Apple’s Present Day Innovation is Not What You Think

Innovation concept.

Innovation concept.

Occasionally, observers criticize Apple for not being innovative enough, but they’re off the mark.

There are several ways to define innovation, and I think that contributes to an enduring misunderstanding. One can take the approach that innovation means a breathtaking, unexpected new product that ignites the company’s fiances and takes the tech world by storm. One can argue that the iPod and iPhone did just that. See: “The Day Steve Jobs Launched the iPod and Changed Apple Forever.

The other way to look at innovation, and I think this is he proper one, is the application of original thinking and engineering finesse combined with significant resources to attack modern problems and create solutions that make life better for customers. In new ways.

The first definition above is often applied to Apple when Steve Jobs was trying to save the company in the late 1990s. The dramatic “One More Thing” announcement at events was cleverly designed to whet our appetites and make us believe that Apple was imaginative and resurgent. That turned out to be true, but Steve Jobs knew that he had to back up the hype with real, desirable products. He demanded as much from his engineers.

Another factor is the size of the company. In 2001, Apple’s total revenue for the year was about US$5.4 billion. Today, it’s over $200 billon. When a company is small, dramatic changes are a significant fraction of revenues. They have an impact. And the company can turn on a dime.

When a company is much larger, innovative products tend to be overwhelmed by the scope of the company. They’re innovative, but they don’t have the same impact on the company’s directions and finances. They may be great, but their appreciation is lost amidst all the other positive things the company does. Putting them into perspective is harder and requires insight.

Modern Innovation at Apple

Apple has made some significant advances in terms of how we live (health and fitness) and how we interact with devices. For example, we have AirPods, HomePod, ARKit, HomeKit, HealthKit, and amateur photography to name a few. Our Apple watch tracks our pulse, exercise and soon, perhaps, our blood glucose. An iPhone with a fast 64-bit processor executes 100 billion instructions to deliver breathtaking photos.

One of the most notable innovative contributions lately has been Apple’s cooperation with the company called Cochlear and their new Cochlear implants. Cochlear created the product, but Apple’s made MFi licensing available at no charge.

Why does Apple get involved in such seemingly small projects? It’s because new frontiers in health can leverage from many of the core technologies that Apple has developed over the years. Apple could just settle for cool toys and gizmos, but instead actively looks for ways to utilize its technologies, in an innovative way, to make life better for customers. That’s the real legacy that drives innovation.

There was a day when it was enough for Apple to organize our music in iTunes and our photos in iPhoto/Photos. That did make our life better. Today, the challenges Apple can take on are vaster and more sophisticated. But, in most cases, they don’t have that one-off “One More Thing” sex appeal that punctuated the older Apple.

Today, it doesn’t make sense to crave an endless succession of dramatic events presented by someone like the master showman of the past, Steve Jobs. The scale and subtlety of modern technical challenges in AI, big data, autonomous vehicles, Health, AR and VR won’t look like an iPod pulled out of a CEO’s jeans pocket for the first time.

We’re beyond that, and Apple executives know it.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week Of July 24th. Failure was an option.

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Nice cherry-picking, CudaBoy. This all coming off the BRILLIANT assessment you made one short year ago that AAPL will never surge over $100 ever again. You expect people to actually listen to your dribble? Same garbage as Bosco, but with a lot less intellectual analysis.

July 26, 2016: “A billion here, a billion there. The whole smartphone thing can’t go on forever so it levels out to a nice steadily declining revenue still made of billions, it’s only natural. No panic; just don’t expect APPL to ever surge over $100 ever again, and that’s fair.”



Apple hasn’t innovated anything in quite a while as seen by stagnant market penetration in an Android and PC world. Indeed tend to steal (see the many lawsuits they have paid up so far to the tune of a few hundred million – or see the stylus and flip keyboard for that matter). They sort of designed a cool interface a LONG time ago; realized that proprietary I/O was a failure and became more PC every year even down to switching chips to the PC chip Intel – what happened to “RISC chips are the future and much better than… Read more »

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

John: Very insightful comments about the nature of innovation at Apple. The implications go beyond simply the range of products and services that will be the subject of innovation, but the impact of those advances on the relative impact of those innovations on Apple’s overall portfolio and bottom line. As has been pointed out numerous times, were the iPad Apple’s only business, or more precisely, were another company to have created the iPad with its current level of market domination, it would be hailed as a runaway success, more so if Apple’s tablet’s market performance were on par with Samsung’s… Read more »


John: “There are several ways to define innovation, and I think that contributes to an enduring misunderstanding.”

You got that right!


Great piece Jon! I strongly agree that Apple’s innovation engine is still firing on all cylinders. One thing I’ve noticed is that folks seem to remember Apple’s past achievements as more epic that they actually were. I recently watched a few Steve Jobs’ keynotes including the 2010 WWDC announcement of the iPhone 4. I was struck very strongly at how little meat there was in the actual presentation beyond the iPhone 4 itself. This year’s WWDC was packed with so much more substantive innovation that I was shocked at the difference. These days most in the tech media just don’t… Read more »


Your comment about Apple ‘frittering away’ it’s talent on programming when it should devote those resources to making better hardware makes me wonder,

would you prefer to use an iPhone running Android or a Galaxy with iOS?


Au contraire, it is exactly what I think, and I think it is pandering and backward thinking. Just my opinion, but those are two words that I never would have formerly associated with the company.