Demanding More Products, Faster from Apple is Irrational

There are two notable camps amongst Apple's irritable critics. First, if Apple had more products, they'd have more sales. Second, if Apple spent more on R&D,they could buy their way into inovation and, again, exciting new products. Highly critical pressure to achieve that, on demand, is irrational.


Forcing Growth

One of the things any company has to do is balance the flow of product with the demand. If too much product is created with little demand, one can end up with a Microsoft Surface or Samsung Galaxy Gear. It costs money and looks bad.

Being unable to meet demand has its share of problems. Customers are frustrated and money is left on the table. Getting the rate of product flow into the marketplace is an art.

There are also limits on what a well understood customer base can absorb. For example, if Apple were to introduce a new iMac each and every month, that would seriously outpace the rate at which customers upgrade. It would be a waste of effort.

Finally, there is an expected rate at which developing technology is expected to arrive on the scene. Apple had to wait for Intel to bring Thunderbolt 2 to maturity for production before introducing the new MacBook Pros and, in December, the new Mac Pro.

A seasoned product team has a good feel for the pace of technology introductions. Of course, one could be contrarian and argue that if only Apple introduced more products (like phablets) at a faster pace, they'd make more money. Most importantly, growth would be injected.

As it happens, Apple tried that before, back in the mid to late 1990s, with a line of Macs called the Performas. The desperate idea was that if Apple made more kinds of Macs, they'd sell more Macs. It didn't work, and the idea was soundly refuted by Steve Jobs who shepherded the Bondi Blue iMac to the market in August 1998. A single, lovable Mac with a great vision sold enormously better than plethora by committee.

Other industries constantly try to force growth by adding more product lines. Sometimes it works when there was untapped demand, but often it fails with the company lamely admitting that it needs to get back to its core basics. Even so, the case continues to be made by critics that there is a magic, untapped demand for a nonexistent Apple product whose time has come -- if only we knew what it might be and enough R&D dollars could discover it.

The Pace of Innovation

Another myth floated by irritable critics is that a company can buy innovation on demand. There have been several articles lately criticizing Apple for not spending enough on R&D. The conceit here is that more money buys more innovation. The ultimate expression of that conceit was provided by this writer at NBC: "Perhaps if Apple spent a little more on innovation we would all have Apple TVs, wearable computers and an iWatch by now."

Sure. That's it. Those doofus Apple engineers are just too stingy.

However, we already know from watching other companies that spending a excessive amounts of money on R&D doesn't translate into products that people love. Indeed, it wouldn't even guarantee a marketable product that would align with Apple's vision.

One plausible reason why Apple doesn't spend as much money on R&D as Google, Microsoft and Samsung is that, as mentioned above, Apple has a relatively simple product line. The philosophy has always been to invest in technology that earns money. Of course, any researcher will tell you that some money has to go down the drain in blue sky efforts, or else it's hard to get the big payoffs. I'm sure there's some of that at Apple too.

Finally, there is the issue of timing and sequencing. We don't get to see Apple's roadmap, but we can guess that certain related technologies, standards, and key infrastructures need to be in place before a given product can be launched. If Apple is going to change the wearables experience or the HDTV experience, the product has to leverage from all that plus aspects of Apple's ecosphere and family of hardware. Wasting more money to forcefully accelerate the process typically results in an unsatisfying experience and a an outcry for a 2.0 product that finally gets it right.

Excess Web Capacity

I opened with the idea of rates of flow. I think one of the modern problems is that the rate of flow of Apple products isn't fast enough to fill the excess editorial capacity on the Apple Web. Apple is a popular company that makes desirable products, so there's money to be made writing and talking about Apple.

The excess capacity (of writers and websites) on the Apple Web means that there is an enormous craving, an insatiable appetite for new and exciting things to write about. It's all about capturing eyeballs with a thrill. If Apple can't do that at the desired pace, there's resentment.

Never mind the fact that Apple's engineering capabilities have delivered a fabulous new Mac Pro, iOS 7, Mavericks, rewritten iWork (a work in progress), new Haswell iMacs, the iPhone 5c, a 64-bit A7 SoC, TouchID, the iPhone 5s, the iPad Air and the iPad mini Retina in the past six months. The flow of technology out of Apple doesn't seem to be enough to meet the cravings, the required flow rate, into the Apple Web.

In other words, the first-class engineering capacity of the wealthiest and most capable consumer electronics company on the planet can't keep pace with frenetic, petulant demands for exciting written content.

We should ponder whose fault that is, but I'll argue that it's not Apple's.


Man "losing his mind" image via Shutterstock.