Tuesday 15 March 2011

Stop The Clocks.

The name change from Apple Computer to Apple Inc made complete sense for a company seeing it's revenue split increasingly driven by products like the iPhone, iPad and AppleTV. What Apple brings to these largely consumer products is, high end design, a famous attention to detail, intuitive user interfaces, and market changing approaches to problems and solutions. They lead the pack in smart phone design, and have created a market from nothing for the tablet computer. So it's business as usual at Apple – right?

Apple has always marched to the beat of it's own drum; a leader, not a follower, of fashion. It's niche segment of the pc market afforded the company both the time and space to get things right, without the hassles of pleasing all of the people, all of the time. Both the company and its' customers benefitted enormously from this situation. But with increasing shares of the smart phone and tablet market, that luxury is slowing disappearing. Further, Apple themselves appear to be locking themselves into an annual release schedule, (iPads in the spring, iPhones in the summer) something they have studiously tried to avoid with their pc based products. So where is this all leading and what are the concerns?

Apple, purposefully or not, has set up market expectations of a yearly refresh for iPad, iPhone and iPod products. The pressure on design, software and manufacturing teams must be immense. Sooner or later you would expect something to go wrong. Failure to deliver white iPhones and the issues surrounding the iPhone 4's antenna could be early indications. Apple's hard won reputation for quality products that just work, has seen it become one of the most successful and profitable brands around. But consumers and the press are nothing if not fickle. One major misstep or a series of smaller ones, could tarnish that brand and perception almost overnight.

So why not stop the clocks and slow down? Would consumers really mind? I doubt it. We'll all quite happily wait 14, 16, 18 months before upgrading are iPhones, iPads and iPods. Sure, Apple's bottom line would suffer a bit, but at this stage the alternative fears could see the bottom line and stock value affected to a much greater degree.

I'm also concerned with the fragmentation of the iPhone and iPad experience caused by the rapid release cycle. It's understandable for any technology company to concentrate on new products and support previous versions less and less. We've been used to this in the Apple community: the move from PowerPC to Intel, upgrades to Mac OS X 10.3/4/5/6 and iLife packages. As computing power increases, new software innovations are only supported by newer machines. But we are talking about machines of 3, 4 or 5 years missing a few of the new features. We are already starting to see, between two incarnations of the iPad, Apps supported on the new technology and not the old: iMovie for iPad. And with the iPhone and iOS the situation is even more fragmented for models and Apps. For the Apple fan and geek this is one thing, but for Joe public buying an iPhone or iPad it's somewhat confusing and goes against everything they were led to believe Apple offered in terms of making their life and technology choices simpler.

And would competitors in the form of RIM, Nokia, Google really close the gap? Maybe a little, but with the extra breathing space and time to take stock between release cycles the pressure could be taken off Apple's key staff and free them to be even more creative and revolutionary than they are at present. More importantly, it might allow Apple to retain key staff before they run them into the ground and burn them out. The market focuses on an Apple without Jobs, but what about an Apple without Ive, Forrestall etc?

Apple products are, more often than not, things of beauty and simplicity. Don't make the environment they inhabit any more ugly or complicated than necessary for a quick million bucks.

1 comment:

Ratkat said...

I think you forget that phones are being developed long before their release date, iPhone 4 had probably 24 months of development time before we got it.
Personally I'd never wait more than 12 months to upgrade my iPhone, with android phones getting more features and models every month, you could argue 12 months is too long.
iPad however is a different matter, 18 month updates would be fine.