Apple Still Hungry, but No Longer Foolish

An early Apple designer looks at the company's directions today and wonders: Where's the next big idea?

  • Share
  • Read Later

Today, Apple introduced another series of new products across its lineup. But just being “better, thinner and lighter” isn’t what the world was used to under Steve Jobs. As an early Apple designer who worked closely with Steve, developing the Snow White design language that shaped all Apple products from 1984 to 1990, one thing is clear to me about the company today. To put it in the terms of Steve’s famous commencement address, in which he advised young people to “Stay hungry, stay foolish”: Apple may still be hungry, but it’s no longer foolish.

The tradition of beautiful, simple design is still alive at Apple. But even the world’s best design cannot hide that the company already has fallen back toward a marketing-driven strategy, not an innovation-driven one. What we’ve seen from Apple since Steve Jobs passed away implies that Apple largely may be done innovating in any groundbreaking fashion. It’s all been refinement since then.

The main problem for Apple is that all its products (hardware and software) are now in a mature industry cycle. With Sony, Philips and music-content owners asleep at the wheel 15 years ago, Apple was able to integrate and exponentially improve the experience of people listening to digital music and buying titles online: the iPod and iTunes caught the entire industry by surprise. Mobile phones were in a similar place before Apple came out with the iPhone. And as the iPad actually had been conceptualized before the iPhone, Apple was able to create two totally new market and business segments in the 2000s. They still own a huge share of all of these product categories. That in itself is a historic achievement.

But history has its lessons. Deep innovation takes decades. When Steve and I worked on the Snow White project starting in 1982, we decided to project the future of Apple well into the future, paying no heed to what might be technologically feasible in five, 10, even 20 years. We wanted to envision the far-off future, and imagine how people would use futuristic products. In retrospect, many of the things Apple ultimately created — its true, industry-changing innovations such as the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and even the MacBook Air — were all in development in one form or another all those 30 years ago.

Major technological developments needed to take place before these far-out ideas could be executed (quantum leaps in storage in processing, the Internet, color displays, longer-lasting batteries), but the germs of those ideas were there. In fact, the only idea from our dreaming that has yet to come to pass is the reinvention of television — something that many of us hope Apple has in its back pocket.

But, so far, there has been no sign of a new, world-beating innovation. Apple has to create a new category, or it will sink into normality — still excellent, mind you, but not industry changing. The signals I am reading indicate that Apple still is hungry, but no longer foolish in the spirit of Steve Jobs.

As someone who loves Apple deeply, I would hate to see it drift down the path that Sony did after its two visionary founders, Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita, retired and left us. But with all due respect to Apple’s current leadership, they seem to be missing a radical who will live, think, and sweat “the next big thing” — someone unshackled from business as usual.

Innovation is slow and requires long-term engagement. Apple could still surprise us in three to five years with a big project it’s been cooking up, far from prying eyes. But today wasn’t that day. As an Apple fan, I’m keeping the foolish hope alive.

Esslinger is the founder of Frog design. His book, Keep it Simple: The Early Design Years of Apple, will be published by Arnoldsche Verlagsanstalt in January.

29 comments
JessiDarko
JessiDarko

The "Apple isn't innovative" whine is hilarious-- people said the same thing RIGHT AFTER the iPhone was introduced.  They said it about the iPad too- claiming it was "just a big iPod touch"... and let's not forget they said it about the iPod too. 

It's asinine-- when Apple introduces major new categories, such as the smartphone and the tablet, people complain they aren't innovative.  When a few months pass without Apple introducing a new category, people complain they aren't innovative.

I think you're not innovative.  You don't get to complain until you actually do something original... and "closer to eggshell then beige" isn't exactly innovation in my book, and that was 30 years ago!

Jesus.

The Mac Pro is not innovative?  It's a complete rearchitecting of the desktop computer. 

Plus, Apple has already created a major new category:  The tablet.  Apple is seriously innovating in the tablet space- just releasing two new products that put them another couple years ahead of the competition.

The Post PC Era is going to be ruled by tablets, and "tablets" as a category barely exists: The correct description of the category is "iPads".  Nobody is even close!  (Sure, amazon and others keep pushing out crap, and they chase specs to try and beat apple, but they never chase performance where it really matters- how well it works, how long the battery lasts, how light it is, etc.)   They're just putting out cheap crap for fools, thinking that cheap crap for fools worked for the desktop era, so it might work here.

Major new industries don't come along every couple years.  In the past 6 years, Apple has created two: The Smartphone, and the Tablet.   That's one every 3 years.... but if you look at the past 15 years, Apple has created only 3 new categories (adding the iPod.)   Every 5 years is a more typical cycle.

Steve Jobs hasn't been dead 5 years and the iPad was only a couple years ago... so we've got a lot of time before people can start whining that Apple isn't innovative.

Oh, wait, they were saying these same things even when Apple was introducing the iPhone and the iPad.

TimCaldwell
TimCaldwell

Hungry, but NOT foolish?

Apple has always been and will always be foolish.

In the 80's it was the Apple and the MAC.

They were more interested in their hardware than their software.

Microsoft ate their lunch and IBM (including all compatibles to date) ate their dinner and desert!

Proprietary hardware killed the Apple and the Mac, even Hacitoshes couldn't save them.

Proprietary translates to expensive.

The big thing being software, not hardware.

Everyone was making hardware, but only a few were making software to run the hardware.

So little steve appleseed got the jump on everyone else.

He is a marketing genius, no doubt.

But, he and the company has made the same mistake.

Again, it's not the hardware, it's the software.

iOS and Android are both gaining market share, but Android is gaining market share while taking market share from apple and blackberry.

Android came from out in left field and way, way, way behind and now, to date (2013), they have 13% more market share than iOS and they are the #1 mobile OS.

In 10 years the iPhone will be doing the same thing the Macintosh was doing by being a fairly efficient door stop.

Thank you apple for leading us all into a cooler future, we await your next "big thing" so that a new industry can pop up, take control and lead the way where you left off with your proprietary mindedness.

If history is any gauge, the Next "big thing" you have will look for all intents and purposes like a really good idea, but it will flop miserably and expensively.

I guess we will all have to wait for the next Next "big thing".

Herein begins the sacred chant to Apple:

And now, the end is here 

And so I face the final curtain 

My friend, I'll say it clear 

I'll state my case, of which I'm certain 

I've lived a life that's full 

I traveled each and ev'ry highway 

And more, much more than this, I did it my way 

...you know the rest.


brabius
brabius

Jobs was clearly a genius in collecting different inventions and putting them together. He created (not invented) something useful to all people non-tech oriented. Take the tablets. Fujitsu-Siemens was the leader in tablets, but sells were ridiculous. Jobs took the iOS, took a cool design, took the finest touchscreen and he made iPod, then iPhone, then iPad. Simply put, he had IDEAS. He was able to put things together in a smart friendly stylish package in a way NO ONE BEFORE THOUGHT. Now, after his death, these people on Apple's command ... they are just refining the same products over and over. No special IDEAS like an iWatch or in iTV

stefstef
stefstef

this steve jobs bla bla really gets on ones nerves. jobs wasnt innovative. he had a clear mind and was self confident - more than usual. he just took his ideas, let apple make some good products from it and the people were ready to buy it. afterwards some wise man came and say: he innovated these product segments. he just invented them and showed consumers what technic can be good for.

swiftouch
swiftouch

Apple showed how far they wanted to go with their innovations. The same lengths they went with their desktop OS. ...as far as their own hardware would take them.

And so it is. A 3 year head start to dominate the mobile OS industry. What did they do? Gave a giant middle finger to every hardware maker on the planet. Enter Android. Now they dominate the world.

"WE ARE TOO GOOD FOR YOU!", says apple.

Why aren't investors crying foul? If I was an apple investor knowing they are taking the EXACT same path they did with microsoft, I would be livid.

It's the hardware makers that are the real innovators.

With apples new iphone, the only "innovation" was a touch sensor. As if thats NEVER been tried before. Whatever. Its a waste of money.

Apple is full of fools at the top. Steve Jobs innovated at the right time. Simply put. That's all he did. But it wasn't like someone would have finally pushed out a device that was a phone AND an music player. Plenty of companies tried it before Apple. It wasn't until apple simplified the interface, that it caught on.

Apple will die off just like it did before. They can't accept OPEN. Such as sharing safari, sharing iMessage, sharing Facetime. No they are the company of a closed ecosystem.

ndnv631
ndnv631

Apple has no display or camera tech and they rely on Sony for their photo sensor. they rely on television maker like Samsung, Sony and LG for their display. Since then they switched to third tier display maker because those display maker has increased the price on their premium display. Cheap low quality display is what they used in the Ipad Air and mini. The Camera on their latest tablets is the same 5 megapixel found in Ipad 3 and 4 while everybody else has an 8 megapixel cam.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

In all honesty, Apple never really innovated in the first place.  With very few exceptions, their tech was mostly off-the-shelf.  What was different about them was the design and that's not innovation.  That's marketing.  It's wrapping things up in a new-looking package and selling the packaging as "hip and cool" by charging 30-80% more for what you could get in something less "stylish".

Jobs sold that idea, though.  He wasn't an innovator.  He was a marketing genius.  Maybe the way it was marketed could be called innovative since they convinced those with little expertise or aptitude for these devices to buy into their ecosystem.  But the devices themselves weren't all that innovative.

The hype machine pioneered by Jobs is now formulaic.  It's hard to say how, or if, he would have altered Apple's marketing, but I do know he would not have let iOS 6 out the door until it had a decisive edge on (or at least parity with) competing products. (the iMLOST map application being the most notorious of them).  Nor would he have allowed Apple to cheapen the brand image with the 5c.  Much of the psychology behind selling expensive products to those with sub-average technological understand or aptitude is the snob factor involved with creating the illusion that they have a superior experience because they have an Apple, and that it's worth the price.  What Apple did with the 5c was tell all of their previous users that they overpaid for what they got.

Not smart.

When you build a house of light and play and happiness, the last thing your customers want to see is someone getting into that house at a considerably lower price.  The illusion shatters.  Jobs would NEVER have made that mistake.

So in the end, innovation was never the driving force behind Apple.  The ILLUSION of innovation - burying the many mistakes and always promoting the "experience" - is what they had, all thanks to Jobs' genius.  When he died, he took their ability to maintain the illusion with him and for three years, they've coasted on reputation alone.  They either need a new Jobs who knows how to make people believe in over-priced fairy tales or they need to really create something innovative and totally new.

I don't see them doing either.  Were I an Apple investor, I'd be looking for other investments right about now.

Polymath3
Polymath3

Here is the new concept: the all electronic school where a desktop is really a desktop. Students sit down at a desk, the top of which is a touch screen computer. The textbooks are all electronic, always updatable. Math calculations can be done with stylus and convert to print. Practice and tests both can automatically scale up or down in difficulty to match the ability of individual students. Multiple sources can be compared and contrasted at one time. E-tests are automatically graded and entered into an electronic gradebook.  These desktops are connected by wi-fi or Bluetooth to the teacher's computer, which is networked to the school's and the district's systems. Homework is done on an indestructible tablet which will not break if thrown against a wall or run over by the school bus and which can survive immersion in water and fire. There is no library full of paper books. Library books are just downloaded to the tablet by the school's server. No need to pay for a librarian or maintain the archive of physical books. Packaging this entire system and selling it to school districts would net hundreds of billions of dollars.

JessiDarko
JessiDarko

@TimCaldwell Your argument rests on the assertion that Android has more market share.  This is not the case.  Android has not sold more than 100M devices worldwide, While Apple is close to selling a billion. 

Think I'm wrong?  Find some actual sales numbers for android devices.  There aren't any.  Meanwhile, Apple reports actual sales every quarter to the SEC under penalty of perjury.

The entire "android is winning" spin is BS put out by PR agencies (pretending to be "analysts") and are simply making up numbers.

Show audited actual sales, or recognize you haven no data to support the claim.  (and no "activations" are also a made up number, if you measured iPhone "sales" the way google measures "activations" then Apple would have sold 6-7X as many phones as android.)

JessiDarko
JessiDarko

@brabius LOL.  You think there was nothing innovative in the smartphone because Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone.  So the iPhone is "just packaging". 

The desperation to try and pretend like Apple never invented anything is really an admission that you recognize they are far more innovative than everyone else. Otherwise, why try to pretend otherwise?

JessiDarko
JessiDarko

@stefstef A lot of patents disagree.   It's sad how desperate people are to pretend like Apple never invented anything.

JessiDarko
JessiDarko

@swiftouch Android doesn't dominate, Apple dominates.  Android sales are pitiful, which is why they won't report them.

It's sad how those who are either technologically ignorant or opposed to innovation like to pretend like Apple never invented anything. 

Yeah, nothing new in the iPhone, cause we all know it was Bell that invented the phone!

brabius
brabius

@swiftouch I guess the old times of OPENvsCLOSED environment, are coming to an end. Prices are leveled. Take Ubuntu, for istance, what's the reason nowday of having a desktop with Ubuntu? Applications prices are dropping everyday more. Windows or Mac are sophisticated yet friendly. I know a tech guy would never consider these aspects, but the ordinary home computer user, like a mom, a butcher, a taxi driver, they just want something that works with no complications, easy and intuitive. That's the point.

JessiDarko
JessiDarko

@ndnv631 LOL!  "Everybody else" is busy shoving cheap crappy 1080P displays in there and proclaiming 400 ppi, when you can't even see beyond 300ppi.   Meanwhile, Apple produces very high quality retina displays, and you pretend like they are low quality.... as if you think you'll get away without being called on it.

We're not as stupid as you think they are.

JessiDarko
JessiDarko

@DeweySayenoff Yeah, the iPhone was just "off the shelf" like Bell made.

Really, you must think people are stupid.

Regular_Guy
Regular_Guy

@DeweySayenoff I'd say you are right on Dewey.  That is a pretty good assessment. 

Mr.357
Mr.357

@DeweySayenoff I'd say the ipod and having an "app store" for your smart phone revolutionized music and mobile tech.

Trebuchet
Trebuchet

@Polymath3  

Sounds.....great?

But why not have the tablet that the students are carrying around anyway be their mobile client, and the desk be a plug in for the tablet that expands the tablet to a larger screen and keyboard, stylus, etc.

And the tablet would just be a client.  Everything the student did would be on a cloud server farm so that even if the tablet gets lost or broken or whatever, the student just logs on as themselves on any other tablet and they are back in business?

cares
cares

@Polymath3 LOL!!! Since when does the school system have hundreds of billions of dollars?! What parallel universe are we talking about??? And if it did, putting more technology in schools is not the answer, it would have to go to fixing a massively broken system and actually paying teachers. Budgets do include fancy new technology, like Smartboards, that cost tens of thousands of dollars and are cute but utterly unnecessary. Meanwhile, different generations of teachers will struggle with learning how to use it on top of their other endless responsibilities they are underpaid for (nonetheless an entirely wired school with all the technology of which you speak), and by the time they learn it it is already outdated and in need of replacing. Not to mention, if they did learn the technology there is a difference between learning the basics of a tool and learning how to build innovation out of it that warrants its purchase and maximizes its benefits. In other words, money for the technology and not the teacher training, so any learning benefits would likely be minimal. Then, no schools are created equal, which is why you get a high-tech school in Silicon Valley and a run down school in the Bronx struggling to get a few iPads, this would still be the case with your plan. All ideas are nice in theory, then comes that whole reality check part. It's a sad statement when we talk about education in the context of how much money a corporation can get out of it, and not what learning benefits to students would occur.

tkulaga
tkulaga

@Polymath3 Some Florida schools use no printed books and other materials. Printed books etc. were replaced by laptops a couple years ago.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@Polymath3 I can think of about fifteen ways your idea won't work, not the least of which is the issue of waterproofing them (some kids have trouble holding their water, or their lattes).  The power costs for the schools wold be prohibitive.  Cabling just to power them would be ridiculous and require massive amounts of funding to implement.  Service and maintenance...  OMG...  talk about a capital investment there.  How do you prevent hacking them?  Or simple vandalism?  I can't count the number of desks with initials or pornographic images carved into them that I've sat at in schools over the years.  Kids have tablets.  Not one is indestructible and electronics can not be made to be so.  It's a law of physics thing.

And what's the cost of these things?  And the warranties?  Not only is it a lose-lose for the districts, it's a major margin issue to provide a cost-effective product to the end user and still be able to make money on it.

Not to mention, there's no demand for it at all.

When was the last time you actually went to classes at any institute of public teaching?

In order to sell ANYTHING, there must be either a way to create a strong interest in it or fulfill a REAL existing demand for it.  Google Glass isn't going to be a high demand item, despite its hype.  The creepy factor is just too high (and unless they're like a hundred bucks each, their cost versus their utility is ridiculous) and there's really no demand for it.  Smartwatches these days are merely ventriloquist's dummies for smartphones - one more mostly pointless electronic gadget to carry around, remember to recharge, mess with and curse at that won't really do much for you unless your cell phone is with you.

The next big thing will replace an existing device with something more convenient, more discrete, more functional and more stylish.  (This is why it ain't gonna be Google Glass.)  Its cost will be favorable to appeal to more than just "early adopters".  It will demonstrably make life better for people.

As to what it will actually be, I have some ideas, but no certainty.  I just know what qualities it has to have to be popular enough to fuel "the next big thing".  But were I to guess, I'd say it would involve a more functional, life-like and interactive AI since computer user interfaces haven't changed significantly in 50 years.  It fulfills all of the qualities the next big thing needs to have.  But there are other things that might do it, too.  I know that Ai's are coming.  They're just too primitive to be useful yet.

That was a swing and a miss for you, but keep trying.  New things aren't born isolated and ready like a precious child.  They arise Phoenix-like from the bitter ashes of many previous failures.

TimCaldwell
TimCaldwell

@JessiDarko

I'm not sure what reality you live in, it certainly isn't the same one I live in with facts and numbers and cross-checked information and cross-cross-checked information and data.

Everyone bears out the fact that Andriod is beating iOS.  Even Apple.

Take note, I'm not saying iPhone (hardware) isn't selling well, I'm saying devices (phones, tablets, etc) with android in them are rocking the planet.

Forbes was especially keen to indicate that 2014 may be an interesting year for Apple.  They seem to hope that volume of devices aren't the deciding factor.  Hmmm, just have to look to the history book for the answer to that one.  Just another brick holding the door.  I personally don't care about Apple one way or the other.   As a software engineer, Apple has not effect, has never had an effect and will never have an effect on my life.  I work for a very large mult-national corporation that has some iPhones on the manufacturing floors, but these are going away and everything is moving to Android.  Phones and tablets.  Why?  Easier, cheaper and more control over the applications that we will be developing. Just like the Apple and Mac of old.
I think this quote is apropos, "If you don't learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it."

http://techcrunch.com/2013/08/07/android-nears-80-market-share-in-global-smartphone-shipments-as-ios-and-blackberry-share-slides-per-idc/

http://techland.time.com/2013/04/16/ios-vs-android/

Apple stats....

http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/10/05/data-bites-dogma-apples-ios-ate-up-android-blackberry-us-market-share-losses-this-summer

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ewanspence/2013/10/22/apples-big-decision-of-margin-or-market-share-drives-strategy/


JessiDarko
JessiDarko

@brabius @swiftouch Yes, and android doesn't "just work", nor does Ubuntu, nor does Windows. 

This is where Apple excels, and it's not easy.  It's really easy for people to pretend like these other products are just as good.... but they aren't.  This is why Android and Surface sales are in the toilet.

ndnv631
ndnv631

Look at you tube video with the Iphone 5 and Iphone 5S display side by side or even take your iphone 5 into the Apple store and compare it with the Iphone 5S yourself. The Iphone 5S has a lower contrast ratio, lower brightness, and the white point is off compare to the iphone 5. that's proof that they used cheap display and charge you the same price

Trebuchet
Trebuchet

@Mr.357   

I think MP3.com - rest in peace - revolutionized music.

And there were plenty of Mp3 players that preceded the iPod.  Of course, most of them had the draw back that they weren't apple products - my first MP3 player had expandable memory and a voice recorder and an FM tuner - all things still not available on the iPod, but it wasn't, you know, white. 

Trebuchet
Trebuchet

@DeweySayenoff  

Nope.  Robotics.

AI is already here, but it is not used for entertainment.  Most of what you get for service calls these days is AI enhanced.  You don't really think that person making minimum wage answering the phone has any idea how to fix your iPad, do you?

No.

Robotics will be stalled for awhile because everyone so far thinks that the robots should be unitary - all the mechanics and the smarts should be in one package.  When you think about it, if you have a robot that is going to only live in your house, the mechanical device could be one unit and all the intelligence would just be software on one of your home computers that would direct the mechanical device through your wifi in your house.

A really useful robotic device would not only be a mobile unit or group of mobile units, but would also be the house itself.  And the Artificial Intelligence would be part of the overall software suite.  You could add that as it progressed without having to alter the mechanical parts at all.

That is the next big thing.

Mr.357
Mr.357

@Trebuchet  Lol, I guess b/c it was white that made all the difference.   The problem with the firs MP3 players was probably due more to the fact that they were ahead of their time and much of the masses didn't have the resources to enjoy what they offered. The look of a product definitely helps in it selling but isn't the main thing that drives consumers to the store.  We're talking MP3 players, not cars.  I highly doubt the majority of people still listen to FM stations.  It would seem better to add satellite radio instead.  Expanded memory would be a plus, but, to the masses it would/could seem like a hassle for them.  People like things they can pull out of the box and begin using with as much ease as possible, another reason I'm sure why ipod and iphones took off the way they did.