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  • 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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