It seems fashionable these days for industry observers to claim that innovation is on the wane in Cupertino. And it’s not just tech industry pundits and insiders — it’s becoming a common theme beyond the tech scene. Just the other morning, a local radio DJ was criticizing Apple for not innovating like they used to — two days in a row! Of course, this has long been the rallying cry of Apple naysayers ever since Steve passed away, but it’s disturbing (to me, at least) to hear this opinion resonating in popular culture. Especially when the evidence of this so-called lack of innovation seems pretty hard to find.
The chips are certainly stacked high in the mobile sector, where the iPhone and iPad have together transformed what was a once a pretty stodgy industry into a vibrant and highly competitive battleground. I think that’s part of what’s happening here: things have become personal. It’s one thing for family members to quarrel over Windows vs. Mac, but an even more personal battle when it’s Droid vs. iPhone. Why — because now we’re talking about the most personal of computers. Smartphones have become, for many people, an expression of their personality and fashion tastes (enter the iPhone 5C!).
Is Apple feeling the pressure? I think so. The swirling debate about Apple’s innovative powers has taken its toll — we’ve all watched the stock drop. Last week, when Apple didn’t share iPhone 5C pre-orders, its stock was down nearly 10% as punishment. And, certainly, there’s innovation from other companies in this sector (Android… and, admittedly, Windows Mobile). But, to my mind, these guys are still catching up while Apple not only has led an entire industry with innovation, but continues to lead though the innovations in the core software/hardware blend and underlying infrastructure that makes the Apple platform appealing to so many people.
So, now that Apple’s latest products (the iPhone 5S and 5C models, along with iOS7) are now in the hands of millions of people (a record nine million new iPhone sales over the first weekend, by the way), I thought it a good time to reflect on whether Apple’s latest top-of-the-line handset represents innovation. This weekend, I visited the Apple Store in Austin to pick up an iPhone 5S. To paraphrase Phil Schindler: Can’t innovate? My rear end… this phone makes the largest leap in mobile processor performance ever. Nothing comes close and that’s just part of all the innovation packed into the new 5S. And of course it’s the new A7 processor that makes all the magic happen. (And not with benchmark-triggered overclocking, I might add. Nice one Samsung, amazing how few had much to say when you got caught cheating on that one!). Don’t forget, that’s Apple designing those processors.
The long term is where it’s at and Apple has a great long-term ecosystem and dedicated user base that will continue to assure its success — if Apple keeps them happy. Provided Apple keeps its eye on the ball, and keeps the user experience as a top priority, I think it will be increasingly hard to make the claim that it’s not innovating.