TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: Apple after Steve Jobs

Apple is now the world's most valuable company, but a year after the death of Steve Jobs it is hard to see where its next innovative ideas will come from.

Technology Spectator

If Apple were a product, we would now be out of its limited one year warranty with several of the parts starting to randomly fail. With all of the analysis that has coincided with the anniversary of the death of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, there is still no consensus about whether Apple’s future is assured.

On the one hand, Apple’s stock has increased 70 per cent and it became the world’s most valuable company. On the other hand, in the past year it released products that were barely incremental versions of their predecessors and has resorted to litigation to try and stop its principal rival Samsung who now not only sells more smartphones than Apple but is rapidly becoming known as the main innovator of the pair.

Mitigating Steve Jobs' absence 

Whether you believe that Jobs really was the visionary he is portrayed as being comes down to personal opinion. To a certain extent, it didn’t really matter as long as the people that were buying Apple products and its shares thought he was. The same can be said for Steve Jobs’ replacement Tim Cook. As long as things are going well, people will believe that he has found a way to mitigate Job’s absence.

But here’s the rub. As soon as something significant goes wrong, people will convince themselves that it really was Jobs who was driving Apple’s success and his death was the beginning of the end. By something going wrong I don’t mean the recent maps debacle. It is going to have to be something significant enough to damage revenues and share price.

A year on, one aspect of Jobs’ legacy is still clearly apparent. Jobs declared war on Google after they entered the mobile phone market. Tim Cook has shown no signs that this will stop being a driver for Apple any time soon. The patent disputes will drag on, as will Apple’s attempts to replace all things Google in their phone.

Sadly, the collateral damage from this fight has been the consumer. Just as Microsoft forced the world to use an inferior internet browser for years to protect Windows, Apple has shown it is quite prepared to have its customers use inferior products rather than give any more ground to Google.

Falling behind Google 

This is not a battle that Apple can win. Google has smarter people working for it than Apple and has placed itself in the middle of a collaboration with companies like Samsung that have shown that they can adapt extremely quickly to become everything Apple currently is and more. Apple on the other hand continues in its path of going it completely alone. It continues to foster a culture of secrecy, insulating itself from all avenues of new ideas that could come from partners and collaborators.

Apple is still largely the same company that it was a year ago. The changes that Cook has brought in like small donations to charities and paying share dividends are token at best. The company is still focussed on the same products it was a year ago. Its product development and release strategies are unchanged and nothing suggests that they will change in the immediate future.

The move to tinker with the size of iPhones and iPads is really not any different to what it has done with iPods and its general computer range. Again, whether the release of an iPad Mini is a good idea or not will only be seen in retrospect. If it fails, it will not be the first time that Apple released a product that bombed.

Analysts are hoping for great things from Apple over the coming year, predicting sales of the iPhone 5 to reach 200 million. Given that initial sales didn’t reach analysts expectations, this seems fanciful. It assumes that the landscape for Android phones will not have moved on in that time. They will also be hoping to see Apple release completely new device types such as the rumoured Apple TV.  

More of the same

Personally, I think that over the coming year there will be more of the same with incremental upgrades across Apple’s product range. More of the MacBook range will get retina displays, faster processors and other upgraded components.

There will be new iPhones, iPads and versions of iOS that will bring some new features but be largely recognisable from previous years. The myth of Steve Jobs will continue to grow proportionally with Apple’s steady incremental move to ordinariness. Or perhaps taking a different perspective, with people’s growing realisation of Apple becoming more of a wealthy, but essentially unexceptional company.

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