What Apple's executive reshuffle means for the products you use
Services have never been Apple’s strong point. From the company’s eWorld online service of the 1990s to the last decade’s revolving door of Internet offerings—iTools, .Mac, MobileMe, iCloud—Cupertino has taken a lot of flack, much of it earned, for unreliability and missing features.
There are, however, bright spots in the mix, particularly the iTunes Store and its affiliated App Store and iBookstore. (It doesn’t hurt that they generate revenue at a healthy clip.) As such, it’s no surprise that Monday’s reshuffle saw two of Apple’s lately problematic service-based features, Siri and Maps, assigned to senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue. Cue’s no stranger to taking on damaged goods: He previously assumed control of both MobileMe and iAd after those services’ somewhat lackluster launches.
Like MobileMe and iAd, Siri and Maps have both suffered severe criticism after their respective launches. Apple’s virtual assistant was dinged for its unreliability in understanding people and its often limited capabilities; while the company has improved that somewhat in subsequent updates, such as iOS 6, many still see the feature as more of a novelty than anything else. (My colleague Lex Friedman would beg to differ.) The reaction to Apple’s redesigned Maps has been even more vociferous.
Cue has his work cut out for him in dealing with these two, but he’s probably the right person for the job. The major complaints for both Siri and Maps seem to be more focused on the service aspect than the software itself. In my own review of iOS 6, I found that the Maps app itself is well designed, with the failures residing mostly in the data that Apple had at its disposal.
Given Cue’s experience in dealing with services—and especially in arenas where Apple partners with other companies, such as publishers, music labels, studios, and so on—it seems likely that we can expect to see both Siri and Maps improve their capabilities going forward. CEO Tim Cook said in the company’s financial results call last week that Apple has already spent time and effort to bolster Maps, and that it won’t stop “until Maps lives up to our standards.”
Expect to see reliability at the top of the list as well. While iCloud still has mixed results in that department, the service’s integration with Apple devices and its non-existent price tag have made it hugely popular; Apple’s latest tally pegs iCloud at 200 million users.
Wires and waves
Nestled deep in Apple’s Monday announcement was this tantalizing nugget:
Bob Mansfield will lead a new group, Technologies, which combines all of Apple’s wireless teams across the company in one organization, fostering innovation in this area at an even higher level.
It’s unclear exactly what falls under the purview of Mansfield’s Technologies group, but the broader implications are clear: Wireless technology is perhaps the most key component of Apple devices going forward.
This is hardly a surprise to anybody who has watched Apple for the last few years, as the company’s tendencies have leaned increasingly wireless. Look no further than the iPhone 5, which includes a staggering number of wireless technologies: GSM, EDGE, CDMA, EV-DO, HSPA, LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. In fact, with the addition of Bluetooth to the revamped iPod nano, there’s hardly a recent Apple product that doesn’t include at least some form of wireless communication.
Add to that the development of multipurpose wired connectors like the company’s new Thunderbolt and Lightning ports, and it’s obvious that Apple’s goal is to reduce the number of cables and wires needed for its devices.
With wireless technologies playing such an important part, especially for iOS devices, it’s no surprise that Apple wants to devote more focus to them. The Technologies group will be able to develop and improve wireless across all of Apple’s product lines, perhaps easing the ways in which those devices talk to each other. Given the improvements we’ve already seen, it’s not hard to imagine a future where you needn’t plug your mobile device into anything at all.
And lest we forget the second part of Mansfield’s brief:
This organization will also include the semiconductor teams, who have ambitious plans for the future.
Semiconductors are, of course, the foundation of the processors and chips that run all of our devices. While Apple’s Mac lines still rely on processors provided by Intel, the company has been producing its own chips for its mobile devices since the original iPad. That and subsequent processors have resulted from Apple’s purchase of PA Semi, a small semiconductor company.
Having its semiconductor design in-house has given Apple an even deeper level of control over its products—at least, the mobile ones. And, going forward, it seems hard to believe that Apple will leave it at that. The Mac is still an important part of Cupertino’s strategy, and with all the custom work that Apple has been putting into its hardware design—the internals of the Retina MacBook Pros, for example, or the redesigned iMac—it’s not hard to imagine the company will want to eventually go that last nanometer and control the chips for its desktop and portable computers as well as its mobile devices.
Integrate to innovate
Looking over all the changes that Apple made to its executive team, there seems to be a pretty consistent throughline: This is all about integration. Integration of the various software platforms and teams, integration of the company’s key technologies across product lines, integration of online services, and integration of the hardware and software user experiences.
All this integration mirrors exactly what Apple has tried to do with its products for decades now: Take a bunch of disparate technology, software, hardware, services, and so on, and combine it into one perfect device. After Steve Jobs’s death, many described Apple the company as his most enduring “product.” This reorganization suggests that Cook has taken that to heart while simultaneously putting his own definitive stamp on it.