What’s Going On At Apple?
I’ve been a smartphone user since the Blackberry disrupted the business world over 10 years ago based on the earth shattering observation that people needed access to their email and calendar while travelling and I was one of their most passionate users. Another disruption was soon to follow though when Palm realised that there was more to the smartphone than email with their Treo range, making me an even happier. My love affair with the Treo lasted many years until Blackberry caught up and won me back. I stayed with Blackberry until Apple disrupted the market with the iPhone. For all Apple’s technical accomplishments their sustaining differentiation seems to me to have come from the rock solid belief that people will pay a LOT of money for a good looking gadget that offers a good experience. This key observation has served them well in all of their products to date, good design wins. Surprisingly it’s taken the rest of the “rack em high and sell em cheap” IT industry a lot of time to figure out how to do this too.
Unfortunately for Apple the rest of the world has now figured this out. Android and Windows Phone both offer excellent experiences and their devices are just as gorgeous as the iPhone and often sell for a lot less. Of course Apple still have huge margins because their volume/unique device is still industry leading, but Samsung has figured that out too. Apple though is still holding true to their belief that their good design is the key differentiator required to win in the devices war. But it’s no longer enough.
The whole industry has figured out how to do good design now, granted there’s still plenty of terrible design at the low end, but at the middle and high end good design is everywhere. Good design is now ‘table stakes’, everyone has it, but the Android ecosystem and to a lesser extent Microsoft also has faster innovation. That’s not to say that there’s no innovation at Apple, but their two breakthrough innovations Siri and Touch ID were both acquisitions and many of their others will struggle (outside the US in particular) in the long term due to their closed nature. In contract Android is open by design and Microsoft is open by necessity.
Which brings me on to the trigger for this post, the iPhones 6 and the Apple watch. Both seem to be well designed, but both seem to be playing catch up at a time when the rest of the industry is pulling away. Apple will be selling a lot of course, because they have such a strong presence among the eco-system invested rich, but in the end open innovation will probably win.
The passionate focus on design that’s served Apple so well seems to be failing them now, it’s distracting them from the pace of innovation that’s required to complete with Android, it’s distracting them from the need to open up. Jonny Ive seems to have too much influence in the modern Apple, in a world where design is less important, the geeks need a stronger voice.
Personally I’d like to switch to Android, but I’m one of those early adopters that’s found himself (in fact his whole family) heavily invested in the Apple eco-system. Unfortunately for Apple though I’m still using a 4S and although I’m tempted to upgrade every year, apart from speed I just don’t see anything life changing enough to be worth the investment. For speed I have an retina iPad Mini anyway.
So for now I’m sticking with the iPhone 4S, looking dreamily at the phones like the Moto X and hoping that IOS8 delivers some of the benefits the Android guys have been enjoying for years.
I’m writing this post while staying at Filey Bay, one of my favourite places in the world. The photo I chose for this post I took while walking along Filey Brigg this morning, this is the kind of experience I’m spending my money on at the moment.