Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Peak Apple Isn't Upon Us

Yesterday was a red letter day for many followers of Apple's software and hardware. Developers, users and financial analysts alike listened with bated breath as Apple's top brass took turns introducing new features and incremental improvements to all its core software platforms:

1. Mobile: iOS
2. Wearable: watchOS
3. Traditional Computing: macOS (new moniker for Mac OS X)
4. Living Room: tvOS

As you can imagine, the announcement was received very differently by its two core sets of constituents: 

1. Users
2. The Press: Financial and Technical

Let me present both view-points to you:

Perspective 1: Users

From a user's standpoint, this was a great announcement. Almost all the changes announced during the keynote seemed logical and much needed enhancements to all platforms. Let's take my household for example: we have 3-iPhones, 3-iPads, 3 MacBooks, 1 iMac, and an AppleTV soon. All my devices will be better integrated, work faster, use on-device storage better (can I get a whoop-whoop for AppleFS), and last longer on the same charge. 

Additionally, the degree of change introduced yesterday varied from platform to platform. This made a lot of sense to me as a user. The most mature, macOS got a few key enhancements and a new name but not much else. Contrast that with watchOS, which got a complete overhaul! For the nascent Apple Watch platform, i.e. watchOS, I share the popular viewpoint that the device was released prematurely. watchOS was just not ready last year! Had the release version of watchOS been as capable and "full term" as the one announced last morning, the Apple Watch wouldn't have been "still born". The device's sales haven't been stellar; dare I say they have been lackluster. Apple actually dropped the price of the device less than a year after it was a year-old. This was an unprecedented move: Apple doesn't really reduce the price of a device until either a carrier decides to subsidize the device's price (in the case of the original iPhone) or it releases a new model (all device releases thus far). We have now learned of a third circumstance in which they reduce prices: pragmatism.

To summarize: Hurrah for users!

Perspective 2: The Press

In the 24-some hours since the announcement, the Technology press has been inundated with Apple doom and gloom type articles. Daring Fireball's @gruber notwithstanding, most of Apple's ardent supporters have said that the company is more into "renovation than innovation" these days. This is no different a tune from that sung since the passing of Steve Jobs. Apple under Tim Cook has been accused of improving as opposed to innovating, incrementally at that. Another accusation routinely leveled at the company has been that it has lost its edge, its mojo. They don't know how "Apple can get its groove back". Hardware-software integration and overall software usability, once Apple's crown jewel, has also come under attack of late. Popular blogger Marco Arment's now widely quoted post from last month alludes to Apple having missed the boat when it comes to Artificial Intelligence services as compared to rivals Google, Facebook and Microsoft. Ouch!

The collective press that covers Apple, as you might have figured, doesn't have the same concerns as us users. They look to Apple for leadership in every market segment, and want Apple to continue to grow their sphere of influence to encompass more domains, more devices, more users, more services, more, more... Unfortunately, Apple isn't delivering like the press wants them to; arguably speaking, they haven't delivered for a while now. Therefore, the press does what it does best: Turn on their darling in the quest for more clicks, more ads, more readership.

Is there a middle ground?

The press's expectations are so absurdly high that they are not achievable. Apple can do no right at the present moment; and while there is some truth to their prognostications of doom, I would characterize Apple's current phase of one of consolidation as opposed to feverish growth. Apple is becoming more and more like Microsoft, acting like a Blue Chip company, and shareholders should rejoice. Unfortunately, the press construes delivering value to be mutually exclusive with being charismatic. And Apple is definitely delivering value.

The broader issue here is that 2 out of the 4-platforms, i.e. 50%, have reached a level of maturity that makes it hard to truly "shock and awe" the pundits. Users will continue to buy and use these devices, but they aren't expecting significant changes at this point in their lifecycle. Take me for example: A Luddite by no means. But, even I seem to like things the way they are, and my platform lock-in is almost irreversible. While I welcome efficiency and usability gains, I would be extremely frustrated if I were faced with the proposition of reacclimatizing myself with a wholly redesigned macOS or iOS.

So, we are at an impasse.

The Path Forward

What we really need is a new interaction paradigm. The Apple Watch is the first salvo but it missed the mark. I am going on a limb here, but something like a hybrid of the watch with a Leap Motion type screen that presents a 1-way viewable hologram with which we can interact would make us rethink how we use devices to stay connected with our networks - personal and professional. Shifting the locus of the discussion to a whole new platform will allow Apple (and other companies) to put the established platforms on a continuous improvement cycle as opposed to the current pressure chamber created by lofty expectations.


  1. Apple seems to have decided that only software announcements are appropriate at WWDC. This is probably a Tim Cook decision. Steve Jobs had a better sense of timing. For example, Jobs introduced the first iPad at WWDC in 2010.

    I think Steve Jobs would have recognized that the audience at WWDC, Apple developers, badly want improvements to the MacBook Pro. Tim Cook's Apple has nothing to show or say about this. A major new high-end MacBook product announcement should have happened at WWDC 2016.

    1. You make a good point. As a guy looking for a new laptop, I agree with you. The entire hardware line needs a refresh so maybe what Apple needs is another keynote in which hardware announcements are made. Muddying the waters, like they did at last year's event, will only result in confusion and bad press.

      Every CEO takes a little time to find a groove when it comes to timing product launches. Let's give Tim Cook and his leadership team find theirs.