Steve Jobs changed the world three times, by my count.
The first time was at the end of the 1970s. Prior to Steve, no one in the computer industry thought that computers were suitable for the home, or that regular people would ever want them. Sure, there were homebrew computer hobbyists, but they were neckbeards, not normal people. Heck, IBM was so certain that the computer's future lay with corporate types in crisp white shirts and skinny black ties that they pretty much let anybody who wanted build a clone of the IBM PC.
Steve Jobs built a home computer that everyone wanted with the Apple II, and, with the first Macintosh, ushered in the era of the graphical user interface, so that soccer moms in Toledo could write and save their recipes on a computer, without having to know the meaning of arcane terminal commands like
ls -l or
IBM left a lot of money on the table. Steve Jobs didn't.
But, Steve was a bit of an ass, so they tossed him out of Apple. He went on to create a new computer company, Next Computers, and in between his first and second run at changing the world, innovated computer graphics production, created Pixar Studios, and made $4 billion. So, Next turned out to be a nice little gig between Apple jobs.
Apple asked Steve to come back to run the company after a series of incompetent buffoons nearly ran it into the ground in the 1990s, and he almost immediately came up with the idea of bundling a music player called the iPod with a proprietary music store. In so doing, he completely changed how we buy and consume not only music, but almost every kind of entertainment media. Before the iPod, there used to be a thing called "record stores" where one went to buy "albums" containing music. There were also "video stores" where one could rent movies on "video tape". They don't exist any more.
Then in 2007, Steve walked out on stage and announced that Apple was releasing a phone, a music player, and an internet access device. These three things were all bundled into a single device he called the iPhone. And the world changed again.
I distinctly remember telling my friends in 2007 what a stupid idea the iPhone was. "I just want to make telephone calls!" I asserted. "All I want is a small flip-phone that I can store away conveniently, and pull out when I need to call someone. I don't want to "surf the web" on a tiny screen. I don't want to take crappy pictures or type texts to people on a virtual keyboard. I just want to make phone calls!" But Steve knew I was full of crap, because, as it turned out, I never want to call anyone unless I absolutely have to, but I desperately want to do all of those other things for hours each day. And so does everyone else. Anyone with a flip-phone in 2017 is just a sad loser.
Also, "surf the web" in 2017 sounds every bit as modern as "23 Skidoo!", or "Oh, you kid!"
Then, Apple introduced the iPad, and everyone wanted that, too--so much, in fact, that sales of tablets began to drive down sales of traditional computers. The desktop world turned into the mobile world, led by Apple, who, under Steve Jobs' second tenure as CEO, was an unstoppable powerhouse of innovation.
Steve Jobs is dead now.
Under the post-Jobs leadership, it's hard to argue that Apple is innovative at all, much less a "powerhouse" of anything except cash generation.
Consider: Apple did not introduce a new Laptop or desktop computer design for over two years prior to the June 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference. When they did announce new computers, the new flagship feature was...the touch bar. Not touch screens, mind you, a touch bar. A little strip above the keyboard. The touchbar is the answer to the question no one asked. Sure, the new Macbooks all had the Retina screens--a pre-existing, though pretty, technology--and the newest generation of processors. But the specifications were disappointingly mediocre, considering the price.
For instance, if you were in the market for, say, a new laptop, you could get one of the following:
So, for only $121.00 more, you can have a Macbook with a slower processor, almost 1TB less memory, a screen that's 4-inches smaller, and DDR3 memory instead of DDR4. In fact, to meet the specs of the Alienware laptop...well, you can't. The best you can get is a Macbook pro with a 15-inch screen and half the storage, though you do get the same processor and twice the DDR3 memory. But Apple wants $2,799 for it. You can buy two high-spec gaming PC laptops for the price of a 15-inch Macbook Pro.
They must be super proud of that touchbar.
Now, one can argue that Apple is no longer a traditional computer company. They are, instead, a phone manufacturer that makes other computers on the side. And you'd substantially be correct. If that's true, then, naturally you'd think that the phone side is where you'd find all the innovation.
This past week, then, what did we learn from Apple's announcement of the brand spanking new iPhone X that will be available in November?
During the iPhone X announcement, when the first demo of Face Recognition started...it failed. The face recognition system didn't unlock the phone. The presenter switched quickly to a backup phone, but too late. We'd all seen it, though the Apple fanboys in attendance pretended they hadn't, and hooted like trained monkeys at all the standard applause lines.
By the way, my favorite applause line line came when Tim Cook announced that the name of Apple's newest mobile processor Would be the A11 Bionic. "Woo hoo!" yelled the audience, as if the name was a revelation, and the previous chips hadn't been named the A10, A9, A8, A7, A6, etc. I guess it was the "Bionic" that got them so excited. Bionic. A slick marketing term that has no meaning whatsoever in the context of a microprocessor.
Apple's marketing sure can make all this seem new and innovative for a phone that's introducing "new" features that Samsung and Blackberry started introducing in 2012. But, of course, it isn't innovation to introduce features that your competitors have had for at least a year. The touchbar isn't innovation. Honestly, I don't know what the touch bar is, but if I was a gambling man, I wouldn't bet on it appearing on Dell or Toshiba laptops any time in the future.
Losing an innovative leader who created entirely new markets and industries is a tough obstacle for any company. Guys like Steve Jobs come along maybe once in a generation. Still, watching Apple's decline from the undisputed leader in technology to a slick marketing op and little else under Tim Cook has been sad. Watching Apple fanboys applaud Apple's new products like they incorporated eye-opening new technologies has been even sadder. (And I say this as the owner of an iPad, an iPhone 7 Plus, and Apple watch that I'm wearing right now, and the Macbook Air I'm writing this article on.) As long as Apple's customers applaud like trained seals for everything the company announces, Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, will never see any reason to do anything other than milk the rubes for all the cash he can.
I love the Apple ecosystem that was created under Steve Jobs. I love being able to answer my phone or texts on any Apple device I happen to have handy. But I'm not willing to spend $2,800 on a laptop with a small screen, mediocre specs, and no touch screen. It's certainly becoming very difficult to argue that buying a Macbook Pro represents value for money.
Marketing is great, and it can do wonderful things, but marketing can only take you so far when the actual products that underpin the marketing just aren't that impressive.
But, it looks like we're going to see just how far Tim Cook can take it.