Apple product announcements used to command a wide-eyed audience across the spectrum of tech savviness. But from my own personal take on what just happened yesterday and some of the stuff people wrote following the hoo-ha around the debut of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, it seems to me Apple has just turned a corner.
As I wrote earlier, the real and unintended milestone for Apple here was its going from being a product trailblazer to no more than a me-too competitor to Samsung and the Android universe. It did that on two counts — (1) playing catch up to screen size and (2) getting in on the “smartwatch” scene.Reviews were therefore mixed, more so considering the Apple Watch could only work when paired with an iPhone. Seems like Apple is still hooked on its vertical integration ways. Those of us who had been watching the tech space long enough will recall that this is what did Apple in back in the 1980s and 1990s. It priced itself and shut itself out of the first golden age of open systems leaving the market wide open for Microsoft to seize. Funny enough that all happened at a time when Apple was Jobs-less; i.e. its founder Steve Jobs wasn’t leading it over that period of decline.
Well here is Apple again, Jobs-less and exhibiting symptoms of a bankruptcy of imagination that many hope will not become a trend for this otherwise brilliant tech company. Tim Cook said Steve Jobs would have been proud. That is debatable at best. If we look back at the products Jobs was truly proud of, they were all pretty much products that were unprecedented (outside research labs, that is) and market-creating. The iPhone 6 and Apple Watch are entering existing markets — markets that have already been filled years ago.
The litmus test for a truly great product launch is what I call the Thunderbird Test. Watch an episode of the cult classic Thunderbirds are Go! series of the 1960s and take note of how 1960s sci-fi writers imagined what the 21st Century would be like. They got it pretty much all wrong back then. Apple produced stuff that nobody had imagined before. There were no iPads or iPhones in sci fi even as recently as the 1980s. The commlink Han Solo was using when he kept in touch with the rebel base on Hoth as he searched for Luke was as big as a briefcase. In 21st Century Los Angeles in the film Blade Runner they still had public phone booths (albeit equipped with CRT screens for video calls).
My point is, Apple is the company people watch when they want to see a vision of the future that hasn’t been seen yet by ordinary mortals. In that regard, this year’s launch of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch was a disappointment — including all the tech journalists and bloggers who put everyone up to the hype in the lead up to this event. Bigger touchphone screens? A computer on your wrist? I think Apple could do a lot better than play catch up with some Korean chaebol. Lady Penelope is waiting.
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