Have you ever had a feeling that just wouldn’t go away? A feeling that isn’t easy to describe but is never a good one. That’s how I feel about Apple these days. Yes, our favorite gadget maker is riding high, nearing a billion dollars in value, and far eclipsing the best Steve Jobs could do.
Maybe I’m sensing an inordinate sense of impending doom but I don’t have any numbers to back it up. iPhone, Mac, iPad, Watch, AirPod, et al, are selling well and even the company’s Services group has become the leading growth division, remarkable in itself because Apple is a hardware company more than software and services.
What’s wrong? Allow me to call this Apple fatigue; a feeling that not all is right with Apple, and what’s wrong is hidden well by the numbers, once a reflection of the company’s outsized mindshare over marketshare, but no more. What’s going on?
CES, the massive consumer electronics show held in Las Vegas every year, ended last week. As usual, I didn’t go. As usual, Apple didn’t go, either, but in the past Apple always had a presence. This year, nothing; zilch, nada, Apple who? Apple has always had an outsized presence within the computer industry and still does. Computers. Mac. iPad. iPhone. Watch. Apps. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is Apple’s ability to drive the entire consumer electronics market. Once competitors copied every PC to look like a Mac notebook, copied every smartphone to look like an iPhone, what’s left?
Apple has a billion customers and makes more money than most developed nations but a fatigue of sorts has settled in. Apple is old. Apple is tired. Apple is not leading the technology industry into the future.
From everything I’ve read about CES 2018, Apple was a notable no show while Amazon, Google, Samsung, and others took center stage and outlined their view of the future of technology. Talking speakers may not yet be a big thing in the marketplace, but they were on stage everywhere– as connected gadgets– at CES.
Apple has become an afterthought; a once a proud leader of the march to the future now relegated to a player always playing from behind, always in need of a score, in the game, but not in the playoffs.
Why? What’s going on?
Kate MacKenzie outlines some of what many of us see in Apple these days in her missive Apple And The ‘Vision Thing’.
That Steve Jobs had the ‘vision thing’ and Tim Cook does not is an ongoing argument with no legs. Jobs had vision, and combined with personal power and position power– plus the manufacturing engine that Cook built– Apple launched a stellar array of industry changing products.
That describes the base line of Apple’s successes in the 21st century. The Mac may have been Jobs’ claim to fame but not just the Mac.
It all started with the original Apple computer, but the Mac was Jobs’ claim to fame. At least, until his second coming in 1997. Since then, the company that Jobs built launched Apple Stores, the iPod and iTunes duopoly, switched the Mac from PowerPC to Intel Inside, redefined the smartphone industry with the iPhone, and rebuilt the tablet in his image with the iPad.
These were part of a string of market disruptions that catapulted Apple into riches and prominence, and Tim Cook was around and heavily influenced everything except Apple’s vision after Jobs died.
What has Apple launched since Jobs’ death? Cook has led the company to an amazing level of riches– from shareholder value to revenue and profits; and continued to improve and expand the iPhone and the Mac, stabilized the iPad’s fall from industry-leading grace, bought Beats for music and headphones, launched Apple Music, Apple Watch, and AirPods, and turned the Services group into Apple’s fastest growing profit center.
Apple was mostly ignored at CES because Apple has not kept up with product and market disruptions in the same vein as it did during Jobs’ second reign. Apple is the iPhone company and while the products are competitive, a degree of same-old same-old fatigue has set it– first at the company itself, secondly within the technology industry (as exemplified by a decidedly non-Apple presence at CES), and perhaps soon with customers.
What can Apple do to lead again?
Apple needs that ‘vision thing’ more than ever and Tim Cook repatriating a few hundred billion dollars in profits, buying more stock, and issuing more dividends while allowing the non-iPhone, non-Watch products languish seems like a sin to me, a notion that likely falls on deaf and tin ears in Cupertino