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Cook's 'big plans' remark reveals nothing about Apple product timing, everything about what fans crave

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 2, 2014
"What else can he say?" asks analyst.

But the constant speculation -- abetted by Apple's secrecy that cloaks new product information -- does mean something, Milanesi argued.

"Apple needs to do something different and something new," she said, referring to the underlying problem illustrated by the rumor mongering. "Whatever it is, say the iWatch or wearables, Apple needs more than an upgrade, needs to come up with something else that gets people excited about the brand. Upgrades [to existing products] are just not good enough."

That belief, widely expressed by others, has been the background for the criticism of Apple and more specifically, Cook, in the last 15 months. After the Cupertino, Calif. company's stock price fell from its September 2012 high, some began to wonder whether an Apple without co-founder Steve Jobs had run out of ideas and exhausted its ability to innovate.

At times, Apple has gotten defensive about the charges. In June, Philip Schiller, the company's marketing chief, said, "Can't innovate anymore, my ass," while introducing the new Mac Pro. Apple tightly scripts its presentations, so it's unlikely that Schiller ad libbed.

It's easy to scoff at Schiller's defense of Apple's innovation chops. For although the Mac Pro may be the newest status symbol of the nouveau riche, or a step up for professionals who rely on OS X, it's no iPhone or even iPad: It won't change the technology landscape.

To Milanesi, the harping on new devices, whether iWatch, an Apple-branded smart TV or a larger-screen iPad hybrid that doubles as a notebook, is the smoke from the fire Apple should be kindling. While the interpretations of Cook's "big plans" remark may be off on timing, they show that Apple aficionados hunger for something new, something different, something as game-changing as the iPhone or iPad.

And if Apple knows what's good for it, it will satisfy that hunger. Maybe not in the coming year, as some believe, but at some point. "Apple needs to continue to keep their brand aspirational, and reach beyond the markets they have now," said Milanesi.

Gottheil agreed that by staying in place, Apple risks, if not revenue, then leadership relevance. "It certainly expresses a desire," he said of the fixation on Apple and new products. "Apple needs to fulfill the fantasy that people seem to have."

That's not easy, as experts and observers have noted. While some of the latter have gone so far as to tally the three-year span between the iPhone and iPad, and then pontificate that Apple needed to hew to the same schedule for the "next big thing," lightning doesn't strike on a timetable.

"Apple more closely resembles Ford rather than Edison," Gottheil said, referring to Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, one the automobile maker who sold the Model T at prices within reach of the American middle class, the other the inventor who developed the electric light, the motion picture camera and the phonograph, all revolutions in their own rights.

 

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