The 2014 Tech Report: A Matter of Survival for Apple?

January 1st, 2014

I couldn’t help but feel that Apple wouldn’t have a nice time of it when 2013 arrived. First there were reports, never actually confirmed, of severe cutbacks in production of the iPhone 5, thus indicating that sales may not be quite what Apple hoped.

But the false claims that the iPhone 5 was unsuccessful dated back to September of 2012. Apple boasted of selling five million the very first weekend, a record for the company. But some financial pundits, pulling figures from somewhere really dark, decreed that Apple must sell ten million and anything less was a big miss. It doesn’t matter that no other smartphone maker has done near as well. Indeed it took Samsung 28 days to ship (not sell — ship!) 10 million copies of the Galaxy S4 smartphone. That was good, Apple’s results were bad. Are you with me so far?

So, with the stock price dipping, the conventional wisdom, such as it was, indicated that Apple was in deep distress, that Tim Cook ought to be fired and replaced with some sort of visionary who could pick up the mantle of the late Steve Jobs and take the company — well, somewhere or other.

Of course it didn’t help that Apple failed to introduce much of anything new for the first five months of the year. Only in June did you see some potential, as iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks were announced. The latter didn’t seem so special, though the former surely looked different for better or worse. But there were perceptions, which still persist, that this very major iOS upgrade was lacking in fit and finish. Maybe Apple rushed too much, or maybe the assumption that Sir Jonathan Ive could do for software what he did for hardware wasn’t quite correct, or that’s what some assumed.

Nonetheless, as of the end of the year, some 78% of active iOS gadgets are running iOS 7. So maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Nobody forced anyone to do that upgrade. Notices about new software can be safely ignored with no harm done.

But perhaps the most significant upgrade was the Mac Pro. After doing virtually nothing with that expensive workstation for three years, Apple changed the ballgame. Even better, despite prices ranging from $2,999 for the basic version to nearly $9,700 for a box with all the options, no PC maker could deliver an identical or near-identical workstation for anything near that price. The skeptics even resorted to configuring a do-it-yourself box with parts that you’d have to assemble and test yourself. Yet the Mac Pro is still cheaper to the tune of two thousand dollars or more.

Despite the fact that a lot of professional Mac users are using iMacs nowadays, there’s still a need for a workstation for video editing, 3D rendering, mathematics and other processor-intensive chores that require more active cores and more powerful graphics. So the Mac Pro, 2013 edition, was backordered for weeks at the end of the year.

A failure?

All right, it’s true that Mac sales have stopped growing. They are eroding, though mostly less than PC sales. So perhaps the era of the PC is in the rearview mirror for many of you, except, of course, for those who lust after a Mac Pro. But that isn’t Apple’s failure; it’s the market forces at work and moving in new directions. At least Apple can sell you an iPad or an iPhone. What does Dell or HP hope to offer except for tablets that nobody wants?

One thing Apple appears to do better than most tech companies is play the long ball, staying conscious of future customer needs so they can fulfill them with cutting-edge gear people didn’t know they wanted.

So we look at Apple’s intense interest in the living room. Sure, when Tim Cook said he felt he was going back a couple of decades when he entered his living room, it was a market-driven statement. It created expectations that something drastically different was coming down the pike, and no doubt spooked Apple’s competition into wondering what that drastically different gadget might be.

Would it be a connected TV set, with a 4K display? What about a souped up Apple TV box? What about something — something we can’t quite imagine yet? Is there any reason for Apple not to look for a different solution to the TV viewing dilemma?

Of course, whatever solution Apple devises, assuming one comes in 2014, the critics will say it’s nothing new, and what about Samsung’s imitation? I mean alternative. I would assume other tech companies are trying to guess what Apple is up to, so they can prepare some responses.

But, as with the introduction of 64-bit processing for the iPhone 5s and the new iPads, Apple clearly loves to catch the rest of the industry flatfooted. Consider, for example, how smartphones looked before the iPhone arrived. They were largely in the image of a BlackBerry with that famous clunky thumb-based physical keyboard. After the iPhone was announced with a virtual keyboard, most of the competition began to look like iPhones. But they didn’t know the way till Apple set the goalpost.

Maybe that’ll happen in yet another market in 2014. At least that’s what Tim Cook is promising.

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One Response to “The 2014 Tech Report: A Matter of Survival for Apple?”

  1. Granville Kennedy says:

    Apple moves the goalpost? Maybe more like invents a whole new game, at another level and on a different field! What they did with the 64-bit A7 and the camera in the iPhone 5S is absolutely stunning. The tech writers that failed to recognize these achievements were forced to retract their early reviews…

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