Cupertino’s favorite computer company just turned 40-years old this year and continues to be mired in the classic ‘Apple is doomed‘ meme and suffers again from the ‘not on Steve Jobs‘ watch syndrome.
What’s wrong with Apple?
In summary, and it should be obvious to anyone who follows Apple with passion or criticism, the company is getting old, set in its ways, and less capable of dramatic change than just a decade or so ago.
Think about the changes and risks Steve Jobs implemented at Apple in the first five years after his return. Jobs sliced and diced the entire Mac product line. He opened retail stores. He launched the iPod and iTunes Music Store. These were monumental risks and dramatic changes to the company that was once synonymous with the Mac.
Now, compare those first five years with the past five years since Steve Jobs died. What has Apple done? Thanks to the iPhone, the iPad, and the Mac, Apple became the world’s most valuable company and raked in hundreds of billions in profits while buying back stock, issuing dividends, and taking on tens of billions in debt.
What about new products?
That’s about it.
Everything else seemingly new merely became an iteration of a previous theme. Watch is a great product, but not in the vein of iPhone, iPad, or the Mac. Instead of taking a risk and working to put a new dent in the technology universe, Apple gives every indication of becoming middle aged; a little slower to react, a little softer around the middle, more comfortable with the status quo, less willing to venture much beyond the traditionally beaten path.
As examples, witness how slowly Apple’s executives implemented Apple Music despite the obvious trend toward streaming music subscriptions. Note the historic large gaps between Mac upgrades. Note the doubling down on professional level iPads that haven’t expanded the market. Note that competitors have better smartphone screens, longer battery life, and more features. Indeed, every major Apple product suffers from dropping sales in the face of blistering competition.
What’s going on?
Apple CEO Tim Cook is 56. So is marketing veep Phil Schiller. Both have been members of Apple’s senior team for nearly 20 years. Members of the team– along with Steve Jobs– who took pride in saying no to new product ideas for most of that period (to keep focused on the best), all the while generating rapid growth, rising revenue, and incredible profits the likes of which no technology company– not even Microsoft– has ever seen.
What have you done for me lately?
According to science, Apple has peaked. The science comes from an article by Christopher Ingraham in The Washington Post.
New data from an economist in the Netherlands may make you feel great or terrible about your life, depending on how old you are… If you take all 221 painters, 100 classical composers and 90 Nobel Prize-winning authors that Franses has studied, and you plot the ages when they produced their most important works
Painters, composers, and Nobel Prize-winning authors do not a modern technology company make, but you’ll get the idea. We do our best work by about 40-ish, but from then on it’s a slow ride down hill.
Artists, writers and musicians peaked most often in their 30s. But the average peak age across the entire dataset is 42.
The analysis is not a good apples to Apple comparison, but put another way, one could argue that Apple’s best days may have been the period during Jobs’ second coming, circa 1997-2010.
Apple is middled aged now. That’s boring and might explain why the company has not put new dents in the universe since Jobs died.