Innovation as Entertainment
Last week Apple finally updated its aging Macbook Pro line to what seems to be confused fanfare at best. I was waiting anxiously. My 6 year old Macbook Pro is starting to show its age and my 2 year old Chromebook wasn’t designed for my recently rekindled music production hobby. I thought I’d place my order the second the Apple Store went back online after the announcement, but I paused to think a bit more about whether or not I wanted to take this chance to return to Windows. Not a big deal to me, as I’ve done a decent job of being OS agnostic whenever possible. But, a lot of the response from industry pundits and social media has ranged from disgust to prophecies of all out doom for Apple as a company.
With each passing Apple launch, there seems to be more and more noise that Apple has lost its innovative edge and that the loss of Jobs means they’ll never get it back. Maybe that’s all true, but what intrigues me is how obsessed we are with wanting shock and awe at every Apple press release. Granted, Apple’s marketing pomp often demands such reaction, even when the subject is meh, but that’s marketing.
In 2001, a rejuvenating Apple hit us with the iPod, which, by its third generation, was sealed as the next decade's music platform of choice. In 2007, the iPhone arguably created an entirely new computing platform and for the next four generations continued to deeply refine in ways that made it difficult to use an older generation after getting used to a newer one. By that point we were addicted to the thrill of Apple’s keynote events.
But by 2012, the platform started to feel like an appliance. Android’s Kit Kat release in 2013 showed an OS which was equally stable and capable. These were now just things we had in our pockets like our credit cards and keys. They did what we needed them to reliably. Fan boys will argue about which is better, but after awhile you realize you're arguing over whether your Maytag dishwasher is better than my Frigidaire.
And maybe that’s why everyone is so constantly disappointed in Apple’s announcements of late. Each time they don’t do something revolutionary, we’re upset that our phones and laptops can’t be more interesting topics of conversation. We’re upset that we don’t have something to new be excited to go out and buy and explore.
Calm down. You’re going to be okay.
Apple might be too. Apple’s made a ton of bad product decisions in the past (remember Ping?). But, not putting touchscreens on Mac’s is probably a more complicated decision than not wanting to cannibalize iPad sales at the expense of consumer demand. Having trudged through copious amounts of data to help make product decisions, I’ve seen first hand that these decisions rarely fall into a neat linear narrative. They’re complicated and while competing objectives of other product orgs are always a factor, they’re rarely the factor. And if internal competition for resources is the primary factor, then that might not be a bad thing. It could mean there’s an internal design debate going on and we’re in the middle of Apple releasing products as experiments to help settle these debates.
Or, it could mean that while these aren’t the products some of us were hoping for, Apple has enough data to show that they are what enough of us were hoping for.
So to those of us who are bored and disappointed? Go out and invent something new.
Wow us all. Or, at least wow yourself.