As we remember Steve Jobs, Apple misses him more than ever
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Apple Event. As a huge Apple fanatic and hardcore user for many years, I was very much looking forward to it. Between the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, and the high expectations of industry experts like Robert Scoble, I felt as excited as I did many years ago when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, or the iPad, or many other game changing innovations.
It also happened to be a very relevant event for my business, given that we are building somewhat competitive products at Wonder. I always try to immediately stop people when they talk about directly competing with Apple, because that is not what our intention at Wonder is, but there is definitely overlap in some areas and audiences.
The feelings I had during and after the event were very mixed. On one hand, I was blown away by seeing how far Apple has come. It was beautiful to see a glimpse of the new Apple Park and the majestic Steve Jobs Theater. The impact Apple has had in our world in just the last 10 or 15 years is something that we have never seen before. Apple has always been about the outsiders, the misfits, the people who wanted to think different, and it has now become one of the largest global presences in the world with products that are used by hundreds of millions of people. Every time they showed photos of Steve, or talked about the beautiful Apple Park coming to life, I felt like a kid witnessing something incredible for the first time. And then the feeling started changing.
First they started talking about their retail strategy and their new Town Squares. That to me seemed a little too long and pretentious to be honest. Town Squares? It’s truly impressive that Apple has been so successful and that they can afford some of the most impressive real estate in the world’s most iconic cities, but all I could think about was the Buy n Large corporation in WALL-E. Cities for the most part already look like a big shopping mall. At the end of the day, Apple Stores are still called Stores and they are one of the biggest avenues for sales for the company. They are usually crowded, and the Geniuses are way less knowledgeable or patient than they used to be back in the day. It’s impressive and incredible from a business sense, especially given the state of other brick and mortar retailers, but I don’t think it’s something that needs to be sold as something else.
Then we got into the product announcements. The first clear sign about how much things have changed at Apple is that they can no longer keep secrets the way they used to. Pretty much everything they announced at the event was leaked beforehand, and the leaks were pretty accurate and detailed. I know it’s probably impossible to control the information these days with thousands of people involved in every single product and the constant speculation about new up and coming products, but knowing that Apple can’t hold on to their surprises takes a a lot of the magic away for sure.
And the products themselves? That was also underwhelming in my opinion. Maybe it’s because I’m jaded and have been spending way too much time looking at smartphone technology and all kinds of wearable technology innovations over the past few years. Maybe I’m one of those who have gotten incredibly spoiled by Apple over the past two decades. The reality of Apple today is that they can no longer afford to blow our minds with their product innovations. Their need for scale and profit is too large and important, and it makes it a lot harder to be a pioneer in everything when you will automatically need the manufacturing capacity to make over 500 million units of a single product.
A clear example of this was launching both the iPhone 8 as well as the iPhone X. The only reason they did this was to continue having a competitive product in the same price range as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel. The iPhone 8 looks exactly like the 6, 6S and 7. They could have easily called it 7S too. It doesn’t really change anything. The fact that you can now go to the Apple Store and buy like 17 different iPhones, with different sizes and configurations, is purely based on them trying to please every single person in the world and finding an iPhone for their price range. The OS itself, the design and the overall experience doesn’t vary much, but the price does.
The iPhone X is a beautiful new device. I will probably buy one and I know that many people who eventually buy a Wonder device will also have an iPhone X. But it most definitely won’t set the pace for the next 10 years of innovation the way the original iPhone did. Not even close. And what I have noticed to be an annoying trend in these Apple keynotes more than ever is how highly they think of themselves and their new products. Everything they do is “amazing” and “incredible” and “wonderful”. They called themselves “courageous” last year when they removed the headphone jack. The more they did it through the morning and the more they kept repeating how unique and innovative each feature was, the more it bored me. Not just because of the attitude itself, but because they are not the first ones implementing many of these technologies. For a brief moment it even made me think of every time Donald Trump makes exaggerated false statements about the economy or his accomplishments, when it’s easy to verify they aren’t facts.
Apple was never known for being the first one to bring things to market, but they were usually the first ones to really nail it and make things beautiful and easy to use. They did that with the MP3 player. They did that with digital music stores. They did that with desktop, laptop and tablet computers. In some ways, they keep doing it today with things like the watch and the set-top box, which was probably the most impressive innovation of the day (with the exception of making such a great deal of 4K technology which has been around for several years). But the iPhone? It’s just another iteration of the same product now. There are other devices that have beautiful OLED bezel-less displays (industry people know that they buy their displays from Samsung). There are other devices that unlock with face recognition, or have incredible high quality cameras. The rest of the specs are pretty standard in most flagship smartphones these days, and this new iPhone specs are pretty similar to the iPhone 8 specs and powered by the same software. The iPhone X looks great and is the next generation of the iPhone for sure, but it’s not a huge leap from where the competition is today and it’s not going to set the tone for the next 10 years of mobile devices.
In conclusion, I have nothing negative to say about the new Apple products themselves, with the exception of the iPhone 8 which I think it’s unnecessary. What I didn’t like was the way these products are presented and the way they talk about themselves. I know a lot of it is marketing and they have to do their best to get people excited and to sell as many products as they can, but I think what Steve Jobs did best was to let the products speak for themselves. The keynotes then were shorter and had fewer, more inexpensive videos and less suspense. He always just stood there and knew how to show the audience that Apple was on a constant mission to change the world by designing beautiful products that were easy to use. “It just works,” he used to say. Steve is no longer there and Apple is the most valuable company in the world. I appreciate that some of their priorities have changed and it’s an incredible thing to witness as an entrepreneur, but the Apple fan in me wishes the magic and the old Apple was still more present.
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