When Steve Jobs co-founded Apple, his drive, design and vision made it a leader not just in the computer industry, but the entire consumer electronics world.
After the company ousted him in 1985, Apple sputtered along for years under CEO John Scully, who was replaced by a couple of no-name execs. Things looked grim until Jobs returned as “interim CEO” in 1997, and turned everything around. His legacy includes the iMac, iPad, MacBook Air, Apple TV and many more successes for the cutting-edge tech company.
Since his passing in 2011, however, Apple seems to have lost its way again. For every nicely executed device, the company has released a clunker, and some of the designs are downright jarring.
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Consider the awkward “Apple Pencil” stylus for the new iPad Pro, which sticks directly out of the base while charging. The unsightly positioning all but negates the sleekness of the design.
Then there’s the recently released, add-on battery ”case” for the iPhone. Users have deemed it startlingly ugly. Or the fact that you have to flip over the wireless computer mouse, Magic Mouse 2, to charge it. It looks more like a dead rat than a computer mouse in that position. All products Jobs never would have allowed to leave the R&D labs in Cupertino, California. Jobs was all about style.
Competitors have shown they are more than happy to step in and pick up the slack. Look around your local coffee shop or lecture hall. Students and telecommuting professionals are as likely to be working on a Microsoft Surface tablet as an iPad. Teens are as likely to sport a gleaming Samsung Galaxy smartphone as an iPhone.
Apple’s been the perennial underdog in operating systems sales, but part of that was because Microsoft seemed to always be playing a game of catch up with Windows. Not any more. Windows 10 has earned a strong reception, and the release of its latest generation of the Office software suite shows the company is savvy to modern trends in a way that Apple, with its “walled garden,” can’t match.
Apple is also having a hard time understanding where its most recent products fit into the tech landscape. Take the new iPad Pro. Starting at $799 with a $169 “Smart Keyboard” cover, it’s a laptop that competes with the Microsoft Surface, right? Not really, because the Surface runs Windows while the iPad Pro runs iOS, not Mac OS X. It’s still a big phone, not a computer. Win for Microsoft.
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In fact, the iPad Pro seems to indicate that departments at Apple aren’t working well together. The engineering department is making a cool iPad, but the marketing department wants a laptop where you can pop off the keyboard. The result is that it’s not really either, offering competitors the chance to supplant Apple yet again in a market segment.
Then there’s the latest Apple MacBook, which has two ports — a headphone jack and a USB-C plug. No standard USB, no SDCard reader, no HDMI. Heck, no power plug. Instead, Apple has forced every buyer to buy adapters so they can restore their lost ports, causing a great deal of consternation in the industry. Every other laptop manufacturer includes a wide range of ports for versatility. Not Apple.
Then again, this is actually one of the few decisions that Jobs might well have supported. He hated the floppy drive and insisted it wasn’t included in any NeXT Computer systems at one point. Jobs was fine forcing change if the end result was better, faster, more elegant. But from a user’s perspective? These sort of changes aren’t really very friendly at all.
Without a psychic to summon the visionary leader’s return, Apple risks losing relevancy and market share. For every home run, the company is also striking out with anyone other than its most devoted fans. Android, Windows 10, the Microsoft Surface 4, and Samsung Galaxy S6 are ushering in a new era of tech gadgets in the wake of confusion it’s caused.
If competition continues at this pace, design may end up being the rock that facilitates the fall of this tech Goliath.