Quo vadis Apple?

I’m reading too much lately, about Apple being doomed. Because they can’t innovate anymore, without Steve Jobs. Because investors are starting to dominate the direction. Because they have the wrong CEO. Because competitors are catching up or out-pacing them. Because of shrinking market share. The list goes on. And I’m asking myself, is Apple really doomed? Or is Apple, after a lot of innovation across all major product lines in 2012, just taking a deep breath – before they surprise us all with a next revolutionary new product?

First of all, it was Steve Jobs, who said – during the 2007 iPhone introduction keynote:

Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything … One’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate it’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world.

What Steve is saying here is two things. First, you’re fortunate if it happens. I think he knew very well that there’s more to it than just building a great product. For a new product to become a game changer, something that disrupts a market, or even creates an entirely new market, a lot of things have to come together. And some of them aren’t under your direct control or influence. Second, you’re lucky if you get to work on just one of these. Well, Apple’s done it a few times. The Macintosh, the iPod, iPhone, iPad. However, is there anything like a natural  path, like Apple’s always going to disrupt every couple of years? Creating entirely new categories of products that drive the world into the next wave of hype? No. Of course not.

So first of all, when I look at what’s being written about Apple these days, I can’t do anything but whole heartedly disagree with the expectations. Apple is just a company. A company building great products. No more than that. Never was anymore than that. What’s out of control is what we expect them to do. But without that, without the continues flow of introducing  revolutionary products, what is Apple actually? Well, I think Steve Jobs had said it very clearly, many years ago: Building insanely great products! And Tim Cook re-iterates it at every possible opportunity: We continue to build great products! One of the best examples in this GeekWire article by Blair Hanley Frank. Can’t agree more. Can’t find more continuity and loyalty to the core company values.

Also, why’s Apple required to continue introducing a revolutionary product every couple of years? Because of our insane expectation that they should? Certainly yes, just because we’re used to getting our hands on those revolutionary new products, we think we got to have more of it, right? Well, that’d be cool. However, those nagging articles fueled by Wall Street expectations are more an expression of investors’ hope for continued growth. Market share and growth. John Kirk on Tech.pinions wrote a series of articles that covers market share in great depth, which I really liked. But growth should be even easier to take apart. Resources on this planet are finite. The population on this planet is finite. Everything, except eternity is finite. And maybe not even that is, who knows. So, no matter how hard any given company tries – it will hit a wall. Period. So, just to be clear on that, we’re never ever talking about growth, in the context of revenues, market share, or other metrics. We are in fact talking about a temporary growth! And any accelerated growth will ultimately just lead to hitting the wall earlier. No matter how you look at it. You can, as a company,  in a market with competitors, take a bigger slice of the share. You will still hit the wall. Well, unless you’re only thinking about a very limited period of time, and maybe you’re thinking that time span is enough to make a fortune on the stock market and then run away. End of this topic. Why growth should be good for any company is beyond my imagination. And I guess that’s maybe worth a dedicated article… Why growth should be good for Apple, I don’t get. What is important for Apple, and for any company who’s serious about building great products, is that they stay healthy enough to be able to spend on R&D. When I read the quarterly financial reports Apple releases, it’s not hard to see that that’s the case.

Is Apple building a smart TV? Is Apple building a smart watch? Honestly, I couldn’t care less. I have a flat screen TV, still from the pre smart area. None networked. Would I love to get one that’s really smart? Like one built by Apple? Certainly yes. But here’s why. And I think that’s the relevant question. Why would Apple – or anybody else for that matter – enter into a new market? Why has Apple entered into the smart phone market back in 2007? Very simply said – because phones were fucked up. They were dreadful. Complicated to use. Built a very long time ago, when things were a lot more technology driven (vs. design/consumer driven). When design was so limited to what was technically possible. And then things became so very boring. Vendors were just able to think about additional features. I still remember back at the time, when I read the first rumors Apple would built a phone. What a pain relief. I was so much looking forward to it. And a TV today? Yeah! Same reason. What we have is  a legacy. It’s been built so long ago, as a pure consumption device. Just sit in front of it. Watch. Period. This market so desperately needs something really smarter, better. Not just a little easier to use UI, or a Wifi connection to replace my remote with an App. I mean something revolutionary. What I’m describing here is, im my opinion, one of the key, if not the key, prerequisite to entering a whole new market: Is it messed up enough. Are all the products available, no matter how hard I look, all kind of equally boring. And they’re all not really something I adore after having purchased one. That’s true for TV today, and looking at the past, it looks as if Apple, more than any other company, has had the courage to both. Use that as a guiding principle for entering a market, and also the courage to go do it despite having no prior experience. Like they’ve done an iPhone, despite the fact they had no experience with GSM and all the many technologies used in phones. Well, maybe that’s even an advantage! Because it forces you to think about all the things once again. And that kind of thinking allowed them to come up with something like visual voice mail (still one of the best loved features for me even today) and many more – and in summary a truly revolutionary mobile phone.

How I look at Apple today? They’re loyal to their core values, which is undoubtedly the most important of all. Whether they are building the next revolution, maybe in TV or any other market, I don’t know. However, I continue to believe they’re the number one company on this planet who’s capable of doing it! As long as they’re able to ignore Wall Street enough, so their core values don’t get under-mined, they’re in good shape. How much share of the smart phone market they have has no relevance to my life. Whether they build a TV or smart watch this year or next or maybe never, would make me happy I guess. But does it mean anything about how great they are? As long as they continue building great PCs and iPhones and iPads, and all the other great stuff, should I not be happy? Seriously, I fear nothing more than too much distraction with too many new products, and a loss of focus on building great stuff. I fear nothing more than a world in which I had to use plastic PC, a geeky Android phone and a cheap tablet with poor built quality and battery life. Cruel thoughts.