Second, my apologies go out to Fonzie and Richie for the analogy, but you’ll understand soon how technology companies in recent years have devoted much effort to jumping the shark. Let’s take a look at our favorite technology friends and enemies and see who’s already jumped the shark.
The Jaws Of Tech
Jumping the Shark is an American idiom that describes the moment in the evolution of anything when it begins to decline in quality, and enters a long slow, inevitable demise; as when Fonzie jumped the shark in an episode of the TV show Happy Days in 1977, that moment when everything about the show began to go downhill, and the actors and writers began phoning in their performances and scripts.
For Microsoft, one could argue the company has experienced a number of jumping the shark moments. Two come to mind immediately and are probably tied together. Microsoft’s board appoint Steve Ballmer as CEO in early 2000, and Windows XP was launched on his watch just over a year later. Then Microsoft began a long slow descent from power and influence, and completely missed the mobile device revolution.
For Google, one could easily argue the company experienced a single, solitary jumping the shark moment when they purchased Android in 2005. Google was, up to that point, wildly profitable thanks to the growth of search engine advertising.
Since Android was rejiggered and jury rigged to look and work like Apple’s iPhone, the device which revolutionized the nascent smartphone industry, Google has spent tens of billions of dollars in a failed effort to diversify the company’s revenue streams; buying and selling, or launching and closing down one venture after another, none of which have a decent return on the original investment. While Android is the most used operating system on planet earth, the company struggles to make it pay for the investment, falling billions behind Apple’s iOS ecosphere.
Microsoft and Google have already jumped the shark. What about Apple?
I’m a firm believer than one can argue the pro and con of any topic or subject, so any hint that Apple has jumped the shark would need some form of evidence. There’s no evidence that revenue and profits are falling, but that was the case for years after Microsoft and Google jumped their respective sharks.
Customer satisfaction ratings remain high for users of all Apple’s major products. By most accounts, Apple has become a kinder gentler company under CEO Tim Cook, despite growing annual revenue at a phenomenal rate, and increasing profits beyond that of any technology company ever.
Where is Apple’s shark? Here are a few thoughts.
iCloud – Apple seems to have a problem with cloud services; charges too much for too little, although nearly every customer uses iCloud in one way or another, but Apple treats it like the service it is, not like a business that competes with other commercial cloud services.
Quality – One can argue that Apple’s notorious attention to detail has suffered in recent years as the company transitioned from a computer company (the Mac) to a mammoth music and media machine (iPod and iTunes) to a mobile device company where the vast majority of revenue and profits come from iPhone, iPad, and Mac notebooks.
No sharks there. What about the future?
I see two shark-jumping moments on the horizon, both fraught with dangerous precedent, both areas where Apple seems intent upon being a major player, but hasn’t figured out where they fit in the game.
Content – A new Apple TV is on the way, and if repeated rumors have only a modicum of truth, so will an Apple branded streaming TV subscription service. That worries me. Apple is a hardware company so selling each home another technology device makes sense, but to make the device worthwhile for customers Apple seems intent on getting itself into the content business by hook or crook because every new device needs something to run on it. TV is a tough business to crack (even though Steve Jobs said he figured it out).
Cars – There’s no denying that Apple is flirting around with reinventing the automobile. How? Electric? Ultra long-lasting battery? Hydrogen power? Tesla’s been around a few years and arguably makes the best performing mass produced automobile money can buy, but loses about $9,000 on each car it sells. Why? It’s hard to make the kind of margins Apple is used to making in the automobile industry.
The clock is still ticking and the jury is out on both Content and Cars but just as Microsoft ventured into territory in which it did not belong, and Google traveled afar to throw off the shackles of being little more than an advertising business– and failed– one has to ask, ‘What does Apple gain by becoming a cable TV company?‘ Or, ‘What does Apple gain by becoming the next Tesla?‘