Tune in Next Time for “Last-Minute WWDC Comments” or “Apple Isn’t Doomed to Fail, But Their Future Doesn’t Look as Rosy as Their Past”
I’ve been thinking a lot about Apple’s biggest success stories. The products that mattered all rode currents outside of Apple’s control:
iMac: Internet is ready to spread into every home, but getting a computer and getting it set up (virus free, connected to your printer and your new digital devices like cameras) is too onerous. Apple comes along with a cute box that’s plug and play. Everyone got what they want: ISPs, device manufacturers, customers, and Apple.
iPod: Music industry worried about piracy, customers want digital music and are willing to pirate to get it. Apple comes along with DRM-protected store and player that makes it more convenient to buy then to pirate. Everyone got what they want: publishers, customers, and Apple.
iPhone: carriers are finally ready(ish) for mobile internet, but the phones suck. Apple comes along with the right hardware and OS and UI. The give the carriers a reason to charge all their customers more money, and customers a reason to feel comfortable becoming hardcore users of a new kind personal computer, let alone enjoy the life-changing benefit of carrying the internet in your pocket. Everyone got what they want: carriers, customers, and Apple. Not to mention all the industries ubiquitous smartphones made possible.
Considering Apple’s more recent projects against the market currents we see today, the picture is gloomy:
TV: Customers want content, and they don’t care whether it’s from the Netflix app on their phone or the one bundled in their Samsung TV. Apps on Apple TV don’t make that content meaningfully better, and no industry partners rely on Apple to deliver those apps.
Watch: Customers are probably over-served by current smartphones. Nothing has changed about daily life that makes wearing a watch more important than it’s been in the past. No industry partners are relying on Apple to deliver a watch. This is a niche market.
iPad: Outside of certain niche jobs, iPad doesn’t provide enough productivity gains to be worth the tradeoff in overall simplicity. The decline of paid productivity software means would-be industry partners that might otherwise rely on Apple to deliver the iPad (and which would make the iPad a compelling device for customers) are drying up or moving to SASS models that are platform agnostic.
So what does that leave?
AR/VR: Outside of niches like gaming and enterprise needs, are there any sea changes in this space that we can’t yet foresee? This is the area where I see Apple being most able to make a new contribution.
Cars: Customers are going to have their lives changed by fleets of safe, convenient self-driving vehicles. All the industry partners that will spring up around those networks are going to rely on whoever delivers those fleet services to exist. This will be a huge space. Too bad Apple seems to have fumbled the ball, if the rumors are true.
AI: If this space ever achieves the promises suggested in science fiction, customers will love the convenience offered by intelligent assistants. But Apple is simply not structured to get there more quickly or more effectively than their competition at least in terms of software with “soft” interfaces (like voice).
As an Apple fan, this is pretty depressing. My expectations for today’s announcements are very low.