January 22, 2013

You are currently browsing the daily archive for January 22, 2013.

Apple rot

In The Lost Luster of the Juicy Apple Rumor, Steve Smith writes, “Most of the current rumors surrounding the fabled company involve Apple catching up to trends.” Ouch. In Samsung vs. Apple: Losing My Religion, which ran in AdAge last month, Barbara Lippert, a longtime member of the “Cult of Cupertino,” wrote, “The truth hurts.” That was in reference to Samsung ads that made fun of Apple, which she called “open for parody” — especially after the iPhone 5 turned out to be “a bit of a ‘meh.’” (I know: it’s not, but if that’s the perception…)

Look around the world today and you see a lot of Apple. If you’re making apps, you need a good reason not to make them for iPhones and iPads, just like you needed a good reason not to write for Windows late in the last millennium. There are just too damn many Apple thingies out there.

But we’re talking about high-turnover consumer electronics here. The life expectancy of a phone or a pad is 18 months. If that. Meanwhile, look at what Apple’s got:

  • The iPhone 5 is a stretched iPhone 4s, which is an iPhone 4 with sprinkles. The 4 came out almost 3 years ago. No Androids are as slick as the iPhone, but dozens of them have appealing features the iPhone lacks. And they come from lots of different companies, rather than just one.
  • The only things new about the iPad are the retina screen (amazing, but no longer unique) and the Mini, which should have come out years earlier and lacks a retina screen.
  • Apple’s computer line is a study in incrementalism. There is little new to the laptops or desktops other than looks — and subtracted features. (And models, such as the 17″ Macbook Pro.) That goes for the OS as well.
  • There is nothing exciting on the horizon other than the hazy mirage of a new Apple TV. And even if that arrives, nothing says “old” more than those two letters: TV.

Yes, there is a good chance Apple will have a big beautiful screen, someday. Maybe that screen will do for Apple what Trinitron did for Sony. But it will not be an innovation on the scale of the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone or the retail stores, all of which debuted in the Steve Age.

Steve built Apple on the model of a Hollywood studio — or, more specifically, Pixar. Apple’s products are like what Hollywood calls “projects.” And, like Pixar, Apple has very few of them. The business model — yea, the very nature of the company — requires each project to be a blockbuster: one after another, coming out a year or few apart. This model is suited to movie studios and the old computer industry. But it isn’t to consumer electronics, which is where Apple lives today.

There hasn’t been one Apple blockbuster since Steve died. Dare we consider the possibility that there won’t be another? It’s more than conceivable.

And let’s not forget how iOS 6 default-forces you to use Apple’s still-awful Maps app, which may be the biggest value-subtract in the history of computing. It still sees no subways in New York. (Stops, yes; but nothing more at any of them than links to the MTA website.) As fails go, it has few equals.

Apple’s job is to make trends, not to chase them. At that it is failing today.

This can change, of course. For the sake of Apple and its nervous shareholders I hope it does. But for now, Apple is getting ripe.