/ Technology

Is Apple still innovative or has it lost its edge?

Apple with USB plug

Apple’s latest announcements, a new iPod range and a social networking tool (Ping), attracted the usual hysteria from its legions of fans and a fawning media. But was there really anything to get excited about?

Apple’s annual September press conference is always a huge event. And in many ways last week’s was no different, with Coldplay’s Chris Martin performing live and Lady Gaga appearing via a pre-recorded video.

Yet, following the event online (the conference was streamed worldwide – something that doesn’t happen when Alba makes an announcement) I was left distinctly underwhelmed. Could it be that Apple, the company that reshaped the entire personal entertainment industry, has lost its edge?

End of the road for iPod innovation?

Putting the glamour and hype to one side, what did Steve Jobs actually announce? Well, for starters the entire iPod range is to be refreshed. But the changes are hardly revolutionary.

The updated iPod Touch gets new cameras, the new Nano gains a tiny touchscreen display (how useful is a 1.5 inch touchscreen?). Meanwhile the new Shuffle ditches the headphone controls Apple introduced last year, replacing them with the iconic (i.e. old) click wheel.

Don’t get me wrong, I expect all of these models to work extremely well. Apple makes fantastic products – I’ve happily used my iPod Nano for a number of years – but none of these are game changers like the very first iPod Classic or iPhone.

Perhaps Apple’s recognised that it’s reached the end of the road with the iPod – especially when sales are at their lowest point since 2006.

Ping back social networks

To further refresh this market Apple has announced its intention to expand into new areas. The first of these is its attempt to create a new social network – Ping.

Ping lets you build networks of friends and musicians, which’ll then allow you to form playlists based on what those networks are listening to. With typical restraint, Steve Jobs described Ping as being ‘like Facebook and Twitter meets iTunes’. But I can’t see it ever achieving half the success of those sites.

There are already a number of music based social networks (last.fm, MySpace, Spotify to name just three) and they all work better than Apple’s effort. Ping is simply too limited. And the fact that you’re ultimately directed to the iTunes store makes it feel more like a marketing opportunity than a fun feature to use with your friends.

Update to Apple TV too easy

Jobs’ final announcement was about Apple TV, a set-top box that can stream media content from the internet directly to the TV. However, as with its iPods, this isn’t really a new product. Apple TV has been around since 2007 without ever winning over the general public.

I’ve no doubt some people will love this service (Apple is certainly not short of dedicated fans). Equally I’ve no doubt the choice of content will quickly grow as Apple licences deals with providers – as it stands, the UK only has a limited selection.

However, you can already watch free and paid-for content on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and internet enabled TVs (plus, of course, your home computer or laptop). And that’s before you consider the upcoming Google TV.

Over the last decade Apple has produced some remarkable products and has even changed the way we think about personal entertainment. Maybe that’s why I was so disappointed by these latest efforts.

Because as much as the Apple hype machine (one area where Apple remains unrivalled) may try to convince me that everything it produces are revolutionary must-buys, I know that’s not actually the case.


Wow. Can you write anything with less depth?

(1) First and foremost, Apple is now seems to be making announcements three times a year. March (iOS preview), June (WWDC, iPhone), and September (iPod). Three, with a fourth when a Mac upgrade deems it. Now, this last one – when was the last time they didn’t have a September announcement? (Hint: half a decade ago at least.)

So did they have anything to announce? Sure. Maybe not as “innovative” or earth-shattering as an iPad but WOW. I’m guessing you work on deadlines too, right? I’m guessing you pretty much publish some “conversation” on a regular basis, right? As for the “innovative” nature ot this one? Frankly it lack content more than last week’s Apple announcement did. So I guess one should ask if you’ve lost your edge and should be told not to publish anything until you re-find that innovative touch you must have had at one point.

(2) Now, let’s speak to innovation. iPhone, iPad, a true touch mobile OS. That, in under four years. (Note I’m not mentioning those lack-of-innovation lame things like unibody Macs, much longer battery life, MagSafe power adapter, or first to market 802.11n routers, and yes, Apple TV. Note that I’m not mentioning the bi-annual OS X updates, A4 chips, or the sleekness of hardware design.)

Two questions: First, what “innvoations” have other industry leaders like Microsoft, Google, Nokia, Sony, Dell, or well, anyone else done in those 4 years? Second, do you have any idea of what kind of effort is involved in being “innovative”, or do you think a publicly-traded company who is now second in market cap just does this ort of thing in a matter of months? (I’ll bet you think Steve Jobs should have announced that flying car we all know he’s working on – even though it’s decades off. I mean, that’s exactly what Microsoft did with Mobile 7 and Longhorn!)

Look. It’s apparently not a big deal when you write drivel like this just to increase that all important click-through rate. Do you think you could cut Apple the same slack?

Dave, your lovelly Apply is doing fine . It’s a great business and hope you bought your shares at the right time!
I think it’s reasonable to ask whether the expected pace of innovation in end consumer goods is being sustained in the last announcement.
And Apple talks up the products so much that it is fair to expect them to be faultless.

Charles says:
7 September 2010

I don’t understand people being so hard on Apple either. It’s a music player for christ’s sake. I’m surprised Apple has been able to innovate as much as they have, and, with a few exceptions, every version is better than the previous year. It’s the innovation and expanding into new areas that raises Apple’s stock price, but even if they kept the products the same for an extra year they’d still be far ahead of everyone else. Look for more innovation in the iPhone/iPod touch (main software), iPad, Apple TV and their online and software offerings. These are their newest areas where innovation still happens quickly. You might see something with OS X this year or next, but it’s becoming a pretty stable system. I’d expect more integration with their other devices. I think Apple is doing just fine.

John Dellera says:
7 September 2010

Bought an ipad when they came out. I’m sure that the splurge said that it could be charged from my imac. Now they say that the USB is not powerful enough even with all other items disconnected.

But the truth is Apple has never been an innovator. Were they first to the market with an mp3 player – no. Are they first to the market with a social networking/music site – no. What is really innovative about the i-Pad, its just an i-pod on steroids – what could possibly be construed as ‘earth-shattering’ about that? What they do they do pretty well but because it lives in a closed world (you can only buy an app if it is apple pre-approved, because Steve Jobs doesn’t like semi-nudity, it seems, the playboy app has no nudity – LOL.) it isn’t open to all the creativity you get from open systems. For example it is now possible on Android machines to save google map tiles on the sd card so you can navigate without a connection – on the i-phone, can you navigate? For free? So the apps market for Android is expanding at a much faster rate than that for the i-pod. And if you want Android you can choose from multple vendors, multiple designs, multiple implementations.

jojoko says:
7 September 2010

what a terrible article. i stopped reading after the first factual inaccuracy. the new shuffle did not ditch the voice controls in favor of the old click wheel. they went back to the click wheel and kept the voice controls. best of both worlds.

Hi, Jon doesn’t actually mention voice control. He says “the new Shuffle ditches the headphone controls Apple introduced last year, replacing them with the iconic (i.e. old) click wheel.”

No mention of voice control, just the controls on the headphone. Not that voice control actually exists – VoiceOver just tells you the name of the song/artist.

Pat O'Cleary says:
8 September 2010

The irony of someone writing a nothing article about someone else making a nothing presentation, struck me with amusement. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Poor Ron probably had a deadline and nothing intelligent to say. I’m disappointed that Which allows this type of article which contributes nothing useful to its audience. Apple is just business, not a religion. It’s products are what most of us are interested in. The hype and clever marketing is interesting and very clever, but the products are what it is really respected for. Which should concentrate on what we all use it for, to bring independent and useful reviews and comparisons of new products.

Hello Pat, Which? Conversation is a website for us to present our views and for you to comment on them – letting us enter into a two way Conversation. As you can see here this article is about Apple’s recent presentation and offers an open question – is Apple still innovative? It’s for you to read an opinion from one Which? researcher and comment on whether you agree or disagree. Thanks for commenting and I hope you’ll find the time to read our other articles.

I think the diversity of their product line is diluting inivation, and they seem to believe their own hype. Steve Job’s comment that the iPad was the best way to browse the web just seem ridiculous – wouldn’t a huge screen and top of the line desktop be the ultimate way, even if it might be overkill?

Their pricing strategy is anything but initiative. I’ve been a keen supporter of apple products since using an Apple ][+ at school. When I was single it was no problem to spend a bit extra to get the Performa or an ibook, but now I have wife and young child I can’t justify the premium Apple expect for their products. For a third less I got a faster laptop with more features.

Apple is now dropping Ping.