Blind spots: Does Apple know its own business?

There’s a good chance people at Apple have read “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”


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Does Apple ever send out thank-you notes to the many pundits that take the time out of their day to explain their business to them? They really should.

Writing for Wired, Molly Wood tells us about the time “Apple, the iPhone, and The Innovator’s Dilemma” walked into a bar. (Tip o’ the antlers to Bill.)

Apple is a company on the verge of being disrupted…

Since 1976.

The Innovator’s Dilemma, of course, is about the trap that successful companies fall into time and time again.

It is very possible that Apple could fall into this trap. However, it’s also proven to be exceptionally good at being the one that replaces its own products. You could point to declining iPhone sales as a sign the company is ripe for a fall, but no one has come up with anything better, the market is simply saturated.

According to Clayton Christensen, the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, companies can fall into a response loop with customers, providing them updates to an existing product that only have to do with how the product is currently designed. In this way, they miss ways to disrupt entire markets.

Then think about the iPhone, which, despite some consumer-unfriendly advances like the lost headphone jack and ever-changing charging ports…

There have been two (2) over the entire 11-year history of the iPhone. Also, Apple got rid of Touch ID in favor of Face ID which upset some people. But go ahead.

…has also been adjusted and tweaked and frozen by what customers want: bigger screens, great cameras, ease of use, and a consistent interface.

Apple did make some big changes that people screamed about but if you forget about those all it did was respond to user requests. OK.

Let’s just note, however, that updates to existing feature sets are not de facto proof that Apple has fallen into an upgrade spiral. It’s also a little hilarious that Apple is, at the same time, roundly criticized for not chasing feature upgrades at the same rate as its Android competitors. See, for example, 5G.

And the bulk of Apple’s investment since 2007, when the iPhone came out, has been about maintaining, developing, and selling this one device.

The device that murdered the company’s previous darling, the iPod. You could argue that the company should have come up with an iPhone replacement but that’s easier said than done. And it’s not like anyone else has.

The other bright spot in the company’s latest earnings report is its Wearables, Home, and Accessories category … and that means Apple Watches. And you know what’s still tied nice and tight to the iPhone? Apple Watches.

Even growth isn’t good, apparently.

Apple fueled the iPod’s growth by shipping iTunes for Windows. There’s a very real problem with making the Apple Watch work with Android, however. Most Android users use Google services and Apple’s stance on privacy makes tying the Apple Watch to Google services a non-starter. Even storing that information on an Android device is probably a bad idea.

You may be tempted to argue that Apple is, in fact, working on other projects.

Since this is basically what Apple does, yes, it does seem tempting in that way that boldly announcing a hammer will fall to the ground when released on a planet with a positive gravity seems tempting.

I’m here to say, I don’t think there’s a nascent warrior goddess hiding in there.

Maybe there isn’t. But this was also said right before Apple announced every product ever.

Wood mentions the potential products we know at least something about: digital assistants, self-driving cars, a streaming service, and AR. Of these, two have established markets—digital assistants and streaming services—and the other two are years from really taking off. But Apple’s still too late somehow.

…this time, I think the company will get beaten to that punch—or whatever punch is next.

In order to believe this you’d have to believe that Steve Jobs was the only person at Apple that could either come up with new product ideas or see that being the one to replace your own products was the smart thing to do. Again, it’s possible, but it’s also possibly just another kind of blind spot.

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