12 Comments

Summary:

One of these days we’re going to have new things to talk about in personal computing. Until then, we’re stuck talking about taxes, market-share battles, and promises of what’s to come.

Apple Tim Cook D11
photo: Tom Krazit

Last year when Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at D10, it occurred to me that he had probably the hardest job in American business: certainly the hardest job in technology, following in Steve Jobs’ shadow. This year at D11, it’s clear Cook is up to the job; but he needs something new to talk about to move Apple firmly into the post-Jobs era.

It’s been ages since the last Apple public event in September 2012 to introduce the iPhone 5. Since then, one of the premier sources of showmanship in the tech industry has kept a very low profile, surfacing only to deflect pesky questions about taxes and wax poetic about the magic of Apple for a network television audience. Those aren’t exactly the kinds of topics that have made Apple events and appearances must-see theater for going on six or seven years.

Apple Tim Cook D11 Credit: Asa Mathat/D: All Things Digital

Apple Tim Cook D11 Credit: Asa Mathat/D: All Things Digital

And despite Cook’s best efforts to explain his thinking about how Apple works, he covered well-trodden ground Tuesday evening at the exclusive Terranea Resort just outside Los Angeles:

  • Cook isn’t worried about Android’s market share. He’s more fixated on stats that show iOS users actually seem to use their devices way more than Android users.
  • Cook isn’t worried about the scrutiny over Apple’s taxes. The U.S. tax system is ridiculous, and Apple navigates it the same way any multinational corporation does.
  • Cook isn’t worried about TV. “Many of us agree there are things about the TV experience that could be better,” he said, but believe it or not, he didn’t have a TV to talk about.
  • Cook isn’t worried about Google Glass. “I would say that the (wearable computers) that are doing more than one thing, that there’s nothing … great out there that I’ve seen. There’s nothing that’s going to convince a kid that’s never worn glasses or a band or a watch to wear one.” Is Apple making a wearable computer? Maybe … “It’s ripe for exploration.”
  • Cook isn’t worried about making a lower-cost iPhone. Apple once made a bunch of different kinds of iPods, but “those products all serve a different person. And so on the phone, that is the question: are we now at a point to serve enough people that we need to do that?”

You get the picture. For two straight years at the highest profile executive conference in the tech industry, Cook has been unable to talk about anything relatively new or exciting for Apple. Obviously no CEO worth a damn is going to preannounce a consumer electronics product at a show like D11. But Apple’s crown jewels are old news in a tech industry that moves at light speed: the iPhone will be six years old this summer, and the iPad just turned three. Six years before the iPhone was introduced, the personal digital assistant represented the vanguard of mobile computing.

We know the story of those products. They’re still growing strongly despite shipping in immense volumes, they’re still the favorite of mobile software developers, and they still (for the most part) set the standard by which all other mobile devices are measured.

Cook is talking about mature products and mature businesses when he takes the stage on behalf of Apple. That’s a weird place for a company that has always prided itself on being outside the mainstream to be, and it shows. Ours is an industry that is always searching for that next big thing, and for many years, Apple has been a reliable source for that item.

steve_jobs_ipad

In mid-2013, we’re in a collective lull. Mobile is old news, dominated by Apple and Android. The Mac/PC market is in freefall, even if Apple is still doing better than the competition. And with apologies to Samsung, the next big thing — disruptive TV, wearable computing, the internet of things, or robot butlers that make drinks and crack jokes — is not here yet.

The Apple that will attempt to shape that next era has yet to show its hand, leaving Cook in a holding pattern talking about the strategies of the past and present while buying time until Apple’s wizards figure out how they’re going to put their stamp on the products of the future.

Let’s be very clear: should these next-generation products Cook has teased for years actually exist somewhere in a secretive lab in Cupertino, this is a blip in time for Apple. We’re simply between breakthroughs as an industry, searching for something that will galvanize a generation of technologists the way the iPhone did. Apple produced the last breakthrough, and people naturally expect that it will produce the next one given that so much of the company remains intact despite the loss of Jobs.

That may or may not happen. But until either Apple or someone else produces that breakthrough, Cook’s public appearances grow less and less important: if all he’s going to do is cover ground he’s covered before without a new story to tell, the need to pay attention to Apple’s every word becomes less and less important.

Let’s hope that next breakthrough comes soon. Technology is a more interesting subject when we’re all watching something new and exciting bloom.

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  1. Apple being Apple does not give any indications till the very last day. But 2013 is the year to watch out for. This is why is guess so.

    – The first generation iPhone was released on June 29, 2007
    – The first iPad was released on April 3, 2010

    So now 2013 (3 yrs after the iPad) is the year when we can expect the next big thing from Apple. And this could be the Smartwatch.

    But being a part of mobile company (http://www.techendeavour.com/mobile-application-development) and having seen the success of Apple we can only guess.

    1. The Smartwatch will be a niche and a fashion product only.

  2. I think it’s great that Apple doesn’t feel the need to keep pumping out new products to satisfy humanities insatiable need for news and bright shiny distractions.

  3. There are two factors at play:

    1. The tech news industry has been a little spoiled by Apple in the past few years. People seem to forget that it was six years between the release of the iPod and iPhone. Innovation doesn’t come along that often.

    2. The lack of serious advancements in battery technology have seriously hampered the potential of smartphones, tablets and other mobile post-PC devices. If we are going to move into wearable computing then there is going to have to be all day battery life for these products to become truly useful.

    Besides the area of television, I wonder if the technology is there to jump into a new field. Glass is an example of this. It’s too intrusive (when looking at the wearer), has short battery life and it’s too expensive.

    It took a lot of things for the iPhone to be possible back in ’07 that were out of Apple’s hands. They needed the right components at the right prices so they could ensure that they could sell a quality product to the masses.

  4. “But Apple’s crown jewels are old news in a tech industry that moves at light speed: the iPhone will be six years old this summer, and the iPad just turned three.”

    Yes, the “iPhone” will be six years old this summer, but Apple doesn’t even sell it anymore. “iPad” just turned three but it’s been off the market for two years. My point is that the current crown jewels are iPhone 5 and the fourth generation iPad. iOS 7 will be announced in two weeks. Apple isn’t standing still. No other company has proven capable of upsetting tech markets like Apple does.

  5. Why – on God’s green Earth – did we expect that Tim Cook would make big news at D11 and not on his own terms and his own timing? If there’s one thing we know about Apple, it’s that they handle this on their own. We’ll get a leak somewhere a few days ahead of time and then they’ll just do it. With all respect to Walt and Kara (both of whom I have a great deal of respect for), there’s no way Tim is going to spill the beans at your show.

  6. Kaustuv Ghosh. Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    I think there’s a big mistake about the Internet of Things not being there yet. It is on it’s way and we need to understand there’s a whole world of technology, product and design beyond Apple, Google Glass and such. Actually Google gets it and so do a lot of other companies. The tech narrative needs to move beyond current fixations.

    1. We’re big believers in IoT, believe me, but that reference was more about pointing out that it’s not a mainstream mass-market technology just yet like smartphones or tablets, which I think is pretty clear.

  7. Kaustuv Ghosh. Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    Hi Tom, you are right but do keep in mind that the usage of IoT will be seen more on the side of smart meters, in-car sensors, tolling gantries and the like, so it will not always reflect in the numbers of smart phones, etc. Not immediately anyway. An interesting fact which came out sometime ago was that not more than 20% of M2M comms happens through carrier networks. So that clearly is a challenge for telecoms and smart phone players. To give you a sense of where things are going, a number of utilities in South and Southeast Asia are looking to deploy millions of smart meters very near term and I know for a fact that tests on hybrid comms mode are already happening.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I appreciate it.

  8. Zahid Ali Tareen Thursday, May 30, 2013

    Apple (Cell phone) is loosing its even it old customers; because of its OS is not user friendly as compare to its main competator. You know product quality and user friendly runs parallel. Lack even in one can effect the product in such field.

  9. D11 wasted a lot of time with Tim Cook asking for details they knew no one would talk about in a forum such as this. At least 50% of the time they had could have been better focussed on topics that would interest all people in tech and not just the Google v. Apple zealots. Big big miss and I am rapidly losing respect for this “forum”

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