Apple. Everyone in North America knows the company, and probably eighty percent of the population thinks of tech before fruit when they hear the word. For anyone who’s been in the third world for the past few months, Apple just unveiled its long-awaited iPhone 5s…oh, and the unexpected (and probably superfluous) iPhone 5c. And though the silicon juggernaut still has a ridiculous army of ravenous fans they amassed in the early-to-mid 2000s, with this newest product I feel I can safely say: the company has lost its way.
I’m not going to sit here and commend Steve Jobs for his myriad achievements and insane vision. Yes, he was a visionary. Yes, he thought ahead. That all goes without saying. What I am going to highlight is Jobs’ nigh uncanny ability to introduce products and features people never even conceived of and turn them into necessities. If you ever take entrepreneurship classes, any good professor will tell you one of the fundamental tricks in creating a successful product is fulfilling a basic need all people have.
Jobs was just ahead of the curve in that department. He practically framed the mobile market as it exists today by creating products and features for those products that people hadn’t even thought about half a decade ago and now say, “I can’t imagine living without that.” It may sound sad and speak a dismal commentary about first world living, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
The problem is Jobs is dead. Current Apple CEO, Tim Cook, is not a visionary, and whereas Jobs practically was the entire creative department at Apple, relying on his employees to make his dreams reality, Cook must rely on his employees to help push Apple forward the way Jobs did. Anyone who still thinks that can happen is either still suffering from Apple fever or hasn’t been paying attention to the company since Jobs’ death.
The fundamental problem with Apple has nothing to do with its current sales or market share—even if they aren’t what they used to be—but with its strategy. The company, with its undeniable pretension and ego, seems to be averse to admitting the loss of Jobs as a blow to the company as a market leader. There would be no shame in acknowledging that, but instead Cook is steering his ship through the same tempestuous waters without its captain. Rather than altering the company’s strategy to accommodate the loss of their strongest asset, Cook is pursuing the innovative progression the company is known for. That tends to work better when you have innovation.
The iPhone 4S made waves and had strong sales. Its innovation? Siri. Of course, the highly anticipated iPhone 5 came out last year, and what did it do? Struggle to think of any groundbreaking technology? That’s because there wasn’t any. A bigger screen was about the best Apple could do, and it’s puny in comparison to, say, Samsung’s Galaxy Note II. Even the humbler S-series trumps the iPhone in terms of screen size.
Now, we see a company which is clearly losing a foothold announcing an unprecedented two smartphones at the same time. For all the anticipation, the iPhone 5s is basically a faster, fancier iPhone 5 with the addition of biometric security as its claim to fame. Frankly, that doesn’t strike me as terribly innovative and is already raising security concerns all over the ‘Net after news of the NSA’s surveillance leaked. The iPhone 5c is following in the vein of the iPad Mini: a cheaper, smaller product to answer the lower cost products the competition offers. Not exactly in the spirit of Apple, who’s always been the differentiator rather than the cost leader.
And that’s just on the hardware side of things. I could spend an entire op-ed ranting about how much I hate iTunes 11, and from what I’ve seen, many consumers agree (as of this article’s publication, typing “iTunes 11″ into Google’s search bar brings up a dropdown menu where one of the top search choices is “iTunes 11 sucks”). The entire program has been rewritten to make things as difficult for users as possible. Jobs was all about user friendliness, so iTunes 11 is pretty much a slap in his face with its hidden menus, annoying splitting up of albums with no sensible way to merge them back together, etc, etc.
Compare the iPhone 5s to the Samsung Galaxy S4, which came out earlier this year. The S4 implemented ideas like hands-free browsing, where the front-facing camera detects eye movement to scroll pages and pause videos. Some of its ideas worked better than others, but it’s true “forward thinking,” whereas the iPhone 5s seems to stick to the established formulae while adding arbitrary security measures that, again, may not be such a good thing. After all, despite Apple refraining from storing information in a database, it’s still not hard for agencies to obtain any information transmitted electronically, even if it’s stored on the phone’s chip.
It’s safe to assume Apple will live on. It has strong sales, a decent market share, and plenty of momentum and fans to keep it pushing forward (not to mention some brilliant marketing). It’s also safe to assume that Apple has seen its days as a market leader, and while it has defined the 21st century through its first decade and into its second, the future belongs to other companies.