- I argued that Apple became boring under Tim Cook compared to the era of Steve Jobs.
- However, there is a good reason why Apple hasn’t drastically changed its successful products: reliability.
- Apple may not be at the forefront of many industry innovations lately, but its beautiful products have become classics.
I have argued in the past that Apple products have become boring because Apple seemed to have lost its way in useful product innovation. On the one hand, it offers free iPhone features like notes, but on the other hand, Apple has created state-of-the-art hardware and software for the Vision Pro, a product that no one needs and that solves problems that no one has.
Meanwhile, Apple has been neither a leader nor a follower of useful smartphone innovations such as foldable phones, which allow users to have both a small phone and a larger screen in one device.
But the truth is that there is a very good reason why Apple doesn’t make drastic changes to its products: slow, stable and reliable products keep Apple at the top.
To be fair, under CEO Tim Cook, Apple had some new blockbuster products in mind: the Apple Watch and Air Pods. Although I have also argued that both are actually iPhone accessories since the Watch cannot be paired with a non-iOS device. Although Air Pods will work with other devices, they are actually designed to work best with Apple products.
However, compared to the Steve Jobs era, in the Cook era, Apple rarely releases new products that are radically different from previous versions. Typically focused on making incremental improvements to existing products.
Is it boring? Yes, How many In technical press Besides, I have it also noted. But this also means that Apple products are very consistent and therefore reliable and retain their value. This is rather important.
Users want consistency. They don’t want to learn new ways of doing what they already do just because the creator of the device is trying to be innovative by moving everything to a different place. (Microsoft has often accused this.)
While Ferraris are cool cars, far from a boring product, most of us will never buy one (except for the VCs that funded Ai Pin Humane). Most of us will spend money on a Honda sedan or a Ford truck or, if we’re on a budget, a BMW or Tesla. We will choose something that looks good, is reliable, safe, functional for our needs and will retain its value for a long time. Have you ever tried to replace your Android phone? For most models, you’ll likely get much less than if you traded in your iPhone.
One thing I know from my years as a market researcher and from my time at Apple during the Jobs era is that the vast majority of users won’t pay money for shiny new technology that doesn’t add anything useful to their lives.
For example, there is buzz in the industry around the new Humane Ai Pin, a $600 (plus $24 monthly subscription) gadget intended to replace the smartphone. It can be attached to your clothes, was shown by models in Milan, and looks incredibly cool. While this device may have been developed by former Apple employees, it is the most un-Apple product I have ever seen. This is another product looking for a solution that also poses a privacy conundrum due to its camera and use of artificial intelligence. I predict it will end up in the gadget hall of shame alongside Juicero and Microsoft Kin.
In turn, Apple products are designed with a minimalist and modern aesthetic, and most importantly (apart from Vision Pro) with the user’s needs in mind. They are made of high-quality materials and have an elegant and stylish appearance. Since Apple doesn’t change much over time, the iPhone’s design has become classic and iconic. Same for Macbook.
Examples of other classic products with a look that hasn’t changed much over time include the Rolex Submariner, which still looks almost the same today as it did when 007 wore it in the 1962 film Doctor No. Another example: Porsche 911, Coca-Cola glass bottle, Sperry Docksiders. I could go on, but the point is clear. Iconic designs have sold well for decades. Stupid designs usually don’t do this.
But in Apple’s case, it can even make goofy products look cool. Apple has made walking around with what look like cigarette butts sticking out of your ears cool. The AppleWatch Ultra is quite large and bulky, but it has such ambitious expectations that it has become popular even among people who are not the target audience of runners, explorers, divers and the like.
It is worn on the wrists of people like me who only like the fact that it is lightweight, has a large screen and great battery life. And it also makes people who see it on me think I’m the type of person who free dives when I’m not hiking through the Sahara (at least that’s what I think).
Even though I and millions of others admire the aesthetic design of Apple’s products, it’s not what made Apple the tech giant it is today. When people discussed who might be Apple’s heir apparent after Jobs, the most talked about person was Jony Ive. After all, he was Steve’s “soulmate.” It also gave us crazy things like $10,000 gold Apple watches, the infamous butterfly keyboard, and devices so minimalist that the designs were immediately changed, like 2009 Apple Shuffle.
But no, what rose to the top was then-COO Cook, the man who made Apple’s corporate machinery run on time, the master of the supply chain. Cook wasn’t known for creating new Apple products (and despite some success, he still isn’t). He’s not the most dynamic speaker. In fact, his presentations can be quite boring.
What he did was take Apple to a market capitalization of $3 trillion and make it the most valued company in the world. The truth is that Apple can be less innovative and more incremental because it has such a large and loyal user base with products that remain consistent.
There are, of course, dangers in being too classic and too slow to change, especially in the tech industry. Apple already needs to catch up in parts of the industry where it once led but now lags behind, such as artificial intelligence. (I have previously argued that Siri is still a mess compared to Google Assistant).
And so, when it turns away from user service and towards greed (like prioritizing ads in the app store) or protectionism (like a small walled garden that still doesn’t let Androids work with iMessage), it invites troubles.
But ultimately, even if you find Apple products boring and not classic, they are an excellent choice for people looking for durable, high-quality, user-friendly and reliable technology. Apple doesn’t have to be a Ferrari if it’s a Ford truck.
Michael Gartenberg is a former senior marketing executive at Apple and has worked on the company for over twenty years as a market research analyst at Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. He is also a shareholder of Apple. He can be reached on Twitter at @Gartenberg.