Every technology company that has any growth aspirations has a product pipeline; a list of opportunities both current and longer term, when new products could be moved into the marketplace; sometimes to replace older products, sometimes to disrupt markets.
Nearly every quarter Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about the company’s pipeline. Doesn’t that seem to be in sharp contrast to what co-founder Steve Jobs said about Apple’s near term future? For the most part, Jobs just shut up and delivered world changing products. You know the list. It’s long.
On the other hand, Cook talks more, squeezes out more profits from a growing line of often overpriced products, and hasn’t delivered much that’s new except iPhone accessories. What happened to Apple’s product pipeline and what are those tens of billions in profits being pumped into R&D buying these days?
Don’t get me wrong. I love Apple Watch. There’s nothing better. They day you get me off my iMac or MacBook is the day I buy an iMac Pro or a truly modular Mac Pro. I wouldn’t mind a Samsung Galaxy-whatever smartphone if they would last longer than a few months and ran iOS instead of Google’s Android. There is much to like about what Apple designs and builds, and show me another human being that has a profit spigot or valve that works like the one Tim Cook built– on top of the products that Steve Jobs built.
Therein lies a couple of well-founded fears.
The first fear is the iPhone itself. Any successful technology product for the masses falls short of the greatest that is the iPhone’s first decade. Apple sold over 200-million iPhones last year and might break that record this year. Apple may have sold 25-to-30-million Watch units in two years, and that’s the most successful new product– in two years– Apple has ever had, but it pales in significance to the iPhone, and stupid technology writers can’t figure that out. Anything that doesn’t sell that well is a fail. Well, everything else must be failing.
My second fear is Apple’s leadership team and some of the decisions they seem less capable of making than those Jobs made with ease. Even Apple says (without actually using the same words) the Mac Pro is a failure and a replacement might come next year. Then, seven months before an expected launch, Apple introduces iMac Pro; an awesome desktop beast with a price tag not far from a fully tricked out 27-inch 5k Retina display iMac circa 2017. Apple screwed up. This is the fix.
Where are the new product categories; essentially, new products? No, Watch and AirPods don’t count in the same vein as iPhone, iPad, Mac, because both are mere accessories to iPhone. Apple Car? Doesn’t look like it will happen now. AR, or augmented reality? There is some promise there and Apple seems to have leapfrogged competition almost overnight, and the company’s ecosystem will help move AR forward, but we’re not sure to what end yet. But again, that’s not a product category.
HomePod? Amazon won’t admit how many Amazon Echo units have been sold, so Apple might be wise at moving to the high end to suck up all the profits with a superior product, but how does HomePod set the world on fire? The Mac did. iPod did. iTunes did. iPhone did. iPod did. Even Watch has trampled on the watch industry and owns the smartwatch segment, but Siri in a glorified Wi-Fi speaker isn’t the future.
Since Jobs died in 2011, Elon Musk has upended the car industry with Tesla, moved the world forward with SpaceX, build the world’s largest battery manufacturing facility, and might re-invent mass transit with Hyperloop, all while Tim Cook pushes iPhone accessories out the door.
What happened to Apple’s product pipeline?