Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tim Cook told Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco that, ”Innovation is strong as ever and in the DNA of the company.”  This from a company that has been playing catch-up and suing it’s competitors for the past two years other than really innovating. Noting that the smartphones and tablets are the backbone of Apple’s cash cow Cook underlined its “experience” is the true force of Apple’s innovation. ”Apple has skills in software, hardware and services. The model that grew the PC industry where companies specialized. That model is not working for what consumers want today,” said Cook. “Consumers want this elegant experience.” Why service definitely helps pack Apple Stores and customers snap up shiny new products, it’s not the only thing that keeps them buying.  No, true innovation keeps them coming.

Apple brought itself into a new era, and market, with the iPod.  It innovated a product that the founder of the MP3 player, Rio, couldn’t manage. Then again Apple innovated a product that was birthed elsewhere and took away the smartphone market from Palm.  Lastly, it showed Microsoft, the company that first brought the tablet to us in 2001, how to really innovate.

So now Apple has over $100 billion in the bank, packed stores, and enjoys the majority market share for tablets, smartphones (hardware), and even still for audio players.  But all those numbers are slipping and show little sign of reversing.  Sure, Cook can tell worried investors that the market is just increasing in size and it still has a larger chunk than it originally had, but those are excuses, not innovation. Instead of showing the world anything of great significance in the last three years, we simply hear how great Apple is and nothing more.  No talk of the future.  No talk of pushing the envelope.  No talk other than a nice shined marketing speech.

Apple’s last true innovation was the release of the iPad in 2010.  That’s three years ago and in that time, the Android Army has been hard at work chipping away at Apple’s market dominance and even forcing Apple into a product it bad-mouthed later that year.  Steve Jobs famously told investors, “7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad. ….7-Inch tablets are dead on arrival.”  Dead, huh?  As not to further damn his himself, Jobs went on to state, “While one could increase the resolution to make up some of the difference, it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size. Apple has done expensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff.”  Last I saw in the Apple Store, the iPad mini does not come with sandpaper. No, Jobs didn’t understand that the market actually DOES know what it wants sometimes – another famous saying Jobs liked to quip – and Apple’s own Eddie Cue urged Jobs to his death bed to let Apple make a 7″-ish tablet.  Clearly, innovation was ignored, bad-mouthed, and fought before it was it acknowledged.  Of course, in classic Apple style, it was quick to point out that the iPad mini isn’t really a 7″ tablet and it has “features” that improve the experience of an Android tablet.  Please…

Moving on, let’s look at the iPhone now.  Again, a truly innovative product when introduced, Apple seemed to slow down the gears of innovation and trickled out features year by year. Even though 3G was active in nearly half of AT&T’s network, Apple waited until the second generation to release a phone that supported the faster data speeds.  Outside of that, the iPhone 3G had little more to offer than a new look.  The camera still sucked, battery life was still dismal, and the OS had little advancement.

Apple continued this little-by-little strategy with each release all the way to the iPhone 5.  Instead of caving into the larger screen that has pushed sales of the Samsung Galaxy S III to a market leader and the talk of the town, Apple stretched the screen and chimed about how it was still easily used one-handily. That, was its innovation.  Apple’s previous yearly trickle of innovation was Siri.  Siri, the voice-to-text software, was an application in the App Store for about a year that gained much attention when it first was released.  Quickly scooped up by Apple and re-established as an integrated aspect of the operating system, Siri was reborn an Apple innovation.  No, excuse me, as a beta.  Now as we near two years – in beta – Siri is nothing more than a feature to ask it silly questions and become extremely irritated at its inability to send a text message that is even 40% accurate or – heck – even finish your sentence as it often just gives up leaving a partial text output.  In the meantime, Google released it’s Google Now app for the iPhone with stunningly quick and accurate speech-to-text.  No, it’s not beta, either.

I could go on about how iLife, once considered a stunning collection of multimedia applications for the Mac, hasn’t even been touched in over three years and languishes away or how its extremely expensive Thunderbolt technology two years later lacks a plethora of accessories.  Financial analysts bonked Apple over the head on the market a few weeks ago after Apple produced its best quarter ever.  Why?  Analysts see little in the future to hold Apple up and the numbers are indicating this.  Apple continues to be mute on future product and shows little innovation in the last three years.  Sure, the Retina display has dawned screens across the board, Bluetooth 4 graced wireless devices, and a great camera  in the phones.  But it’s not enough when compared to the competitors.  Instead of really kicking its competitors butt, Apple sues them.  Real innovators respond with, “Top this!”

History shows that Apple is on a four-year cycle of innovation.  The iPod, iPhone, and then iPad.  That gives us about a year before the next big thing.  Many think it’s a TV and I can see that.  Apple’s true innovation is taking something that already exists and making it better.  TV sales have declined and consumers aren’t fooled by bells-and-whistles such as 3-D. The networks are the issue for release just like the labels were for the iTunes Music Store.  I feel Apple can overcome that opposition but without Jobs, it will be tougher.

What after the Apple TV television? I can’t imagine that the road map goes dry after that.  I’m sure what ever it is, it’s already on the books and is being ironed out.  But will anyone care by then?  While the four years worked in the last decade, competitors and patent trolls have changed the landscape accelerating change.  Apple has already shown with the last two iOS updates, iPad mini, and the iPhone 5 – to a point – that it does better at catching up than pushing the competition.  If it doesn’t wish to become the next Sony – one of Steve Jobs’ biggest fears – then it needs to stop this madness of its delusional outlook on innovation and actually innovate again.  Stop riding the gravy train and trickling out features.  Apple had the money to demand LTE chips that are low power consuming a year before it finally hit the iPhone.  Apple had the money to make Siri actually work…upon initial release.  Apple has the money to force new technologies to market quicker than the other guy.  Jobs pushed Corning for a glass iPhone when its own CEO said it couldn’t be done.  Apple shoved a desktop operating system into a handheld device while others said it couldn’t be done.  Apple can do it.  If it wants.  Right now, it looks like it just wants to pats its own back. Ask Sony how that’s working, Tim.