If there’s one negative theme that follows Apple more than anything, it’s the odd expectation that it should be pumping out some kind of world-changing, breakthrough product every four years or so. Otherwise, the company is hosed.
While Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other rivals are pumping out futuristic product categories and products ranging from speakers infused with artificial intelligence to autonomous drones that beam the internet from the sky, Apple’s product portfolio feels stuck in the present.
But there’s something critics often miss. Unlike some of its rivals, Apple is allergic to discussing its future plans until it feels confident they’re polished enough to be shown in a well orchestrated product unveiling.
That philosophy was perfectly illustrated in a recent interview Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue gave to Fast Company. And it’s a thinly veiled jab at Apple’s rivals that constantly release half-baked technologies.
Here’s Cue, emphasis ours:
We don’t want to tell the world what we want to solve, what we’re trying to solve. Why? Because we haven’t solved it. Other than trying to make ourselves look cool or good, what’s the purpose of that? I don’t understand that part of it. So, yeah, there are a bunch of things we’re working on that we’d like to solve — some we’ve been working on for years and we haven’t solved, for that matter. I don’t feel like we should be tooting our own horns that we’re trying to solve that problem, when we haven’t really solved it.
So it may seem like Apple is only modestly iterating on iPhones, iPads, and Macs every year, but behind the scenes it’s working on a lot of other “problems” as well. We just won’t see the results of that work until Apple believes it’s ready.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen a string of headline-grabbing technologies from other companies this year that hold little promise, don’t work well, or have no clear direction.
Facebook’s Oculus VR headset is great for hardcore gamers willing to spend $1,000 or more on a high-end PC, but the company has been fuzzy about what it can do next with the technology. Social networking? Movies? Shopping? It’s all of the above! Or some of the above. Who knows?
Chatbots were another buzzy technology trumpeted by Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and others this spring under the unproven assumption people would rather text with a computer to book a flight or buy flowers. So far, those experiments are off to a rocky start.
And finally, there’s AI, which following Google’s I/O conference in June caused some to question Apple’s longevity if it doesn’t catch up in the space. (I later reported that Apple is sitting on some really impressive AI tech.) But it’s way too early for any one company to claim it’s winning the space or to prove that AI has fundamentally changed how we use technology.
Cue’s comments were a jab at all the half-baked tech we’ve seen Apple’s rivals introduce over the years, from Google Glass to the Amazon Fire Phone.
Meanwhile, you’d be insane to think Apple’s not noodling with everything from augmented reality to driverless cars in its R&D labs.
In fact, Apple’s R&D spending has never been higher, and as independent analyst Neil Cybart wrote a few months ago, that spending hints at a huge pivot coming for the company, likely in transportation.
In Cue’s words, so much of what we’ve seen from Apple’s competitors just look “cool or good.” Apple waits until its cool stuff actually solves a problem before releasing it.
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