by senior futurist Richard Worzel, C.F.A.
To read their Wikipedia entry, you would have to say Apple, Inc. is an amazing success:
“Apple is the world’s largest information technology company by revenue, the world’s largest technology company by total assets, and the world’s second-largest mobile phone manufacturer. On November 25, 2014, in addition to being the largest publicly traded corporation in the world by market capitalization, Apple became the first U.S. company to be valued at over US$700 billion…it operates the online Apple Store and iTunes Store, the latter of which is the world’s largest music retailer.”
What’s more, Apple is incredibly profitable, and is sitting on something like $150 billion in cash. They’re doing all right for themselves.
Yet, in my opinion Apple is dying, it just hasn’t realized that yet. And what’s wrong with Apple can be stated in four words: Steve Jobs is dead.
What Made Jobs Unique
What set Apple apart from everyone else was the genius of Steve Jobs, specifically his ability to see the future in a unique way, one that escaped just about everyone else. As a futurist whose job it is to do just that, I appreciated his ability, and was envious of it.
Jobs was a one-man disruptive force, a bulldozer in the use and creation of disruptive technologies. Although Jobs was famous for stealing and adapting great ideas rather than inventing them, he did have a knack for knowing what the consumer would want before consumers themselves had any idea.
Because of this ability, he helped define what a personal computer was in the first place with the Apple II, then set about creating one that was “insanely great” with the Macintosh. He redefined it again when he returned from NeXT to retake the reigns at Apple Computer.
In Jobs’ view, a computer was an extension of our creative selves, not a mundane tool for work and drudgery. He made it fun, trendy, fashionable, and indispensible. Indeed, the way we look at and use all personal computers, especially smartphones, has been shaped by Jobs’ view of what a computer should be.
Jobs wrecked the music industry with the iPod and iTunes. The industry will never be the same after his ministrations – and neither will the way we experience music.
He upended the cellphone industry and dethroned the BlackBerry by defining what a smartphone was, and could and should be. In the process, he created the essential status symbol of our age, the one that continues to reshape our social interactions, the way we live, even the way we (dangerously) drive.
No Longer Insanely Great
My point is this: What has Apple done for us lately, except change the colors and packaging of Jobs’ creations? What have they done that is disruptive since 2011?
Steve Jobs was the creative genius behind Apple. The people he left behind are brilliant designers, engineers, and creative people. But they are not geniuses. They do not seem to be able to, as he put it, “put a dent in reality” the way that he could.
And my experience with Apple mirrors this loss in ways that I hate. Since 2011, Apple’s products, while continuing to be slick, beautifully designed, and pretty, have lost their intuitiveness. The software is harder to use. The interfaces are more complicated, and require more knowledge of technical stuff that I could care less about. The different platforms don’t work seamlessly together.
I bought my first Macintosh in 1985, and have never used any other computer (except to try to help friends wrestle with their horrible Windows-based machines). But the thrill is gone with Apple, and what was great is now merely pretty good – and getting worse. My children, who grew up in an Apple ecosystem, are now turning to other machines. Apple isn’t special anymore, because the spark that made it unique is gone.
Several years ago, when Jobs returned to Apple and brought it back from the dead, Fortune magazine did an article about the company. As best I remember it, they said that Apple was (and is) the only computer company that made everything, from the hardware to the software to the interface to the packaging, and so could make it all work together as an organic whole, as one ecosystem. But most importantly, Apple had Jobs sitting at the top, demanding nothing less than “insane” greatness, and would drop kick engineers, systems analysts, designers, accountants, or anyone else that brought him anything less. That no longer seems to be true. It seems to me that Apple is settling for mediocrity with increasing frequency.
What Has Apple Done to Us Lately?
And lest you think I’m being unduly sentimental, or am some kind of Jobs cult-follower, ask yourself a simple question: When was the last time Apple disrupted a new industry? When did they produce something that forced consumers and competitors to change the way they thought about the world, their place in it, and what they could do if they chose? Netflix has done more to revolutionize TV than Apple TV. Amazon and PayPal have done more to revolutionize retailing than Apple Pay. And Google Glass, failure though it was, did more to define wearable computers than the Apple Watch.
Somehow, being able to buy a “rose gold” iPhone 6S with an improved Siri doesn’t even move the needle on that scale. And what industry did the Apple Watch change? In fact, what does it actually do?
Apple can coast for a long time on the brilliance of its former star, helped by the exceptionally competent crew of people he left behind. But, in my view, Apple is like a projectile that has been launched and is now running out of momentum: it will soar for a while, then the arc will turn down, and it will fall back to Earth.
I will mourn its passing, but Apple actually died in 2011.
© Copyright, IF Research, January 2016.