Things Apple Has Not Yet Done

It’s hard to like Apple. To the dismay of conventional thinkers everywhere, the fruit company sambas to its own tune: makes the wrong products, at the wrong prices, for the wrong markets, at the wrong time. And, infuriatingly, wins.

Some of Apple’s ill-advised moves are well known. When other PC companies were shuttering their retail stores, Apple opened dozens in the most expensive locales. During the post-dotcom crash, instead of layoffs, Apple spent millions to hire and boost R&D. To the “Show us a $500 netbook, now!” amen corner Apple gave the un-netbook iPad, not at $999 but $499. The App Store and iTunes are still not open. Google hasn’t been given the keys to iOS devices yet…Clearly, this is a company that hasn’t learned the market-share-über-alles lesson from the Wintel era and is repeating the same mistakes, again. Like these:

• Media company — The slick design of Apple gadgets wouldn’t be nearly enough if it weren’t for the fact that Apple has quietly become the world’s biggest digital content purveyor. The availability of a vast library of media, coupled with the ease of purchase and the lock-in effect these purchases create, could easily tempt a lesser outfit to fashionably declare itself a “media company”. After all, Macromedia tried that with its AtomFilms purchase in 2000. Real and Yahoo dabbled in various forms media creation, acquisition and distribution. Microsoft fancied itself a part-media company with investments in publishing (Slate) and cable (MSNBC, Comcast). Amazon has several imprints of its own. Netflix is now an episodic TV producer. Google is investing hundreds of millions in original material for YouTube. Apple, on the other hand, has always resisted creating and owning content, because…

• Indies — … Apple plays for the fat middle part of the bell curve. Once a bit player in computers and consumer electronics, Apple’s now a giant. Whether it’s music, TV shows, movies or ebooks, Apple targets the mainstream, and the mainstream demands the availability of mainstream content from top labels, studios and publishers. It’s very tempting to urge Apple to sign deals right and left with independent producers in entertainment and publishing, to bypass traditional gatekeepers and ‘disrupt’ their respective industries, on the cheap. Unfortunately, beyond modest promotional efforts with indies, it doesn’t look like Apple’s likely to upset the mainstream cart from which it makes so much money.

Tapose

• Multitasking — “One device. One account. One app. One window. One task.” seems to be Apple’s current approach to Post-PC computing. If iPads are going to cannibalize PCs in the workplace or schools, iOS workflow patterns will have to evolve. Bringing multiple user accounts to the same device, showing two windows from two different apps in the same view with interaction between the two or letting all/most apps work in the background would necessitate quite a bit of user re-education in the iOS camp. It’s not clear for how long Apple can afford not to provide such functionalities.

• PDF replacement — Apple’s tumultuous love affair with PDF goes back nearly 25 years to Display PostScript during its NeXT prequel. PDF may now be “native” to Mac OS X and the closest format of exchange for visual fidelity, but it’s become slow, fat, cumbersome and not well integrated with HTML, the lingua franca of the web. While PDF is too entrenched for the print world, ePub 3.0 seems to be emerging as an alternative standard for interactive media publishing. Apple does support it, even with Apple-created extensions, but composing and publishing polished ePub material is still a maddeningly complex, hit-and-miss affair. iBooks Author is a great start, but its most promising output is iTunes-only. If Apple has big ideas in this space, it’s not obvious from its available tools or investments.

• HTML 5 tools — While iBooks Author makes composing app-like interactive content possible without having to use Xcode, Apple has no comparable semi-professional caliber tool for creating web sites/apps for the browser. Apple has resisted offering anything like a Hypercard-level tool for HTML that sits in between the immense but disjointed JavaScript/CSS open ecosystem and the powerful but hard-to-master Xcode. It has killed iWeb and still keeps iAd Producer mostly out of sight. Clearly, Apple doesn’t want more apps but more unique apps to showcase the App Store. HTML isn’t much of a differentiator there and until the ROI in HTML 5 vs. native apps becomes clearer to Apple, such tools are unlikely to arrive anytime soon.

Discovr

• Discovery tools — Yes, Apple has Genius, but that’s a blackbox. Genius is simple and operates in the background silently. It doesn’t have a visual interface like Spotify, Aweditorium, Music Hunter, Pocket Hipster, Groovebug or Discovr Music, allowing users to actively move around a musical topology visually, aided by various social network inputs. With its Ping attempt and Twitter and Facebook tie-ups, Apple has shown it’s at least interested in the social angle, but a more dedicated, visual and fun discovery tool is still absent not just for music but also for TV, movies, books and apps.

Pushpin

• Map layers — Over the last few years Apple has acquired several map-related companies, one of which, PlaceBase, was known for creating “layers” of data-driven visualizations over maps. Even before its messy divorce from Google, Apple has chosen not to offer any such map enhancements. When properly designed, maps are great base-level tools over which lots of different kinds of information can be interactively delivered, especially on touch-driven mobile devices where Siri also resides.

• iOS device attachments — One of the factors that made iPods and iPhones so popular has been the multi-billion dollar ecosystem of peripherals that wrap around or plug into them. However, besides batteries and audio equipment, there’s been a decided dearth of peripherals that connect to the 30-pin port to do useful things in medicine, education, automation, etc. Apple’s attention and investment in this area have been lackluster. Perhaps the new iPad mini coupled with the tiny Lightning Connector will rekindle interest by Apple and third parties in various domains.

Apple glasses

• Wearables — Google Glass is slated for production in a year or so, Apple’s known assets in wearable computing devices amount to a few patents. There’s much debate as to how this field will shape up. Apple may choose to augment iPhones with simpler and cheaper devices like smart watches that work in tandem with the phone, instead of stand-alone but expensive devices like Google Glass. So far ‘wearables’ doesn’t even register as a hobby in Apple’s interestgram.

Stylus

• Stylus — Apple has successfully educated half a billion users in the art of multitouch navigation and general use of mobile devices. That war, waged against one-year old babies and 90-year old grandmas, has been decisively won. However, until Apple invents a more precise method, taking impromptu notes, sketching diagrams and annotating documents with a (pressure sensitive) stylus remains a superior alternative to the finger. Some may consider the notion of a stylus (even one dedicated only to the specialized tasks cited above) a niche not worthy of Apple’s interest. And yet not too long ago 5-7 inch mobile devices were also considered niches.

• Games — Apple’s on course to become the biggest gaming platform. This without any dedicated game control or motion sensing input devices like the Xbox 360 Kinect and despite half-hearted attempts like the Game Center. Apple has been making steady progress on the CPU/GPU front on iOS devices and now the new Apple TV is also getting an A5X-class chip, capable of handling many console-level games. It remains unclear, however, if Apple has the desire or the dedicated resources to leapfrog not just Sony and Nintendo but also Microsoft in the games arena, with a strategy other than steady, slow erosion of the incumbents’ base.

• iOS Pro devices — Apple has so far seen no reason to bifurcate its iOS product line along entry/pro models, like MacBooks/MacBook Pros. iOS devices sell in the tens of millions every quarter into many complex markets in over 100 countries. Further complicating its SKU portfolio with more models is not the Apple way. More so than iPhones, an iPad with a “Pro” designation with specs to match has so far been not forthcoming. And yet several hundred million of these devices are now sold to business and education, where better security, provisioning, app distribution, mail handling, multitasking, hardware robustness, cloud connectivity, etc., will continue to be requested as check-mark items.

• Money — Apple hasn’t done much with money, other than accumulating about $140 billion in cash and marketable securities for its current balance sheet. It hasn’t yet made any device with NFC, operated as a bank, issued AppleMoney like Amazon Coins or Facebook Credits, offered a branded credit card or established a transactional platform (ignoring the ineptly introduced Passbook app). It has a tantalizing patent application for a virtual money transfer service (like electronic hawala) whereby iOS users can securely send and receive cash anywhere, even from strangers. With close to half a billion credit card accounts, the largest in the world, Apple has the best captive demographics for some sort a transactional sub-universe, but it’s anybody’s guess what it may actually end up doing with it or when.

Half empty or more to fill?

It would be easy and fun to spend another hour to triple this list of Things-Apple-Has-Not-Yet-Done. While not all of these would be easy to implement, none of them would be beyond Apple’s ability to execute. Most card-carrying AAPL doomsayers, however, would look at such a list and conclude: See, Apple’s fallen behind, Apple’s doomed!

There’s, of course, another way of interpreting the same list. Apple could spend a good part of the next decade bundling a handful of these Yet-To-Be-Done items annually into an exciting new iOS device/service to sell into its nearly half billion user base and beyond. Apple suffers from no saturation of market opportunities.

Apple will inevitably tackle most of these, but only in its own time and not when it’s yelled at. It’ll likely introduce products and services not on this or any other list that will end up rejiggering an industry or two. Apple will do so because it knows it won’t win by conventional means or obvious schedules…which makes it hard — for those who are easily distracted — to like Apple.

26 thoughts on “Things Apple Has Not Yet Done

  1. So what you’re suggesting is that Apple be more like Samsung, which hasn’t had anyone in a brainstorming session say “No” to a single idea.

    Haven’t we been down this road many times before, where we quoth Emperor Jobs and the “it’s easy to say yes, difficult to say no” school of telling imps in product meetings to STFU?

  2. Implicitly, Apple has looked at every one of these ideas and said, “no thanks. Not us.”

    My first minutes with the original Mac’s programmer manual were disappointment that even though it sported a M68000 that had (rudimentary) memory protection, Mac OS was explicitly single-user, single-tasked. Apple stuck with that limitation WAAAY beyond when it was helpful. Took them from ’84 until OSX was preloaded 18 years later, to get out of the box they built for themselves.

    But I’d like to think that they’ve been testing out more powerful multi-tasking, more flexible inter-process communications, etc., in iOS, and will release them when they can smooth the rough edges so as to make the OS only a slight bit more complicated.

    So I hope.

  3. I switched to Apple after 15 years of hating it. Why did I hate it? Because I was a moron like you. The levels of productivity and enjoyment for my work and for my eyes that my iMac provides have never and will never be satisfied by Microsoft or Google simply because of the type of people who started the companies and types that run them. A real convert never goes back to the puke he was converted from (unless he’s a dog). Unless of course, you prove to me the Apple does not exist.

  4. Another great, insightful article, Kontra (ignore those comments above). I also believe Apple has many outlets for more devices and services. They have barely scratched the surface (pun intended). We have no way of knowing what they are up to until its a few months away and the leaks start. I think what Pepple (getpebble.com) is doing is something that would be cool to see from Apple. A lot of people were disappointed when Apple discontinued the iPod nano that some third-party vendors had made watch bands for. I know two people who wear them and love them. The revolution of the watch would be a goldmine if done right, and Apple could certainly do it.

    I always look forward to your writing. More please!

  5. This guy is on Google payroll. It’s true Google pays writers to write this crap.

    Stylists are a waste, multiple windows open is confusing and the glasses thing is not new, it’s old, very old.

  6. Dude easy for you to comment being outside. If you were really that good. why don’t you start a company that implements all the stuff that you are saying. If you can talk the talk, then walk the walk

  7. “Apple has successfully educated half a billion users in the art of multitouch navigation and general use of mobile devices.” Unfortunately, after winning that battle, Tim Cook has decided that the iPhone is a one-handed device, designed perfectly for humans’ one hand size…

    In all seriousness, great post. I didn’t realize iOS still didn’t support multitasking, and didn’t allow apps to run in the background (having jumped to Android 2 years ago). Serious disappointment.

    • iOS supports limited multi-tasking, where the limits are that programs may only perform one of a few, tightly-defined functions.

      So I can’t have my Bloomberg app watching my portfolios’ names in the background, and beeping when $GOOG crosses a pre-set target. But an app can have a server send notifications to the app, which will alert me.

      Probably the biggest nuisance is that downloads or big page updates can’t go into the background while I do something else. Of course, these are the sort of things that can pound away on the battery, unbeknownst to the user, so Apple reins ‘em in.

  8. Completely disagree about a stylus being necessary. I can’t imagine Apple catering to it. Think of Microsoft having failed time and again with their tablet strategy in the past where they insisted on having it only to watch as Apple ditched it along with scrapping a lot of other PC features a la multitasking with multiple windows. Who knows though, multitasking may be resolved through other means in more elegant Apple fashion in future iterations.

  9. re: multi-tasking on iOS: 4-finger gestures (swipe left/right and up) as well as Siri (“launch [app]“, or simply asking the question I need answered) are more than enough to keep my work flowing on iOS.

    What is needed is faster hardware to make the transitions and Siri feedback crisper. On iPad 3, you have to pause for a second between swipes before you can engage with the app. I would expect that the current iPad shows better performance.

    re: multiple accounts on iOS: Apple TV allows for multiple user accounts without needing to sign in, even across geographies (iTunes Stores). While this is not yet available on iPad, it is available on iOS. As the case has been since its introduction: first Apple TV, then, the world.

  10. “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

    Steve Jobs – Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, 1997

  11. “I’m as proud of the products that we have not done as the ones we have done.” — Steve Jobs

    You made a great article… What would it be nice is to “decipher” what is Apple doing by not doing what you are saying it could/should do.

    In other words, why they do what they do.

    Taking your point aboutmoney. I read long ago that they should become a bank to manage money in other ways. Do they want to become a bank?

    • Without knowing a company’s internal constraints or business goals, it’s impossible to know what they will/should do. I try to stay away from the “5 Things Apple Must Do” stuff. That said, Apple first seeds hardware capable of certain things they plan to do in large numbers first before they unveil a new feature/service. They won’t go gangbuster with NFC anytime soon, for example, without having a large number of NFC-enabled iOS devices out there. Also, why would Apple want to become a bank? Certain online transactions require a bank license, but beyond that Apple has no expertise in retail credit management, fraud, etc.

  12. In these lines of work, the high-wire act and the innovation business, intense focus…draws…toes the lifeline, beats the drum and, all hands off poll into headwinds and buzz-worded doubts, smothers the cat-calls to nay…

  13. “iOS Pro devices — Apple has so far seen no reason to bifurcate its iOS product line along entry/pro models, like MacBooks/MacBook Pros.”

    If the iPad 128GB is not a Pro device I don’t know what is. Of course the Mini is an entry device without being called that.

    The Pro distinction may well be on its way out, the Macbook Air seems quite “Pro” to me.

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