So Why Should Apple Change?

October 18th, 2011

Some suggest change is good. Some talk of change you can believe in, but it’s a sure thing that you can’t rest on your laurels. Taking us to a certain “fruit company” that we all know about, some members of the media have begun to suggest that Apple needs to change (or fix) a few things going forward now that a new CEO has officially taken over.

One key suggestion is for Apple to have more of an open policy towards the press. Certainly this is understandable, inasmuch as Apple is notorious (or famous) for being secretive about company strategy and, in fact, new products beyond occasional carefully scripted press releases and media events. You know, for example, that over four million copies of the iPhone 4s were sold as of the first weekend on sale because of an Apple press release, but if sales were disappointing, there would have been no announcement.

One ongoing point of contention is the fact that Apple doesn’t just sit down and tell business customers about their future strategy. The enterprise doesn’t know, for example, if the truckloads of MacBook Pros they may purchase now might be replaced with a new model a few months hence. But, in fact, a little common sense indicates that Apple will generally upgrade Mac hardware right around the time Intel introduces a revised processor lineup. So it’s not as if the overall direction isn’t clear, even though individual product changes beyond new CPUs may still surprise and amaze us.

When it comes to the iPhone, Apple confounded the predictions by introducing the iPhone 4s four months later than many expected, and disappointed many, at least at first brush, because it looked the same as the model it replaced. But it’s not so simple.

As most of you know, Apple’s product upgrades tend to be incremental for a year or two, with revised components, followed by exterior revisions of one sort or another. That may not explain the alleged late arrival of the iPhone 4s, but there are some things to consider. One is that Apple didn’t promise when they’d release that product. Further, it may well be that the release depended on the availability of iOS 5, at least in part. It’s also possible that the chips that Apple required for their new iPhone weren’t ready in sufficient quantities for an earlier ship date.

Clearly the public wasn’t interested in the by-play that dominates the media. Sales remained high for the iPhone 4 in the quarter that ended in June, and more will be known about the fall quarter during Apple’s quarterly financial conference call with financial analysts, which is set for Tuesday afternoon. But early predictions are that iPhone sales were consistent over the summer as well.

But the biggest argument against a sudden change is that there is nothing wrong with Apple’s current product lineup or corporate communications strategy. It may not be what the tech media, or even the so-called mainstream media for that matter, wants, but it has been hugely successful for Apple.

Now when Tim Cook took over as “official” or permanent CEO of Apple in August, he said that Apple wouldn’t change, that their “best days” lay ahead. Remember, too, that Cook had been working as interim CEO for extended periods three times since Steve Jobs was first treated for pancreatic cancer, and Apple still continued to perform way beyond expectations. He’s already passed the test, and demonstrated to one and all that he’s up to the task of running Apple.

Of course, that won’t stop the media from expecting Apple to stumble and fall. But there are also published reports that next year’s iPhone, the rumored iPhone 5 with all-new casings, was the last major project shepherded by Jobs. Supposedly the rest of the crew managed the iPhone 4s development, and that’s cited as an excuse to explain why it may not be so significant an upgrade, even though the changes are in keeping with Apple’s long-term policy about product refreshes.

At the same time, I expect demands will grow for Apple to seriously alter corporate policies because their charismatic co-founder is no longer around, even though Jobs reportedly spent years instilling his vision and methods into the company by hiring and training a huge staff. There’s even an alleged Apple University that’s designed to teach the “Jobs Way” to new hires, so they can continue to execute successfully in his tradition.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that Apple won’t be able to switch gears should new marketing opportunities arise, or the industry changes. Apple will not only have to stay in front of the tech world when it comes to innovation, but understand when things aren’t working, or there’s an upstart competitor with a possibly better idea to deal with.

Assuming the tech industry’s growth path is pretty well set for a year or two, you may not see any changes in Apple for quite a while. When they occur, they might even be subtle, so you won’t be able to grok them until you take the long-term view. One thing you can be assured of, however, is that Apple, as usual, won’t do something because a competitor or industry analyst says they have to.

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7 Responses to “So Why Should Apple Change?”

  1. PhillyG says:

    “Now when Tim Cook took over as “official” or permanent CEO of Apple in August, he said that Apple wouldn’t change, that their “best days” lay ahead.”

    Talking about change at Apple is like walking through a semantic minefield.

    Apple under Steve Jobs was all about changing – creating, improving, refining, disrupting, abandoning, killing – everything from products, to customer expectations, … , to Apple itself. To say that Apple wouldn’t change is to say that Apple wouldn’t stop changing the world for the better.

  2. Kaleberg says:

    There is a fundamental conflict between issuing multi-year technology road maps and innovating. Big companies like multi-year roadmaps which promise more of the same, perhaps a little faster, maybe with a few bugs fixed, perhaps with a new feature, long awaited, or two.

    If you are trying to innovate, you have to go where the technology takes you. When WiFi cards came out, they had no place in corporate business plans, but they quickly found a place in countless homes, small businesses and coffee shops. When graphics reached a certain performance level, it made sense to develop things like CoreAnimation, and then see what that type of responsiveness did to the user interface. Once enough users had high speed internet access, it made sense to drop DVD drives, but there was no way to predict the speed of installation and adoption. One technology enables another, but you can rarely see very far ahead. A minor change on a side path often opens broad avenues ahead.

    Apple has always faced the choice of working well with corporations who want technology to advance in slow, decorous, non-disruptive stages, like a court minuet, and computer users who were eager to see each layer of technology reveal the next. I’m hoping Apple, and its future executives, will continue their current tradition and build computers for the rest of us, leaving the plow horse customers to Microsoft.

  3. dfs says:

    Okay, Kaleberg, I somewhat agree with you, but there’s a downside to this: Apple’s traditional policy of super-secrecy spawns rumors which are usually based on irresponsible guesswork and build up unrealistic expectations, both in the marketplace and also on Wall Street. So when new products are released, there is often a reaction of disappointment, manifesting itself in weaker sales than would otherwise be the case and in the value of AAPL taking a hit. As was the case just today when Tim announced Apple’s quarterly report, “Cook noted that iPhone sales declined somewhat sequentially as rumors regarding a new model circulated.” We could argue long and long whether this secrecy policy regarding forthcoming products does more good than harm to Apple, its shareholders, and customers, and also how it affects the welfare of third-party developers and manufacturers of software and all the products designed to support Apple products (who would benefit from some idea of what Apple is about to do, in much the same way that Apple itself benefits from Intel’s roadmaps). It would be unrealistic to expect Apple to provide multi-year roadmaps, but my own hunch is that it would be in everybody’s benefit if Apple were to ease up a bit on its security policy. Case in point, after upgrading to Lion it took me a month or longer to restore the full functionality I had on Snow Leopard, because a lot of the software on which I rely is made by developers too small to be able to afford to join Apple’s Developer program. So they couldn’t begin to update their programs until the day Lion was actually released, and I was forced to contend with all sorts of broken apps. for an extended period of time. Here was a way in which I was personally affected by Apple’s pathological secrecy policy, and most Mac users have a similar story to tell.

    • brachetta says:

      @dfs, After reading your comment, I can see your point. Maybe strategic leaks would serve both the drama and the market needs. Surely Apple gives enough information to its third party developers so that they can have their apps ready for the release. This would provide a double whammy to the market introduction, and help cushion the inevitable letdown that the release is just another toy or tool, going on down the road.

      Remember when Detroit would go through its model changes and the expectation that this was the car that could drive on water, and after all the glitter and new colors and contours, the letdown that it was still just a car with more frills added.

  4. rwahrens says:

    Oh, please!

    “…developers too small to be able to afford to join Apple’s Developer program.”???

    Come on, that’s a hundred bucks, per year. Hardly a major investment for the return. Sounds more like your developers are using that as an excuse, and it’s a damn poor one. Apple provides copies of their OS to developers for at least months prior to public release and they always get the Gold Master virtually as soon as it is set so they can make last minute changes before release.

    In my book that merits $99 a year so I could get my product out on time. If your developers aren’t getting their products out quickly enough, there are other reasons besides not being members of the Developer’s Program at Apple!

    So much for your “case in point”. There are numerous reasons one can cite to encourage Apple to ease up on their tight lipped policies, but developers being too poor to spend 99 bucks a year has got to be the worst one you could have come up with!

  5. brachetta says:

    No, Apple, please do not be more ‘open’ to the media. Even though I purchase few Apple products, being satisfied with what I have, I enjoy all the rumors, gossip, and speculation that precedes an announcement. It is more entertaining than ‘reality’ tv.

    Apple will not be in business very long if it doesn’t change, continuously. That’s a fact. I am hoping that the changes won’t be in the direction of mobileme or the time capsule, but towards more usability, versatility, and integration of the overall product. And do not force dependence on the cloud with the products.

    My desire is that Apple becomes more erudite and concise in its operating instructions and manuals. There has been an improvement in the last few years, but most Apple users that I talk to are still in the dark about the many features available in their laptops, for example. They need to have an English language disciplinarian who teaches people who were educated in NewSpeak to communicate in generic English. Perhaps a drag quean dominatrix?

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