Apple Death Knells 61 & 62: Apple Has Peaked

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Gather 'round, boys and girls. Today we have a rare treat, a twofer for the Apple Death Knell Counter. I'm combining them into one article because they're related. Writing for The Guardian, Dan Crow gives us Death Knell #61: "We've passed peak Apple: it's all downhill from here." Speaking for ABC News, Bill Weir ran a piece that asked rhetorically, "Has Apple Lost Its Shine?" In that piece, Death Knell #62, Mr. Weir and his reporter also said that Apple has peaked.

Firstly, let me take a time out for pedantry: Mr. Weir, it's not "Apple Computers," it's "Apple Inc." That's been the name of the company for years, and it was never Apple Computers in the first place. We all make mistakes, but come on.

Apple Death Knell #61Death Knell #61

On to more serious issues. Let's look at Mr. Crow's piece from The Guardian. It's a well-written essay about Apple by a man with far better credentials than most of the yahoos that are enshrined in the Apple Death Knell Counter, and that's because he worked for Apple.

In fact, he was at Apple when Steve Jobs came back in 1997. He said, "I got to know Steve quite well and Apple really well," and noted that he is an avid Mac user, but prefers Android for his mobile platform.

In his opening comments, Mr. Crow wrote, "The story of Apple Incorporated is far from over. It is the most valuable company in the world, by a large margin. Apple produces a range of exceptional and much loved products. It employs many of the most talented designers and engineers on the planet. But I think Apple has peaked and the story of the next few years will be one of a slow but real decline."

His reasoning is that Apple and its success were built around Steve Jobs, or more generally around having one control freak visionary at the top who made all the decisions. He argues that all of Apple's decision-making apparatus is set up for top-down decisions. Without a product visionary making those decisions, he argued, Apple's ability to innovate and be the badass powerhouse that so many have come to know and love is coming to slow, but inevitable end.

He offers a couple of bullet points as evidence. The Apple Maps rollout, issuing a minor iPad 4 update just seven months after the iPad 3, and a ho-hum iPhone 5 introduction. And on top of that, Apple's executives used a lot of hype to introduce everything since Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, and some of those products were neither all that nor a bag of chips.

He concluded with, "The loss of Steve was devastating - the entire company was built around him and the mistakes we have seen since he left are entirely consistent with a very hierarchical organization trying to find its way without its leader. I think in hindsight, we will see that Apple's peak of creativity, innovation and leadership was early 2012." [Emphasis added]

Those of you who have followed the Apple Death Knell Counter for a long time likely know that I tend to skewer those who issue these predictions of Apple's demise. I'm not doing that for Mr. Crow's piece simply because it's well-reasoned and based on an intimate knowledge of Apple. Most of the chuckleheads in the ADKC don't know what they are talking about.

That said, I do think he's wrong, and for the same reason I've used before. Steve Jobs said the thing he is most proud of creating is Apple, and that he spent the last several years of his life putting into place the things that Apple needed to outlive him, to keep on being awesome.

Accordingly, if you think that Steve Jobs was the bee's knees and a visionary, why wouldn't you trust him when it comes to Apple itself? Mr. Crow's insight is invaluable, but it's based on Apple from 12 years ago, the Apple before Steve Jobs became ill.

The Apple of today is one that was reshaped by a man confronting his own mortality who was all-but obsessed with making sure that Apple's glory wouldn't fade if and when he died. He was such a badass, I am of the opinion that he succeeded in accomplishing that goal.

I also think (rather strongly) that people who poo-poo the iPhone 5, iPad 3/4 or anything else that was released in the last 18 months are simply mis-remembering reality. The iPhone 3G to 3GS? The iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S? The iPad to iPad 2? Each successive generation of iPod?

In fact, iPod in 2001, iPhone in 2007, MacBook Air in 2008. iPad in 2010. Even Apple gets a day of rest or two between major revolutions, and to that effect, Mr. Crow himself said that iPhone 5 is the best smartphone in the market. What more do you want?

This notion that Apple hasn't reinvented the smartphone/tablet/computer market since Steve Jobs died is proof that the company is on the skids isn't based on any kind of reality.

Apple Death Knell #62

Death Knell #62

Then there's Mr. Weir's piece. It's nothing more than a poorly researched and lightweight TV report that was designed to capitalize on the increased criticism being leveled at Apple.

The teaser on YouTube: "With lukewarm sales for the new iPad Mini and crumbling stock prices, are competitors catching up?"

There's nothing about that sentence that is worthy of ABC news. For starters, iPad mini appears to be doing well. The piece also pointed to small lines for the iPad mini, a point that I have already argued requires that one be really bad at math.

For another, crumbling stock prices have nothing to do with competitors catching up. I personally hate those rhetorical questions used to mask unfounded accusations.

In the piece itself, a narrator opines, "There are deeper concerns. No new products are likely well into next year. Aside from the expectation that Apple may reinvent the television, its products are no longer innovating the way many expect."

OMG! No new products are likely well into next year? That sounds so ominous! Never mind that Apple just refreshed every single product over a 4-week period. Of course there are no new products "expected" until 2013.

I also have another pedantic note: Products don't innovate.

The report includes comments from tech journalists who said that Apple has plateaued, and one who suggested that Samsung's efforts to mock the lines of people at Apple product launches is somehow proof that Apple is on the decline.

I'm not sure how that works.

Comments

adamC

Death knell no 63

http://slopeofhope.com/2012/11/how-apple-became-japan.html

I wonder why everyone who bashes always claimed to love Apple products.

gregP

I think it is the nascent consumer rejection of premium pricing that is now leading to a decline in Apple’s fortunes.  The company’s reaction to this monumental change is what will be fascinating to watch.  I think chances are that their culture will lead to incorrect responses, we are seeing signs of that already.  Doesn’t mean the comany dies away, just means they will decline on a relative basis.  Fanboys will of course continue to buy their products regardless of price or innovation.  And they have done a pretty good job of virtually locking a large number of people into their platform.

Venkata Acharya

I think Mr. Crow’s assessment is spot on. Yes, your argument that Apple had ups and downs (and downtimes) during Jobs himself, is also true.
But the point here is not whether history is any proof. The point here is about the man himself. We are all made of stuff that we love. Jobs loved art and saw a combination of art and technology, driven by his passion for excellence, ‘wanted’ to produce the best products in the world - regardless of pressure from ‘anyone’.

Are other people made of the same stuff? We all pray to God everyday - but we can never become God himself. Same is the case with people who work for Apple - they are people ‘grown’ under Jobs, not Jobs himself.

Also, we all should remember - there are numerous examples of companies who were phenomenal at sometime (and for a long time), and then lost their touch. They are still existing today - IBM, Microsoft, Dell, so on. So, not that they died, but they are past their peak.

wab95

Bryan:

My comment is a bit late, but I’m only just catching up with some TMO reading. Mr Crow’s assessment in The Guardian has the virtue of coming from someone with inside knowledge of Apple, but an Apple of yesteryear. It is not today’s Apple, and that is an important caveat, nor was he an intimate of the painstaking grooming with which SJ buttressed his company - in his own assessment, his greatest invention and legacy - against the coming of his inevitable departure. Again, another important caveat. To use an analogy, Mr Crow’s comments should be lent the same weight, as say, an aide to a former PM or US president who is trying to comment on current issues and decisions of the current occupants of Number 10 Downing or the White House - now run by different personnel and using different protocols to address issues this former aide has never confronted. Interesting thoughts but little more than educated guesswork.

As for analogies with other companies, when it suits us, we often remind ourselves that no two situations are ever exactly alike, and exact parallels are non-existent. When it suits us, we forget this axiom, but it is an important reminder to assess every situation on its own terms and merits. Citing companies like Dell, IBM and MS to make predictions about Apple is no different than citing the example of the USSR, Europe or Rome to make predictions about the fate of the USA. Their points of parallel and commonality are at best superficial. Take Dell (one of your favourites). Their whole business model has been built on a race to the cheapest, underselling the competition with commodity computers targeted to the workplace. This has left them at a place of market saturation with no incentive to upgrade (based on hardware) by their primary target - risk-averse enterprise - no innovation and flagging sales. Hardly the same situation as Apple. That their model once worked to place them on top of hardware manufacturers, more precisely MS OEMs (something Apple never was) has no bearing or predictive value towards Apple, whose business model has nothing to do with making the cheapest products to undersell competing OEMs using a common platform that Apple itself doesn’t make. Nothing at all. Apple is a whole widget enterprise, manufacturing its own hardware, software, and now CPUs (at least for its tablets and smartphones). That Dell floundered and fell from its pedestal is interesting, but not relevant, and definitely not predictive of anything Apple.

Rather I see pundits engaged less in prescient prediction than lobbying for their pet narrative - Apple is due for its comeuppance. It was never supposed to succeed by bucking convention, and the gods won’t have it. It must fail because everyone else has. This is not prediction, it’s lobbying for an alternative outcome. If people accept it, they might act on it.

Mind you, we forget that people were saying the same thing year on year during SJ’s tenure both before and after his illness became public knowledge - and Apple grew from strength to strength. Now these same pundits are re-stating this message with renewed vigour as if it were new. We’ve been hearing this for years. It’s not new. It’s not not novel. It’s not even intelligently argued. Worse yet, this argument only works within the confines of an over-simplified reference frame that strips out important observable facts. In short, the argument works best when we ignore reality.

Impressive.

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