A friend and Apple fan served as the inspiration for this article when he posted the following comment on Facebook right after the launch of iOS7:
“Thanks for the Windows phone, Apple.“
A comment that reflects my opinion precisely.
The Apple train is steadily and decisively veering off the tracks of the vector Steve Jobs so diligently laid out for the company, with stock traders bemused about the longevity of innovation derived from his afterglow.
Blessed by curse
As entrepreneurs, we are both blessed and cursed. We are blessed because we have the imagination and authentic positivity to envision and execute on what a brand new world would look like. We are cursed because we are adamant and vocal about the imperfections of the status quo and refuse to bow down to its inevitable mediocrity. A refusal that continually feeds the “hydrologic cycle” of our blessings.
In contrast to the foresight, as mentioned earlier, deployed by entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, the faith in Apple’s financial health by investors and traders is grounded in the extrapolation of hindsight, as the only instrument by which they can make “prudent” investment decisions. Fair enough.
Hence, as long as Apple keeps producing projected sales numbers from downstream optimizations from Steve’s legacy, all is well with Apple’s reputation on Wall Street (for the time being), Tim Cook gets to rule another quarter with his scepter of operational efficiency. Any of you can comfortably dismiss this article as a nuisance of negativity.
Ignorance is bliss
However, such dismissal does not sit well with people who wish for Apple a renewable future. A future that promises to continue to deliver the best computing experiences one can imagine. A dismissal is a profound opposition to the evolution of innovation.
I believed in Apple way before the stampede of populism arrived at the same conclusion. And perhaps not surprisingly, I came at the early assessment of Apple’s derailment with the same foresight, way before Steve Jobs’ passing. And short of listing detailed arguments here, I could see how certain crucial decisions had already passed him by.
Now, it is relatively easy to look back at what happened with Apple and extrapolate hindsight to appear as foresight. Trust me; many will regurgitate hindsight when the numbers start to shake. Retail just began to wobble with its first decline since 2009, commoditized mobile platforms stay to eat Apples for lunch, and growth is slowly tapering off.
The gloves of populism will soon come off—high time for another batch of downstream innovations from Apple.
Without upstream, downstream runs dry
The real problem with Apple is that it has not delivered any upstream innovation since before Steve Jobs’ passing and that no amount of operational efficiency can make up for this virtual standstill of meaningful innovation. The imperative of innovation that would otherwise act as Apple’s own worst competitor and keep itself unique.
Retail cannot be saved by Angela Ahrendts, formerly at Burberry, without great innovation to prime her pump. The design of iOS7 by Jonathan “Jony” Ive is largely irrelevant (and disturbing) if it does not fundamentally make the need for interaction disappear. The pace of software upgrades by Craig Federighi is largely irrelevant (and disturbing) if it does not improve intelligence and simultaneously and reinvent what “a phone” can do.
And then there were…
Apple’s challenges may not be visible to stock traders or investors who rely on how they can outperform populism. The slow boat of populism that took long to swing into Apple’s favor might be hesitant to respond the other way too. But those who hope Apple will continue to serve the best computing experience for as long as they live should be worried.
My summarized concerns are the following:
- The vector of foresight at Apple has not produced any upstream innovation (since 2006) to build faith that the proposition of the company is renewable and therefore remains sustainable. Instead, the company frequently and openly sells downstream innovation as upstream. A ploy that convinces all but those interested in the renewable value of Apple.
- No single person at Apple today is or can be held materially responsible for the cohesion of the computing experience that mimics, and drives the curation of the customer experience. From the cracks showing in the interdependencies of Apple’s uniquely integrated offering, the buck does not stop with Tim Cook, and it now ends in the hands of growing unease with customers.
- The economics deployed by a pivotal number of Apple products violate “free-market” principles, which, combined with its perceived monopoly, will pave the way for increasing resistance from governments who are coming to grips with that reality. And Apple board beware, products that embellish non-renewable economics form companies that are nonrenewable.
Back to Windows
Just when Steve Jobs had found a way to focus on the massive greenfield of computing usage (some 80% of the world’s population don’t use current technology), with a new and integrated offering and a proprietary business model to set Apple apart from its nemesis, Microsoft, does the lack of understanding and enforcement of his vector slowly but steadily revert the company to the commoditized agenda of the computer marketplace as a whole.
So much so, that die-hard Apple fans now compare iOS7 with the awkward computing experience of Windows. For many more important reasons than the many opacities of a white background, one can imagine.
Dine with us
By the three main problems listed above, Apple has slowly slid into the dangerous and dark place many restaurants find themselves in. The area the pressures of the marketplace have lured them into.
You see, great chefs (and great entrepreneurs for that matter), can be themselves and let the merit of who they are, dictate the value of the restaurant. The restaurant is unique because the chef’s cooking as the foundation for the complete dining experience is unique. Which subsequently attracts an audience in appreciation of that merit.
So, in great restaurants, the merit of the chef determines the authentic alignment with its costumers. A greenfield audience attracted by an experience like no other. Like Apple under Steve Jobs, driving daring innovation without precedent.
We can do whatever you like
But in conventional wisdom, “success” is prescribed by mindless marketing strategies designed to portray a narrow spectrum of rational behaviors by which the customers will be enticed. Not only are those common strategies proven empirically (and here economically) wrong, the diverse needs of customers will begin to quickly erode the merit of the chef’s unique value proposition.
Menus and recipes are torn apart in composition to give customers all the options they may want, in the hopes more of them, will be pleased by a chef willing to be enslaved by “the long tail” quirks of potential costumers.
The problem with the approach mentioned above is that many chefs, who are also not that confident in their abilities, will do the same. They, too, will let their merit be diluted by customers, who came to the restaurant in the first place because they cannot cook better themselves. So now the restaurant loses its unique dining experience at the behest of demanding yet inexperienced “connoisseurs.”
And that, I am sorry to say, is what Apple is becoming under Tim Cook.
Fast food and fast technology
Sure, it is fun to have a hamburger at times. You can dress up any way your heart desires. I enjoy one with blue cheese on occasion. But you can get that hamburger in many places and many price-points. You can even elect to cook at home. Good luck in maintaining profit margins.
Apple, however, was a different company. A company where greenfield users became enamored by the merit of its confident technology chef, serving up something new, fresh, and meaningful. Uncorrelated to the technology industry’s ugly and imperfect past.
Now, the great legacy Steve Jobs left behind will shroud the walk of shame to fast technology, and few can pinpoint today with precision. To me, however, the same triggers that made me vouch for Apple some 20 years ago are now loudly signaling the company is running off track.
Steve Jobs was a fantastic entrepreneur. But humanly not perfect. He always succeeded in upstream innovation (that may have needed some time to gestate), and sometimes failed in the more correctable implementation of downstream.
One of those downstream failures includes the economic naiveté of Apple’s critical stance in the media business. This discovery can do real damage to the company if only its competitors are not stuck in the same infancy. And who can fault the board for selecting Tim, as Steve’s closest conductor on the Apple train, to become his most widely acceptable replacement?
But the best salespeople, Tim’s core competence, are seldom the ones that come up with innovative products. Because great salespeople are trained to be benders and pleasers, counter to the behavior of a tenured technology chef driving a vision (without precedent) that redefines merit. Conversely, salespeople put in-charge are bound to become the chefs of restaurants that inevitably succumb to the subprime needs of a commoditized marketplace.
I am loyal to my actual beliefs (as they served me well), and it pains me to see Apple turn into just another trough of technology. Mainly because I think I can make Apple a renewable company again.
But I should probably stop blogging about it and accept that Steve Jobs’ death will slowly become the death of Apple. Hard for me to watch, but in Steve’s own words, essential to evolution.