I’ve been sharing to those around me that the new iPhone 5 is a poor choice if you’re looking to get a new smartphone. Without getting too deep into the nerdy specifics, it’s my opinion that there are several other phones that exceed the capabilities of the new iPhone. That’s not the point of this post, though. Apple is the richest company in the world right now and they dont’ really care what I think of their products. To boot, Apple does a few things better than almost every other company out there. Namely, they have better marketing campaigns and more money (in cash) then anyone else. However, What they’re not doing well, is staying on top of innovation. Here’s a look at the current state of Apple.
With the loss of Steve Jobs, Apple lost more than just a charismatic leader and the face of the company. They lost someone who knew how to give the public what they wanted, whether they knew what they wanted or not. The original iPhone was revolutionary. I worked at the largest Apple store in the country (in Boston, MA) when the first iPhone came out. It was a spectacle, to say the least. People lined up around the corner just to get a glimpse of this new piece of technological wizardry. And for the most part, the first iPhone delivered. Since then, there have been marginal spec upgrades and a sleeker designs every release. Outside of that, though, someone tell me how the iPhone has changed in the past few years? The fact is, it hasn’t. Sure, the iPhone stays current but it’s not an innovation anymore. The biggest (and most annoying) change Apple has made with their new phone is the fact it requires all new connectors and adaptors (ca-ching for Apple.) This is omitting the Apple Maps debacle that has plagued the Apple and the iPhone 5 since its releas last week. Steve Jobs knew how to close the gap between technology and human intuition. Without him, Apple seems to be relying on marketing and hype to sell inferior and more expensive product lines. This is not a recipe for success.
Back when the iPhone first came out there was nothing like it available. In the following years the Android OS debuted and new devices started to come out that attempted to compete with it. At first, those devices were poor imitations of the oh so cool iPhone. Now? Not only have other devices caught up to the iPhone in terms of functionality and features, many of those devices have surpassed it. Look no further than Samsung’s Galaxy SIII or Motorola’s Nexus device to see two shining examples of phones out iPhoning the iPhone. Apple can’t just sit back and assume the public will go with the iPhone anymore because there are devices that are shaming it right now.
I’ve written about the “Best Thing Apple Does” before. Apple absolutely crushes it when it comes to marketing. They turn users into promoters and make promoters into zealots. This is key for any company that wants to make its’ products something that people use everyday. However, there’s only so many commercials and puff-pieces written by “journalists” that actually go into making a product, you know, good. Look no further than GoDaddy for a good example of a poor product/service bolstered by strong marketing. Anyone who has web hosting knows that GoDaddy is cheap. Not only are they cheap they use scantily clad women to sell their service. But if you’ve ever used GoDaddy you know it’s a terrible service. It’s unreliable, has difficult interfaces and is altogether a sub-standard product. Now, I’m not saying Apple is GoDaddy but at the end of the day the product has to match the hype. This is especially true if you consider all the other (better) options that are available. A great marketing strategy is a major key to success but marketing alone isn’t enough to sustain a company.
Anyone who has owned an Apple product knows that when that product breaks you better have Apple Care. Why? Because if you don’t, expect to pay through the nose for whatever it is you’re trying to get fixed. This is just one of the ways Apple tries to suck as much money out of its’ consumers as possible. There’s a reason Apple has more cash laying around then any other company out there. Apple has mastered the up-sell, and to boot, overprice nearly all of their products. If you’ve bought an adapter from Apple in the past 10 years, you know what I’m talking about. When I worked for Apple they were very insistent on up-selling just about all of their products. It wasn’t a “what’s best for the customer” approach, it was the “buy as much as possible for as much as possible” tactic. This is fine if you’re consistently making the best products out there. But as I mentioned before, Apple is starting to fall behind.
Apple has made a strategic decision to forego innovation for the sake of money. This is in direct opposition to what Apple products have supposedly stood for, for the better part of 10 years. If there’s one thing that’s going to cool the public’s perception of Apple and their products it’s the “Money vs Innovation” dilemma. This report, highlight that Apple only spends aboutt 2% of their total revenue on research and development. Compare that with Google who spend almost 13% and you can see where each companies’ priorities lie. Yes, Apple makes more money than any other company but that doesn’t change the percentage value their spending on research and development. If Apple wants to continue to be king of the mountain they need to focus on what got them there in the first place. In plan words, they need to continue to innovate. Don’t fight with Google by taking off Google Maps on the new iOS. Don’t keep trying to force iTunes and iCloud and Apple Mail down everyone’s throats. Come up with technology that makes people go “ooooh” for the right reasons, instead of dazzling them with some cool new aluminum container. If Apple gets back to basics they’ll be fine. If they don’t it might be a slow but assured fall from the top.
I’ve used the iPhone as a symbol of Apple’s current mindset. Yes, it’s hard to lose a visionary who was the life-force of your company. However, Steve Jobs left a legacy that shows how to get people to care about products. Pumping out product lines that keep lagging behind the competitors, yet remain much more expensive is not something that’s going to allow Apple to stay at the forefront of the market. Personally, I believe Apple has another 2-3 years at the “top.” I could be wrong but unless Apple gets it together this could be a trying decade for the once king of the underdogs.