What Would Steve Jobs Do, This Time Around?

Apple has been playing it safe for the last couple of years, coming to market with incrementally better products at incrementally higher prices, leading to speculation that Apple has lost the culture of radical innovation that made them the world’s most valuable company.

Back in January, NBC claimed Apple was entering a “Dark Chapter” due to slowing iPhone sales, a trend that’s continued throughout the year with an overall slowdown in US growth. Is lack of innovation part of the problem?

Greg Petro at Forbes thinks so: he blames stale products and high prices with Apple’s slowing sales, writing “I predicted that increasing prices on devices void of big innovation was not a sustainable way to continue to grow the business. We have seen very little variation from this trend, in fact, quite the opposite.”

The issue is more than innovation, it’s also price. That seems obvious after reading Mashable’s article, “It’s official: iPhones are too expensive”, in which they bluntly stated, “Simply put: new iPhones are too expensive, starting at $749 for an iPhone XR and $999 for an iPhone XS. And so, too, is every other product Apple sells, including the new iPad Pros, which start at $799, and the new MacBook Air at $1,199.”

The iPhone is too expensive, not innovative enough — and it has too many cameras as well, or as CNBC put it, “Apple’s newest iPhone relies on cameras to hide its lack of innovation”. Also, more cameras means higher production costs & mechanical complexity, and leads to a design that simply isn’t elegant. It may be a “nice” feature, but it’s certainly not compelling.

What Would Steve Jobs Do?

Right now it feels like Apple is clinging to the legacy that Jobs left behind, and trying to extend the existing paradigm as long as they can. He created a “magic formula” for Apple, and they’re afraid to change the fundamentals he put in place, even if it means avoiding the kind of radical thinking Jobs was well known for. In other words, they’re playing it safe.

Unfortunately, “safe” won’t work for Apple. It didn’t get them where they are, and it won’t carry them forward. After all, it was risk taking that let Steve Jobs take the failing, burned out tech company he once founded and resurrect it into the world’s most valuable brand. Steve Jobs bet long by launching a smartphone that does everything; Tim Cook plays it safe launching a credit card that gives you 6% cash-back on Apple products.

So what would Steve Jobs do? Well, last time Steve made a comeback at Apple, it was a bit like Jesus at the Temple. He cut the bloated staffing, cut back the product line, took the company back to core competencies, and focused on the development of radically new & disruptive technologies. So here’s what I think he’d address today:

– Too Many Product Versions

Apple currently has 4 different iPhone models, 4 iPad variations, 5 or 6 watch variants, and 7 different types of Macs on the market — along with lots of past models that they still have to support for several years. In terms of component variations, help files & manuals, support training, code variations, and everything else, it adds up fast.

I’m positive Steve would cut the product line down to reduce complexity & allow them to remain nimble in terms of product design. I envision only 2 iPhones: the iPhone 11 and Pro models, in both sizes. Same for iPad & Apple Watch, and I’d cut the Mac lineup down as well.

“But look,” you say, “Samsung is Apple’s #1 competitor and they have like 65 different models.” Yes, very true. How many of those can you name? Do they inspire product or brand loyalty? Samsung phones are basically generic devices except for the Galaxy series, and that’s part of the highly-fragmented Android ecosystem. Steve wouldn’t copy that in a million years.

– Too Much Bloat & Legacy Features

The 3 lens camera system is cringeworthy. I can just picture Steve throwing desks around in Cupertino at even the suggestion of that feature. He would have upgraded the single camera to a high-megapixel sensor & used digital cropping for both “normal” and “zoom” shots.

Apple’s FaceID is a remarkable technology — it made sense to release it only on the premium model. Two years later, all Apple devices should have it as a standard feature, including Macs. Honestly it probably costs Apple more to keep the button around than it would to create a uniform user experience.

Force touch would be gone instantly, and I imagine many of the “features” in IOS would be as well. The once seamless mobile operating system is starting to feel like a desktop OS, which he would have loathed.

– Neglecting The Cloud

Sometimes Apple is a little too hardware-centric, and the way that IOS handles photos is an example of this. Your photos get uploaded to the cloud, and then a partial copy of your library is downloaded to all your devices — and meanwhile your ability to manage the photos in the cloud is really limited.

WTF, guys? This isn’t Napster, take a lesson from Google and keep the whole library in the cloud, then download photos as needed. Just one example of Apple trying to keep everything tied to the hardware, when the hardware should be a gateway, not a destination.

How would Steve feel about your iPhone, iPad, Mac and other devices shoveling full-sized files around on your LAN and his cloud network all day long? iCloud admittedly works a lot better than Microsoft’s Live Mesh ever did, but the concept itself is outdated. More folks would be getting fired over that idea.

– Failing To Pursue Business Markets

Microsoft is still in business because Apple doesn’t care if business users buy its products. Cupertino remains focused on the consumer products market, despite selling premium-quality desktop & laptops that are often enterprise-class devices.

Back in the old days, Apple didn’t have the option of selling to the enterprise, because they weren’t compatible with anything on the LAN. Times have changed, though, and Apple needs to step up their enterprise efforts.

Career executives typically aren’t tech nerds, and they are iPhone users, so Apple’s penetration into business markets could be much greater than it is. What limits it is that Apple orients everything for “creative types” without realizing that the rest of us might also have a reason to buy rock-solid Unix class desktop machine that runs MS Office.

Steve didn’t push hard for corporate Macs in the past, but I’d bet it would be on his list given the iPhones business market penetration.

Conclusion

Last time around, Steve kicked ass, took names, streamlined the company & developed remarkable new technologies that catapulted Apple to the top of the corporate dog pile.

In today’s world, I imagine he’d do the same. Instead of seeing Apple at the peak of its success, he’d see this only as a first step towards something even bigger & more audacious than before — and he wouldn’t rest until he realized that ambition, whatever it might be.

All Rights Reserved for Tim Ventura

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