May 9, 2014

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apple-beatsIf Apple buys Beats, it will bite off more than it can eschew.

Beats is a Big Brand. Everywhere you go, you see that red b over countless auditory canals, with red cords snaking down into pockets and purses. And Beats is expanding into other categories, such as portable speakers and sound systems for cars. And, of course, there is Beats Music, the streaming service that is reportedly the main thing Apple is after.

Even if all this looks good on paper, or whatever, it is wildly out of character. Namely, Steve’s.

To Steve Jobs there was only one brand that mattered: Apple.

This is why Apple never bought big brands. It bought technologies, people and intellectual property. Look down Wikipedia’s list of Apple acquisitions. None of those listed is (or was) close to being a household name.

I suppose Apple could spin off the hardware. Or rebrand it in some way. But it won’t be easy for Apple to remain its pure self — the most singular brand in the world — if it turns into an umbrella for other brands.

Here is what I wrote about “Apple rot” in January of last year:

…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…

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

big time.