Just how much innovating do you want Apple to do?

Just how much innovating do you want Apple to do?

Summary: Apple doesn't innovate? Oh really? *rolls eyes*

Apple innovation
Apple. Where engineers think of things, and then make those things.

My ZDNet colleague Jason O'Grady last week penned a piece where he took Apple to task for a lack of innovation.

The examples Jason cites in terms of both Apple and its competitors in the piece are accurate enough, but if we follow the product life cycle it's not that unusual.

As Apple's key products -- iPhone and iPad -- enter the "maturity" stage of their cycle, competitors are supposed to catch up, copy, and leapfrog the incumbent leader.

Where this issue of innovation gets interesting is that if we ignore the "pure consumer" side of Apple's story and talk about innovation just in terms of enterprise IT, things get more heated and more interesting.


We've had decades where Apple's products have been ignored or dismissed by the enterprise. But that's to be expected. PCs have always been about driving commercial efficiency within business, and Microsoft and the entire ecosystem has always been about that particular gravy train.

As a result we have products which are so superbly executed within enterprise environments it has no meaningful and realistic competition. If you have to manage 10,000 desktops in your organisation, Windows is the basis on which to build. Try and do that with OS X and you'll likely end up fired, insane, or both.

Analyst Benedict Evans presents an estimate that there are 800 million corporate PCs in use around the world. (For completeness, he estimates an additional 900 million consumer/personal PCs.) Apple's intention has never been to go for that corporate market in any meaningful way.

Macs are not about "driving commercial efficiency" in the way that PCs are. They are about making computing functionality easy and accessible. In the PC era Apple built Macs, both approaches orbiting around each other in different ways with Apple never going after the enterprise market.

As we went into the post-PC era, "driving commercial efficiency" still was not on Apple's radar. What they wanted to do was change the very nature of how computing was done, how computing was consumed. It was the next stage of what they'd spent the previous decades doing.

What Apple did with the iPhone and iPad was disrupt IT to the extent that you look at what Apple and non-Apply post-PC devices are about and you wonder if they are about IT in its rawest sense of "information technology" at all. It's hard to describe a barista on a coffee break hacking away at Facebook in their lunch hour as "IT", but yet every part of that chain is -- technically at least -- "information technology".

It's that model, the "barista on a break" model, that is what our computer industry is all about. And Apple did that, not anyone else.


Personally, I find accusing Apple of not "innovating in enterprise IT" is ridiculous.

Saying they don't or haven't is like going up to someone who in the space of a month climbed Everest, K2, and the next dozen or so highest mountains and saying "Hey, why haven't you climbed any more mountains?"

The only good response to which is this: "You know, I feel like I've climbed enough mountains."

Here's a tweet from the Guardian's technology editor, Charles Arthur:

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 21.01.21
Rather says it all, really.

Microsoft tried to innovate with Longhorn, and ended up with Vista. No one during that period would have accused them of not innovating. Because Microsoft has weirdly never really had proper competition, everyone just nodded along during this whole process. Had Windows had had proper competition during that period, it would not have survived.

Likewise with Windows 8, no one could accuse Microsoft of not innovating. They've beaten the stuffing out of Windows with their innovation stick.

And yet during that three year period, a relatively niche, almost "boutique" computer company comes up with a product that is so innovative, so new, is disrupts our industry to the point where I'm not even sure whether we can call what we do "IT" anymore.

If you do happen to be a CTO in charge of 10,000 desktops, plus all the servers and plumbing to make it sing, on one level nothing's going to change. Windows is the only thing that lets you sleep at night.

But alongside those 10,000 desktops you've got pressure. You've got employees wanting their work email on their smartphones. Business unit managers having great ideas of how tablets can be used to drive profits, make customers happy, yadda yadda.

In all that, the new opportunities that you're looking at there all came from Apple innovating more deftly and more completely than Microsoft, or anyone else in the entire IT industry. There has not been anything this disruptive to the status quo since the introduction of the PC itself.

And people can say "they're not innovating!"?

And if you're asking "come on Apple, what next?" -- ask yourself whether you really want that much disruption happening every year.

Personally, I'm happy to wait and have a little break and wait until circa 2020 for the next big thing to hit.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit. 


Topic: Apple

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  • Apple = non-innovative company at all

    1) Apple should stop suing for ridiculous and stolen patents like "bounce effect" or "slide to unlock", "rectangle"
    2) Apple should start innovating, everything Apple does now is stealing and copying from Google Android, but iOS is still a joke:

    http://bit (dot) ly/17CPlOn
    Jiří Pavelec
    • Steve Jobs: "we are shameless about stealing"

      Steve Jobs: "we are shameless about stealing"
      Jiří Pavelec
      • and

        So were the Beatles masters of stealing, according to George and John.
        • Apple is just a copyland

          iPhones bring nothing, Android has photo-sphere, widgets, microUSB, replaceable battery, easily connect and copy any files, default browser change etc etc etc

          so I don't get your point, Beatles were great and innovative, Apple is just a copyland
          Jiří Pavelec
      • You keep using that quote

        Like it's a license for the entire company to steal tech. Stop drinking the kool aid man.
    • Matt's just upset that Jason was disrupting his revenue stream.

      Imagine if nobody asked him to consult as they aren't upgrading their iPhones and iPads to something new and innovative.

      And the fact that Jason said MS is at least doing something, well Matt can't have that when telling his clients to go iPad, steer clear of Surface and Surface Pro.

      Right Matt? :)
    • The above article is way to simplistic.

      The line that gives us direction to the point the article seems to try and be making:

      "What Apple did with the iPhone and iPad was disrupt IT to the extent that you look at what Apple and non-Apply post-PC devices are about and you wonder if they are about IT in its rawest sense of "information technology" at all. It's hard to describe a barista on a coffee break hacking away at Facebook in their lunch hour as "IT", but yet every part of that chain is -- technically at least -- "information technology"."

      "It's that model, the "barista on a break" model, that is what our computer industry is all about. And Apple did that, not anyone else."

      Nonsense. I know, who cares, but its my opinion.

      The barista on a break model, that is what our computer industry is all about??


      Oh please. How narrow sighted. I thought it was the kid on the subway train listening to his antiquated iPod. Nobody but Apple else did that either.

      Is this really a question of "does someone screwing around on Facebook on their soon to be obsolete smartphone during lunch hour really represent what IT is all about"?

      I think its one perfect example of one tiny corner of computing and IT as it exists today, but I also think its like saying a chicken laying an egg out behind the barn is what modern farming is all about, to say a barista on Facebook is what computing is all about. Just nonsense and an all too poetic reflection on a tiny piece of the puzzle that apparently has Max B. Reynolds a little misty eyed form the sounds of it.

      Lets dig into the meat of this a little more.

      There is also the point MBR alludes to in the title of his article, and that is that Apple is a bigger innovator than Microsoft because they built the iPhone which is more popular that WP by far and the iPad which is more popular that Windows tablets. And I guess hes saying because people like their potable mobile devices...well this sort of is the proof...ummm...the proof....ummm...the proof of what Im not sure.

      I know a kid who likes his Frosted Flakes, another kid who has to have his Apple Jacks, does this make Kellogg's a great chef and cook??

      Lets just get a confounded life here. Lets at least, just for once use our collective brains and say is MBR's ideology making any sense here?

      The fact for both Microsoft and for Apple is that they have a line of products each. Some, somewhat similar or even quite similar, others much less similar or completely different. Both have been doing what they believed they needed to do at the time they did it to do the best for their company. Im sure that most people would agree that without a doubt, in the dollars and cents category Apple has achieved better results than Microsoft in the last several years out of those efforts.

      But, the fact remains, that when we look in several areas there is a lot to the story that's always just seems to be swept aside like it dosnt matter. Lets look at the fact that Apple makes computers and laptops and Microsoft makes operating systems for computers and laptops, as many thinking of it as turning the hardware into a Windows computer. Microsoft has put vast amounts of money and manpower into maintaining their Windows operating system and Microsoft Office. For this argument it matters not if you like Windows or not because Im not going to try and convince anyone that Windows should be the OS for you.

      Has Apple just chucked their computer line to the ditch? NO. They have not. They too have spent money and manpower and made every effort a clever company like Apple would to improve their products to improve their market position. Admittedly, this is tough these days. With more reliable computers and operating systems, like XP for example, that just wont stop, its hard to get anyone to buy a new computer. But the fact remains that in this tough climate of PC sales that Windows have managed to keep their part of the computer market and Apple has as well, but certainly its the case that Windows has little room to take over more market as they already have about 90% and Apple on the other hand has only ever had less then 10% and hasn't been able to use anything in the current market to steal more of that from the Windows saturated marketplace.

      Microsoft has had to put loads of money into playing catch up on smartphones and tablets, as well as completely redevelop and build the new X-Box One.

      MBR talks about the new mobile devices shaking up the industry as if its changed everything. I think that while many over zealous tech heads feel the same way, the fact is the average guy on the street is not so much of that mind. Does the fact the barista now can chat on Facebook at lunch in stead of waiting until hes off work and can grab his laptop change much in the real feet on the ground world? I don't see it. Particularly if the Facebook loving barista loved Facebook so much he used to bring his laptop to work for break time.

      A smartphone is just a smartphone. Its a neat handy device. If the bus is running late it doesn't turn into a 3D printer and crank me out a jet bike so I can scoot off to work. Tablets are clearly much the same only less so. Nobody is throwing out their PC Mac, Windows or Linux computer. They are just buying them less often and it was a process well under way before the iPad was selling. While there are some who may have decided to put their extra dollars into a new tablet instead of a new PC, its in the vast majority of the cases where the person simply didn't have to have a new computer at that time.

      To say there has not been anything this disruptive since the PC as the new mobile devices have been, is much like saying little Johnny's behavior in class is the most disruptive thing since Mount St. Helens blew up.

      In other words, its ridiculous. This is the same kind of sheer hogwash I commented on a couple weeks back. I can tell you right now, lets just be real, lets just imagine a world where tomorrow every internet connectable smartphone was wiped off the face of the earth. JUST GONE!

      Boy! What a horrible inconvenience eh! Man, for some people it could result in very rough situations right?

      Now lets imagine a world where every internet connectable PC and laptop of all OS types was just wiped off the face of the earth. Just gone. World wide catastrophe. Nothing less.

      Entire businesses that live for the connection of an internet computer would be in trouble, word processing and order taking and stock control and various organizational and records keeping and so many other numerous and critical areas of life that PC type of computers and laptops now manage would be obliterated and wiped away leaving absolute chaos in its path. Major swaths of the world would be spinning out of control.

      The Apple gadgets have been the most disruptive thing in the IT industry since the PC? Ya, like I said, and Johnny's behavior in class has been the most disruptive thing since Mount St. Helens. But they still don't compare.

      Has Apple innovated? Ya, I sure wouldn't say they havnt innovated. Ya, I think they have been fairly innovative. Not bad I guess. But what the hell is all this crowing about and misty eyed poetic lamenting about Apples great uprising from a " a relatively niche, almost boutique computer company" to what I guess we are to see as the great titan of industry they are today?

      What crap!! Seriously. Does anyone on this website know what real powerhouse and disruptive innovation is? For real? It sure as hell isn't a friggin iPhone or iPad I can tell you that.

      This is real innovation!;

      The electric furnace, the steam turbine, the automobile, motion pictures, the airplane, wireless telegraphy, the printing press, electric welding, high speed steel, wireless communication itself (not the bloody iPhone), the phonograph, the electric lamp, nitrogen fixation for fertilizer, the pneumatic tire, countless medical innovations like the artificial heart or penicillin for example, and many more of that exemplary high regard and even many more just a rung down the ladder that deal with al sorts and kinds of innovations and inventions that make the world a livable place today like new energy sources and industrial processes and yes, THE PC.

      Keep one thing clear in your mind, Apple figured out that the same design they were thinking of for the iPod touch solved the smartphone puzzle as well. Then it was just make a big iPod touch and call it an iPad, and then shrnik the iPad and call it an iPad mini.

      This wasn't brilliant innovation, this was mostly marketing once Apple had used inventions from others to design the iPod touch, so lets just chill out a little about Apple and all their earth shaking inventions.
  • Vista.

    Vista was a much needed OS. It saved Windows from being destroyed by relentless attacks that XP faced daily. Not sure why you seem to hint that it's an OS no one wanted. Sure, there were a few issues, but come SP1, it was a solid OS.

    Same with Windows 8. It's saving Windows from itself by being transformed into a new OS that'll be in better shape to compete in the future. You weren't expecting to use that kludgy desktop forever, were you?
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Agreed

      What Visit did was converge the server OS with the client one. Now there is one core and a lot of the R&D are resulting tech developed for Server can trickle down to the client as well.

      Windows 8 is transforming the meaning of the term "PC" with its touch enabled UI. I have not seen this much innovation and various form factors in computer hardware since the tablet market took off with Android.

      I really do think 2014 is the year that Metro takes off because of the integration of Metro apps onto the desktop with W9. Why write a desktop app if it will work via Metro and you can sell it in the App Store and update it as well?
      Rann Xeroxx
      • Um, actually no, XP did that.

        Windows XP was the first consumer OS based on the NT core, which is what is used for NT Server and its successors.

        Vista's main contribution to the Windows foodchain was to basically put an end to the Longhorn experiment and get Windows back on track, as well as a new video display driver technology and IPv6 support.
  • Hoist on their own petard

    The Charles Arthur tweet is dumb. Choose different dates and you get different results.

    Apple doesn’t do itself any favours by talking up its innovativeness, because in doing so it misdescribes its own distinctive strength. Its key products in the last few years - the iPod, iPhone and iPad, all took well-established device categories, which in their own right had grown through others’ innovations, and made those devices work better than anyone else had (though there was and still is plenty of room for improvement).

    That’s a real skill, and deserves praise, but it’s not exactly innovation, not at the level that Apple itself seemed to want to claim, a claim which it has pursued disgracefully in the courts.
    And the routine hyperbole has given Tim Cook a real headache. Now he’s expected to stand up once a year and change the world... and all he can offer is some nice new products for the Apple faithful. I’m tempted to say give the man a break, but actually Apple needs to give itself a break, and come back into the real world where its design strengths routinely make a difference, even if it’s only incremental.

    As for Microsoft, well yes it’s clearly got itself in a bit of a mess, particularly ironic given that it had propositions in the tablet and phone space and let them drift. But it's not the first time it’s got something seriously wrong and turned itself around - remember MSN vs the Internet. Win8 was a botched launch, but there are growing signs it could still serve as the platform for a different future, and not many incumbent market leaders have pulled off that turnaround in the face of a disruptive technology, let alone twice.
    Paul Brasington
    • Of course it is innovation

      Was it necessary for Kalishnakov to be the inventor of muskets, in order to be an innovative weapons designer?

      Watch, some time, Steve Jobs original iPhone presentation. He goes exactly through why they did things the way they did - which by the way, nobody can make a claim existed all in one package on any phone of the time. They clearly thought through every problem phones of the era had, and came up with things that would ease those problems.

      Funny - no phone prior to the iPhone resembled an iPhone. And within two years, ALL smartphones did.
      • Wrong

        Palm PC, Samsung SPH-i700, Dell Axim and lots of other smartphones. Steve Jobs just showed the worst of them in his presentation. Why are you defending Apple so desperately?
        Sean Foley
        • Please, you're just embarrassing yourself

          there were great devices around; I used a BlackBerry at the time, and for that matter still do.

          Nobody is saying there were no good phones. But phones of the modern style? Sorry, you know as well as I do there just weren't any... phones of the day ran phone OSes, and the closest anyone had gotten to a desktop grade OS powering a phone was Win CE (or Windows Mobile if you prefer, hard to keep it all straight.) The idea of a phone that could run a desktop grade OS with a desktop grade browser and a multitouch UI seemed pretty scifi. People had come up with parts of that, to be sure, but nobody had assembled the whole thing into a commercial grade shipping product.

          It is a matter of the historical record that Apple disrupted everything. Before 2007, there were no phones that resembled an iPhone. By 2010, almost all new phones did. Don't embarrass yourself by asserting it wasn't so - everyone - including you - knows it is true.
          • Whatever

            Your stuck in the past, just like every Apple iFan. For agruement sake, your right 2007 iPhone was nice "invention". Apple even patented a rectangular design, good for them. This article is about the "maturity stage of their cycle". They are clearly not innovating to the same degree. Yet, iFans like yourself are still coasting on the glory days. Wake up its 2014, and Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs.
            Sean Foley
          • You're barking up the wrong tree, Sean...

            "Your stuck in the past, just like every Apple iFan."

            Mac_PC_FenceSitter is actually making a pretty good point here, Sean. It's not out of blind fanboism, either.

            "They are clearly not innovating to the same degree."

            No they aren't, but the point is more a question of "what exactly do you expect them to do?" At some point, even a great innovator has to settle on a design and make it work for the long-haul. Coming up with a design breakthrough like the iPhone (and iPod before it) brought to the table is bloody hard and expensive. I get down on Apple as much as the next person for slowing down the innovation train, but in all honesty, I agree with MPF and the original author that such expectations of annual greatness are pretty unrealistic.

            There certainly aren't many other companies providing any real innovation to the smartphone platform over what Apple had provided.
          • Hmm. Revisionist history, maybe?

            "It is a matter of the historical record" that the iPhone looked like a lot of phones that had come before it. Like this one, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Simon, from *1994.* If all Apple did was update that technology by 13 years, that's not an awful lot of innovation from a technological standpoint.

            No, the iPhone was a seminal device in the *incremental* category of innovation. It took a very, very low powered OS (even by the standards of 2007, when Symbian, PalmOS, Blackberry and Windows Mobile defined the mobile space and *still* offered features the iPhone can't match) but wrapped it in a totally non-geeky exterior. Then, it was mostly successful due to the magic of their marketing.

            Now don't get me wrong, proper packaging of old ideas and an advertising campaign that changes the culture around a new device absolutely qualifies as innovation. Apple has earned their success. But Apple didn't "change everything" as it were. They simply carried on along the logical course. They were in the right place at the right time with an idea that was actually the right amount *behind* the times that the mainstream population was ready for it. The iPhone was successful because it was *not* cutting edge. And it remains successful because it is *not* cutting edge.

            But the fact that people like you have this misconception that somehow iPhones were *ahead* of the game makes those of us who were already using smartphones for a *decade* when the iPhone (which is not, by the way, an actual smartphone but really just a very smart featurephone) were driven a little crazy by the hyperbole used to describe the device.

            But anyway, if you like your iPhone, please do use and enjoy it. This is not religion. But please don't pontificate on what the "historical record" shows.
            x I'm tc
          • Have you ever seen an IBM Simon?

            I suggest you try carrying that around as your main mobile device for a few weeks. Then come back and tell us how you got by... rolleyes.
          • disruption

            I'm not arguing with your point about disruption, but I think it happened for a few reasons, not least that the success of the iPod (not a particularly innovative product in itself) primed the market for the notion of a simple if closed eco-system. Actually the latter is Apple's real innovation, though ironically you could say that iTunes was the least well-executed thing that Apple does. Apple itself understood this, when the thrust of the iPhone advertising was all about the apps.

            But much of the discussion here seems to be about whether pulling together a load of different existing ideas and executing them better constitutes "innovation", and the trouble is the answer must be "it depends". You mention Kalashnikov and muskets, but Kalashnikov didn't try to claim IP in the shape of his gun, or the basic principles on which it operated. You say there "were no phones that resembled an iPhone" but it depends what you mean by "resemble": you could say that the iPhone very much resembled the Sony Ericsson smartphones, albeit without multitouch - and that was at the heart of Samsung's defence, which I believe was itself indefensibly ignored by a US court.

            Which is why all this goes far beyond personal views of Apple's achievement. Apple has made a false but successful and lucrative claim about how product development works, a claim which despite the US court decision needs to be resisted for the sake of the industry...
            Paul Brasington
        • Which, of course, explains perfectly

          why a year after the iPhone was released, everything looked and acted like it. Pull your head out and deal with reality.

          Apple's modus operandi has ALWAYS been take something that's already out there and make it not suck. THAT'S their innovation, and they are very good at it. How do I know? Because they make LOTS of money. And you can't make lots of money unless people like the stuff you sell.