About Apple’s Alleged “Innovation” Problem

November 24th, 2016

On the heels of a comment from a Mac journalist that Sir Jonathan Ive is no longer actively involved in designing Apple gear, there appears to be a different conclusion. The original story was based on tech journalist Jason Snell’s brief comments on John Gruber’s podcast. But Gruber himself, writing in his Daring Fireball blog, says he thinks precisely the reverse. That, despite spending a lot of time on the design of the new Apple campus, and overhauls to Apple Store designs, he’s still as active as ever working on Apple gear.

So there you have it. It’s not something that Apple would choose to reveal unless Ive’s name was abruptly removed from the list of executives. Besides, it doesn’t appear as if the latest gear strays much from what one expects of Ive. Indeed the criticisms made about Apple’s recent product releases usually reflect the reaction to the “Ive look.” If he’s no longer actively involved, the people who did design those products are clearly infused with his spirit.

But since Steve Jobs left Apple in the hands of his chosen successor, Tim Cook, there have been complaints that the company has lost its creative vision. The very first example was the iPhone 4s, released the day before Jobs died. What was so new and different about a device that looked very much the same as the iPhone 4?

Well, there was always the launch of Siri…

Otherwise, the iPhone 4s, sporting the usual performance enhancements, also had a redesigned antenna system that was intended to reduce the “Antennagate” effect. So even though Apple staunchly denied there was any problem with the iPhone 4’s antenna design, they made it better anyway.

Over the years, there have been criticisms that some of Apple’s products are just indulgences, rather than gear designed to advance the state of the art. But such a statement isn’t relevant, since Apple has a right to release a product for any reason whatever. It is not bound to have each product outdo its predecessor or other products. If they want to release something that just looks nice, such as the Power Macintosh G4 Cube or the Apple Watch Edition, so be it.

Besides, how many smartphones from Samsung and how many PCs from Dell or HP advance the state of the art? Clearly Apple is expected to operate by a different set of rules. Besides, at the end of the day, the buying public will decide what represents innovation, the products to lust after, and the products to avoid. If sales are poor, Apple will do the proper thing which is to put it out of its misery. Take the G4 Cube as an example. It never quite caught on, and it’s not worth arguing that it was too expensive, underpowered, and lacked the usability of less attractive Apple gear.

If it was only $400 cheaper.

In any case. the critics went right after Apple ahead of the arrival of the iPhone 7, mostly based on supply chain leaks that it wouldn’t look very different from the iPhone 6s. How dare Apple not make every iPhone daringly different? That it would lose the ancient headphone jack was another compelling talking point.

In the real world, the internals of the iPhone 7 are very different, with faster components. and it’s also water resistant. Really water-resistant, not just a manufacturer’s claim. Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active, also said to be water-resistant, but it failed a Consumer Reports dunk test. There were no such complaints about the iPhone 7.

The lack of a headphone jack may have been a less-compiling issue, since there appear to be no huge online petitions demanding that it be restored, or threats of class-action lawsuits. After all, it’s Apple’s prerogative which features to add, which features to remove, and which products to vanquish. That there may not be anymore AirPort routers developed, that the Thunderbolt displays have been discontinued, is in keeping with what Steve Jobs did in 1997 to simplify the product lineup. You can’t buy a Apple laser printer or Newton either, unless someone has such vintage gear available on eBay or somewhere.

When you look at the products Apple has released in recent years, in large part they appear to represent the same design philosophy as older products. With notebooks, it’s very much about thinner and lighter, in addition to all the other features. When you see a video of Ive touting Apple’s latest examples of innovation, it all seems to fit. He comes across as natural and sincere, and you can believe he had something to do with those products. He didn’t just sign off on them, and pretend to understand the niceties.

When you consider innovation, it’s not about duplicating what Apple has done already, such as a Jet Black version of a Samsung smartphone. True, Apple will often offer features that have already appeared elsewhere, but not without changes. Right now, I wonder what PC makers will do in response to the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar. Or will they continue to tout their 2-in-1 convertibles as a better solution?

| Print This Article Print This Article

One Response to “About Apple’s Alleged “Innovation” Problem”

  1. Kaleberg says:

    Journalists expect Apple to walk a thin line. Too much innovation and they are making gratuitous changes that screw their users. Too little innovation and they are a failed organization. I can’t think of a year in which Apple did too much or too little or both as far as the working press is concerned. It’s all about the journalists. Somehow or another Apple is still selling and making money on laptop and desktop computers, even as the sector as a whole is shrinking. Apple knows it can’t please the journalists, so it concentrates on pleasing its customers. No wonder the journalists all have an axe to grind.

Leave Your Comment