Apple is immensely successful. As you might know, I have the deepest respect for a company that TRULY revolutionized 2 markets (the music industry through iPod, and the telephony and mobile communications industry through iPhone), and created an entirely new one with the iPad. (They didn’t invent any of these 3 product categories, though. They just made them perfect.) They are so great because they understand the importance of usability. They further understand that only by owning both the hardware and the software stack can they create products that exceed anybody else’s when it comes to usability. While that necessarily results in what the industry calls “vendor lock-in”, I do believe that it is a necessary evil you can’t get around if you want products that not only work but also leave no room for frustration.
But does Apple really own both the hardware and the software stack? They own the hardware and the operating system, and contribute a little bit of software themselves through some pre-installed apps (things like calendar, mail, basic messaging, a very week Reminder app, a weather app that works but doesn’t do much beyond that, etc.) and functionality such as Siri. The rest they leave to the developer community, while holding a tight regiment when it comes to releasing their apps in the App Store. But why?
People say Apple hasn’t innovated for three years now. I’m inclined to still call that a rather short period of time, given how immensely successful they still are with sales. But yes, I am becoming increasingly impatient as well. The latest quarterly results were breathtaking, but since people expected even more (what the hell were they thinking?), the Apple stock dropped and Apple lost their leading position as the most valuable company in the world. I don’t want to discuss the ludicrous market reaction to Apple’s latest fantastic quarterly results here, but instead focus on how Apple could innovate next within the existing product portfolio (on the same topic, also read this fantastic post by Huffington Post’s CTO: Apple, RIM, Google, Microsoft: Where Is the Big Bang?).
Google innovates by throwing tons of service ideas out there and seeing which ones survive – or actually work great. They risk lots of failures while doing that (Wave, now Apache Wave, and Buzz have probably been among the more prominent ones). One of the most promising recent contributions is Google Now, a personal assistant that is proactive, rather than simply reactive. Siri, the equivalent in the Appleverse, is nothing like Google Now. Furthermore, Siri has severe shortcomings to Google Voice, the voice search feature. It is Google’s immense knowledge database and their Knowledge Graph feature that allows them more and more to actually answer questions vs just showing search results.
I believe that in order to truly innovate again, Apple needs to dramatically increase their efforts around their software ecosystem. Instead of waiting for startups to come up with cool ideas for apps that make our lives easier, Apple should lead here: take things into their own hands, as they have done with the decision to control both hardware and the OS. I, personally, use apps like GroupMe for communication, Instapaper and Flipboard for reading, GoodReader for PDFs, Clear for notes, the Google app for QR code scanning (why the heck does Apple’s camera app not do that?), etc. Instead of leaving the field (of actually making the iPhone useful) to the developer community ALONE, Apple could create huge innovation by taking each of these fantastic app ideas and doing what Apple is best at: adding their usability magic to make all of them truly beautiful, fast, and convenient. Or even better: come up with their own imaginative ideas for new apps. Software makes the world go round!
Shame on you Apple for releasing crap like Camera, Reminders, Notes, or Weather, and leaving these pretty much untouched for generations of your iOS! Bring the WOW factor back to your next releases and surprise us again! It’s about time.