Well, it’s that time once again. Almost on cue, every few years, the Apple “death knell” begins. This time, investors are getting nervous due to one of the first Apple (AAPL) earnings reports to fall flatter than usual. This red flag is now hoisted over the Apple kingdom, with Tim Cook trying to diffuse the situation by recently appearing on Jim Cramer’s financial show on CNBC. The public wasn’t overly pleased with the appearance, even though it did bring the Apple stock shares up a bit in the following days. Even comparisons to former Apple CEO John Sculley (who fired Steve Jobs from Apple before Jobs’ return to Apple) seem to be bubbling to the surface of Tim Cook’s Apple tenure. The public is now starting to ask, “What’s going on with Apple?”
Who’s the current visionary at Apple?
Well, first things first. We can all agree that Tim Cook is simply not Steve Jobs. We can also agree that there simply just isn’t a Steve Jobs anywhere near Apple at this point–that’s a sad statement to make, but, it’s simply the truth. Steve Jobs was someone who simply probably won’t be reincarnated anytime soon by any company out there–he was simply an enigma who was placed perfectly in the right place at the right time. Tim Cook cannot simply become Steve Jobs–they are remarkably 2 different people in most ways. Going down the executive chain brings the same result–there simply are no Steve Jobs visionaries waiting in the wings, as far as we can see. This is not to say that there will never be another Steve Jobs in the tech industry, but, as far as the stock-buying public is concerned, we are simply left to ponder the Apple under Tim Cook for the foreseeable future.
Apple seems to be caught in a predictable vacuum of the old Apple glory days–churning out various iterations of the same iPhone, iPad, MacBook, etc. These products have been the foundation and bedrock of Apple for years, obviously–however–the fatigue is starting to eat away at that very foundation. The die-hard Apple fans who survived Steve Jobs’ death and looked forward to the post-Jobs Apple are now slowly starting to question the company under Tim Cook. They are wondering where those electrifying and legendary Apple keynote speeches have gone. They are wondering how many more versions of the iPhone and iPad they actually want to purchase, with very little changes between releases of these products. They are wondering what’s happening to the Macintosh operating system, which feels like it’s starting to meld to iOS and take features and familiar software away, such as iPhoto. As with anything, what goes up, must eventually come down, whether completely crashing into the ground, or, just dropping altitude slowly.
It’s time for Apple to get back into the hype and excitement business–releasing insanely new products that we never thought would exist–not just regurgitations of the same old cash cow products with different colors and thinner footprints than before. Tim Cook will never be Steve Jobs, nor should he have to be. What he needs to do, however, is find something or someone as exciting and visionary as Steve was–as close as he can get. Is this impossible? Probably damn close to impossible. However, the public isn’t going to wait forever before their short attention spans begin to wander to the next gee-whiz company, who will try to introduce new products and concepts to capture their attention.
What’s the next big thing from Apple?
Obviously, that’s an impossible question to answer unless you are in the R & D lab at Apple. I have to maintain that more versions of the iPhone and iPad aren’t it. Yes, they will be here forever, I’m sure, but, they aren’t game changers anymore. Adding fingerprint sensors and other “features” to these aging devices isn’t new or revolutionary. The Apple public needs the fuse lit on the next insanely great products and services that they have come to expect from the Steve Jobs-era Apple. The very long-term existence of Apple depends on it at this time, or, they are going to be relegated to being the next ho-hum conglomerate company, such as Sony. Apple is too good and has come to far to become irrelevant due to the lack of vision that the company once, and then twice, and maybe even three times had. Tim Cook has to decide who the next visionary is, and make them front and center, much like Steve Jobs was.
As far as Apple’s current lineup goes, it probably is due for a total shakeup–a shakeup not seen since Jobs swooped in and dropped the hammer across every part of the company, product by product. If there’s no such thing as the “next big thing,” then Apple needs to take a long, hard look at their current product family and really do some soul-searching as to what stays, what goes and what gets overhauled for the next iteration of Apple. Once again, I keep seeing the same treadmill-effect each quarter of “new” products–which tend to just be size and color changes, processor speed-bumps and things getting thinner and more delicate. This vicious circle needs to end or we as Apple customers are going to get bored and move onto greener pastures–if there are any. Most large tech product companies are in relatively the same boat as Apple finds itself in now, including Samsung. This is yet another company that is just piling on “features,” which really don’t equate to much in the end–it’s still the same old phone with a fresh coat of paint. At this pace, it’s going to be young, small and nimble companies that rise from the bottom of the pile to complete this task, by introducing crazy new products and services that we have never even thought of yet. With the billions of dollars in the bank that Apple has, this should be first and foremost on the Apple roadmap–before the little guys come nipping at their heels.
What does Apple do now?
Apple has a lot of reinventing to do at this point–serious reinventing to get the groundswell back from the Steve Jobs era. Here’s a few thoughts, from the top of my head:
- Do I dare say break Apple into smaller pieces? Maybe. Pieces that go together like jigsaw pieces, not completely separate companies that don’t have anything to do with each other. What does Apple want to be? A computer company? A phone company? An Internet services company? A watch company? This starts to remind me of Sony, who just put out random product after product, not really ever knowing what kind of company they wanted to be. At least break off the iOS business so it can flourish and be its own entity once and for all. Apple started as a computer company, and it seems that it should go back to the roots and become the best damn computer company anyone has ever seen.
- Let’s lose some of the dead weight on the Mac side. God, do we really need a MacBook, a MacBook Air, and a MacBook Pro? Give us one product with the best features of all 3 products melded together. Allow it to be upgraded and customized in different ways, if you must, but we don’t need all of these strangely similar products–it’s just overkill now. Make one killer laptop that rules them all. Another set of strangely unneeded products include the Mac Pro and Mac Mini. The Mac Mini was once needed to convert PC users–that’s no longer the case–if they haven’t converted to the Mac by now, then this machine is probably not going to tip them to the Mac. Kill it, or, better yet, make it a Mac on a stick. If I could carry my thumb-sized HDMI-enabled Mac around in my shirt pocket and just plug it into the back of a monitor or TV, that would be amazing–even more so if it was priced accordingly so the masses could afford it without a second thought. The Mac Pro? A very niche product designed to keep the audio and video people happy. Are they happy? Not sure. I think it’s a pretty strange product that could be absorbed into the iMac line, which should stay put. Keep the venerable iMac line and do the same thing as earlier with the portable line–make it one unified machine with upgrade and customization options that anyone can understand and build to their liking. A grandmother building an iMac should have the option of a low-end set of specs and obviously pay less than a video professional building a monster version of the same exact machine at a higher price point.
- The TV situation. Still not sure about the AppleTV product. I’m not convinced on what it’s trying to be, but, I still like the size and easiness of the Google ChromeCast. Couldn’t they offer up a standard Apple display that doesn’t cost a huge amount of money, but, houses the AppleTV guts as a bonus feature? This display would be priced cheap enough to sell along with the iMac and would fit the iMac shape, size and style perfectly. The general public has no idea how cool and productive multiple monitors are. Make it affordable and have the AppleTV be a part of it, like the old TV cards you used to be able to put in the early Mac towers. Maybe make the AppleTV the same size as the Chromecast, so it could be easily transferred from location to location. Does Apple need to make a full on TV? Probably not. Just make this tiny Chromecast-type device to trojan horse itself onto every TV that is already out there with an HDMI port.
- Wearables. I do believe the wearable market is an up and coming market–I think we’ve only just begun here. Do I like the Apple Watch? Not really. It feels like it’s trying to be a bit too fancy with the crazy bubble icon interface. I do like the customization options–this is somewhere where Apple gets it–especially for women watch wearers. On the Android watch side, it seems as though they are only targeting men, which is excluding a huge untapped market. What comes next for wearables, especially from Apple? Not sure on that one. I would like something a bit more substantial on my wrist–larger screen with more to do on it. I mean, we do carry our phones everywhere with us–why can’t I wear something similar if I choose? Better yet, get us to the point where a Google Glass device is actually relevant and desired. When I first saw the Google Glass video, I felt like that was something out of an Apple commercial–while it didn’t succeed as much as they hoped, it’s still an exciting product that could be reworked by Apple into something amazing.
- Mac OS X Server software. I still scratch my head to this day about this server software and what it really could be. Have you ever tried to work with this software? I’ll say, from an expert-level Mac background, that this software is confusing, difficult, moody and just plain hard to deal with. My vision of a “server” product is simply a Mac Mini-sized product that just gets dropped into a space and…just works as a server. Imagine back to the Steve Jobs keynote where he hooks a wall of iMacs to one central Mac system and they all boot from this one central Mac. None of those iMacs had hard drives in them, yet, they simply netbooted right from the central Mac. Imagine that in a business environment? Cheap Apple displays with enough guts to just hook to the network and boot from your central server. No crazy software to deal with–make the server software as easy to use as other Apple products–make it easy enough for an office assistant to run and configure it. Imagine this product at home? One simple box to run the whole house–outfit the house with the same Apple displays or dumbed down Macbooks to simply boot from this central server with a simple version of Apple Remote Desktop running on top. Now you have full control and administration of all of these “dumb” terminals from one location. Keeping the family on the same page with updates, parental control and software installation just got a lot easier.
- Have you heard of Amazon’s “Echo” products? If you haven’t, they are basically Siri or Google Now for the home. You simply pop one of these sleek devices in the room and start talking to it–from getting stock prices to turning off lights, this is one step closer to the “Jetsons” home. Where is Apple in this space? For all of the hype surrounding Siri, Apple is nowhere to be seen in this space. The Echo product line is a sleeper hit that nobody predicted–easy enough for anyone to use and it just works. Imagine an Apple-branded device running Siri placed in the kitchen or living room. Imagine it able to tap into our server products, our mobile devices and home automation products. Better yet, let’s kill a few birds with one stone–graft this technology into our home server, add router and Time Machine functionality and you can now get rid of the Airport Extreme and Time Capsule–2 more products which I absolutely can’t stand. At this point, you would actually have one master box, sitting in the home (or office) that would be able to listen to our commands, allow dumb terminals to boot from it and give separate user spaces to anyone in the building, route our Internet traffic and make sure our important data is safely backed up. This would be your Amazon Echo on steroids.
- Apple’s Smart Home Plans. “HomeKit” seems to be an easy win for Apple–it’s easy to use, works the way you expect it to and it’s an Apple branded product. There’s not much criticism here–this is one thing they are doing right. Of course, integrate this tech into our smart server mentioned above and we’re on our way to something great.
- Apple’s Mac OS X Software. Ahh, the crown jewel of the Apple empire–or is it these days? This single operating system has changed the face of personal computing–since 1984 to be exact. These days, I’m not sure where the Mac OS X is headed, especially with the “vision” of turning everyone’s computer into an iPad. That is just a bad, bad idea, Apple. I don’t want an iPad as my daily driver. I’m not keen on iOS replacing Mac OS X. They are 2 different things completely and should be. This is where I begin to pine for iOS to be split away from Apple into its own division making its own way. If I wanted my computer to be an iPad, I would just go buy an iPad. For the Apple die-hards, we will always want Mac OS X and real, well-built computers from Apple to be available. The iPad and iPhone generation may think otherwise, but, computers are still relevant. I’m starting to find myself feeling kind of sad watching the direction of Mac OS X–and it’s the little things that are starting to make me feel that way. Little things like taking certain features away from the OS that we’ve taken for granted (i.e. why can’t we clone hard drives or repair permissions in Disk Utility anymore?) Or making visual changes that we have no control over, such as the stupid new look of the flat icons. I’d love to see more of a modular look to the OS–such as letting me simply turn off and on certain parts of the OS that I either use or not. Give me simple on and off switches to turn off things like Notifications and Mission Control and give me back the system resources when I do turn them off. Give me a simple System Preferences area–the current version is a mess. Do we need 3 separate preference panes for the keyboard, trackpad and mouse? Simplify, Apple. And about the whole Desktop metaphor that’s been the same since 1984–are we ready to move on to something new and more advanced?
- The Apple Car. I’m not sure if this is something we actually need from Apple, but, I get the feeling that they will have hurt feelings if they don’t show up to the grand self-driving auto revolution that Tesla and Google are about to lay on our laps. Does Apple really need to make an entire car? No. They would be better off to just partner with an existing automaker, integrate the driving technology if they must, and let one of the automakers do the heavy lifting. This is exactly what Google is doing as we speak–why reinvent the wheel, no pun intended? The carmakers know how to build cars. Apple, Google and even 3rd party companies (George Hotz) have the know-how to make the software to drive those cars autonomously. Again, does Apple need to do this? I would say no–concentrate on what you do best.
- Repair and maintenance. Why on Earth is Apple making computers and mobile devices harder to repair? Is it a cash-grab to get these broken devices into the Apple retail stores where they can only be fixed in-house, thus causing you to spend more or buy new products as you wait? If so, that’s a pretty crappy move. More than a good portion of our population could replace an iPhone screen or battery if the devices were modular. Ever hear of Project Ara, Apple? It’s a move by Google to modularize your mobile devices. Imagine if you suddenly dropped your iPhone and smashed the screen. Now, here comes the fun part. Instead of making a Genius Bar appointment and trudging to the mall, you simply order up a new screen from the Apple website and it arrives within 24 hours–if you want to add points, offer in-store pickup as well. When the screen arrives, you simply UNSNAP the old display and SNAP A NEW ONE ON. I capitalized and bolded those for a reason–it’s that easy. Google’s version is even built on a magnetic mechanism. Why all phones on the planet are not built this way is beyond me–it’s brilliant and so much easier than dealing with the nonsense that we go through today. Same thing goes for the Macs–all parts should be modular. If I’m even reasonably technical-minded, allow me to change out my own batteries, hard drives, displays, etc. Don’t glue computers together so there is little chance of opening them or getting them back together again. Don’t change to anti-tamper screws. Don’t make insides of computers and technology inaccessible, especially to the upcoming generation who is destined to just throw away every single device they own when the battery dies or the hard drive fails–empower them to work on their own stuff. Make us want to see what is inside our technology, or, at least make them modular so I can fix and upgrade them ourselves. Stop pulling the “it must be fixed at Apple by Apple” card–it’s outdated and draconian thinking. We’re adults and a good portion of us can work inside computers–for those that cannot, at least modularity will give them a chance to feel good when they fix their own computer.
I’m going to assume that I will be adding much more to this already-long article–so, in closing, I hope and pray that Apple begins to prepare for the next generation and not just coast on previous products and ideas. Tim Cook still has very large shoes to fill, and I think he may need to start finding the next visionary to do just that. Apple can do this, but, they are going to need to buckle down and focus and really become a company of the future, not of the past.