such silos that Siri cannot integrate to the level it would need to, to innovate.

I don’t think that Apple is necessarily dead in the water yet, because there is time to be innovative once more – and remember that one amazing product every 5 years, with excellent execution in the middle, is still enough. The death of the innovator himself, Steve Jobs, makes that much harder for them.

Regardless of this, Apple will continue to grow because of their fantastic execution, for years to come. But unless we see a change, I predict that we will look back in 2020 as 2011 being the beginning of the end.

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6 Responses to Has Apple reached the end of the line?

  1. Craig Cmehil says:

    It seems an almost morbid predication for Apple on the eve of the new year? I can’t discount what you are saying but there are so many small little things that Apple has done lately with so little fan fair that I personally have to see them as innovations. Albeit the definition of innovation is a very subjective one.

    Just this past year I’ve made a few purchases from Apple products that have literally altered my life and how I live in terms of convenience and comfort and for me that is innovations.

    Two of the items I am referring to are the Apple TV (small black box) and the Touchpad – two small and literally simple concepts but yet the way they integrate to everything it has changed the way I work and do things. For starters I might use a DVD player or Blu Ray maybe 5 times a year, because the simplistic nature and the tight integration with iTunes on my iMac has now encouraged me to digitize my entire media collection. I even spend more time on details and now have a really comprehensive media library available to me that I can stream to my iPad or even sync and take with me. Add the iCloud and now things start to get more interesting but what am I? 1 maybe 2% of the users who can and would take full advantage of this type of integration?

    The touchpad has just been tremendous, at first I thought I’ll be going back to the Mighty Mouse within a week and yet I’ve not changed back but found that I have a hard time working with mice now – it’s just not fluid enough.

    Then you have the whole update system now, app store for the desktop. Lion and other major products as a simple download. Again though 1 maybe 2%?

    Now granted so much of what you are saying is really hitting home, for one I’m actually still on the first generation iPad and although I find it an excellent travel companion for the past 4 months it’s as yours has sat at home downloading my email.

    – excellent thoughts to ponder moving into the new year! Have a great one!

    • John Appleby says:

      I hear you on the touchpad – neat bit of electronics. Won’t blow me apart, but I have one sat under my iMac which is mounted on the kitchen wall. Easy to clean.

      On the AppleTV, it’s OK but it singularly fails to resolve the underlying problem: TV User Experience sucks. AppleTV helps with that, but they need to go to the root. Can Apple redefine the television in 2012? That might be newsworthy?

      Thanks and enjoy 2012 yourself. I think it will be an awesome year.

  2. You seem to assume that Apple’s success depends on innovation. I’m not sure why you make that assumption, and I’m not sure it’s ever been true. The iPod *wasn’t* that innovative, was it? There were plenty of other MP3 players out there; Apple just did it *better*, and shinier. The iPhone wasn’t exactly a bolt from the blue either; we had touch-screen handheld computers, and we were connecting them to our phones with Bluetooth and lamenting the lack of “native” GSM capability in them. The iPhone was *so* non-novel that they couldn’t even patent the core concept under the corrupt and widely abused US patent system… although making it rectangular with rounded corners seems to be quite an important invention, it seems.

    I could go on, but that’s not the point. The point is that innovation *isn’t* necessary for Apple to be successful. It never has, and it never will be. Apple’s strength is that they make things *shiny*; they make lifestyle-changing devices that people love to own. Hell, even I buy MacBooks because they’re shiny and well-made, even though I don’t run Apple’s software on them.

  3. John Appleby says:

    Ah that’s what’s fun though isn’t it. Innovation is about three things really: timing, technology availability and cost-point.

    So for example Apple waited to release the iPhone until they could (more or less) create the device they wanted. The iPhone 2G still sucked, based on price point and available technology (3G was too power hungry).

    But I would argue on the point of the iPhone in Apple’s favour of innovation: it had all the elements of a successful innovation.

    1) Tactile and shiny
    2) Easy to use, with an interface that was a pleasure (didn’t crash like Windows Mobile) and a working mobile browser etc., ease of enterprise integration (with OS 2.0)
    3) Combination of several devices: GPS, Phone, Music, Games

    The point is it combined these things at the right time and that’s what was the innovation. Whether it’s patentable is a different question. Microsoft, with WP7 and Google, with Android, followed soon after Apple’s iPhone and tried to take the best bits of it.

    Still, I stand by my point: Apple haven’t repeated that sort of combination recently, they’ve just been executing better and better with the stuff they have. Obviously it’s just my opinion, we’ll see in time, right!

    Happy New Year mate.

  4. I don’t think AAPL or any one else can constantly innovate – what they need is strong execution to keep the years in between going just as strong, maybe with incremental improvements, going into new markets etc. AAPL has strong execution capabilities that Tim Cook put in place, and it can afford to wait a bit for the next big thing. Ives is still there – maybe he will come up with a shinier toy we will all drool over.

  5. Geoff Warriss says:

    Interesting musings John..seems there is someone with a similar lean to you.. http://www.forbes.com/sites/martinsosnoff/2012/02/02/is-apple-the-next-polaroid/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    Fact is the products they create are sturdy and well made, they dont break (not had any issues for 5 years with any of mine – do i add what i have like people do on blogs/ car forums?) and from a design perspective, ooze product design greatness. Jobs has it right, people want simple to use, stylish in looks and a seamless integration.

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