Demanding More Products, Faster from Apple is Irrational

| Editorial

There are two notable camps amongst Apple's irritable critics. First, if Apple had more products, they'd have more sales. Second, if Apple spent more on R&D,they could buy their way into inovation and, again, exciting new products. Highly critical pressure to achieve that, on demand, is irrational.

__________________________

Forcing Growth

One of the things any company has to do is balance the flow of product with the demand. If too much product is created with little demand, one can end up with a Microsoft Surface or Samsung Galaxy Gear. It costs money and looks bad.

Being unable to meet demand has its share of problems. Customers are frustrated and money is left on the table. Getting the rate of product flow into the marketplace is an art.

There are also limits on what a well understood customer base can absorb. For example, if Apple were to introduce a new iMac each and every month, that would seriously outpace the rate at which customers upgrade. It would be a waste of effort.

Finally, there is an expected rate at which developing technology is expected to arrive on the scene. Apple had to wait for Intel to bring Thunderbolt 2 to maturity for production before introducing the new MacBook Pros and, in December, the new Mac Pro.

A seasoned product team has a good feel for the pace of technology introductions. Of course, one could be contrarian and argue that if only Apple introduced more products (like phablets) at a faster pace, they'd make more money. Most importantly, growth would be injected.

As it happens, Apple tried that before, back in the mid to late 1990s, with a line of Macs called the Performas. The desperate idea was that if Apple made more kinds of Macs, they'd sell more Macs. It didn't work, and the idea was soundly refuted by Steve Jobs who shepherded the Bondi Blue iMac to the market in August 1998. A single, lovable Mac with a great vision sold enormously better than plethora by committee.

Other industries constantly try to force growth by adding more product lines. Sometimes it works when there was untapped demand, but often it fails with the company lamely admitting that it needs to get back to its core basics. Even so, the case continues to be made by critics that there is a magic, untapped demand for a nonexistent Apple product whose time has come -- if only we knew what it might be and enough R&D dollars could discover it.

The Pace of Innovation

Another myth floated by irritable critics is that a company can buy innovation on demand. There have been several articles lately criticizing Apple for not spending enough on R&D. The conceit here is that more money buys more innovation. The ultimate expression of that conceit was provided by this writer at NBC: "Perhaps if Apple spent a little more on innovation we would all have Apple TVs, wearable computers and an iWatch by now."

Sure. That's it. Those doofus Apple engineers are just too stingy.

However, we already know from watching other companies that spending a excessive amounts of money on R&D doesn't translate into products that people love. Indeed, it wouldn't even guarantee a marketable product that would align with Apple's vision.

One plausible reason why Apple doesn't spend as much money on R&D as Google, Microsoft and Samsung is that, as mentioned above, Apple has a relatively simple product line. The philosophy has always been to invest in technology that earns money. Of course, any researcher will tell you that some money has to go down the drain in blue sky efforts, or else it's hard to get the big payoffs. I'm sure there's some of that at Apple too.

Finally, there is the issue of timing and sequencing. We don't get to see Apple's roadmap, but we can guess that certain related technologies, standards, and key infrastructures need to be in place before a given product can be launched. If Apple is going to change the wearables experience or the HDTV experience, the product has to leverage from all that plus aspects of Apple's ecosphere and family of hardware. Wasting more money to forcefully accelerate the process typically results in an unsatisfying experience and a an outcry for a 2.0 product that finally gets it right.

Excess Web Capacity

I opened with the idea of rates of flow. I think one of the modern problems is that the rate of flow of Apple products isn't fast enough to fill the excess editorial capacity on the Apple Web. Apple is a popular company that makes desirable products, so there's money to be made writing and talking about Apple.

The excess capacity (of writers and websites) on the Apple Web means that there is an enormous craving, an insatiable appetite for new and exciting things to write about. It's all about capturing eyeballs with a thrill. If Apple can't do that at the desired pace, there's resentment.

Never mind the fact that Apple's engineering capabilities have delivered a fabulous new Mac Pro, iOS 7, Mavericks, rewritten iWork (a work in progress), new Haswell iMacs, the iPhone 5c, a 64-bit A7 SoC, TouchID, the iPhone 5s, the iPad Air and the iPad mini Retina in the past six months. The flow of technology out of Apple doesn't seem to be enough to meet the cravings, the required flow rate, into the Apple Web.

In other words, the first-class engineering capacity of the wealthiest and most capable consumer electronics company on the planet can't keep pace with frenetic, petulant demands for exciting written content.

We should ponder whose fault that is, but I'll argue that it's not Apple's.

_____________________

Man "losing his mind" image via Shutterstock.

Comments

daemon

I don’t understand it either John. I think what that these writers are just uninformed. They actually believe that touch interfaces didn’t exist before the iPhone, or that tablets were invented by Steve Jobs.

Lancashire-Witch

I don’t think the problem is the pace of hardware. I think it’s software quality.

The Lex Friedman “inconsistencies” piece you referred to recently, John, says it very well. I’m not listing all the issues - the list is too long.

Why is Apple releasing “work in progress” software? I can’t see them ever releasing work in progress hardware.

There’s no doubt the user experience suffers when it “only just works”.

skipaq

Just call it POS for present opening syndrome. Doesn’t take more than a few seconds for a child to lose interest in a just opened present and he cries for the next present. Wait t’ill next year is the same as never to his thinking. Since it is the “season” for such childish behavior; I suggest that us adults still exhibit the same behavior all too often.

Speaking of which, I ordered a new MacBook Pro four weeks ago and it is taking forever to get off back order. I’ve had it with the delay and cancelled the order. Stop telling me that I have to $&)(@;)-/$&@ wait a little longer. I’m going to stand in line on Black Friday and they better be a nice box for me to open or being nice gives way to Naughty.

John Martellaro

daemon: I suspect that TV shows and movies, for the sake of entertainment, provide an unrealistic view of the art of the possible. Some industry experience is always a helpful sanity check.

JonGl

And this article is just one more reminder of why the Mac Observer is at the top of the heap, in my view, of the Apple web. Nobody else is saying that, and nobody else is likely to. I check out other Apple sites on occasion, but TMO is in my news feed.

adamC

One interesting point I found is the pundits never run short of negative subjects about Apple, its vision, it products and yes its share price, growth and even its cash hoard.

E.g, when the 5s is ready to ship in 3 days it becomes a negative point on its demand.

John, these guys are full of imagination and they will invent whatever just to get page clicks.

CudaBoy

What Mac Pro?? Anyone seen one??
Apple is a victim of it’s own success. A success based on ONE product which spawned a Pad and then finally a “small” pad. Ever since - nothing new, in fact it seems they put out the same 3 or so products every year with only tweaks and always with technical hardware and software problems - always. This is what leaves Apple watchers and old fans like me bored. It’s important to remember that Apple hasn’t “innovated” for a decade or so - everything on the market today was on the drafting board 10 years ago - only the chips have changed - Moores Law and all. There’s nothing wrong if Apple decides to make phones and pads for the rest of life - they will always sell; but Apple trained us to “think different” and Apple is the LAST co. out there now compared to Google for one - that “thinks different”.
And, you can’t compare 68XXX and early 61/71/8100PPC Macs with Bondi Blue cute G3s and the later. At one point you could buy a Centris,Performa,Quadra etc at almost ANY price point and they DID sell at regular Sears and Electronics chains. They sold a TON of those “semi” Macs. This was the time you could buy a SUPERIOR-to-Apple Mac clone from Power Computing. The genius of Jobs return was killing the clones and 90% of the many confusing Mac models to concentrate on the new iMacs, and then the iPods, later the iPhones & Pads. It seems years and years since Apple came out with anything new and THAT is what a lot of observers are observing. Me? I just want a Mac Pro for Xmas.

furbies

Regarding the levels of R&D investment.

Maybe Apple is just a little more targeted with it’s spending ?

After all, raw levels of spending doesn’t automatically equate to numbers of projects under investigation.

And perhaps Apple management is more able at an earlier stage of development to see what R&D is in line with company ideals/policy/technology direction ?
And kill off the projects that fail the “Apple Test Of Appleyness”

MacFrogger

Its really simple - when you are on top of the heap, everyone is trying to take you down.  And everyone starts telling you what you should do, as well as what you shouldn’t do. 

Here’s the problem I have with the critics: if they were half as smart as they think they are, they’d be CEOs of very successful cos!  Let’s see now, let me count the critics, pundits, and other naysayers in that category…

John’s response to the critics - “Never mind the fact that Apple’s engineering capabilities have delivered a fabulous new Mac Pro, iOS 7, Mavericks, rewritten iWork (a work in progress), new Haswell iMacs, the iPhone 5c, a 64-bit A7 SoC, TouchID, the iPhone 5s, the iPad Air and the iPad mini Retina in the past six months” - reminds me of Phil Schiller’s recent rejoinder: “Can’t innovate, my a$$”. What Apple did this year alone is astounding; innovation is something that happens INSIDE of products and on the design too.  Innovation is NOT just introducing wholly new products!

What new bar has been set by Google or Microsoft this year with their brilliant innovations?  And then there’s Sammy - oh yeah, they came out with their brilliant new watch…(snark).

MacFrogger

Oh yeah - I forgot: Sammy also came up with innovative legal strategies that were about as successful as their watch…

iJack

I don’t read TMO until the very end of the day, but I follow TMO on Twitter, and I can always tell an article is going to be from John, just from reading the headline.

Paul Goodwin

John, you’re a lot nicer than Macalope about this. Apple sure seems like they’re doing what they’ve been doing for a long time, and at the right time.

1998 iMac Bondi Blue

2001 OS X
2002 iPod, iMac G4 Flat Panel

2006 Intel iMac, MacBook Pro
2007 iPhone, Apple TV
2008 MacBook Air

2010 iPad

2012 (late) Fusion Drive
2013 64 bit iOS iPhone 5s/iPad Air/iPad mini Retina, Mac Pro, Haswell iMacs
2014 TBD

Based on history, I’d say 2014 will have an innovation surprise.

Log-in to comment