“So my antagonist said, 'Is it impossible that there are flying saucers? Can you prove that it's impossible?' 'No', I said, 'I can't prove it's impossible. It's just very unlikely'. At that he said, 'You are very unscientific. If you can't prove it impossible then how can you say that it's unlikely?' But that is the way that is scientific. It is scientific only to say what is more likely and what less likely, and not to be proving all the time the possible and impossible.' -- Richard P. Feynman
One could think of many reasons for Apple's early 2013 new product drought. In fact, here are 15 of them. Why must Tim Cook's theorized incompetence be the most popular? Is it because the other reasons aren't so sexy? Or perhaps an off-the-cuff assessment of a CEO's character is easier than penetrating Apple's shroud of secrecy? Here's a list of other reasons for the drought.
In science, we try to develop a theory that fits the observed facts. But we can't do that with Apple. We generally can't tour the factory, inspect new products in the development pipeline, sit down with Phil Schiller and ask tough questions, and probe into Apple's deepest mysteries. So it remains to analyze Apple in hindsight.
Someday, an author will get the whole scoop and tell us about the Great Product Drought of early 2013. In the meantime, it's very hard to justify singling out Tim Cook as the culprit when there could be a host of different reasons.
For example, one article I saw by an author I really like, Rocco Pendola, was: "Tim Cook's Impotent Leadership Will Hurt Apple." But this time I disagree with his thesis, provided without inside business analysis, that Tim Cook's personal failure of leadership has somehow led to the loss of product momentum and market share that will eventually do Apple in. In another article, the author laments the drop in stock price, last fall, and asserts that because no new products have been released under Mr. Cook's short reign (this was before WWDC and the new Mac Pro) it's all Tim Cook's fault. If only Steve Jobs were still alive, none of this would have happened.
To illustrate a point, let's look at some of the things that could have contributed to the drought. Some items below may be far-fetched, but no more so than a hasty conclusion that Apple's Chief Executive Officer is incompetent without providing a cause and effect analysis. At least the possible events I cite have some basis in the recent literature of Apple. And so, the arguments above remind me of the apocryphal but illustrative story about misunderstanding cause and effect: "Every time the crickets chirp, it rains. If we want it to stop raining, let's kill the crickets!" Or Mr. Cook.
So, I present these ideas simply as food for thought, suggesting that there are always deeper reasons that we don't know about until after the fact. That's when we really come to understand the causes and effects.
1. Product Syncing. What if Apple has worked to develop considerable harmony and integration between the iWatch, the iPad and the iPhone? But the iWatch isn't ready to ship until late in 2013. It wouldn't make sense to ship an iPad 5 or a rushed iPhone 5S in mid-2013, only to have them be incompatible with the new iWatch. It would be better to lose a little market share and then wow the world with a family of integrated products in late 2013. Especially with iOS 7 due in the same timeframe.
2. Apple is keen to divest itself from dependence on Samsung as a manufacturing partner. What if, in its zeal, Apple moved too quickly, and that had ripple effects? We learned just recently that Apple may have had to add Samsung back in as a third supplier after Sharp and LG to make sure it would have enough Retina displays for the next iPad mini. Political decisions usually have technical side effects.
3. What if, as a result of the casting out of SVP Scott Forstall, and his previous, far-reaching management choices, Apple's executive team made some major decisions on new product design language and philosophy? It would take some time for Craig Federighi, Jonathan Ive and Bob Mansfield to implement all that, but then they'd be good to go for the future. A short term drought might have been unavoidable.
4. What if Apple made a decision to break away from some customary Standards Essential Patents (SEP) that helped them get their feet wet in the smartphone market, but are now a royal pain? Doing so would set the stage for future products, reduce royalties, and create a more competitive product line. That would require the investment in new technologies and new, home-grown patents that could slow down the frantic pace of product development for a period of time.
5. What if Tim Cook is incompetent and unable to shepherd new products to market?
6. Apple could be moving to a new display technology for its iOS devices and needed time to develop it. This theory is brilliantly explored by Daniel Eran Dilger in: "Apple, Inc. gets its fingerprints on advanced touch sensor, appears difficult for Android to copy." After all, simply shipping a new iOS device, at a frantic pace, just to keep up with other manufacturing giants (and copycats) is a losing game.
7. What if the delay in the new MacBook Pro is because Apple is waiting for Thunderbolt 2 silicon from Intel? Just as the new Mac Pro is waiting. These products are used by video professionals, and it wouldn't make sense to ship a new Mac Pro with Thunderbolt 2 and a new MacBook Pro without it. This idea has been explored nicely by Jim Tanous over at TekRevue.
8. What if the engineering development of the new Mac Pro and the arrival of 4K displays led Apple to decide to break the iMac into two pieces? LCD Display technology at 2K has remained fairly static for years, but now that 4K displays are imminent, it may not make sense to ship a next generation iMac with a 2K display and only a modestly faster CPU. The iMac might become the little red cylinder, a nifty family-based product, offered in contrast to the bigger black Mac Pro cylinder. That way, customers who can't afford the Mac Pro might lust for the smaller, red cylinder. Such a redesign of a new iMac would take additional time.
9. What if an Apple competitor, desperate to discover what Apple is up to with the iWatch, engaged in industrial espionage and broke into Apple's network earlier this year? What if the current Developer website breach is simply the tail end, the most public result? Perhaps even a diversion or a mop up operation? Perhaps it's a byproduct of a much more secretive breach that occurred earlier in the year, and that breach had to be attended to before Apple could resume product development?
10. What if some key mid-level people in hardware engineering quit, fell ill, or had some personal family issues that threw a huge monkey wrench into product development? It's not as if Apple could just go out on the street and replace or supplement those engineers. These things happen in corporate life. Apple runs a lean operation. Or, what if there were some industrial sabotage, and some or all of Apple's hardware development lab were damaged? That facility is so secret, we'd never know.
11. What if Apple, keen to use a boatload of its corporate cash, has been scheming a major, major corporate acquisition? Perhaps the acquisition had such a far reaching impact in Apple's direction as a company, perhaps relating to the entertainment business, that Apple had to rethink a major part of its product line. Once the acquisition is announced, the new, refreshed line of products will make perfect sense.
12. What if a last minute, secret government directive required Apple to include a hardware back door in its latest products? What if that scuttled Apple's previous hardware rollout schedule, and mandated secrecy has prevented Apple from disclosing the reason.
13. What if Apple is waiting for special silicon so that it can deliver an iPhone to China Mobile that complies with its homegrown wireless standard? That would open up a huge new market in China. China Mobile has more customers than the U.S. has citizens.
14. What if, after the firing of Scott Forstall, there was a major division amongst the Apple executive team about the future directions of Apple? It might have taken some time for Tim Cook to heal the wounds and bring cohesion to the executive team's vision for Apple's future.
15. What if Apple has been working on a next generation technology -- that long-awaited new, disruptive product? But this time, what if Apple, based on painful experience, is waiting for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to issue unequivocal, final patent decrees that would better position Apple against copiers in the future? Apple is in no mood to come out with a next generation, earth-shattering new product, only to end up right back in the courts with Samsung and others for patent infringement and obtain non-definitive results.
Some of these 15 items above are far-fetched, but stranger things have happened. Two or more of these events, acting in concert, could have resulted in a gap in Apple's normal, cyclic product rollout schedule.
More to the point, to arbitrarily pick, say, #5 as the primary reason is voodoo logic. There's no way to pin it all on Mr. Cook, a priori, unless, of course, one is looking to make a self-serving editorial splash. Or couldn't think of any other reasons for the drought.
Land in drought via Shutterstock.