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.

Case of the mini iPad

With October 23rd coming up fast and the rumor mills suggesting that Apple is going to be hosting a media event to introduce a new member to the iPad family I thought it was my turn to throw my thoughts out there. The anticipated iPad “mini” (or “air”) is widely regarded as being a 7.85″ screened little brother to the current iPad, an attempt to share in the success of the Kindle and Nexus 7″ tablets.

A change in the name

To me, the most obvious indication that the product family was increasing came with the release of the latest iPad back in March. At the time Apple chose to move away from the naming schemes of the iPhone, and shift back to the naming strategy for the iPod. The iPad would not be referred to as the iPad 3, but just “the new iPad”. Using a number to represent revision is a easy way to allow consumers to value a new product release, however, it breaks down completely if you have more that one product edition – in the case of the iPods; the shuffle, the nano, and the classic. By dropping this from the iPad it allows the iPad family to grow.

7″ tablets are DOA

However, reducing the size of the screen seems to fly in the face of the contention that Steve Jobs put forth back in 2010, β€œThe 7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad, are going to be DOA.” Now at the time some of this was true, but most of it was just marketing – as he had done so often previously (see iPod video playback). [NOTE: whenever Jobs took an aggressive against a particular product feature, you were to _expect_ it in a couple years]

Digging a little deeper into the time period I want to note that Jobs’ theory was not totally without merit within the context of time. The release of the iPad ushered a new wave of computing, a “post-PC” era – but it has not come without a fight. The last few years Apple has constantly fought against a tide of perception that the iPad was for consumption only – couldn’t be used for anything other than reading, watching, or gaming. For the most part Apple has won this fight showing off practical applications in the areas of art, eduction, healthcare, etc. Today you would be hard to find too many areas where the iPad is not being used.

A smaller iPad would have only made the task harder. Take a look at what is reported as most successful 7″ tablet, the Kindle Fire. Its primary intent is to act as a eReader, yes it has other options but the users primarily turn to it to read books. Apps have not yet been made popular and web traffic is far lower than what we see with the iPad. Primarily it is a consumption device, at least until apps start to take advantage of the opportunities available. I propose that a 7″ iPad, back in 2010, would have been viewed as a large iPod more than an entirely new computing environment. So, the 10″ screen made the best product back in 2010 but the world has changed. I don’t think consumers are as stuck with the older perceptions that smaller devices are to be used for consumption only – just no one has done it yet. I believe that the iPad has grown iOS out of a ‘mobile OS’ and onto equal footing with Mac OS and Windows. Now when developing new “desktop” software, the iPad is one of the devices I wonder if I should target. Which is what I think Apple wanted. Now it is time to expand and take in the market previously held by the old PDAs (dare I say Newtons).

So what do I expect

I would expect most of what I am hearing out of the rumor sites. A 7.85″ screen iPad with the new dock connector and data plan options – smaller and lighter, but essentially the iPad. Expect an A5 chip, much like the iPod Touch in an effort to keep heat and costs down and battery life up. I would also expect the base model to be non-retina, also in an attempt to keep costs down.

Base cost I would estimate at $299 – though I think Apple would be smart to push to the $249 if possible. A high-end $349 model is likely expected to make a showing with a retina screen.

The winners here: education. This brings the cost of a personal computer down to something affordable for schools and manageable for students. It also brings enough power to make it useful for the classroom. Though I do think it will be popular across the board.

The name, I like Grubers proposal of the ‘iPad air’ though I don’t think Apple will dilute the “air” brand – keeping that for the MacBooks. The “nano” is used by the iPod family, so count that out. The most obvious is “mini”, though I hope they can do better.

I almost expect an update to the standard iPad, moving it to the new dock connector and possibly upgrading the processor to the newer A6. I have not completely convinced myself of that yet, but it makes sense and it has been almost 9 months since that last release. It could just be a dock connector change, it could be just an introduction of an adapter – but I don’t count out Apple’s desire to break rules to do something they deem right and go for a full product update. I am not sure they want to do a minor update now and another larger update in March ’13 – think they will just combine them – just a choice between now or later.

Where I think Apple missed

Now, I like the idea of the iPad family of products and think a smaller iPad makes a lot of sense, as does the larger iPad. However, I think Apple missed an opportunity with the iPod Touch. As I have mentioned in the past, I don’t think the iPod Touch fits as an “iPod”, today it seems more in line with the iPad (phone without the phone) – and that was what I was expecting. I think the product is really just lacking an optional data plan – WiFi and 4G LTE options. Could be size? Could be heat? Could be battery? — but I do continue expect this at some point soon.

Trims and focuses the iPod lineup again on pure musical devices, and I think simplifies the iPad family to three categories: pocket, mini, note pad.

I can see that they held the iPod announcements with the iPhone to fill that out that presentation – and will let the iPad mini stand in its own spot light. The iPhone is now a mature product and doesn’t need the same attention, which I think was shown this year more so than any previous year – thinking back to the iPod in year 5, we had a complete family line-up to announce.

I expect the transition of the iPod Touch to the iPad family lineup to occur next year. At which time I am also hoping the iPod nano to take on the actual iOS interface with GPS, Maps, and more additional Apple controlled apps – though no App Store. One day this could turn into a iPhone nano?

iPhone Event

Ok, so I am sitting here working through some final iOS 6 changes leading up to the expected release today and I have been thinking about some recent conversations that I have had about what else is coming today.

The obvious is the new iPhone with an updated design and slightly larger screen. This is coming and it will cause developers a “little” pain, but not as much as changing the screen sizes of the iPad. It will also come with a new dock connector – which I would generally expect it to be in line with the Thunderbolt connector since Apple has been pushing that across their product line up and provides a lot of advantages in moving data. However, it was argued that it would just be USB 3 – which would make sense since you have a large none-mac install base – though, you still have a large crowd that is not on USB 3 yet so the problem of different cables or adapters still exists. I would like to see them move forward with Thunderbolt as it would help push that technology forward – since syncing is wireless the cable options are not as big of a deal. We will see.

A new phone and a new OS are a big deal – however, neither are unexpected and neither are really jaw dropping. iOS 6 has been presented previously, and I think twice with a lot of the WWDC talk on it. Yes that was oriented towards developers like me, but the keynote is a public event. I expect them to present it, announce availability, and move on. The phone, yes a big deal (the iPhone revenue segment is larger than the entire revenue at Microsoft (via CNN)

However, the iPhone is old news and I don’t believe is going to offer much more than standard evolutionary enhancements – more memory, faster processor, better antenna, and increased battery life. And while I think that makes for enough for a standard keynote I think a dedicated media event might be a bit much, though they have done it before. From a marketing perspective, I don’t think they want the headlines to be “Apple Underwelmed”. While they have done it before I think it did not turn out the way they wanted, and it could have been due to a last minute pull of a signature announcement that was the “wow” factor.

So … what else could be coming …

New iPods … possibly, but these will likely be nothing more than standard updates. The “iPod” is now so old I don’t expect any TV ads, and by old I mean still strong in that market segment and still a major revenue source but no longer exciting or offering something new. So the iPod is not dead, but no longer a showcase item.

The big news will be the the iPod Touch is dead. I expect this is probably the best selling, or close to, the best selling iPod today. But it is dead. Done.

The product never really fit in the iPod line-up, heck when it was first released it shipped with the ‘iPhone OS’ installed. It does so much more than the other iPods, yet it limited by them at the same time. But it is not a phone so it doesn’t fit in the iPhone family … but there is a new family that it does fit with. The iPad family … and I can hear you “there is no iPad family there is just the iPad”.

Keep in mind that Apple recently dropped the number from the iPad name, essentially rebranding it as just the “iPad”. Lot of questions as to why. The simple answer is because when you have a family of products you can version them in their names. You can’t have a new “iPad 4”, but the “iPad Mini 1” – well, you can but that is not Apple’s style. Instead I am expecting a new product line-up: the iPad (current, no changes) adding the “iPad nano” (rebranded iPod Touch), and the iPad Air (a 7.85″ model) [name stolen from Gruber].

The iPad nano will now include an option for GPS and a Data plan, will still sit at the size of the iPhone and will include many of those features. The iPad Air will be just like the iPad only slightly smaller – but I _do_ expect it to have a retina screen as will the iPad nano.

Pricing, I would expect to see the iPad nano in a range of $149 – $249, and the iPad Air $299-$499. This will overlap with the current “iPad 2” model pricing – which I don’t expect to go away – but I don’t think that will matter since it is a different model and screen size and thus a different customer.

Major other announcements, including a revamped iTunes and updated Apple TV, are coming but the Apple TV will dilute the press pages. And the updated iTunes fits more with managing content for the Apple TV than it does with the announcements today. Yes, the new iPads will dilute from the new iPhone but I believe that is a big enough to carry its own weight. The new iPad family will again push the market outside the bounds being defined by Google, Samsung, Amazon, and Microsoft – all of who are just getting products out to meet what Apple has today. This throws them off stride again and one more forces them to be playing catch-up.

Also, the iPod Touch is considered 4th generation … take a look at that invite again πŸ™‚

Side note: The iPhone 3GS is also a dead product, replaced by the iPhone 4 which will bring all phones to retina screens.

Checks and Balances

Over the last couple months there has been much discussion into the Apple lawsuit against one John Doe regarding a yet unconfirmed future product, codenamed “Asteroid”. In an attempt to find the individual responsible for the ‘leak’, Apple is seeking information on the said individual through subpoenas and trade secret suits against several online websites; including ThinkSecret and AppleInsider.
My understanding of the argument defending these sites is that these sites are news outlets and thus should be under the same protection that traditional journalists receive in regards to disclosing informant information. The EFF, the group defending the sites, has a article up on why they fight Apple’s subpoenas. In that article they reference “Deep Throat”, the informant involved in the 1972 Watergate incident. This is where I believe the argument against Apple is critically flawed.
Apple is a public company. They have investors to protect, customers to woo, and employees to look after … and Apple does this by leading in the computer and electronics market. Their success depends on beating the competition to the market – hence the reason for all the money and resources spent on trying to keep products quiet before they are announced. Apple establishes a legal boundary on what its employees, partners, subcontractors, and even 3rd party developers can say about upcoming or unreleased products. If that trust between the two parties is broken, Apple then can take legal recourse against them.
But these websites did not break the legal agreement, they only published the information they were provided. Hence the query into who provided them the information. Now, we enter the grounds of informant protection. Here we have an individual that broke the law (or at least legal agreements), he then provided that information to a news outlet. The news outlet then, knowing it was trade secret material, published the information which, in turn, may have caused harm to the company and its investors.
The key here is that these news organizations, traditional journalists or not, knowingly assisted in the distribution of classified and confidential materials. Further, protecting the “informant” in this case is bordering on protecting a possible criminal. If this was a criminal case, say murder, situations like this would land both parties in jail. It is a harsh comparison but I believe valid.
I understand the need for protecting informants and whistle blowers. That protection is one of the ways we can keep our society in balance. But that protection can not be freely abused. In this case, confidential material regarding trade secrets were released without permission. This is not an informant passing on poor working conditions or illegal (or questionable) company practices. This is not an informant who is passing on information about an situation he/she witnessed. This is a individual who is suspected of knowingly breaking a legal agreement – and that is not a situation where the informant’s identity should be protected.
Seems the judge will be ruling next week … so we will just have to wait and see what the courts eventually decide.
Daring Fireball has a great discussion on the ruling. It was predictable … once again crimping the style of the rumor sites.