Blog Post

Apple Turns 35: Where Does It Go From Here?

April 1 marks the 35th birthday of Apple Computer, Inc., and though the name has changed (it dropped “Computer” in 2007), the company has undergone major organizational upheaval, and Apple (s aapl) isn’t doing the same kind of business it was in 1977, the company is still a leader when it comes to innovation. Can we expect that to continue for another 35 years?

Apple Made the PC; Apple Killed the PC

When News Corp. (s nws) CEO Rupert Murdoch launched The Daily, the iPad-specific daily newspaper, he said in an interview that Steve Jobs was responsible for the invention of the personal computer, then the laptop, and now the ongoing destruction of both. Murdoch may not be entirely right about the specifics here (no doubt Steve Wozniak would argue that he should at least share credit for the “invention” of the PC, though the MITS Altair and Tandy tape-based computers predated any Apple efforts), but he’s right that Apple was instrumental in the early popularization and spread of personal computing. And he’s also correct that Apple’s iPhone and iPad are strong catalysts in how the very notion of computing is being re-shaped right now.

Post-PC (Sooner or Later)

Steve Jobs recently coined a term that describes the new phase of computing ushered in by smartphones, tablets and other connected devices: post-PC. The use of the term spawned countless debates about whether or not we can claim to be actually living in a post-PC era yet, or about whether Jobs can use that term to describe the use of devices that are still, in many ways, very dependent on PCs for syncing and media management. But whatever your opinion on whether we’re or not we’re truly entering the post-PC era, it’s clearly the direction in which we’re headed, judging by the iPad’s continued success, the ongoing worldwide growth of smartphones, and efforts by all of Apple’s competitors to successfully break into the tablet market.

The Cloud: Apple’s Biggest Challenge

As the post-PC market evolves, Apple faces possibly its greatest challenge yet: deploying strong cloud-based service offerings. Amazon just this week introduced its Cloud Player and Cloud Drive (s amzn), beating Apple to the punch with a cloud-based music “locker” type offering that the Mac-maker has apparently been trying to negotiate with record labels. Google (s goog) is also ahead of Apple in terms of cloud services, thanks to its free Google sync services including Gmail, Google Docs, Google Reader and many others. These provide single sign-in setup for Android device owners, whereas iPhone and iPad owners currently have to pay for MobileMe to get many of the same features on their devices.

Apple also has yet to reveal any firm plans or intentions to offer any kind of streaming subscription for music or other media, despite many reports of the company’s attempts to set up partnerships that would make such services a reality. Streaming media services are on the rise, both in terms of number and subscribers, and Apple risks being left behind as major players like Amazon and Google begin moving in that direction.

The Revolution Co.

Apple throws the word “revolutionary” around quite a bit (almost as much as PR folks, in fact), but it would be a mistake to dismiss this as mere marketing hyperbole. The company has consistently introduced products that change the face of the consumer electronics industry, and few, if any, could’ve predicted their arrival beforehand. That means that, to some degree, trying to pin down Apple’s future plans will always be a slippery task.

Of course, it’s almost impossible to discount the role of Steve Jobs, who, no matter what your personal opinion regarding his medical prognosis, cannot lead the company forever. Will Apple lose the ability to be a motivating force for market upheaval when he’s gone? I say no, because Apple has a corporate culture based, from the top-down, on fostering innovation and creativity. Maintaining that at such a high rate of success for 35 years is not something any one person can manage through force of will alone. Apple’s executive team works together to do this, and will continue to do so.

What do you think Apple’s next 35 years have in store?

6 Responses to “Apple Turns 35: Where Does It Go From Here?”

  1. MisterK

    The reliance on a traditional computer to sync our iPads and iPhones is a temporary inconvenience – one that I believe will go away shortly (hopefully this year). You see, Apple makes the hardware (like Dell), the OS (like Microsoft), the software (like Adobe), services (like Google), is the media distributer (like Comcast), and the owns the store (like Best Buy). If there is absolutely any problem whatsoever with the iOS device, they will be seen as responsible. Having a backup solution on these devices isn’t just a nice-to-have because their failure means negative press and long angry lines at the Apple Store. This is why we must sync our iPads to the computer for now. I’m hoping that this data centre has something to do with all this cloud backup. If you lose your data, Apple has no one else to point the finger at so it is now imperative that you can get back anything you had. iTunes allowing you to re-download media will be part of this; the app store allowing you to re-download software is part of this; they have to sort out your personal files and documents before the USB cord is cut.

    We will have probably always have personal computers because there is no real replacement for the hardware keyboard. This input is the only thing that the touchscreen device just can’t beat. The touch-screen hinderances (that our current tablet devices don’t have the horsepower, storage, or larger applications of their PC counterparts) is already being negated with faster processors, cloud storage, and more mature apps.

    Voice control with natural language will be a huge advancement, but it will be temporary. I see some sort of “mind-typing” as the REAL next big thing. I’m being completely serious. Communicating on a tablet must be as fast as a keyboard and more private/anonymous than voice control. When that happens, the traditional PC can truly vanish.

  2. What’s NeXT for Apple? I guess it needs to evolve from a hit-product company (that relies on the “next best thing”) to a one that provides also key services people would pay for. The cloud would be a good start in that direction. Clearly Apple needs to find a way bring cash in whether or not their last product launched is a hit. Take Microsoft for instance, recession or not, the enterprise world cannot do without Windows and Office. Apple NEED to be as indispensable for consumers. This is their NeXT challenge and it takes perhaps another person than Steve Jobs to solve that equation. I dare to say that Jobs’ time has perhaps passed.

  3. Apple . What an incredible company with great products?

    In my opinion, Steve Jobs is very important for Apple because of charisma, innovation, leadership and vision. But times are different now form those when Steve came back and reseurrected Apple from ashes.

    Apple is now a company with a stronger brand, that goes over the geeks and is more linked to marketing.

    Apple is a strong company with cutting edge technologies and more patents that can turn in billion dollars ideas.

    Apple has now an industrial approach for going live.

    Apple has also grown or acquired lot of professionals and managers that can continue the business. They will go a long way forward for sure

  4. Hamranhansenhansen

    I don’t think Wozniak was excluded from Murdoch’s PC-inventing comment at all. Wozniak also does not take anything away from Jobs on the Apple II, saying he wouldn’t have even done it, and he wouldn’t have made it consumer-friendly. Jobs even coined the term “personal computer.” But Murdoch likely includes the whole arc, not just the spark: the Mac, which is the first PC most people today would recognize as such; NeXT which spawned the Web; the PowerBook; and even the iMac, which started the modern consumerization of the PC. Jobs is the central figure in the whole story. Yes, it’s amazing he has no fear of killing the past.

  5. We may not be in a truly Post-PC era yet, but we are absolutely moving in that direction. Getting devices like the iPhone and iPad to a point where they are more independent and not as reliant on a Mac or PC will be a huge step in that direction, as will faster and more consistent access to data in the cloud. None of this will happen overnight; it will be an evolution, one that is well on its way.