Innovation is no longer Apple's core strategy

Apple's refusal to implement NFC and other technologies into its devices fuels further speculation that the company's innovative edge has been blunted. Other companies must step up to the plate.

Once upon a time, Apple held a monopoly over the word ‘innovation’.

Every product launch, every press statement and even every Apple enthusiast extolled praise for the company’s creativity and flair with technology. Apple labelled itself as the “world’s most innovative company”. For a time, this wasn’t just a label – it was a fact.   

With this mindset, it was assumed Apple would decide the path of technological progress through what it included (and more importantly excluded) in its devices. Apple would push the boundaries of technology and others would follow safely in its footsteps.

How times have changed.

After today’s launch of its refreshed line of iPads and Mac PCs, Apple is set to face more media speculation that it has lost its innovative edge. Though, this round of criticism will just be a continuation of the commentary that emerged after the device maker released it new range of iPhones last month. 

With this latest event, Apple sent out an invite to the press teasing that it has “a lot to cover” in its announcement, but all of its latest round of product news can really be summed up by three points: it's lighter, it's faster and it now comes with freebies.

Oddly enough, the most damaging form of this kind of criticism actually isn’t from the press or its critics, but rather in the actions of other companies attempting to work around Apple’s reluctance to incorporate certain technologies into its devices.

Case in point: the Commonwealth Bank’s (CBA) new PayTag sticker.

In short, the feature allows you to pay for goods by swiping your phone in front of a sensor rather than a credit card. The service uses a technology known as near field communication (or NFC) to enable the transaction. Every time you use Mastercard’s PayPass or Visa’s PayWave system to pay at the counter, that’s NFC.

In technology circles, NFC has largely been made famous by the fact Apple refuses to incorporate it into its devices, despite most of its Android rivals – including its major adversary Samsung – having integrated it into theirs.

The situation is a thorn in the side of the major payment providers, who are keen to translate the success they are seeing with card-based NFC payments into mobile-NFC payments. But it’s hard to launch a product when only a third of the devices in the market are capable of hosting it and when world’s most influential device-maker refuses to acknowledge its potential.

To counter this, the Commonwealth Bank last week launched a new sticker that serves as a stopgap measure for non-NFC enabled phones – mainly the iPhone. For $2.99, the bank’s customers can purchase a little square widget that adheres to the back of their iPhone and enables mobile NFC payments at Mastercard terminals.

And in a sign that this trend isn’t just a fad, on the same day of CBA’s grand unveiling of its sticker solution, supermarket giant Coles unveiled a similar product on the back of its finding that NFC-related payments have increased in its store by up to 70 per cent in the past year.

This is likely the first sign of a new trend. Apple may have kicked off the mobility trend, but its reluctance to expand it is forcing other companies to take risks where it won’t.

Typically, Apple doesn’t reply to media commentary about its operations. Apple Australia offered no response to Technology Spectator when we asked it questions on the company’s reported innovation dilemma. However, we did try to seek comment prior to a product launch – a busy time for the company’s media team.

But that doesn’t mean that the company has stayed silent on the issue. Apple’s software head Craig Federighi offered a small quote on the matter in an earlier interview with BusinessWeek.

“New? New is easy. Right is hard,” he said.

The phrase really does hint at Apple’s new definition for ‘innovation’:  it’s not about being first, it's about being flawless. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with this – it's what makes Apple’s products unique.

But what is dangerous is the lingering idea that somewhere along the line, Apple is going to swoop in and re-imagine technology, upheaving other companies and industries in the process.

It’s this kind of thinking that breeds complacency with innovation, as it leads others to try and follow Apple into a section of technology rather than attempt to break into it themselves.

As an Apple fan, it crushes me to say this: perhaps it's finally time to wake up to the idea that Apple isn’t the embodiment of the future.

It’s taken years worth of product launches and overhyped press events to realise that the company that redefined mobility isn't the definition of ‘innovation’; it just excels at perfecting what’s already out there.

Harrison Polites is deputy editor of Technology Spectator. 

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