After all, so say the critics and pundits, Steve Jobs was the legendary visionary innovator who single-handedly disrupted industry after industry, but Apple today is merely a fading shadow of its former self. Really? Let’s take a look at Apple’s disruptive innovations.
Most of Apple’s critics– technology pundits, Wall Street analysts, owners of competing products– acknowledge Apple’s major successes and the impact they’ve had on the technology industry.
The original Apple, the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad are high on their lists of Apple induced, industry-changing innovations.
Apple deserves some applause for each, of course, but remember that many of those same critics and pundit charlatans were the first to vilify each of the company’s major innovations.
In the argument that Apple hasn’t innovated since Steve Jobs died critics want to have their cake and eat it, too.
Sorry, we’re on to your game, critics. You were among the crowd who laughed at the Mac, who sneered at the iPod, who lampooned the iPhone, and dismissed the iPad as nothing more than a big iPhone without the phone.
Now you’re upset because Apple doesn’t innovate anymore? Gimme a break. Your credibility is devoid of value. So, let’s take a look at two kinds of technology disruptions, then count the score again to see how Apple fares.
Disruptive Innovation vs. Iterative Improvements
Looking back through Apple’s history it’s difficult even for critical charlatans not to acknowledge that Apple’s influence upon consumer technology has been substantial.
Apple II, Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad have all been notable disruptions to stagnant industry segments. In between those disruptions, Apple has defined itself this century as the king of iterative improvements; constantly refining each product and enhancing the user experience.
As the sub-title states, innovation comes in multiple flavors, but with Apple, the disruptions go beyond the obvious cited by critics (Mac, iPhone, iPad). More than most technology companies, Apple does both.
For example, the iPod is credited with changing the music industry, but all the device really did was demolish the fragmented portable music player industry.
How so? Leveraged innovations. Apple coupled the iPod with the iTunes app, the iTunes Music Store, and that’s what brought Apple’s dominance of the music and media retail business.
Protecting, Building, and Buildings
One could easily argue that the iPhone was a merely a logical extension of the iPod designed to both protect Apple’s profitable portable music player business, and build a platform for the obvious– music and movies would find a home on smartphones.
Apple leveraged iTunes to launch the iPhone, which begat the iPad. Prior to those major disruptions, Apple revamped the way computers and accessories were displayed and purchased with the Apple Store. Again, critics lambasted Apple’s decision to own their own retail outlets, but who’s laughing now?
Microsoft’s stores copy Apple Stores in everything from location to display. Samsung and Microsoft both copied Apple’s store-within-a-store at Best Buy. Why? Because Apple’s retail efforts were growing, successful, and highly profitable, while typical PC stores were going out of business, and cell phone company retail stores provided customers with a notably horrible experience (compared to buying an iPhone at an Apple Store).
Not only did Apple create a disruptive innovation in retail, it also changed the retail process for the customer; buying products, learning to use products, and customer service.
Who talks about those disruptive innovations? Not Apple’s legion of facts deprived critics.
Integrated, Leveraged Disruptions
Go down the list. Where and how does Apple compare to competitor’s products and ecosystem– Google, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia, BlackBerry, Samsung, even Amazon?
Google’s ecosystem consists of apps and ads. Hardware is sold online and customer service is practically non-existent. The Motorola purchase put Google in the competitive hardware game with Moto X, but sales remain surprisingly anemic compared to iPhone after an investment in Android which tops $20-billion.
In an act of desperation, Microsoft bought Nokia’s manufacturing business to become more like Apple– controlling hardware, software, retail, and the ecosystem. Thus far, even copying Apple tit-for-tat has left Microsoft licking financial wounds to the tune of nearly $20-billion. Since the iPhone, Apple has pocketed over $150-billion in profits.
Today, Nokia and BlackBerry are technology corpses. Meanwhile, Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, has bamboozled Wall Street into thinking he’s the next Steve Jobs– but without all the profits and industry changing products of Jobs heritage. Think about it. What has Amazon done that is disruptive innovation? Nothing. The company makes very little if any profit on growing revenue, yet has more online competitors than ever. Amazon gives away tablets at the cost of manufacturing but is reluctant to say how many, and how much money the company is losing on the Kindle venture.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
What Apple has wrought in recent years is exactly what happened to the company vs. Microsoft. The Windows maker won the operating system battles, but Apple’s Mac became the most profitable computer line on earth, owning the premium side of the spectrum, while Dell, HP, Lenovo et al were left with crumbs.
Apple’s entire business model is greater than the sum of its parts, with each component delivering a better user experience, higher revenue, and greater profits than any competitor, or, put a more dramatic way, all competitors combined.
Go down the list of what matters to a business– revenue, profits, customer satisfaction, repeat business. Apple is tops in retail, tops in online shopping, tops in application ecosystem, tops in revenue and profits (Mac, iPhone, iPad), tops in online media sales, tops in app developer revenue, even tops in innovation (according to BCG, over Samsung and Microsoft; how the latter even gets on the list should be questioned).
The Weakest Link
Viewed purely from the bullet points of hardware, Apple’s iPad (obviously leveraged from iPhone and iPod touch) has become somewhat long in the tooth, yet remains the industry’s best seller without a significant update in nearly a year. Competitors have smaller, lighter, thinner, and even larger tablets with higher resolution screens than any iPad model.
In the post-PC era, the Mac could be viewed as Apple’s weakest link. The iPod line is diminishing rapidly. The iPad itself, which remodeled the entire tablet industry, pales in a comparison to new competing tablets. What’s going on? Similar lulls have occurred in Apple’s past prior to a leap forward. Aluminum Macs with Intel inside. The iPod nano. The iPod touch. The iPhone 5S with Touch ID and 64-bit CPU and iOS.
If Apple is still Apple, the next iPad line will be criticized incessantly, and then sell by the tens of millions to eager customers all over the world. That’s how Apple works.