Where are the moonshots? Where is the innovation? Where is the leadership? Apple, I'm afraid, has lost its way and is on a collision course with mediocrity while hungry, eager and cunning competitors lap it in the race to win the hearts and minds of increasingly savvy consumers.
A couple of recent headlines got me thinking this way and Cupertino's lethargic pace of development and innovation is starting to worry me, an Apple customer and enthusiast since the original Mac in 1984 and the Lisa before it.
The two recent news events that prompted me to write this piece involve Google.
First came the news that Google had acquired the hotest home automation startup in the valley – Nest Labs, creator of an innovative thermostat and smoke detector. Nest is the brainchild of Apple iPod prodigy Tony Fadell and is stocked with over 100 Apple refugees that followed Fadell to Nest. Nest gives Google access to smart, Internet connected appliances in millions of homes and a boat load of innovation and talented engineers. But the icing on the cake was that "Apple was not in the mix" and didn't express any interest in Nest. What? Nest is stocked with most of the Apple engineers that developed the iPod and Apple didn't even bid?
Second came the news that Google is developing a glucose monitoring contact lens to help those suffering with diabetes, which affects one in 19 people. That's right, forget about connected eyewear (Google Glass), Google's going to put a sensor directly on your eyeball. Can a neural implant be far behind?
Punctuating all this comes the news that Tim Cook begrudgingly settled with the FTC over predatory In App Purchases (IAPs) that target young kids in its App Store. Rather than taking the high road and pledging reforms (many of which as quite simple) Mr. Cook chose to belittle the settlement and side with morally bankrupt developers that target sneaky IAPs at three and six year old kids. Reprehensible!
I personally have to refute several App Store charges per month that my kids accidentally make because shady developers of well-known "princess," "fairy," and "pet" apps trick my kids on touching the wrong button. The real subterfuge here is that Cupertino made $10 billion from its App Store in 2013 so its not going to doing anything that would jeopardize that income.
Apple's labs are chock full of iPhone and iPad prototypes that have already be released by Samsung, HTC and Motorola. Meanwhile Google is barging into the American home (and body) in substantial ways while Apple's sad, black hockey puck sits idle in millions of entertainment centers.
Say what you will about Google, but one thing you can't say that it's "stagnant" or "stuck in a rut" like Apple is. And Nest and the connected contacts are just part of the story, look at Google Glass, autonomous vehicles, bandwidth by hot air balloons. Hot air ballons! I'm not advocating that Apple do everything that Google's doing, but for heaven's sake Cupertino, stop being a cheapskate and spend a nickel of your $150+ billion cash horde and do something new!
The rumored iWatch is nothing but vapor at this point, AppleTV is a laughing stock and Apple hasn't innovated since the iPad came out in 2010. Regardless of Phil Schiller's shallow sound bites, Apple hasn't innovated much in at least four years.
And it's not just Google that's eating Apple's lunch.
Amazon kicked the iPad's ass in display technology. The display in the Kindle Fire HDX shames the iPad and the mini's inspiration was clearly the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7. How about the iPhone 5's begrudging adoption of widescreen ("tallscreen?") aspect ratio? If millions weren't locked into the Apple "ecosystem" (code for the walled garden of iTunes Apps, movies and music) most would have defected for the better screens and price points of competing devices from Amazon and Google. And one word: drones.
Facebook. Love it or hate it, it's a fact of life and most everyone uses it. Apple had the chance of a lifetime to turn iTunes into the biggest music-site-cum-social-network in the world, but it let it rot to the point of becoming a joke. I challenge you to find one user that thinks iTunes is "good."
Twitter has hatched a ton of innovation (in the form of startups), including Square, Medium and Jelly.
Microsoft has made a credible attempt to merge the mobile and desktop markets, their message being that tablets are PCs and PCs that don’t have things like keyboards and backward compatibility are deficient. Maybe Windows 8 isn’t a complete home run, but in the long term the approach could be a threat. How about the iPhone 5c looking like a Lumia? iOS 7 taking cues from Metro, including the app switching gesture from Windows Phone and the app shutdown gesture from Windows 8? The split on-screen keyboard idea came from Windows 8 as well.
I put the blame for the rudderless Apple squarely at Tim Cook's feet. He's an operations genius, but not the genius that Steve Jobs was. But to be fair, almost no one could fill Jobs' shoes, it's just that Jobs picked Cook, who's more of an MBA, number cruncher that a technology genius. So Mr. Cook is responsible for righting the ship. Mr. Cook is also the one that released the iPad mini with a putrid (non-Retina) display, based on three year old technology, virtually ceding the market to Android.
All is not lost however. Apple has shown glimmers of innovation with Touch ID, iBeacons, the new MacPro and 64-bit iOS 7 on the software front, but those are mere blips on the technology radar. Apple failed to extend Touch ID to the latest crop of iPads (or the Mac) and the MacPro only has a tiny market because Apple waited too long and lost many of its loyal pro users to the dark side.
[Update: iOS in the Car has the potential to be huge, but has yet to be delivered]
Cupertino needs to reassure its developers and customers that it's still relevant in 2014, or they'll simply jump back in their self-driving cars, read news updates on heads up displays, and start dinner, laundry and feeding their pets remotely as they commute back to their climate controlled homes.
All eyes will be Apple this June at WWDC 2014. Will Apple return to a culture of innovation, or will it be the same dog food, reheated?