Let’s be straightforward about Apple’s so-called product roadmap. There’s isn’t one. Intel maps out CPU upgrades a few years in advance, and slowly churns out new products. Apple? Not so much. Why not?
Intel is a hardware company. So is Dell. Both offer product roadmaps but mostly for different reasons. Intel needs a roadmap for PC manufacturers. Dell needs a roadmap for enterprise buyers. But Apple sells products to you and me and doesn’t want the competition to know what it’s brewing in secret.
Roadmap: A Stupid Idea
Critics and investors have begun to pressure Apple to divulge a product roadmap going forward a few years. That’s a nonsense request that could damage the company’s ability to compete in the marketplace.
Apple is different. For the most part, Apple relies on complete product differentiation from competitors, that sweet mix between hardware and software that makes the company’s products easily differentiated, and more attractive to so-called discriminating consumers (not a term I like; even an amoeba is a consumer).
Apple’s history is littered with innovation. There’s disruptive innovation which brought about the likes of the Mac, iPod, iTunes Music Store, iPhone, iPad, Watch et al. Each of those products defined their respective industry. Then, there’s the more common incremental innovation where the company improves products, components, software, and integration on a more traditional, step-by-step basis.
Nearly every Apple product receives such incremental innovation, but with a few notable exceptions every year or so. Not much has happened to the Mac Pro recently, and the Thunderbolt display is aging itself into antiquity as I write (look for a surprise soon, perhaps WWDC next week).
Roadmap, It’s Here Now
Maybe what we need to do is recognize that a roadmap can be public, useful or dangerous (Intel vs. Apple), but that in its own way, Apple already publishes a generalized roadmap that provides and meets expectations, but also allows room for a few beneficial surprises.
For example, everyone knew Apple was working on an iPhone when it was introduced in 2007. If you know something is coming from Apple how is that not a roadmap. More recently, Apple has held events a few times each year to introduce new products and upgrades.
WWDC 2016 starts next week and expectations are high for new hardware– a new line of MacBook Pro models, a new standalone 5k display, perhaps upgrades to the Mac Pro line. Software is the usual agenda for developers and Apple keeps it annual starting with WWDC in late spring. That means we’ll be treated to a short-term roadmap for OS X, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS. These introductions give developers a few months to upgrade their wares to the latest features and hardware before they ship in late summer or early fall.
What bothers me about this approach is that WWDC is the only annualized event. Everything else that is new is released when Apple feels the timing is right. Hints and tips abound, though. Airport Extreme and the Thunderbolt display are missing from the Apple Store and that means replacements are due soon.
That process isn’t much of a roadmap but it works for Apple and calls for a map that’s more detailed have no basis in benefit to the company.