One More Thing – What Next for Apple, and For Your Mobile Strategy?

It takes greatness for a man to change the course of a river.

If that river is actually the flow of human endeavour that is the web and the inexorable drive towards the principles and technologies it symbolises and engenders, then greatness is too small a word for that achievement.

Steve Jobs did it. He took by the scruff of it’s neck all that technologists, philosophers, designers and businesses across the world were seeking to do, and he yanked it like a magical cloak to unveil his own version of the future. Along the way he reinvented mobile phones, the music industry, the applications universe and our very relationship as people, with technology. Steve Jobs was Prometheus.

But in doing so, he convinced us that the way forward was away from open standards, lowest common denominator tools, democratic access to content, and a low cost model of internet services. He gift-wrapped proprietary standards, expensive gadgets, walled garden access and a hard bargain to boot, into a lickable form that very few could resist. (He even changed the lexicon – he made lickability a real word.) And he took 30% of the top. And it was willingly paid. In fact, if Steve Jobs had created the web, rather than Tim Berners Lee, the Internet would be sold in a little white box that you could only get from Apple. It would be near perfect. And you would be in the lucky/ rich 40% to have it, because you would pay through your nose.

The iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, the App Store – every one of these was a “new to the world” product in it’s own way. There are too many reasons to list here all the ways in which they departed from anything before. But the word revolutionary can be applied to most of Apple’s products, without much exaggeration.

Steve Jobs is no more. And the impact of his achievement is starting to become apparent as the world slides back towards the web, eschewing increasingly, the expensive and proprietary model of Apple. Like the tide reclaiming land where the fortress has crumbled.

No longer does Apple seem to produce a product which is scarcely believable in it’s distance from the present and the understood. What was your first reaction to the iPad when you heard of it? Surely you thought “I’ve got a phone, I’ve got a laptop, this seems like an indulgence!”. And soon you succumbed. As somebody said, every year, you expected apple to create a product that you’d never heard about before but suddenly couldn’t live without any more.

The iPad Mini, which is Apple’s first offering post Steve Jobs, isn’t any of that. It’s actually a me-too, a shinier, sexier, apple-ized version of the Kindle. I bought one, but only as a replacement for an iPad). The iPhone 5 launch was dogged by the problems with the map. The refrain on the street was unanimous. Would have never happened under Jobs.

The competition, which earlier found itself nearly out of the race, is suddenly roaring back. Samsung have not only taken over the smart phone market in terms of value and volumes, they are also neck and neck with Apple on innovation. The very fact this should be a debate is a sign of the erosion of Apple’s position. The HTC One, though not as loudly touted, is also a device on par with or ahead of the iPhone in many ways.

Two years ago, Apple sued Samsung for copyright infringement. At the time it was an open and shut case – Apple created, Samsung copied. Now, every week there’s a settlement and a counter settlement. Courts all over the world are coming to their own conclusions about the intellectual copyright sparring and the decisions are rarely unanimous. It’s hard to stay enthused any more about who won which lawsuit and what was paid in which currency.

The most damning pointer of all, is possibly Apple’s stock price. It looks like the market no longer believes that Apple can walk on water. Consider the performance of Apple’s stock versus Google’s up to 2012
Apple stock vs google stock 07 12
…. with that since 2012. There is clearly an element of value migration from Apple.
Every other day, people are taking pot shots at apple. Are apple too defensive now? Are they having to fend off the constant jabbing by Samsung? Have they lost their marketing mojo? No uber announcements just when everybody else was out trying to make news?

None of this is to take away from Apple’s current management. Tim Cook is said to be the guru of Apple’s supply chain which combines over hundreds of suppliers into the flawless whole that is an apple product and still manages to retain absurdly high profits for contributing very little to the physical product. The iPad Mini by any definition is an excellent product. The immediate future of the iPhone and iPad family may well be safe thanks to the lead Apple already have in design, vision, operational sophistication and technology. All of this makes Apple a pretty good company. One of the best, in fact.

But not years ahead of everybody, where Steve Jobs had them.

No disrespect to Cook and co. It’s like taking over from Alex Ferguson, Jack Welch or Steve Waugh.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the iWatch will herald a whole new generation of technology. I believe firmly that personal and home tech is the next frontier. Google Glass and Apple’s iWatch may be the headline acts of this next wave. But while we would all love to see another world changing device from Apple, my gut says it could be underwhelming.

There are still organisations buying iPads by the thousands. Armies of sales people and relationship managers are now going to battle with a shiny apple device rather than an “old fangled laptop”. In fact I asked a room full of executives why they would choose a device for an enterprise when it didn’t connect to the network, didn’t run any standard enterprise software, couldn’t print very easily and was unnecessarily expensive. The answers were unfailingly emotional. “Because it’s so simple my 5 year old daughter can use it”, or “it passes the mum test” or “it’s the only device you can caress”. Will companies continue to invest deeply into Apple devices? Or will they start to look around for alternatives soon? The jury is out on that one.

Meanwhile, it wouldn’t hurt to revisit your enterprise strategy. If, like a lot of companies, your mobile strategy basically reads “get apps out on apple devices, and we’ll worry about the rest later”, this is a good time to rethink the approach. Here are 5 things you should be doing.

1. This is the most important. Get prepared for a swing back to HTML5 and web standards over native iOS/ Android development. Make sure all your vendors have a clear HTML5 roadmap.
2. Ensure you have an HTML5 reference architecture for what you are trying to do in your business, even if you don’t use it right now.

3. The same is true of Android. Create a reference architecture, build a route to market on the android ecosystem. But remember that Android is almost like a counter point to apple. If the iOS native development declines, so might Android, in favour of HTML standards.

4. Start exploring the non-apple device landscape. The phone space is turning already, but the tablet space may be interesting in the next 12-18 months.

5. Watch the HTML app stores such as AppsFuel, for reusable apps and components.