John Gruber and others have done good work highlighting the ravings of Apple’s doomsayers and trying to understand what makes them tick.
I’ve been ranting and raving about what’s wrong with the world-view that, “the latest Apple product was a boring incremental update and that they need to release something disruptive or they are doomed,” for a while now, but I figured it was time for me to actually write some of it down.
My take is that these technology writers might know a little something about writing, to the point where they can collect some facts and hack them into a narrative that seems to accommodate them, but they don’t know shit about technology and user experience.
They know that once upon a time, Apple almost died, but then Steve Jobs returned, saved the company, bestowed the the revolutionary iPod, iPhone and iPad upon a grateful public, and as a result, became one of the most valuable and most profitable in the world. From this they conclude that if Apple doesn’t do the same thing, in the same way, again, soon it is doomed, and Steve Jobs won’t be around to save it.
Their mistake, is, as I said before, they don’t know shit. They don’t understand that users are most apt to embrace revolutionary change when the status quo is shit. If the status quo is already pretty good and improving at a steady rate, they’ll stick with what they know. This is perfectly rational, sensible behavior. Incremental improvements let people build on their existing knowledge, revolutionary change requires that they unlearn what they already know and learn something new. Steve Jobs understood this. Time Cook, for those who listen, seems to understand this.
Apple released the iPod, iPhone, and iPad into a stagnant landscape. It stagnated because of Apple’s own failures, and Microsoft’s failure to innovate and improve user experience, despite its success in crushing competition and dominating the industry. Apple was disruptive because catching up on a 5-10 years of missed innovation was disruptive.
Going forward though, the best interests of Apple and Apple’s users aren’t served by disruption, they are best served by strong, steady, relentless incremental progress. As long as Apple keeps up a healthy pace in the areas they’ve already entered, there won’t be obvious disruptions. Instead, every few years, people will feel like things have improved enough that they feel compelled to give Apple more of their money and take home the latest version of Apple’s gadgets. When they get them home, they’ll have an easy time moving all their data and settings over to the new device, and be reassured by the familiarity of the user experience. They’ll also feel glad they spent their money, because the new device will be the best phone/tablet/computer they have ever owned. Their old one, which they may have hesitated to part with, will seem old and worn.
If anyone has doubts about this approach, they need only look at Apple’s oldest product line, the Macintosh. After a rough decade preceding and following Steve Job’s return to Apple, Mac hardware and software has seen regular incremental updates. In the process, Apple has seen its share of the personal computer market grow steadily, and it has taken the lions share of the most profitable segments of the market. They’ve done this from a base that was far far weaker than their positions in the mobile phone and tablet market.
As for what the future holds for Apple. I expect that they will, eventually, move into new markets in a big, disruptive way, but they’ll do it on their own time. It’s also possible that, despite their best efforts, competitors will end up disrupting Apple before they disrupt themselves. I won’t bet on when though, and I’d be skeptical of anyone of anyone who insists that such a change is coming soon.