When a company is struggling for acceptance, it has to maintain an aura of coolness. But when a company like Apple is on top, the priorities shift in subtle ways. Cool, yes. But also practically minded. As a result, I'm seeing some fundamental changes at Apple.
It wasn't long ago when Apple was markedly on the eccentric side. The innate design sense of Steve Jobs brought a certain thrill to every product Apple produced, but that fast-forward into the future mentality meant that Apple largely excluded itself from enterprise and government circles.
For example, when certain IT managers called the Mac a "toy," that choice of wording had to be decoded. It didn't mean to dismiss the idea that useful work couldn't be done. Rather, it was derisive way of saying that Apple's products and technologies didn't have a place in their environment.
The reason for that is because it's not too hard for a person or a family to replace a home computer. They can still do what they were doing before: browsing, email, photo sharing, socializing, shopping, etc. But in a corporate environment full of SANs and databases and corporate standards, it's not easy to turn on a dime and spend Big Bucks to periodically throw out the recently working and bring in the really new and untested.
In my perception, Tim Cook understands that a company that's on top not only has to be innovative and grow in its thinking, but it also has to become more all embracing in its approach. That's why I suspect we're seeing more practical (and yet still very advanced) products.
For example, I doubt whether many inside Apple think that a 12.9-inch iPad will breathe new life into Apple's iPad quarterly sales. But, as I've written before, a 12.9 inch iPad shouldn't be just an oversized iPhone. It's size should suggest increased capabilities that insinuate the device more completely into enterprise and government. That alone is sufficient, along with other initiatives, such as the current partnership with IBM, to round out the product line and prepare a way forward for, perhaps, what has been a stagnating platform.
The Apple Watch may seem like it's just a gimmick product to some naysayers, designed to appeal to the Apple aficionados. But, in my mind, it represents a proper evolution of the smartphone. That is, we've all come to spend too much time staring at out smartphones in all walks of life. A smartwatch can keep us in the loop without making us socially awkward. We hardly thought that far forward when the iPhone first came out.
That's a synergistic effect of the iPhone and Apple Watch that broadens its appeal rather than restricts it. That's why I think the initial sales of the Apple Watch have been so good. There's a human longing for being free from the tyranny of the smartphone's display.
The new Apple MacBook feels that way too. One might be tempted to argue that the port reduction to a single USB-C port represents some kind of elitist approach designed to mock and make obsolete other notebook computers. And make us buy new equipment. But after using one, I have realized that Apple is getting away from physical connectors that change every generation and moving towards wireless technology that's more standardized, enduring and available. In the end, that's a solution, not a problem.
My final example is the notion, reported today, that Apple is moving towards a new remote control design for its Apple TV. It won't be as small and perhaps conceptually simple. But it will solve the new problems we have encountered as the Apple TV has morphed from being a basic TV and movie watching box to a powerful conduit to all kinds of content, some of which requires account credentials or other interactions. Small size and radical simplicity get replaced by new, much needed functionality.
Working Both Sides
How does a company retain the cachet of being cool and moving smartly into the future while remaining well respected and delivering truly useful products? It's a real art.
When Tim Cook's company takes some proper time to stabilize and refine a needed technology, the company is accused of having no imagination. When Apple surges forward into smartwatches and most likely cars (and maybe robots), the company is accused of betraying its roots and trying to be all encompassing.
The litmus test for Apple's endeavors is whether people stand in line for Apple products that represent real, human-centric solutions in our technical society. And then, how well does Apple execute that strategy? That's all we need to know. That's all we need to fret about. That's pretty much all that's worth writing about.