This is what happens when innovation dies.
We’ve seen this movie before, with Sony. Sony developed the Trinitron television system, which was definitely better than its competitors, sharper, more true. And it charged about a hundred dollars more, when TV sets cost far from a thousand bucks. And then the whole world went to flat screens and Sony’s business went kaput. So it went into software, buying a movie studio, installing rapists as its heads, and ended up writing down billions. Now Sony is just another Japanese company. Used to be their audio equipment was revered, at both high and low ends, remember the Walkman, what a breakthrough! But no one overpays for Sony anymore, it’s an also-ran. One can argue the company plummeted with the death of Morita, same as Steve Jobs.
So Apple became so valuable when it owned a product category, the iPod, and kept diversifying and lowering the price of said music player.
This was in the era of hardware innovation. What came next was the iPhone, a juggernaut. But after Jobs died, it was decided that the iPhone would become an exclusive product, an aspirational product, that the masses would hunger for.
And then they didn’t.
Used to be every upgrade was a wonder. From the 6 to a 7 one could notice the incredible increase in speed and the quality of photographs. Jump from a 7 to an Xs and you find the only real difference is the lack of a home button. Suddenly, mobile phones are like computers, you upgrade them once every five to ten years, otherwise there’s no reason. Used to be as soon as you brought your computer home it was outdated, we were fascinated by the discussion of chips, now most people have no idea of the speed of their computers, they’ve become a commodity, just like mobile phones.
While Apple was busy trumpeting its margins, saying it was the only entity making money in the smartphone sector, Chinese competitors worked to undercut them, to the point where today they’re almost as good. But the worst thing in China was Apple was undermined by WeChat, where most mobile phone owners in China spend their time. That’s software innovation, which Apple has been sorely lacking. Hell, Siri was first and now it is last. Amazon develops Alexa and keeps lowering the price and owns what market share Google doesn’t pick up. Meanwhile, Apple is so busy refining and overpricing its HomePod that it’s dead on arrival. Sure, it sounds better, but if I’m that interested in sound I’ll go to the stereo shop, the ones that still exist, turns out most people don’t care about sound quality these days, or are unwilling to pay for it. Furthermore, HomePod doesn’t play with competitors’ services. This strategy works when you’re the leader, not the follower, when your product supersedes others, the HomePod certainly does not.
And then there’s the music fiasco. Waiting too long to get into streaming. And then integrating files and streams into the same hobbled app. Kinda funny for a company that was known for killing legacy ports. You leave the past behind, you keep pushing the envelope.
Meanwhile, Wall Street loves the numbers. Like a pop act riding its very last hit. No one can see the disaster coming, because in America, everyone’s focused on the money.
But just like a band, tech companies are dependent upon hits.
As for the vaunted ecosystem… By missing WeChat, by not buying WhatsApp, Apple stood by while its competitors made inroads into its main business.
And the prices keep rising.
In tech we expect prices to start fair and then drop, meanwhile, the price of an iPhone has climbed into the stratosphere. You no longer have envy, your handset is good enough.
And with so many on so many devices you’re no longer judged on the device you’re using. Most can’t tell. And purchasing one used to be a no-brainer, now it’s like buying a car, are the payments worth it?
I’ve been trumpeting the fall of Apple for years. And been excoriated for it. But it’s akin to Kodak and digital cameras. The fall came late, and then it happened overnight and was complete.
You buy a new phone when you need one, not when you want one.
Microsoft’s Surface is the desktop replacement, not the iPad Pro.
Apple’s Macs are an afterthought and usually behind the tech times. They employ the same Intel chips as the competition’s computers, it’s just that they’re installed late and kept for far too long. Replacers are yearning for hot machines, and Apple doesn’t deliver them.
Sure, Apple makes the best phone. (You can argue about this, but let’s not.)
Sure, Apple has the best ecosystem. (Google’s is close, but no cigar.)
Sure, Apple has the best designed products. (But not by much anymore.)
Sure, Apple has the best service. (By a long shot.)
But is everybody willing to pay for this?
Meanwhile, the vaunted world’s most valuable company has lost that position, hell, even Microsoft has superseded Apple in value, primarily because of innovation in the cloud, and in addition the Cupertino company lost a double digit percentage of its overall value.
Let this be a lesson to you. Nothing is forever. And never underestimate the power of a leader, and the power of the public. The public can change preferences on a whim. And then they oftentimes switch to a new individual, a new leader, a new record producer, like Max Martin. You’re hot, and then you’re not.
What made Steve Jobs so legendary was his ability to see where the market was going, what the public wanted, years before anybody else. And sure, not all his ideas were brand new, but the execution was superb. Anybody can have a good idea, but bringing it to attractive fruition? That’s a whole ‘nother thing.
And icons are not easily replaced. We’ve been waiting for a new Dylan for sixty years, but he has not shown up.
Where is the new John Lennon?
We’ve got very good, sometimes even great, but iconic?
Sure, Jony Ive is a top-tier designer, but he needs to be told what to do.
Tim Cook is incapable of that. Categorically. He’s a logistics expert. It’s like making the head of promotion the head of the label. Promotion is important, but signing and nurturing acts is a different skill, and the talent, the tracks, are the most important part of the enterprise. It’s like having a world class factory with nothing to make.
And when you’re on top, making change, you’re excoriated.
And quite possibly crazy. Steve Jobs could be a bully, he had no time for manners. Elon Musk does not know there are rules, whether they be business or societal.
But it is these geniuses we yearn for, who change the world.
There’s no one like this at Apple today.
The company faded once, it can happen again. There is no catalogue in tech, it’s all what have you done for me lately. It’s about retaining talent and taking risks. Amazon failed with the Fire phone and then came up with the juggernaut known as Alexa. Apple kept polishing its jewels until suddenly no one wanted them anymore.
Oh, that’s not true.
How do you lose your fortune?
Very slowly, then all at once.