Speed of Innovation

A recent post on Daring Fireball where he discusses a piece on how Apple is doomed and specifically a piece by Dan Crow got me thinking. Dan made a similar comment to ones I have heard several times now and I felt it was time to explore it a little deeper.

It [Apple] hasn’t introduced a truly new product since the launch of the iPad nearly three years ago; instead it’s making incremental and overhyped improvements to its current lines.

Now, I understand where these thoughts and emotions are coming from, first so many of us are emotionally tied to the company and/or the products Apple creates. Second, we are impatient and often don’t understand the time and effort it takes to create these new and innovative products. And third, as Gruber mentions, we often don’t recognize innovation when it first appears as it appears as nothing dramatically different or “new” – or if it does it often doesn’t make sense to us at the time.

Generally, I think we all need to take a deep breath and realize that there is nothing odd going on here. We know that things are in Apple’s product pipeline – rumors and leaks talk about the Apple TV the way that tablets were talked about in 2001. Though, I can’t imagine that that is all that is in the Apple R&D department. However, the best way to predict the future is to review the past.

Original Apple Computers
Apple I – Released April 11, 1976
Apple II – Released June 10, 1977
Apple II Plus – Released June, 1979
Apple III – Released May 19, 1980

Here we see the original edition replaced a year later after “Apple Computer, Inc” was formed and they could move to a more polished, production quality system. However, we also see that it ran for three years before getting replaced by the Apple III. They did a product an upgrade to the Apple II, but that took 2 years, followed by two more for the next revision.

The Mac
Macintosh – Released January 22, 1984
Mac II and Mac SE – Released 1987
Mac LC – Released 1990

Here the biggest update to the Macintosh computer came after another three years of it being on the market. The Mac was truly a major innovator in the technology marketplace and changed the path of computer forever – but it took 4 years from the last Apple III update, which sold poorly. At the time the company still depended on sales of the Apple II.

The portables
Mac Portable – Released 1989
PowerBook 100 – Released 1991

Again, a major change to the computing world came with the portables which followed the original Mac II by two years and the original Mac by five.

Newton Messagepad – Released 1993

While not popular, the Newton is probably the most loved failure out of Apple. A product that was ahead of its time as seen by the PDA market that became huge in the late 90s and early 2000s.

The PowerMacs
PowerMac 6100/60 – Released 1994

The PowerMac computers were the next major step forward in the desktop computer lineup for Apple and really stepped into a product catalog nightmare.

The iMac
Bondi Blue – Released April 15, 1998 [followed by several minor upgrades]
The iMac G4 – Released 2002 was the first major design shift. From that point we saw a design change every two years, though after the iMac G5 (2004) the designs were really more shifts than dramatic changes.

Classic – Released 2002
Mini – Released 2004
Shuffle – Released 2005
Nano – Released 2005
Touch – Released 2007

1st Gen – Released 2007, followed by yearly “updates”
iPhone 4 – Released 2010 offered a major design transition

1st Gen – Released 2010
Mini – Released 2012

So what can pull from this; if we take the Apple II as the first major innovation of Apple it took from 1977 through 1984, or 7 years, to develop the Macintosh. Then another 5 to push that concept into a portable variant. The Newton was truly a new product innovation, but that took 9 years from the Macintosh release.

After Jobs returns and trimmed the product lineup we were first introduced to the iMac in 1998. Apple’s next product, the iPod, was not released until 2002 or a full 4 years later. From there it took three years for the iPhone to come out in 2007 and another three for the iPad in 2010.

So if recent history is any indication, we should see a new product or major product shake-up in 2013. Though Apple now has multiple active product lineups: iMac, MacBook, Mac Pro/Mini, iPod, iPhone, iPad, plus a number of software and service suites. So it could be longer before we see another major lineup change, but I would not be surprised if there was something to for Spring 2013.

I have two guesses:

(1) A non-hobby Apple TV – which is already a defined product with a following so would be easier to move into production.


(2) A revolutionary change to desktop computers and the Mac Pro lineups which would leave the current Mac Mini as the traditional desktop computer.

Either way, Apple is not off track according to their history. They have a lot of runway with the iPhone and iPad lineups, might be interesting to see what they do with the iPod lineup as it enters its second decade. I am still excited about the future.