I know Apple has a lot of fanboys and fangirls. If you’re one of them, or even just a casual Apple user, I want to make it clear that I have immense respect for what Steve Jobs and so many others have built over the last few decades.
But please, hear me out.
Apple used to be the very definition of innovation. To put it in music terms, Apple went platinum on almost every album for decades, but now they can’t seem to get on a Billboard chart with even one song anymore. People used to queue in front of the stores for new product releases. It was a sold-out show every time.
It's not that Apple doesn’t innovate anymore. It’s just that their innovation cycles are much slower and less effective. They were ahead of the market constantly, at times even creating new markets in the process.
Apple Was Often First
If you look back on the history of Apple, the company was first in lots of categories:
- The first to revolutionize the home PC market
- The first to bring artists’ entire music catalogs to a mobile device (the iPod)
- The first to build a digital marketplace for music (iTunes)
- The first to combine a phone, music, and the internet all into one device (the iPhone, which created a whole new category of device)
- The first to build a robust marketplace that seamlessly blended developers and mobile devices (App Store)
- The first to find the hybrid spot of desktop and mobile (the iPad)
- The first to popularize a smart wearable device (the Apple Watch)
- The first to…..
The Apple team was a group of visionaries who didn’t wonder, “What is the market doing that we could do better?” Instead, they wanted to find what the market wasn’t currently doing and what people needed.
Then they experimented, iterated, failed forward, and built products and ideas that drove the market forward in a profound way. In the process, they usually created an entirely new market that other companies used to launch their own products.
Stuck in a Cycle
Today, Apple is stuck in an endless cycle of imitating its own past success. It’s a “legacy band” playing its old hits for crowds, sucking as much revenue and profit from its old hits with incremental hardware and software updates.
They make decisions to maximize short-term shareholder returns instead of investing time, money, and energy into long-term markets and improving innovation.
Now, before you cry, “But what about Apple’s new Vision Pro headset? That looks incredibly innovative!” True, it does look like a lot of fun! But mixed reality headsets–especially ones like Vision Pro, which will retail for $3,499–are probably not going to rise to the level of “essential product.” It is an amazingly disruptive product, maybe ahead of its time like the Tesla Roadster.
How many millions upon millions of people use their iPhone, AirPods, or Apple Watch every single day? Compare that to how many people will likely integrate a headset into their life in the same way. It’s much, much smaller.
In All Fairness …
Let me be fair, though. To Apple’s enduring credit, the company has continued to perform well financially. It’s literally the most valuable company in the world. But because of its success, the company is more focused on maintaining what it’s built, rather than truly innovating.
It’s easy to look back at the years when Steve Jobs ran the company and see those through rose-colored glasses. In many ways, those were indeed the golden years of Apple.
But remember, Steve didn’t always get it right. In 2007, he famously decreed that “people want to own their music” instead of looking forward to the innovation of streaming music instead of owning it. Apple eventually became a me-too follower of Spotify, which had the dominant algorithm and biggest catalog of artists.
There’s a great lesson here for every Business Artist: you can become so successful that you’ve boxed yourself into a corner. Then you become a legacy company in the vein of Coca-Cola, which has successfully sold the same basic product for well over one hundred years.
Nothing wrong with profitability and financial success, of course. But we should never confuse that with real innovation.
You don’t often hear someone say, “I hope they prove me wrong.” But in this case, I’d love to see Apple succeed with new products. I just wish it would be a category of device, and a price range, that will be more accessible and valuable to the everyday user. Time will tell.