Steve Jobs' second tenure at Apple, from 1996 onwards, saw the launch of the iPad, the iPod and the iPhone – three products that have redefined their respective sectors, if not outright dominated them.
It’s a period which made Apple the biggest company in the world for a time, and gave it more spare cash than the US federal reserve.
By the time the iPhone was in full swing, Apple launch events had started to look like rock concerts. As well as the products themselves, rival tech firms have even been trying to emulate the glitzy launches –the latest strategy is to wheel out a celebrity and claim they are holding some 9-5 job with the company, or have some philosophical affinity with the branding.
Apple didn’t need to have celebrities launching its products, Steve Jobs was one of the very few recognisable faces outside of the industry – he was the talent.
Big shoes to fill, then. Tim Cook taking over as successor was Jobs' plan by all accounts – the man who handled the supply chains for Apple’s whole operation was probably seen as a safe pair of hands.
Since Cook took over the reins in 2011, a lot of commentators have lamented a lack of paradigm changing products like the iPad or iPhone. And now according to a Fox Business report, investors are starting to agree. The reporter’s sources apparently say the board "is now worried about what they have in the pipeline".
I can’t help but think this ‘what have you done for me lately’ attitude is all a bit hard on Tim Cook.
Apple has a reputation as a great innovator and that’s fair to a point, but really it did not invent the mobile telephone, the MP3 player or the tablet computer. It’s strength has always been to take a gadget, simplify the hell out of it, make it look nicer than everyone else’s, and charge a premium for it. And that’s what it’s continuing to do with each iteration of iPad, iPhone, and Mac.
What this call for ‘more innovation’ seems to really be about is new product categories. That Apple should be continually inventing new sectors within the technology industry . Well that would be nice for Apple and tech fans alike, but it’s quite a demand.
You don’t get video games execs under fire for not inventing new gaming genres, or car companies berated for trotting the same old 4 wheel vehicles.
Pressure to release something entirely original for the sake of it will probably result in something stupid, and ultimately do more harm than good.
Actually, the tone of it smacks of envious looks in the direction of Google Glass. It’s inventive, sure, but the jury is still very much out on whether or not it can be anything you’d describe as a mass marketable item.
Personally I’m just not sure I can see an awful lot of people walking around with computers on their faces anytime soon, especially in the UK where its considered extrovertly flashy to pop on a pair of sunglasses.
The Apple successes that get referred to are the mass market strategies of the iPhone et al. As opposed to some players in the tech industry, Apple veers away from flashy curiosities aimed at a hardcore niche.
However the firm is rumoured to be working on an array of products, some more questionable than the others. The iCar is one, the iWatch another – and then there’s the slightly more believable iTV. All fiction right now, but Apple hasn’t gone out of its way to quash any of these rumours.
There’s a strong argument that if Apple came out with a bin, bin sales would go up. But pressuring Apple High Command to start branching out into new areas for the same of it, or teasingly waving around fringe level proof-of-concept items that may or may not be released in a hundred years time, may not be the best course for a firm that can only, in any sense that means anything, be described as doing well.
You have to have some pretty high expectations to look at a business which consistently trots out what are widely regarded as the best products in the tech industry, making more cash than some countries in the process, and identify a problem.