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APPLE, Where's Your Innovation?

In about a month ago, one of the hottest tech news beside the exploding Samsung Note 7 must be the iPhone 7 release, but wasn't without any controversy (Almost identical exterior product design as previous generation and headphone jack removal). Two weeks ago, the brawl was prompted all over again to the new MacBook Pro (TouchBar, USB-C ports only and SD Card slot removal). Apple was being bombarded by media and general public the company is now lack of innovation and sensitivity to its core customers, and its current CEO Time Cook is even being questioned about his leadership and future vision to the company. As a technology industry veteran, I think this is an interesting topic to write about. And here we go.

On day 0 of the company cofounded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple Computer was first born without a mission but a rough objective of monetization. Later on, the Steves began with a vision "to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind." In 1987, after Steve Jobs returned from NeXT and Pixar, took back his power from the board, and reestablished himself as the 'iCEO', Apple Computer was renamed and narrated to "... design(s) Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad", shifted from a general picture of business to a very specific goods and services driven vision.

During the 2008's investors conference call, in the absence of Steve Jobs, the following response was given by Tim Cook, COO at that time, "We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self- honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well."

I guess those above statements shall have given you a clear prospective about the different visionary between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook about how Apple's future would be. The idea of Apple seeded by Steve Jobs, at that time, was a closed ecosystem combined with its own mobile computing devices (Macs, iPhone and iPad), softwares and music service, and simply, nothing's beyond that. Because of the obsessive secrecy culture planted by Jobs, less than a full hand of executives acknowledged exactly which direction the company was going. Perhaps, even worsen, only Steve Jobs himself has the master blueprint in mind. Indeed, R&D and Marketing teams were intentionally divided because Steve strongly believed in his ideology of "customers don't know what they want" and R&D managers should have the total ability into Design Thinking. Moreover, Steve himself liked to control every aspect of 'his' company, not only in product design but from the food in cafeteria to the weight of the glass stairs in Apple Stores, to even mandated company uniform. To those watched the movie "Jobs" (2013) or "Steve Jobs" (2015) or read the biography "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, you may have noticed his "abrasive personality” and “unapologetic brutality” discouraged many staffs in creativity and innovation very often. If by reviewing the birth history and mechanic design of 'Apple I', the very first product of Apple Computer, you'll find out it was only integrated and transformed the existing technologies by then into a new easy-to-use product for customers (UX) but not innovated with any extraordinary technology like IBM or Intel had in the late 70s. Therefore, Apple wasn't perpetually about innovation from the very beginning.

In the post-Steve Jobs era, whilst Tim Cook inherited the leadership, Apple was successfully evolved from a computer company to a user-experience centric brand with more fashion cents by collaborating with Hermes, the French high fashion luxury brand, to design the handcrafted premium leather waistbands for the Watch, and more glamorous cents by constructing a new 176 acres, 'spaceship' shaped 'Campus 2' headed by CDO Jony Ive and thoroughly renovating the 'Store' design to elevate its consumer brand presence and entrench its customer experience, and withal.

Apple Store Fifth Ave, NYC

As unraveled, Apple brand is veritably afflicted with the simple, elegant user experience. In Apple New Product Process (ANPP), under the "Rules of the Road" guidance - Product/Market Innovation, Routine Innovation and Radical Innovation, all products are initialized and designed upon the science of ergonomics by its Industrial Design Team. The design prosperity of Apple products is based on the three "Rs” (repackaged, repositioned, recycled), represents the simplest and most general and least “new” of the three types of innovation. Then, the “EPM mafia” (Engineering Program Managers and Global Supply Managers) takes full control of the product development process to convert the designs into builds and solution tests. In the final stage, the marketing team will refine the product packaging and providently script out the highlights in consumer language for messaging to market. Hence, iPhone 7 and MacBook Pro are not without careful consideration and design.

Coincidently, Apple today announced a 450 pgs photo book "Designed by Apple in California" chronicling 20 years of past and current products design, dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs. Thus, Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer, explained, "while this is a design book, it is not about the design team, the creative process, or product development. It is an objective representation of our work that, ironically, describes who we are. It describes how we work, our values, our preoccupations, and our goals. We have always hoped to be defined by what we do rather than by what we say. We strive, with varying degrees of success, to define objects that appear effortless. Objects that appear so simple, coherent, and inevitable that there could be no rational alternative."

Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of iPhone, and many rumors about the 8th generation Apple flagship phone are already circulating around on internet. And I can't wait to see its debut at the Campus 2 grand opening event hosted by Jony Ive and Tim Cook in Fall 2017.

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