The Apple Fan's Next Dream
Oct 11, 2012 5:00 AM PT
Only once before have I ever questioned Apple's ability to innovate and create groundbreaking products, and that was the dark days of the clones when I was considering switching to a PC. Of course, Steve Jobs then introduced the bubbly blue iMac and relit the Mac fire, and I didn't look back for years.
For nearly a year after Jobs died, I believed that Apple had all the mojo that it needed to keep churning out not only powerful and delightful products, but surprising products, too. I believed that Steve Jobs' greatest invention was Apple the company.
I believed that Jobs had infused some of his maniacal creativity into the very DNA of Apple.
But now I'm starting to wonder again, and I find it surprising.
How Can You Question Apple?
Whoa. How can a guy like me, an unabashed Apple enthusiast, question Apple when the company is kicking butt and taking names all up and down the consumer electronics world? When iPads are forces of goodness in the world -- tools used in healthcare and for people with special needs, never mind business leaders using them as analytic tools that help reveal the right decisions?
In a post-Jobs Apple, the company delivered a svelte MacBook Pro with a Retina display, along with the iPhone 5, a phone that appears to have been manufactured from a single seamless block of magic. The iPad, of course, has dominated the tablet world, setting a high bar that leaves competitors scrambling to make little cheap tablets instead. The new iPod touch is astoundingly slim, and the iPod nanos are a tiny utilitarian wonder.
Apple even recreated the world's most popular earbuds by rethinking their entire shape and design to make the EarPods, which do a decent job of fitting millions of individual ears that are as distinctive as fingerprints.
For most companies, it's been a pretty big year, right?
Apple's Leaking Supply Chain
Perhaps this is just a symptom of Apple's size and success and has nothing to do with Steve Jobs, but it sure seems to me that we've seen far more product leaks and rumors than ever before. We've been getting fuzzy photos of covers, of back covers, of components, and coupled with reports on supply chain orders from providers overseas, we even begin to believe that Apple is ready to start building and shipping an iPad mini.
Heck, with the iPhone 5, Apple watchers saw mockups created out of various pieces and parts, and while no one knew for sure what it would look like, when it didn't have wicked new curves, its length and slimness wasn't particularly surprising. If you checked out the first iPhone 5 cases on the scene, there's subtle hints that would imply the cases were produced on bets rather than exact specs -- cutouts for the buttons are larger than necessary, and one case I looked at had a super big cutout for the camera and LCD flash, so much so that the camera and flash look oddly placed. Yet the overall snap and fit was spot on. Perhaps this is just the side effect of a cheap case maker cutting corners and not bothering to refine the design. Or there was a leak in Asia. Either way, some of the most respectable case companies weren't ready, so I doubt Apple shared anything here until launch day.
Leaks happened under Jobs, too, but maybe there's less fear these days. Apple CEO Tim Cook might be a genius and have a cold flat stare, but Jobs had a reputation for righteous and vindictive anger where a tirade could permanently wither your ears, sear your soul, and ruin your company.
Jobs Behind the Magic Curtain
With Steve Jobs at the helm of Apple, nobody questioned the company's ability to imagine new products and reinvent categories. Yet with a full slate of awesomeness already in Apple's product pipeline, what's next? Can Apple come up with flashy new products that will ignite our imaginations and stoke the fire of gadget lust?
Or are we just looking forward to a future of highly refined and insanely great products?
Super slim laptops? We'll have new generations of MacBook Air, Pro, with Retina displays, etc. Check.
Big, little, and midsize tablets? We'll get new generations of iPad, iPod touch, and the expected iPad mini. Check.
How about an all-around, highly capable smartphone? The iPhone. Check.
Stores to buy apps, music, and movies? We'll get refinements to iTunes, App Store, Mac Store. Check.
A thinner iMac with a Retina screen? Eventually. Whenever. Check.
How is Apple going to reinvent these form factors? Or will Apple revert to just giving us some new paint and tires? A splash of color everywhere?
Will next year's MacBook Pros come black, red, green, or white?
Has Apple taken the ugly brick and polycarbonate world of consumer electronics and refined it pretty close to the end?
I mean really, even if, next year, Apple delivers a thinner, tactile, and shimmering iPhone 6 with a full two-day battery life, will it really excite us anymore? We'll buy it, sure, but stand in line for it?
When Jobs was around, anything seemed possible. It wouldn't be too far of a leap to see Jobs get angry at the lousy integration of the iPhone with an automobile and in a fit of anger decide to secretly build a whole new car, the right way. Fans could be secure not wondering, just waiting. But his absence and the sheer success of Apple invites speculation, and where it goes with me ... is to dim little corners. What's really left for Apple?
- A content deal for better TV and movie consumption.
- A potential Apple TV.
- A touch screen iMac?
Are we near the pinnacle of Apple innovation?
Maybe. I think the risk is that Apple, as a corporation, has worked out how to make really amazing products. Highly refined, fantastic products. So will the company turn into an old, mature company that doesn't take risks, that simply tries to protect existing revenue streams and keep Wall Street happy?
If we're lucky, though, this is just hypochondriac paranoia induced by the usual tilt of the Earth on its axis that delivers less sunlight to the northern hemisphere.
Maybe Apple will produce a new Apple TV that's actually a gaming system, and maybe it will produce a controller that feels like an extension of a person's very will.
Of course, one of the things that makes Apple special is its ability to surprise and delight. If we could anticipate the next innovation, with or without supply chain leaks and rumors, it would be neither very surprising nor very delightful. Maybe I'm jumping the gun here; maybe it makes no sense to conclude that Apple is going to turn into a stodgy old company just because I can't imagine something around the next corner.
So does it make much sense to draw that conclusion? Or should we prepare ourselves for the sad possibility that nothing is there? How would be know? If the innovation machine in Cupertino is really a refinement machine, the answer will slowly reveal itself over the course of a few dozen months. Naturally, I still hold a sliver of hope. In that case, the good news could come quickly, without warning, at any time.
Apple business as usual.