In starting up Apple Computer, and then growing it into a gigantically successful technology company, Steve Jobs constantly preached the following to the employees:
“We don’t get a chance to do that many things, so each one of them should be really excellent.”
“Quality is much better than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”
When Steve introduced a product, it was special and rocked the status quo. The Macintosh, the iPod, the iPad, and the iPhone are the examples of what Steve was talking about. Each was huge in its impact and represented the foundation of what he left when he passed away in 2011.
Frankly, not much innovation has occurred at Apple since Steve passed away. What occurred at Apple’s March 25, 2019 product introduction marks a further departure from Steve’s core principles cited above. At that recent event, the CEO announced what Apple will bet on for the next few years for growth: a streaming service and a credit card.
To say that the streaming business is getting overcrowded is a massive understatement. You have many existing, successful services like Netflix, Hulu, Sling, YouTubeTV, HBO Now, DirecTV Now, etc. and many giant players, like AT&T’s Time Warner, Comcast , Disney, CBS, Dish, Amazon and many others, contemplating new services every day. Doing something really special that is enduring is very hard in such a crowded, established category. Warren Buffett put it best just after the announcement when he said “There are a lot of smart people with resources in that business. I wouldn’t want to play in that game myself.”
The credit card business is very similar. There are many giant, successful, established players and lots of “new features” being announced regularly that are quickly adopted by most all of the major players.
A few days after Apple’s big announcement, the Wall Street Journal ran a front page article entitled “Apple Still Hasn’t Fixed It’s MacBook Keyboard Problem.” It spelled out the three years of user frustration with the fact that Apple’s so called “butterfly” keyboard still randomly decides to ignore e’s and r’s as you type them and a few other problems. Given Jobs’ intense focus on perfect quality, it is shocking that Apple has atrophied to the point that this problem has now lingered for over three years.
Stepping back, let’s face it, the Apple that Steve Jobs created and nurtured to become one of the premier technology companies has now become something quite different. It will continue to milk the innovations that Steve generated, and take advantage of the established base of Apple users, but sadly his two core principles cited above no longer seem to be in Apple’s playbook.