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  • So is Apple Really Long in the Tooth?

    November 6th, 2012

    It seems that Apple’s critics keep using the same playbook. They repeat the same tired old arguments in a desperate hope that, after a while, the dire predictions will somehow come true.

    Just today, in fact,  I read a piece suggesting that “Apple remains the best company in the world but it’s starting to show its age.”

    That’s an extreme statement, and it’s based several wrongheaded assumptions that reveal absolute ignorance as to how Apple does things. The first argument is that the newest products are merely “tweaked up versions of the old ones rather than the innovative leaps to which users have become accustomed.”

    Lest we forget, six years passed between the debut of the original iPod and the arrival of the first iPhone. So I suppose you could argue that, for six years, Apple’s products were “tweaked up versions of old ones.” Yes, I realize there was a PowerPC to Intel transition on the Mac platform in 2006, but the OS for those two processors didn’t look any different, and the new Macs were modest physical refreshes, rather than major upgrades. If you didn’t know anything about the PowerPC and Intel, you might switch from the former to the latter without noticing any real differences.

    But that’s the Apple way. There is the “innovative leap,” followed by modest refreshes for several years. Even within a product category, the regular updates tend to include new parts, but the external looks may look essentially the same. The last serious update to the iMac was in late 2009, and only now is a major redesign forthcoming.

    When it comes to “software ‘glitches,'” the lessons of history indicate that Apple has suffered from worse problems in the past. Consider my recent commentary reminding you of the “glitches” that could cause you to lose data in older versions of OS X. That hasn’t happened recently. Compared to data loss, I hardly think the troubled introduction of Apple’s mapping service comes close.

    Another argument is that Apple’s market share in smartphones, and now tablets, is going down. Well, that’s half true. Recent smartphone sales figures show that the iPhone is growing at a somewhat faster clip than the Android platform. As to tablets, there’s one survey indicating Apple’s share, then consisting of two models, is down to 50% as of the last quarter. Boy are they in trouble!

    Of course there are now three iPad models available and a variety of configurations. No doubt Apple released the iPad mini to shore up sales against low-end product, such as the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7. But we won’t know till this quarter’s sales are reported early in 2013 whether Apple has boosted market share. Even in a larger market, having one product line with half the market, and hundreds of other products dividing up the rest, doesn’t mean Apple is in trouble, and has forgotten how to innovate.

    Oh yes, there is that recent corporate makeover. But the changing of the guard at Apple, while it doesn’t happen all that often, does happen. Take a look at two key executives, regarded as among the best in their field, who are no longer with Apple. Do you remember Avie Tevanian, considered one of the main architects of the NeXT OS and OS X? He left Apple in 2006. I wonder how many pundits predicted Apple’s demise as a result.

    Another key executive, John Rubinstein, one of the key figures in the creation of the iPod, also left Apple at the top of his game in 2006. He become the chief executive at Palm, Inc. Most of you surely know Palm’s tortured path after Rubinstein joined that company, where he was serving as CEO when HP took them over.

    In the early days of the iPhone, before the Google Android platform gained ascendancy, some tech analysts suggested that Palm and their WebOS presented the most credible potential competitor to Apple’s smartphone. But very little went right for Palm. In the wake of the abject failure of their would-be iPad killer, the TouchPad, HP gave up on the platform and soon made WebOS open source. Rubinstein left the company earlier this year.

    Obviously Apple is still here despite the departure of important executives. Among the current crew, Tim Cook and design guru Jonathan Ive are perhaps the most indispensable. Some might suggest Eddie Cue also fits into that category, and there are certainly other executives and members of the various teams at Apple whose work has really made a difference.

    But, as we learned with the departure and death of co-founder Steve Jobs, if the right succession plan is put in effect, the loss of any one person is not apt to do in the company. Even if Ive left, there may be members of his team who are fully capable of taking charge if given the opportunity. After all Ive doesn’t do everything by himself, despite his amazing contributions to industrial design.

    I suppose, though, that it is a good time for some to get on the “Apple is doomed bandwagon,” although I would hardly regard a company that continues to report record sales and profits as doomed.



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