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  • Apple’s Product Pipeline: Stating the Obvious

    April 3rd, 2013

    The media has made a big deal out of a report quoting an Apple official as saying that Steve Jobs approved the next two iPhone revisions before he died. If true, that would be treated as some sort of spectacularly unexpected revelation. The assumption has been that everything Steve Jobs did for Apple ended on his death bed.

    So, therefore, with Apple’s resident genius gone, Tim Cook has been unable to recreate the magic. Or at least that’s what many suggest.

    The truth is, of course, more complicated. Knowing his time was short, it makes sense for Jobs to use much of his remaining strength to work on possible future products for Apple. There’s one report, obviously not confirmed, suggesting that Apple had four years of green lit products on the table when Jobs passed in 2011. So we are not even halfway through that cycle, but it stretches credibility to think that Apple isn’t also working on products that extend farther into the future.

    At the same time, media and financial pundits are complaining that Apple should have introduced some sort of trendsetting product by now, and every single day without such a product, or at least a media event invitation, is seriously hurting the company. As usual, they forget the six-year lapse between the introduction of the iPod and the iPhone, or the three-year interval between the iPhone and the iPad. I guess we all have to assume that the pace of creativity has thus accelerated, and Apple should have had something completely new by the end of 2011. They are late to the party then, or so some say.

    Regardless of what products Steve Jobs approved, here is a reality check: Development or production bottlenecks may mean that the final product will change substantially from the original concept. Quite possibly, Apple’s designers and engineers will make ongoing changes. As you no doubt recall, Jobs supposedly cautioned his team that they should never ask what he would do. That was the mistake made by Disney Company after their founder’s death. So even if Jobs gave the OK for a specific product, that doesn’t mean Apple must release it precisely as intended. The state of the industry and ongoing development may take the concept and move it into a totally different direction. The product envisioned in 2011 may be irrelevant in 2013 or 2014.

    At the same time, isn’t it curious that the same standards aren’t being applied to the power company of this year, Samsung? What markets has Samsung revolutionized? Smartphones? No way. Sure, the Galaxy S3 may have exceeded the iPhone in sales for a quarter, but how is it really innovative? It works well enough with mostly generic hardware, as will the forthcoming Galaxy G4. Samsung has some apps that might have some buzz to them, if they work properly, but aren’t they simply following the mold set by the iPhone? The same is true for Samsung’s tablets.

    When it comes to TVs, again Samsung makes some of the best flat panels on the market, both LCD and plasma. Reviewers praise them, but it’s not that they are all that different from the competition. You could buy LG, Panasonic and Vizio instead and get a great value for your money. What does Samsung really bring to the table in terms of real innovation and not some flashy but useless bullet point feature? And, no, I don’t regard the Samsung 85-inch UHD S9, with a street price of nearly $40,000, as a game changer. It’s a toy for the rich, to be sure, and maybe the 4K or Ultra HD format may gain some traction some day.

    But if Apple dared to release a $40,000 “smart” TV, they’d be rightly criticized by the media for offering an overpriced gadget that had little practical value for regular people. For Apple, anything that doesn’t sell 10 million units a year is relegated to a hobby or an area of “interest.” It may even be possible that Apple has an Ultra HD TV under development, but you’ll never see it unless the format makes sense with lots of content supporting the higher resolution, and prices become competitive with existing TVs. And, yes, I’ve heard the rumor that Apple might actually release such a beast, but I don’t believe it. At least not now.

    At the same time, it may well be possible that, in saying he’d solved the problem of delivering the best TV interface ever, Jobs has already approved such a design for Apple to follow through on. But whether that statement represented a souped up Apple TV box, or a full-fledged TV, or both, won’t be known until Apple shows their hand.

    Now I suppose the statement about Jobs approving future iPhones was meant to change the discussion that Apple’s creative days have come and gone. But it has the danger of simply reinforcing that impression going forward, for it spreads the belief that Apple is still living in the past.

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