It is easy to say that Apple is all about great products because the company does have some very good products. However, I wonder if that will remain the case as we head into the future. There was a time at Apple when having a great product was an end in itself whether or not the product sold well.
Perhaps one of the best examples of that was Steve's G4 cube which was an absolutely stunning product which sold very poorly except to some pockets of NASA engineers.
It might not be too much longer before we see another very good product leaving Apple's price list. Last November, my former colleague, John Martellaro, wrote an article, "Why Apple’s Mac Pro Won’t Last." I agree with him, but I also would not be surprised if Apple completely gets out of desktop computers.
My first question is why is the Mac Pro dying. I know that I wanted to buy one when I bought my last iMac in 2010. Unfortunately the price band of the Mac Pro had gone up substantially from what I paid for my dual G5 system in December 2004. An I5 iMac with a screen made more financial sense though it lacked some features that I wanted.
Perhaps if the Mac Pro had been reinvented and shipped at a better price point in case designed less than ten years ago, it might be selling a little better. However, in Apple's defense, obviously focusing on less expensive higher volume products has been a more profitable course for Apple.
They are not alone in focusing on profit and specifically share price. I recently read an article, How American Corporations Transformed From Producers to Predators, by William Lazonick. The article talks about the time when "executives began to base all their decisions on increasing corporate earnings for the sake of jacking up corporate stock prices."
Reading the article brought back memories of management meetings at Apple in the late ninties and just after the turn of the century. I clearly remember our financial people saying that while we had great products and were headed in the right direction, we were not moving the stock price. It was also around this time when Apple decided to quit giving stock options to employees below a certain level.
One of the first theories that came out of these discussions was that it was much more important to sell lots of less expensive stuff than it was to sell just a few very expensive items. I don't think there is any question that Apple has executed this strategy exceptionally well. All you have to do is look at the stock price and how much gear Apple is selling.
So far the lots of iPads and iPhones have almost universally been rated as arguably best of class products. I might argue that they are almost addictive products. I'm not certain whether the attraction of the product is what the product does, the features, or just being part of Apple's cool world. That would be an interesting study.
However, there is a very fine line between delivering a product where the focus is to make it the absolute best at what it does and between creating a product which has lots of stuff which makes it buzz worthy and something that people just "have" to have. One of Apple's favorite tricks has always been to create an upgrade that you must have or you get left out. See my post on Apple's "free" iCloud service for more thoughts on this.
I would argue that one of the best examples that I have seen of a company focusing on being the best and doing just what needed to be done at the moment was actually Microsoft's Windows 7 product. Vista was an unmitigated disaster or a quagmire as I labelled it. Windows 7 had to be good or Microsoft was going to lose a lot of customers. Windows 7 actually turned out to be a great product. There are number of things that I like better than what I find in OS X.
However, it appears that Windows 8 is being designed more from the perspective of trying to sell Windows tablets than anything else. It will be interesting to see whether or not it is a success.
If I take the argument and apply it to Apple, I have to worry about the new iPad which seems to have a marketing campaign built around a screen which certainly appears to be better than anything else that is out there. The question is, do you really need that screen and what will have to happen to websites before the web "looks" better to new iPad users?
It is a complex question, I can remember debating university professors when when I was selling Macs with millions of colors.
One actually told me that no one needs more than sixteen colors. As a photographer, I certainly love great screens and lots of colors, but I wonder if tablet and maybe phone screens reached the point of being just the latest example of the megahertz race for computers or the megapixel race for cameras. David Pogue has an interesting column, Spec Obsession Disorder: The Incurable Techie Malady.
I know that there are other reasons besides stunning screens that cause people to buy their iPads and iPhones. Many believe they are easier to use, though I haven't exactly struggled very much with my Android phone and Kindle Fire. I have seen some talk about having to redesign websites to help them take advantage of the iPad display.
I have also seen an article about the new iPad greatly increasing data usage which at some point must make the phone companies pretty happy if they can figure out how to charge more.
On April 7, the Washington Post published an article about a Chinese teenager selling his kidney to buy an iPad. It is sad commentary on the addictive nature of consumer goods and Apple's products in particular.
Apple obviously needs to keep selling products and being innovative is the best way to do that. However, I hope Apple's next OS release focuses on being really good and something we want to buy because it works better and not just another product with features that mean little to most users.
I don't know enough about the latest iPad to make a judgment call as to whether it is something that works so much better that it is a must have upgrade or not. Most commentators seem to be saying that if you have the previous iPad version, there are not a lot of reasons to upgrade unless you see the screen on the new one and can't live without it.
Over the years, I have always believed that we bought and used technology because it enabled us to do things which we could not do without it. We are now to the point of having so much overlapping technology which can do many similar things that I believe it is right to question whether we really need some of the feature laden products that have come out.
Apple is on a real roll, and I am more a content creator than I am a content consumer so my bias would be towards desktop computers with big screens. It is where I am most efficient. I can easily do Twitter or Facebook updates from my phone or Kindle Fire, but I'm not certain that I would want to build websites or edit photos on either. I'm not sure editing a photo on an iPad makes sense if only other third generation iPad can see it as I see it.
I put photos on the web on Pinterest and most people have screens that let them see my photos fairly close to how I see them. Would that be the case if I did my editing on the latest iPad?
As I think back to technology and the pieces that have come together to give us what lets us be productive, I remember when Apple started shipping CD-ROMs in their desktop computers. Apple as I remember was losing some money on each drive but the belief was that the technology was so important and needed that it would eventually make money as volumes increasesd. If was a hard decision in those challenging times.
Apple doesn't have to make those kind of tough decisions today, but maybe they should.
Our week-ending rain brought much needed moisture but headed off the coast just in time for the full moon to bring us a little frost on top of the kayak which was okay since my nearby tomato plants were covered.