Is It Time for Apple to Up Its Game?

May 6th, 2016

Amid all the comments about Apple’s less-than-stellar sales performance in the last quarter, there have been suggestions on how Apple might fix things. Some were dumb, such as suggesting that the iPhone 7 needs to be a more compelling update. It’s dumb because we do not know what features or performance levels an iPhone 7 will offer, other than a few guesses from rumor sites and unconfirmed supply chain leaks. Sure, once we get closer to its debut — and I’ll assume the product name will be correct — there might be sufficient information, but not now.

I mean, the rumor sites haven’t settled on whether or not there will be a regular earphone jack, or whether Apple will insist you use Bluetooth or the Lighting port. It hasn’t even been explained why Apple would do this, other than the fact that this jack is very old in terms of technology, and Apple wants to make the phone thinner.

Other complaints might have more traction, that neither the iPad nor the Mac have seen compelling updates. Sure, an iPad Pro is better than other iPads in all or most respects, but it’s not as if the Smart Connector appeals to anyone unless they want to do real work on one. The speed differences are significant, but largely unnoticed in normal use with most apps. No wonder people aren’t upgrading in large numbers.

Macs also last longer than ever — the use of SSDs eliminates one common cause of trouble, the hard drive. Improvements are otherwise, at best, incremental, so it takes several years for the 10%-15% performance boost to count for much. Even then, if your existing Mac is up to the task, how much incentive is there to switch? I have a 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro that works well. There is no direct equivalent in the current lineup, since the larger displays were discontinued the next year. Still, the new models offer much faster performance, lighter weight, not to mention a Retina display. So there is significant reason to want to buy a new one if a maximum display size of 15 inches does the trick.

Well, being a lot lighter makes a difference if you have to lug a notebook carrying case for long walks across an airport terminal and other places.

But I suspect most people just don’t care and may want to use their Macs till they drop. My son, Grayson, has the same 2008 black MacBook we bought him as a graduation present in 2008. It has had most everything replaced on it during the now-expired AppleCare policy. So in a sense he has a mostly new computer, and he doesn’t feel inclined to want to buy a new one. True, operating system compatibility ended several releases ago, but he’s not at all concerned.

Now when it comes to Macs, the NPD Group’s Stephen Baker, who appeared as a guest on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, suggested that the lack of significant new features was an important reason why Mac sales are down. But it’s not as if you’re seeing much in the way of innovation on the Windows side of the fence either. Windows 10 is clearly no reason to upgrade since it’s free — or will be for two more months more unless Microsoft changes its confusing upgrade policy.

So does this mean that Apple needs to deliver new MacBook Airs and new MacBook Pros that are more than minor refreshes? That’s implicit in Baker’s comments, but where does that take Apple? Does it mean going all Retina display on the MacBook Air? Can Apple do that without increasing the price? Perhaps. What about the MacBook Pro? Must it be lighter and thinner, more in tune with the MacBook? What is Apple to do?

However, there is one area where Apple may have to improve, and that’s initial product reliability, fit and finish. Maybe. So the Apple Watch supposedly still outsells other smartwatches, though sales are only rough estimates since Apple isn’t talking. But there’s a perception that it had an unfinished feeling when it arrived last spring. Apps launched and performed slowly, in large part because they had to be hosted on a paired iPhone. The arrival of true native apps helped, as did the ongoing watchOS updates. But if Apple waited a few months to release the Apple Watch, would it have received a more favorable impression when it was released?

When it comes to iOS and OS X, the perception appears right on. It may take several updates to fix a host of problems that may cause frustration for early adopters. Some feel the quality of Apple’s new products has suffered in the rush to get them out the door as quickly as possible.

In other words, is Apple releasing too many products that are unfinished?

But don’t forget that virtually all operating system upgrades from Apple and Microsoft over the years have required bug fixers to set things right. When you refer to an unfinished product, what about the first iPhone in 2007? That original iPhone had no support for native apps, only web apps. Indeed, the story goes that Steve Jobs had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept a full app ecosystem, and that’s where the iPhone really took off.

That first model didn’t support 3G networking either.

Don’t ask me about the original Newton MessagePad and its pathetic handwriting recognition. Some feel it never worked properly for the relatively short life of the product.

I agree Apple can probably do better. But, if you consider the entire product history, you’ll see it was always thus.

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4 Responses to “Is It Time for Apple to Up Its Game?”

  1. Frank Smythe says:

    “But if Apple waited a few months to release the Apple Watch, would it have received a more favorable impression when it was released?”

    Most reviews were incredibly positive– they also typically said that it really wasn’t something everyone needed, yet!

  2. dfs says:

    Even though there’s a fair amount of truth to everything Gene says, I still think Apple has made a serious corporate mistake in adopting the “tick-tock” approach, which has had the effect of boxing itself into releasing half-baked products and software, just for the sake of having something to release according to a predetermined, preannounced schedule.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    The unfinished product complaint is silly. Pointy sticks for poking holes in the ground have gotten better over the last 100,000 years. Our pre-human ancestors knew better than to wait for the finished product before digging up roots. “Finished” means over and done with.

    All this sniping at Apple is getting ridiculous. The market is maturing. Products last longer both technologically and because they are better built. (Hint: no user serviceable parts inside.) The Chinese are nearing the end game of their industrialization and squeezing out foreign firms as they do during each wave of modernization. Apple still does fit and finish better than all but a hand full of competitors and then only on their top of the line gear.

    What is probably finished are these frivolous journalists. They wouldn’t recognize an actual revolutionary product, because they’d be too busy pooh-poohing it. They can’t recognize ongoing trends, because they aren’t at all observant. They’re getting paid by the click, so they are going to have to keep dredging for click bait. Eventually, people will learn not to bother clicking.

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