Apple knows it doesn’t have to do any of this. For now. It can put out a minor upgrade every year and sell millions and millions more iPads—so why try? Because trying is what made Apple the most valuable technology company in the world.
That’s a quote from an article titled What Would It Take for Apple to Make a New iPad Truly Exciting Again posted on Gizmodo today. While the author seems to admit in the article that the reason he was so unimpressed with the new iPad was due to the fact that it was already so good, he still goes on to write an entire article about what Apple could have done to make it better. He talks about super long battery life, solar charging, indestructibility, a design that can be folded and rolled like a magazine, and a super fast wireless connector based on emerging wireless technology that hasn’t even been standardized yet. After making all of these outrageous suggestions, he follows it with the quote above. The iPad is on top so why should Apple improve it? The article closes by equating “trying” with “innovating” and concluding that innovating is what brought Apple to where it is today. The author is saying that Apple is on top because every single one of its products was a ground breaking improvement over its predecessor.
Not quite. Apple innovates. That’s part of why it is where it is. The iMac, Mac OS X, the iPod, iTunes, the iTunes Store, iLife, the iPhone, the iPad, the App Store – those are all innovations. It’s great if you can innovate, but you have to make money and you have to have a sustainable business model. That’s where Gizmodo’s author gets it wrong. One of the keys to Apple’s success is that it innovates and then iterates. It makes a huge investment creating a product or product category that blows its competitors out of the water. Then it refines that design over a few generations, releasing incremental upgrades and polish. This allows it to recoup the money that it has spent while it comes up with its next innovation. Contrast that to its competitors who stuff as much buzzworthy crap into a product and then replace it with another lump of junk a few months later. Apple puts the effort into its product up front to make them usable and enjoyable and then coasts on that effort for a few generations.
I’m sure that Apple has other innovations up its sleeve, but if it was to show all of its cards every time it released a product upgrade it would eventually run out of innovations. It would never successfully take advantage of the maximum customer base for its products. Imagine if the iPhone had been released on AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint when it came out. There would have been a huge influx of users and then – nothing. Apple would have a few huge quarters and then sales would trickle down as the market saturated. By focusing on one carrier and one carrier only, Apple created demand. It essentially had a user base waiting in the wings for the release of the Verizon iPhone last year which helped keep its sales strong while iPhone 3GS owners waited for their contracts to expire. Imagine if the first iPod had a color screen, an FM tuner, a camera, and the largest hard drive available. What would Apple have done to keep people buying iPods?
Some people hate Apple because of its business model. It usually includes just enough in its products to make them high quality but keep them profitable at the same time. I can’t count how many times I’ve read bloggers complaining about how “little” RAM the iPad has, how Apple under clocks its CPUs, or how it doesn’t include SD card slots in iPads or iPhones for expansion. Apple does this on purpose so that it can maximize its profits on its current products by not over-specing them and so that it still has levers to pull to make its next release a compelling upgrade. So “trying” alone is not what put Apple where it is today. Smart business is what put Apple where it is today. Maybe the new iPad isn’t the most compelling upgrade for someone who has an iPad 2, but who is to say they would upgrade anyway? They just shelled out $500 – $900 for a tablet. I don’t think they are going to do it again a year later. Maybe a nerd would, but the majority of iPad owners are not nerds.
Gizmodo does get one thing right, Apple doesn’t have to do anything. There isn’t a tablet out there that comes close. All the more reason to keep it’s innovations to itself, for now. Once a competitor emerges, Apple will strike back with the innovations that Gizmodo is craving.