It couldn’t have been a huge surprise this week when it was announced that Steve “I don’t like buttons, Blu-ray, or optical drives” Jobs is stepping down as Apple’s CEO. The man has undergone cancer surgery and a liver transplant in the last decade; the latter operation is even more impressive when you consider how difficult it is to swap parts in a Mac.
The appropriate tributes and critiques have started to make the rounds, the media ink flowing around what is perceived to be the next phase of Apple’s existence as a consumer electronics company.
The question being batted around by the various pundit cats is, has Apple absorbed enough of Steve Jobs marketing and strategic moo to continue its meteoric success through this decade and beyond?
Apple is not a perfect company by any measurement. They have gotten away with the sort of industry bullying that Microsoft was cheerfully thrown under the bus for last decade. But, under Jobs’s captaincy, Apple has become one of the biggest and most valuable companies in America. It has done so by wrapping technology around popular media in such a way that the technology both compliments and defers to the content.
Our digital lives revolve around music, videos, photos, apps, and communication with our families and respective social tribes. The Apple hardware ecosystem of computers, tablets, and portable devices combined with its tightly controlled operating systems and web services has, with a few missteps along the way, given the company a thorough and compelling consumer platform that enables people to do what they want to do with their digital possessions.
That said, the annual renewal cycle on its hardware and software products is starting to show some strain on Apple’s face. This type of enthusiastic release schedule made sense over a decade ago when technological advances were revolutionary enough to warrant new devices and software every twelve months or so. But, the gigahertz race is over, and the computing revolution has mellowed into evolution over the last few years. There is still innovation taking place, but the pace and level of change has slowed.
Unfortunately, the idiot bleating of the Wall Street sheep compels companies like Apple to keep churning out new versions of everything every four fiscal quarters, whether it is warranted or not. And so we have new products with “brilliant new features” that are often nothing more than adaptations or variations of previous functionality. It’s the same crap the auto industry has been shovelling for over a century, and as is often the case with change for the sake of change, the end result is a step backwards, not forwards.
The post-Jobs Apple will have to start thinking about how to best address the issue of having to introduce new miracles every year, and how much longer the greater consumer market is going to follow along (particularly with the diminishing Jobs reality-distortion field out front and centre) before Apple’s customers become saturated and resistant to the siren call of the annual upgrade.