Like everyone else, I’m already bored of the new products Apple is expected to launch on September 10th.
Based on the videos, images, and information that have already leaked about Apple’s upcoming launch, the only remaining question seems to be what price Apple is going to sell the cheaper iPhone for.
Yes, it’s come to that. The only buzz and excitement about Apple’s first real product launch in almost a year concerns the price of one of the new products–a new product that most people in the United States won’t even be interested in buying, because the U.S. market has carrier subsidies that already make older iPhones cheap or even “free.”
So, like everyone else, I’ve caught myself bemoaning Apple’s “lack of innovation” in recent years.
But the truth is that we’re all just spoiled.
We all got used to a short burst of amazingly fast Apple innovation at the end of the Steve Jobs years–the launch of the Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad product categories–and assumed that Apple would continue to launch massive new product categories at this rate forever.
We had no real right to think that. Apple’s history hadn’t trained us to think that. But when remarkable innovation comes to seem like normal behaviour, you get used to it. And you expect it to continue. Which, not surprisingly, it hasn’t. Because it was an anomaly.
The fact is that Apple has really only released 4 new products in the past 12 years. And one of them, as Apple is fond of pointing out, is still mostly a “hobby.”
What are these products?
* The iPod
* The iPhone
* Apple TV
* The iPad
Yes, there have been many interim product launches, in which Apple has released updated and innovated versions of these products, but the basic products are still the same. And when people complain about Apple’s “lack of innovation” in recent years, they’re not referring to product evolutions and updates. They’re referring to totally new product categories.
(Apple has also obviously released a whole lot of new Macs and software updates over the past couple of decades. But all those, as cool and innovative as they are, are just updated versions of the same personal computers and laptops and software that Apple has been making for 30 years. So those don’t satisfy people’s hunger for “innovation,” either.)
What Apple fans really want is for Apple to give birth to another whole new product category.
There are two big candidates for this new category, both of which appear to be in some stage of production:
* The iWatch
* The iTV
Some analysts are clinging to the hope that Apple will still pull the TV rabbit out of the hat before the end of this year. But the same analysts thought that Apple would do the same thing last year, and, so far, there have been few signs that Apple will actually do that.
(Earlier this year, I floated the theory that Apple originally intended to launch the TV at the end of last year but that something went wrong. That still seems plausible to me. There just seems to have been too long a gap between product announcements of any kind for Apple to have planned such a vacuum. But maybe my expectations, too, have just been warped by the big new products launched in the late Steve Jobs years.)
The iWatch, meanwhile, appears to be a 2014 or 2015 product category.
If you step back and look at Apple’s history over the past 10-15 years, you realise quickly that it is only now that the company is getting “due” to release a major new product line. It has been just over three years since the company launched the iPad. And even if you include Apple TV as a major product line, three years is about the average gap between Apple’s major product introductions in the past decade.
Until 2001, Apple basically only made Macs.
Then it launched the iPod.
Fully five years later, in 2006, Apple launched Apple TV.
Then, a year later, in 2007, it launched the iPhone (which quickly supplanted the iPod)
Then, three years later, in 2010, Apple launched the iPad.
Four new products in 12 years, an average of one every three years.
Yes, the burst of new product categories from 2006 to 2010 spoiled us and trained us to think that, every year or two, Apple would unveil some massive new category and immediately dominate it.
And, yes, in the last couple of years, Apple has lost its edge in not only its existing product categories and pricing–some smartphones and tablets are considered better than Apple’s iPhones and iPads, and many are cheaper–but allowed other companies like Samsung to beat it to market with new product categories. (Samsung is expected to launch its own iWatch in a couple of weeks).
But based on its average time between major product launches in the last decade, Apple is only now becoming “due” to launch a new one.
Disclosure: I own Apple stock.