Tech Commentary: Apple Needs to Innovate or Die

My 2 Yen…

It’s no surprise that Apple is in deep, deep trouble. Sales have been on a steady decline and their Q2 report is troubling, to say the least [citation link]. Their hardware designs and inaccessibility to connect with their main market, which has been a silent re-branding as a manufacturer of “luxury products,” as well as the company’s declining image in the public eye has all been well documented and clearly at the forefront of Tim Cook’s legacy.

Cook has been with Apple for a long time, since Steve Jobs still ran the place. In the wake of the death of Jobs, Cook stepped in and almost overnight, Apple lost its touch. Since the 1970s, Apple Computer has been at the forefront of home electronic innovation, from the Apple II to the latest generation of iPhone and iPad. However, there has been little in the way of innovation.

Yes, there have been improvements in hardware structure and capabilities. Other than losing the home button and the .3mm headphone jack, the iPhone’s overall design has been relatively the same since Jobs introduced the original. Internally, the hardware continues to be the best in business, but the one thing Steve Jobs was good at was not dumping the price of innovation onto the consumer. He learned his lesson with the original Macintosh and strived to make sure the consumer didn’t have to pay for all those particular features (at least, not at 900% of actual cost, unlike the Apple Lisa).

The decline of Apple could be traced back to Cook’s personal identity politics playing a huge part of his current reign as Apple Supreme Emperor. One thing Steve Jobs didn’t engage in was telling us what he felt about specific groups of people, or at least, he didn’t make business decisions with politics in mind. Instead, he was forward-thinking, customer-focused and the success of his reign at Apple is a testament to that fact. Everything he did was for the consumer. He designed the Mac as an evolution of the Apple II rather than the Lisa. He gave us the iPhone on the same branch as the iPod, and the iPad on the back of the iPhone. If Jobs were still with us today, what else could he have given us?

His philosophy of the consumer not knowing what it wanted until it was given to them had been at the forefront of his business model. In the 1970s, no one knew they needed an all-in-one home computer, until the Apple II came along. In the 1990s, no one knew they needed in iPod. 10 years later, they didn’t even know what a “smartphone” was until the iPhone came about. There had been other smartphones but no innovative trendsetters until the iPhone.

Where is that innovation from Apple today? Why the revamps and recycles of old designs, and why price out the consumer so badly that the average person, whom were the focus of Jobs’ target marketing, can only dream of owning an Apple brand product? The sales numbers shows the blatant disconnect between company and consumer, and in fact, Apple’s service standards have dropped so low that those forgotten customers aren’t even thinking of coming back.

The counterpart to Apple, a company that is as powerful in the East as Apple is in the rest of the world, is Nintendo. This is a company that has been around for close to 90 years prior to Apple, making playing cards and toys since the 1800s in Japan. Only in the recent 30 years has Nintendo been making a worldwide name for themselves with their video game systems. Questionable business practices in the 1980s and 1990s yielded huge disconnects between company and consumer in the 2000s.

At the time, Nintendo President Yamauchi was in firm control of his company. He issued very limited licenses to only a handful of companies, and worked on keeping third party manufacturers on a tight leash. In the early 2000s, President Iwata continued this practice, and Nintendo suffered the consequences which allowed Microsoft and Sony to overtake them.

While the Nintendo Gamecube was one heck of a console, it had hardware limitations on their mini-DVD disks which were said to be “difficult to pirate,” but was nothing more than another form of control. Horrible sales of the Gamecube due to its high development costs for software forced out third party developers, and the Nintendo Wii released with nearly zero third party support. Before his passing, Iwata spearheaded the Wii-U release which had absolute zero third party support.

By the time the Switch started development as “Project NX,” the damage was done. Nintendo was in the crapper, and only a miracle could get it out. Luckily, with Nintendo’s current leadership, under President Furukawa, the company is back to its former glory, as though the 1990s and 2000s didn’t happen. Nintendo is set to conquer both Microsft and Sony in Japan, and is coming close worldwide, as not only the company had refocused on the consumer, but had also loosened the grip it once had over third party developers. Sure, physical hardware is hard to come by but with digital downloads and region-free gaming, Nintendo has returned to its glory days and consumers couldn’t be happier.

Indeed, Tim Cook needs to take a long, hard look at Nintendo and the legacy of Steve Jobs. Like Nintendo of today, Jobs knew how to connect to consumers. He knew what they wanted, needed and gave it to them. It took Nintendo 30 years but they eventually got it, and now it’s better than ever.

Apple doesn’t have 30 years. The time Nintendo had was almost at their peril. Apple is on innovative life support and if they don’t come out with something forward thinking, and consumer-focused, fast, the current consumer market is going to hang them out to dry. Their latest Apple Mac Pro (design rehash) is a perfect example of what consumers don’t want and what the average consumer can’t have. If they continue on this course, they will have no clients left other than the hardcore fan, and even then, that’s a stretch.

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