Is There Anything Apple Can’t Do? That’s Now a Problem


| Editorial

The Focus on Design

iPhone in crystal ball

Apple’s iPhone 7 likely announced on September 7th. With what design changes?

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.

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Lee Dronick
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Lee Dronick

You will have more passion than you can handle when the Apple Car leaves the competition in the dust.

CudaBoy
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CudaBoy

Where is the passion? Where is the innovation? Where is the “scuttlebutt leak” that keeps the fires burning? Where is the product after the iPod/Phone a ‘century’ ago? PR much? Wut brung you here to enjoy your friggin’ phones? My Macintosh did – where’s the love?
talk is blah blah blah – you can’t even “blah” a coherent car/autonomous/VR/AR/WOT thing…..just Ooof. Next watch will match new ‘X’ brand – who the F cares…

skipaq
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skipaq

While the points made have merit; Apple is not GE, Samsung, Sony or even Microsoft, Google etc.. Where would the iPod VP be today? The same goes for the many other products that have been axed. All these VPs would have squeezed Apple of every research and development dollar they could get to keep their respective pets alive. The personal computer of the future is not going to be the Macintosh. If there was a VP in charge of the Mac today, he would be fighting for what you want now – keep the Mac development going. That would come… Read more »

geoduck
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geoduck

Very true. MS was badly harmed by the warring VPs that Balmer encouraged. This gave Apple a decade to establish itself as a leader. If you look at this org chart for Apple https://managementofapple.wordpress.com/role-of-managers/ Look under Bob Mansfield, Sr VP, Hardware engineering. There are four units that answer to him. iPad, iPhone/iPod Engineering, iPhone/iPod Design, and Architecture. There is LITERALLY no one at this level paying any attention to the Mac. There is one person under Philip Schiller responsible for Mac Marketing but nobody at this level for design or engineering. It;’s things like this that make me so nervous… Read more »

geoduck
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geoduck

Dead on as usual. If you look at The Functional Organization chart above I can see a tendancy for each VP to focus on the top layer, A, and B products and overlook the ones below. I suspect the Macintosh, my particular area of concern is about level F. It’s below iPhone, AppleWatch, iPad, Services, and New Products like Cars. It’s not surprising to me they’ve been left to languish. There’s a truism in business, or any organization: If no one is made responsible, then nobody is responsible. If there is no VP for Macintosh and Macintosh is at the… Read more »