The Focus on Design
Another expert observer, Neil Cybart, has pointed out in “Jony Ive Is Making People Uneasy” that an obsession with industrial design in the sole hands of one powerful executive is a possible emerging problem.
Apple pessimism is on the rise. New Apple products are being questioned like never before. Even some of Apple’s most loyal customers are beginning to wonder about Apple’s direction. While many are directing criticism towards Tim Cook, nearly all of the criticism pointed towards Apple can in one way or another be traced back to a different person: Jony Ive.
The premise there is that the extreme, centralized focus on design in some aspects of Apple’s business squeezes out some desired engineering initiatives Author Cybart points to issues with the 1) iPhone, 2) Mac, 3) Apple Watch, 4) Accessories and 5) Project Titan. I don’t have room to go into the specifics except for this notable comment about the Mac. [ID = industrial design]
Overall, the Mac still has a role to play, but I suspect its priority is continuing to fade in the eyes of ID. This is classic resource allocation at Apple as devices capable of making technology more personal take priority.
As Apple expands its surface area and stresses the internal resources, gaps in the surface leave holes for eager competitors looking to regain a foothold in areas where they were once ridiculed as doofuses in the eyes of Apple customers. I delved into this in: “Blood in the Macintosh Water: Apple’s Competitors Now Sense Weakness.”
Holding On To Being Cool
As Apple’s surface area expands, technical resources are strained and competitors increasingly use advanced technology to battle Apple’s expertise in pure design and user experience, there’s the ever lingering threat that some products could lose their cachet, their cool factor.
If Apple were to ever sense that the iPhone were losing its cool factor, every resource within the company would be brought to bear. In essence, attending to Apple’s surface area becomes like a game of musical chairs. Products that can’t be improved upon in terms of industrial design and which account for a small fraction of Apple’s revenues drop off the radar of a rather modest sized executive team that’s focused on personal experiences, growth through services and mobility.
Eventually, all this surface area by Apple opens itself up to single minded predators in the market who can bring to bear all their resources to divide and conquer any one susceptible Apple product area. Hewlett-Packard is going after the tech professionals, Microsoft is going after the tablet market, Google is going after the chatbot, AI, and education markets. Samsung hammers away on smartphones with success. Amazon and Facebook are in there too, all seeking to gain a foothold in the customer infrastructure by offering essential services that tie all their own offerings together. One example is the Amazon Echo.
Apple’s competitors are using advanced R&D to be cool too.
A Delicate Apple Balance
So far, Apple has used its enormous resources to succeed in a delicate balancing act of sustained growth and sustained excellence. Apple still has a tremendous focus on only making the best. But, here and there, we see more and more slip-ups. The mantra “it just works,” is being talked about and evaluated more and more. Eyebrows are raised when Apple’s growth agendas clash with technical memes.
I’m thinking that all the above is Tim Cook’s big challenge for the foreseeable future.