Apple And The Innovation Paradox

I noticed that the recent batch of updates and launches from Apple have been met with more muted applause in the media than in previous years. I admit I was also initially underwhelmed by what they announced. Among the shiny new hardware (that looks almost exactly the same as the shiny old hardware) the updates seemed pretty trivial. Removal of the headphone jack; improved AI (Siri) capability; more emoji’s ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; faster processor speeds; better cameras; waterproofing  and GPS-ing the Apple Watch (why didn’t they do this when they launched it?). They don’t really set the heart racing, until you take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Headphone Jack-gate

The biggest controversy was the removal of headphone jack – paving the way for wireless earbuds, the (instal-lose) Airpods. This is a long overdue move – there are now many other branded wireless headphones on the market and Apple have a history of getting in when the time is right and they can own it . Nilay Patel, for The Verge, says;

“Removing the headphone jack is an act of pure confidence from Apple, which is the only company in tech that can set off a sea changes in the industry by aggressively dropping various technologies from its products” 

But as they are also accelerating the rollout of Apple Pay, this move is also a big block to the current batch of plug-in contactless payment devices, from the likes of iZettle; Square, etc. A shrewd strategic move as this immediately grabs market share and provides an additional layer of protection for Apple Pay.

Siri-ously

Siri, the iPhone’s AI and personal assistant can now communicate with other apps. You can now ask her to book you an Uber, WhatsApp your missus and find a decent restaurant for your date night. I called this back in the summer in a post about the how brands were ramping up their AI development and the opportunity for consumers. This just Apple setting out their stall and ensuring app developers and brands develop into their ecosystem. Strategically, another strong move.

iMessage update & Emoji-plus

Whilst this may seem underwhelming, to say the least, there are logical reasons behind competing against standalone messaging apps and keep iMessage relevant. They are consolidating their use of their message tool, developing new features to appeal to the Snapchat generation.

But where was the innovation?

Lets flip this around: why do they need to? They own the premium handset market globally with a devices that arguably have the best hardware and software design. If it ain’t broke…

They’ve upgraded the processors in the iPhone 7 and added market-beating camera technology. They’ve done enough to keep themselves on top. Innovation isn’t need when the product is right – why take a big risk now when they don’t need to. Is this necessarily a good thing for the consumer, though? Marketing guru Seth Godin says

“The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way.”

I think this is partly true with the iPhone, they don’t yet need to find a new path. However a company the size of Apple has the resources to research and develop big, innovative leaps in tech. We need to see more of this. There have been discussions for some time around Apple’s entry into new product markets. Cars and TV’s have been rumoured to be getting the Apple treatment (though they’re clearly having a re-think about the former if they’re laying off a bunch of the Project Titan team). I’d like to see them betting a bit bigger on some of these, and other, tech projects. The risk of not doing this is that they are more likely to miss out on the next big feature that’ll take their business to the next level.

My verdict – Apple have done just enough for now to keep their smartphone hardware and software at the top of the market, and delivered some strategically important updates to protect their proprietary features. This time next year I hope to be talking about how the iPhone 8 also doubles as a hoverboard.

151020-hover

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