Here’s a magic formula to get some traffic: Create a headline mentioning Apple in connection with something bad or potentially bad. It’s a surefire hit, because it seems most everyone wants to hear unfavorable news about the company. Well, at least that’s what it seems.
So I wasn’t surprised to encounter a headline entitled, “Will Apple Continue to Innovate?” from a news outlet that bears the name of a certain outgoing mayor of New York City. This particular report, such as it is, was a video presentation.
Of course, it really doesn’t matter what’s in the piece. It was all about the headline and the perception that Apple has lost it, that innovation is limited to annual product updates and Samsung and other companies have taken over. iOS? Forget about it, as Google owns the mobile space, and Apple is doomed, all over again, to niche status.
At least that’s the sort of thing you read in article after article. The same theme played out over and over again regardless of the facts. So let’s talk about innovation, and the best example is the 2013 Mac Pro. It doesn’t resemble any other personal computer on the market, early performance benchmarks are excellent, and it’s already back ordered. Sure, maybe Apple hasn’t fully ramped production at the Austin, Texas manufacturing facility that’s making them. Maybe there were production issues, but it’s not as if such fine details are generally disclosed.
Sure, the Mac Pro can be mighty expensive, with a fully-outfitted version costing close to $10,000 including keyboard and mouse, plus the display. But a recent published report in AppleInsider clearly demonstrates that building a similar box with PC hardware will cost far more, and that’s for a built-it-yourself box for which you buy the parts. I tried to configure an HP workstation to match the Mac Pro as closely as possible, but it’s not really possible. I got up to $11,581 for a custom Z820 workstation before I gave up. There doesn’t appear to be any Dell Precision Workstation configuration that comes close regardless of price.
Sure, the Mac Pro isn’t the kind of computer that many people will ever consider, even the entry-level $2,999 configuration. But the people who do want them are happy to pay the price.
All right, the Mac Pro may not be the volume seller in the same spirit as any Apple mobile device, but you can’t deny it’s an original.
When it comes to the iPhone, the 5s may look like the 5, but Apple beat major chip makers to the punch with 64-bit support, and Touch ID is far superior to the most prominent contender in the fingerprint sensing realm from HTC. It’s actually fairly easy to set up, and it’s quite usable. Apple’s purchase of a company pioneering such technology, AuthenTec, clearly paid off.
To be fair, there are other slim tablets, so maybe the iPad Air doesn’t seem so original, at least until you compare it to the original iPad form factor, but the reviewers love it, and that even goes for reviewers who tend to be critical of Apple gear.
But it’s quite true that Apple still has a lot to prove. There’s Tim Cook’s promise that new products, and new product categories, will debut in 2014. It’s not at all certain how that will play out. Will there be a larger iPad and iPhone? What about the iWatch, and is wearable technology ready to conquer the mass market? What’s more, will Apple even build a smartwatch, or this there some other wearable gadget under development?
Sure, Apple reportedly trademarked iWatch in some countries, and allegedly has 100 engineers working on the project. But that doesn’t a product make, and even if there is an iWatch in our future, will it come in 2014? It’s not as if any existing smartwatch has done terribly well.
The other category mentioned over and over again is TV. Is an Apple connected TV forthcoming? Well, they said it would come this year, and time is short. The chatter speaks of the 2014 holiday season, and perhaps that’ll happen, though it doesn’t seem the sort of product you’d pick up and drive home from your favorite Apple Store. It’s just not a good mix, the Apple Store wasn’t designed to stock something that large, and I don’t expect Apple is going to remake a large number of stores simply for a TV set.
But what about the unknown? Is there something else in Apple’s arsenal that the pundits haven’t been thinking about? No, as I indicated in yesterday’s column, I don’t think Apple is going to invest $18 billion or so to acquire Tesla Motors, the electric car maker. Sure, Tesla appears to be doing quite well as a niche maker, and maybe a large number of our readers will have electric cars before long. But another survey recently suggested that, by 2040, most cars will still be using gas, so maybe not.
Besides, I hardly think Apple would invest a boatload of money to hire a visionary from a different field. It’s not the same thing as buying NeXT in 1996, a transaction that cost $429 million and brought Steve Jobs back to the company. NeXT made operating systems, and even computers in the early days. There was a clear synergy between the two companies.
That doesn’t mean new cars won’t have an Apple designed interface. Clearly many will, but that’s a matter of licensing rather than buying an auto maker. Sure, Tesla may seem a decent fit to some, but I don’t see it.
Meanwhile, the critics will complain that Apple can’t innovate. Just show them a picture of the Mac Pro and say, “yeah, sure, right.” Besides, where’s the innovation from Samsung?