Apple Has its Eye on the Ball, but It’s a Different Ball

5 minute read
| Particle Debris

Like the rest of the tech industry, Apple is a company that is in constant change. Sometimes the change is celebrated, and sometimes the change is uncomfortable. In other wards, Apple always has its eye on the ball. It just may not be the same ball we’re accustomed to watching.

This week, I happened to encounter a myriad of articles that went into some detail about the changing face of Apple. I’ll go into them on page two here.

As a lead off article, I present a two part series from Daniel Eran Dilger.

  1. Editorial: The future of Steve Jobs’ iPad vision for Post-PC computing
  2. Editorial: The future of Steve Jobs’ iPad vision for Post-PC computing, part 2

Perhaps nothing launches a discussion more powerfully than author Dilger’s opening chart that displays the relative contribution to Apple’s revenue from various products over the years. Here it is.

Apple’s contribution to revenue by product, over time. Image credit: DataVisualizations.

The Guardian of Forever

This chart is most informative and invites one to ask a key question. When the revenues from a product start to decline, is this an outward sign of impending Apple failure? Or is it, in light of the chart above, part of an evolving mix of Apple products? We know the answer of course.

I am mindful that this is not exactly the same question as a decline in a market segment, but they seem related. For example, as I’ll point to on page two, Apple may be losing favor in the education market. However, schools (and students) buy many different Apple products, including Macs and iPads. So it’s harder to analyze the import of a decline in a market segment.

Another factor that comes into play is that a vertical slice in time in the chart above doesn’t reveal Apple’s roadmap for the transitional future. I saw a reference recently about how, if Apple hadn’t developed the iPod, the company might not have pursued the iPhone. (Apple’s market success with that tiny music player, and the manufacturing methods, paved the way for a much more capable but similar device.) For example, a vertical slice through the above chart in 2006 would have never reflected what Steve Jobs was thinking about with the iPhone. Or the consequent drive to negligible iPod sales in 2016.

iPad Evolution

All this is on my mind because we are at another crossroads. Apple’s inattention to the Mac in 2016 combined with the difficulty in seeing how the iPad can evolve to meet all our technical needs is creating angst and frustration. When Apple presents the idea in its advertising that an iPad can replace a complex PC, two things happen. First, the PC owner is intrigued with the proposition and may seriously consider it. +1 for Apple. But the very technical Mac users break out in nervous, laughter. Then derision. -1 for Apple.

Apple doesn’t show us its roadmap. Indeed, Apple executives probably didn’t sense that the end was coming for the iPod until 2009. That informed the company about how to proceed with the iPhone. One can plan, but the course of events, customer acceptance, technology and serendipity can influence and amend a company’s best laid plans.

Against this backdrop, I’ll continue with some of the related articles that I found this last week about change: trends and nervous reaction to change.

Next page: The tech news debris for the week of February 27th. The pain of change.

4 Comments Add a comment

  1. These things are always difficult to grasp and wrap one’s head around. One thing that we are always guilty of is looking at the present moment, and thinking it represents the future, and that the past will lead us inexorably to the future it is predicting. Your article reminds us that things don’t always maintain the trajectory they are on at the moment. In 2006, the iPod seemed unassailable.

    I think that part of the problem is that Jobs is no longer with us. He had the ability to maintain tension even when there was nothing new visible. You always felt that he had “one more thing” hidden up his sleeve. This is not Cook’s style.

    However, this does not mean that Cook and co are not actively doing something. I suspect that there have been a number of distractions of late, and also maybe a bit of a lack of direction inside Apple, but I also think that maybe part of that is that some things they want to do aren’t ready yet. And they aren’t Steve, able to keep people guessing.

    Today’s snapshot (2016, actually) is not the future, nor really any sign of what the future holds. In the past few years, I’ve changed my approach to tech. I no longer simply wait for Apple to produce what I need. If I need something, and Apple doesn’t make it, I buy it, whether it’s Android or Windows. But I keep in mind that Apple probably has something coming that will draw me back, and I wait with anticipation–but I can’t wait passively. I suspect I’m not alone.

    Thus, to me, Apple’s real problem is keeping us buying even in these interim moments. I think that Apple now, struggles, not with the future, but with the present. I suspect that the Touch bar was an attempt to maintain the present, but for me, it just increased the price and didn’t give me what I wanted. So I bought Surface. That’s more like what I wanted, and I’m happy with the hardware. I just wish I had MacOS. 😉 If Windows has one plus, it’s this, it can be transparent so long as I stay in the apps I’m familiar with. But maybe that is just a feature of all modern operating systems. I do miss iWork and Nisus, however–desperately.

  2. aardman

    Nobody seems to have noticed the big elephant in Apple’s product development living room. Is it possible that the slowdown in new product upgrades/introductions is a direct consequence of the now aborted foray into the auto industry? At its peak, how much of its engineering resources were diverted to that effort? It was a gamble that failed, as gambles sometimes do. Even at Apple. But now, having scaled down the AppleCar program, is Apple now able to devote enough talent and resources to once neglected product lines and thus resume a more normal pace of development? Just wondering.

  3. aardman: When VP Bob Mansfield was diverted to reassess the Titan project, I thought that perhaps that might adversely affect other projects. And then, there is the question of Jony Ive’s interests and attentions. But no one knows for sure outside Apple what’s happening.

    Some have suggested a Mac design and product VP be assigned, but that goes against Apple’s tradition of having product and management coherence. A senior Mac VP might become a maverick, an irritation to Apple’s executive team. After he’s ousted, the Mac situation would become an even bigger mess.

  4. what is this article really asserting? I got a lot of cool details and factoids… but I am struggling to discern the main idea. It’s not necessarily a criticism of the article. It might be me. But, again – what is the main idea here?

Add a Comment

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter, Facebook) or Register for a TMO Account