Tim Cook dropped quite a bombshell during today's Q2 FY13 earnings call when he talked about Apple's product pipeline. Apple's CEO had this to say when UBS analyst Steve Milunovich asked him the following question:
Tim, you alluded to fall announcement of products. Is that indicating that there may not be substantial new products until literally fall? Late September, which means the September quarter could look a lot like the June quarter? Is that part of what you're implying, or were you being more general?
I don't want to be more specific. But I'm just saying we've got some really great stuff coming in the fall. And across all of 2014.
As Larry Dignan noted in Between the Lines, the reaction in after hours trading was swift as Apple's 7 percent gain faded quickly on the comments.
Some pundits have been speculating that an updated iPhone 5S could be released in the summer (June, July, or August) and some have even suggested that an iPad refresh could come as soon as this month. It's easy to see why people would be disappointed to hear "fall" after rumors have indicated "summer" (or even "spring", in terms of the iPad) — but this is why rumors need to be taken with a grain of salt.
While Cook's comments could be a decoy to divert attention from his real road map, or a page out of Jobs' classic "under promise and over-deliver" playbook (he could release products in both summer and fall, after all) let's take his words at face value for the moment. Not releasing an updated iPad or iPhone until the "fall" actually makes a fair amount of sense and would probably be a good move for the company.
For starters, there's a growing perception that Apple is falling behind the likes of Google, Windows, and, to some extent, Facebook in the mobile OS department. Not literally of course, (there were plenty of blustery statistics by Apple's CEO and CFO about "usage" and "ecosystem"), but in practical terms, the iPhone home screen from 2013 doesn't look much different from the iPhone home screen from 2007.
Apple's mobile OS consists of a grid of static icons, while other OSes have widgets, live wallpaper, tiles, and yes, even chat heads. Apple has had the same boring, static icons for six years.
Take a look at Apple's once vaunted music products. iTunes should be taken out back and shot, and I haven't used Apple's music app since installing the Spotify and SiriusXM apps. And Twitter music makes the Music app look prehistoric. Apple staunchly ignored music subscription and streaming services, and now companies like Spotify and Rdio are eating its lunch.
Look at chat. While iMessage is a step in the right direction, it suffers from reliability problems and is unnecessarily complex to set up. Meanwhile, apps like WhatsApp Messenger, Facebook Messenger, Kik Messenger, Viber, and Wickr make Apple look like your grandfather's messaging app.
Apple should have owned the mobile OS, music, and messaging, but it was too busy counting its money and resting on its laurels.
Moving its iPhone and iPad announcements back to "fall" seems to confirm earlier rumors that iOS 7 was delayed, but it could be a net positive for the company — if it uses the time to completely overhaul and modernize iOS and its mobile hardware. And I'm not talking about a new "flatter" look from Johnny Ive and being 1mm thinner.
Apple needs to innovate again, and bring back the excitement that made people want the iPhone in the first place.
Pushing back its mobile hardware to later in the year would allow Apple to showcase iOS 7 to developers at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (presumably in June). This will give developers all summer to ramp their apps to take advantage of iOS's new features.
Apple needs to completely overhaul iOS with features like a live and completely customizable desktop (with widgets, menubarlets, and lock screenlets), customizable default apps (because Apple has also fallen behind in Maps, Safari, Mail, and Calendar, too) and third party keyboards (which Apple can vet to address the security implications). Everything needs to work in landscape and upside-down mode, too.
Once iOS 7 is given to developers this summer, Apple needs to redouble its efforts on mobile hardware and explore features like NFC, inductive charging, and better cameras and batteries. It also needs to include Retina displays in every mobile product (I'm looking at you, iPad mini). And if people want a five-inch smartphone, make a five inch iPhone. Why is Apple just giving away this market to Samsung/Google?
And it's time for Apple to address payments. Apple has sold almost 600 million iOS devices, and I'm tired of Apple claiming that that mobile payments are in their "infancy". That's nonsense. As I mentioned in August and September 2012, Apple could singlehandedly move mobile payments into adulthood by investing in Passbook, NFC, and other frictionless payment technologies and own the space! Or will it let Passbook wither and die like music and messaging?
In short, I'm OK with Apple pushing its new mobile offerings to the fall to make a bonafide effort to stay competitive. Frankly, it needs to. If Apple doesn't make some significant moves with mobile in 2013 it will give away even more ground to Samsung and Google, and will become the phone that your parents use, while business, professional, and power users defect to devices and platforms that work the way they want them to.
Apple is at a crossroads, and it needs to step up or step aside, and I hope that it's using the extra time wisely.