Lately, I’ve been troubled by Wall Street analysts' claims that Apple must invent some new product or product category if it wants to get more support from investors. I am confused where this is coming from because if the analysts did their homework, they would know that Apple does not invent new products; rather it reinvents them, as it has done since the Apple II. Let's take a look back.
Eddie Roberts created the first true commercial PC in 1974 and Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote the first OS for the Altair 8800. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak saw this computer on the cover of Popular Science and wanted one. He could not afford it though, so he started tinkering with parts to create a similar personal computer kit for his own use. His friend Steve Jobs saw its potential and the two teamed up. The rest, as they say, is history.
Then in 1981 IBM introduced its PC, which sold like wildfire. Interestingly, the original business plan forecasted that IBM would sell 400,000 units during the life of the product. Steve Jobs thought the IBM PC was archaic and too difficult to use, which spurred the Mac project and the use of a graphical user interface. From the beginning Jobs was absorbed in industrial design and usability issues, and those took centre stage in everything he created while at Apple.
Although Apple popularised MP3 players with the iPod, here again it did not invent them. British scientist Kane Kramer actually designed the first digital audio player in 1979 and he eventually became a consultant to Apple after it jumped into the market.
The same goes for smartphones. The origin of the term can be traced back to 1973 with Ericsson's "Penelope." However, it took Apple to design an elegant and intuitive iPhone before these products really took off.
As for tablets, their roots can be traced back as far as 1915 when the first patent was granted for a system that recognised handwritten characters by analysing the handwriting motion. In the 1980s various companies such as Pencept, Grid Computing, and Go, came out with pen computers and in fact, in 1987, Apple actually started its first slate-like project that eventually became the Newton. Of course, it later unveiled its game-changing iPad.
Considering these facts, it should be clear to those on Wall Street that Apple's strategy is to look at a product, identify its flaws and potential, and then reinvent it by making it smarter, sleeker, and more user-friendly. More importantly, when Apple adds a little marketing muscle it can drive its products deep into international markets.
So what is Apple's next makeover project? Signs indicate that it could be the television. Steve Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that it "would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."
Although there has been a lot of gossip about what "it" will be, I suspect we will soon find out.
Rumours also suggest that Apple is developing a smartwatch but as of now, this is purely speculation. However, if Cupertino does produce one, you can be sure it will observe the flaws of existing smartwatches and make one that is cleverer and more elegant. And if the company determines it cannot deliver on something like this, the product will never see the light of day.
Over a year ago now, I wrote an analysis of other industries Apple is poised to disrupt in the future, including automobiles and appliances.
This Wall Street idea that Apple has peaked is quite presumptuous. It assumes that Apple does not have the genius to continue to create products, even if they are reinventions of current products on the market. Could Apple design something totally new? Sure, but history shows that the company is more likely to watch which products take off and then reconceptualise them.
It is way too early to write Apple off as a company whose best days are behind it. I suspect that it still has a few delightful tricks up its sleeve that will help maintain its rank as one of the most powerful tech companies in the world.