What it is: Has Apple’s innovation slowed since the demise of Steve Jobs?
When Steve Jobs ran Apple, Apple was one of the most innovative companies in the world. The Apple II pioneered the idea of expansion slots, the Macintosh pioneered graphical suer interfaces and the mouse, iTunes and the iPod pioneered digital downloads, the iPhone revolutionized the smartphone market, and the iPad defined the tablet market.
Steve Jobs wasn’t perfect but he managed to revolutionize several industries while most companies can barely do that even once. No one can replace Steve Jobs, but critics have unfairly blamed Tim Cook for the lack of innovation so far. Since Tim cook took over Apple, the only major product Apple has introduced has been the Apple Watch, which has redefined the wearable computer market but isn’t the massive hit that the iPhone and iPad initially were.
So the question is what happened to Apple? The easy answer is to say that Apple isn’t innovating any more but the real answer is that innovation is much harder than before. When Apple first created the Macintosh, they just needed to make a computer and operating system. When Apple created the iPhone, it was completely locked down so you couldn’t add any apps. Only later did Apple offer an App Store. Until the App Store arrived, the iPhone was an expensive, niche smartphone that most people admired but didn’t actually buy.
The problem with innovation today is that it requirers more than just introducing a new product. It requires software and additional support that takes time to develop. When Apple introduced interactive ebooks in iBooks, they also had to take time to develop the iBookstore and the iBooks Author program. When Apple introduced the Touch Bar on the last MacBook Pro, they not only had to worry about the hardware of the Touch Bar but also creating the software frameworks to let developers create Touch Bar programs of their own. Plus they had to update Xcode to create a Touch Bar simulator so developers could practice creating Touch Bar programs without an actual Touch Bar Macintosh.
The Apple Watch wasn’t just a hardware product but a software product as well. Apple needed to expand their App Store for Apple Watch apps in addition to creating a new operating system based on iOS. Then Apple had to update their software frameworks and Xcode to allow developers to create Apple Watch apps.
One huge feature of the Apple Watch is real-time health monitoring, but that also requires additional frameworks to offer this feature in the form of ResearchKit and HealthKit. The Apple Watch is only in its second generation. When the iPhone was in its second generation, it wasn’t a runaway hit either.
Apple is developing a smart home, but that requires coordinating software with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and the HomeKit framework. Nowadays when Apple wants to introduce a new product, they have to coordinate their efforts among multiple products so they all work together. Just look at the mess that Microsoft created when they tried to sell Windows 8, Windows Phone, and Windows RT, none of which were compatible with each other. Microsoft could introduce these different flavors of Windows quickly because they didn’t think or plan ahead, and the result was simply a mess.
So the lack of innovation at Apple isn’t because the company isn’t innovating any more but because it takes far more time to introduce a new product because it requires coordinating among hardware and software, not to mention among different product lines as well.
Innovation is alive and well. It just takes longer to percolate. You can wait for innovation from Apple or you can rush to half-baked ideas from other companies. If history is any guide, chances are good the next form of innovation will come from Apple once more.