It’s hard to believe how many product lines used to bear the Apple logo — or at least the rainbow-colored version that was in vogue in the last century. The original PostScript laser printers, known under the collective moniker of LaserWriter, came from Apple, although the guts of the early versions were actually built by Canon.
More recently, Apple was one of the first manufacturers to sell digital cameras, and let’s not forget the late, lamented Newton, not to mention its larger cousin, the eMate.
Indeed, at one time, it was very possible to equip your entire computer system, from mouse to output device, with Apple-branded products. But no more.
When Steve Jobs became Apple’s interim or iCEO in 1997, the company was hemorrhaging millions of dollars, and he savagely ditched a number of products that he felt did detracted from their core competency. Of course, those product lines — and the Mac OS cloning program — were mostly money losers (or earned very little), the primary consideration when he put his scalpel to them.
Now that the word “beleaguered” no longer appears before the name Apple, tech pundits are working overtime guessing what product segments the company needs to enter. What they fail to realize, of course, is that Apple succeeds by picking and choosing market segments carefully. Far too many consumer electronics makers release products as if they were darts, hoping that if they fire enough of them aloft, a few will land on target and became huge successes.
The entertainment and publishing industries take this very same approach. So even if you are published, or get a movie or recording deal, there’s no guarantee that your product will ever be successful, let alone get any promotional effort. You might fare better at the Las Vegas gaming tables, or on Wall Street.
So don’t be surprised if there is no networked flat panel TV released with an Apple label. Besides, a big box product of that sort would present a major problem when it comes to displaying at an Apple Store or even in the Apple sections of such major retailers as Best Buy. Besides, not everyone has an SUV on hand with which to take home a 50-inch HDTV, so Apple would have to make agreements with outside delivery firms. WIth its present lineup, everything Apple builds can be carried home in any vehicle, even a Smart minicar, although I’m not certain how well the Smart’s rear compartment would handle a Mac Pro.
More to the point, the flat panel TV space is saturated, with loads and loads of commodity products and not all that much room for Apple to make a difference. Other companies are taking the grocery store approach here, making small profits and hoping to make it all up on volume. That’s another business strategy that Apple refuses to employ.
With wireless handsets, Apple clearly realized that smartphones had lots of untapped potential, which they are attempting to fill with the iPhone. Clearly, by beating RIM and the famous BlackBerry in the last quarter, Apple has shown they have the product and the marketing muscle to excel way beyond most any analyst’s expectations — even their own for that matter.
So what else is left for Apple to consider?
For now, with the shaky economic climate, the Apple TV is still regarded by Steve Jobs as a hobby. Evidently it’ll continue in production, but there’s no indication just what direction it might take. In the end, the market may tell them that, not to mention the feedback from customers who make suggestions about additions and changes to the present features.
In terms of other product categories, I would not expect any new digital cameras with the Apple logo on them either. Although they were one of the pioneers in that industry, today such cameras are commodities, and far too cheap to allow for a reasonable profit for each unit sold. We return to the grocery store approach here too.
There will never be another Newton, since handhelds are being largely supplanted with smartphones, but what about the eMate? That was Apple’s $800 “netbook” that never realized its full potential either. In fact, we had one for a while. My son received one for a single school year, but never really found a use for it.
But today’s netbook is what Apple regards as a nascent product category with possible future potential. Imagine a relatively inexpensive, no-frills note-book computer that presents itself as a grown-up iPhone? It would have a larger screen, a full-sized keyboard, and strictly wireless networking, other than the docking port for recharging.
If that sort of sounds like today’s MacBook Air, you’re right, except that the concept envisions a smaller, far less expensive device, perhaps retailing around $699 or so. This isn’t to say that Apple is jumping into the netbook arena any time soon either, but by admitting they are watching the scene, you can bet there are prototypes in Apple’s labs that are being readied in case they decide to proceed with production.
Where else should Apple go? Well, I suspect there’s far too much uncertainty right now to even hazard a guess, and, for once, I rather suspect Steve Jobs would agree with me.
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