Apple Product Announcements, As Of Late, Have Been All About Iterate (As Opposed To… Innovate)

COMMENTARY: 09.17.21 – If you were left feeling a little, “meh” following Apple’s latest product launch, you’re not alone.

On Tuesday — in a pre-recorded virtual event dubbed, “California Streaming” — Apple took the wraps off its latest products. However, rather than unveiling the next innovation, the company’s newest product offerings are basically just incremental updates and different iterations of existing hardware (e.g., Apple Watch, iPad, and iPhone).

Tim Cook at 2021 Apple Event
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, speaking from the grounds at Apple Park as seen in a pre-recorded video for the company’s “California Streaming” event that was streamed over the web on September 14, 2021. (Photo: screenshot via Apple, Inc.)

Whatever new innovations the “geniuses” are working on behind closed doors over at Apple Park, be it a pair of smart glasses or an autonomous electric vehicle, the company needs to release it soon because let’s face it: one can only go so far with these variations on a theme at every product launch.

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Lackluster vs. Blockbuster

Writing for Macworld, Michael Simon, executive editor of the magazine, posed the following question to his readers days after the “California Streaming” event: has Apple run out of ideas?

“Apple’s first event of the Fall came with a ton of anticipation, heaps of hype, and oodles of exciting rumors,” wrote Simon. “But when Tim Cook delivered his keynote wrap-up Tuesday, it was hard to not feel underwhelmed.”

Simon went on to note that while Apple unveiled a ton of products at the event, he pointed out that it’s nothing we haven’t already seen before.. The executive editor felt that the product launch was all about iteration rather than innovation, describing it as more about the company maintaining the status quo as opposed to making a splash. He went on to write that every piece of hardware that was announced at the event was a variation of an existing one and there really aren’t many compelling reasons to upgrade.

“All of this isn’t to say the ‘California Streaming’ event didn’t bring big changes to Apple’s lineup of products. But if you were looking for innovation, Tuesday’s event didn’t bring it.”

Iterate vs. Innovate

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said something in his keynote address (via a transcript of the event) during Tuesday’s product launch that struck me as a bit ironic due to the fact that it directly ties in to what the executive editor of Macworld mentioned in his op ed.

“California has always been a place for people with big ambitions and big dreams,” said Cook. “A place where people are fueled with optimism to make things better, to make things that can change the world. It is such an important part of who we are at Apple and inspires us in everything we create and do.”

The phrase from Cook’s keynote address that sticks out in my mind is, “change the world” which seems to be the sticking point here. Apple, as of late, hasn’t made (or released, for that matter) a new innovative product that has been world changing, like say, when the iPhone was unveiled by former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, almost a decade and a half ago. What the company under Cook has only managed to do since its late co-founder’s untimely passing in October 2011 — the Apple Watch, AirPods, and HomePod notwithstanding — has been, literally, to make existing products… better.

Granted, Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs (despite the latter being hand picked by the former to be his successor) but Cook’s problem is that even though he has managed to keep Apple afloat under his leadership and turn it into the world’s most valuable brand, unfortunately, everything his company has created and done has been about: iterating versus innovating.

Past vs. Present

Back in 2019, I wrote a commentary in this very column with regard to whether it was time for Apple’s leadership to go into “recovery mode” (pun intended) due to a lack of innovation at the company, noting that we needed to go back almost ten years (keep in mind that the passage being cited was originally written two years ago) for the last time Apple unveiled a new breakthrough product designed from the ground up.

I pointed out that in that decade, we saw the release of the original iPad in 2010 while in the decade before that, the company released the original iterations of the MacBook Air in 2008, the iPhone in 2007, and the iPod in 2001. I continued, adding that those were preceded in the decade prior to that with the release of the original versions of the iBook in 1999, the iMac in 1998, and finally the special limited edition Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh in 1997.

“The common thread tying all of those products together is, of course, none other than Jobs himself who, after infamously being ousted from his own company in 1985, returned to the company in 1997 and would be responsible for overseeing the aforementioned product innovations — the sole exception being the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh which was developed and created prior to his return but released nonetheless under his watch — and, not to mention, bringing Apple back to life from the brinks of impending doom. All of those new products under Jobs were examples of Apple innovation at its best. If Jobs was still alive and Apple CEO today, he surely would have spewed out innovation after innovation over the past eight years but when he left this world, the innovation machine went with it.”

Writing for Wired, Molly Wood, a contributor to the magazine, hit the nail on the head (so to speak) in a piece she wrote for the publication in February of that year (which I originally cited in my commentary) on how Apple is a company on the verge of being disrupted. According to Wood, the next great idea in tech and consumer electronics will not materialize from within the walls of its Cupertino spaceship campus, Apple Park, and despite doing everything right, it doesn’t see the next wave of innovation coming and will ultimately… fail (ouch!).

Related Reading: from this column (August 2021) – “Could Smart Clothing Be The Next Wearable Technology Apple Innovates Within The Lucrative Wearables Space?

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