Apple: ‘What would Steve do’ isn’t the point

Jan 06, 2013 at 11:05 pm by Staff

Crystal ball gazing is a favourite pastime for those unwillingly wrenched from their desks for seasonal holidays, and as usual Apple is at the centre of speculation and scrutiny (writes Peter Coleman).

Will the next iPhone be bigger/smaller/multiple colours… or should there be one at all? All of these views have been canvassed by tech experts in recent days… along with a raft of global guessing about what other key players are doing.

The bigger iPhone – didn’t you think it had just got bigger? – seems questionable. It would be good if you could make phone calls on an iPad of course, especially the new Mini, but that isn’t going to happen while Apple wants you to buy both. Unless someone else does it first.

Smaller? Or do we mean slower and with less storage? Again there’s no likelihood of a phone that does little more than make calls.

And colours… well there’s a page out of the Steve Jobs book, reminiscent of when the Apple master introduced a range of gorgeous iMacs, their translucent cabinetry resplendent in juicy colours. Bill Gates thought something similar could be achieved with a spray can – as recalled in the Walter Isaacson biography – but as usual, he wasn’t getting it.

So yes, what would Steve Jobs do?

We’re pretty sure there’d be a few choice expletives if the team came up with a map function which took users across unbuilt or unopened roads – the latest being Victoria’s Peninsula Link freeway, a $2.3 billion shortcut for Australians which doesn’t open until next week – and more precisely that it wouldn’t have been released.

Apple has been on the back foot lately not just because of boobs like this, or concerns about the fiscal cliff.

Arguably it’s because, although incremental innovations continue to flow in support of the ‘refresh cycle’, the computer giant is beginning to behave as it did when the corporates were running the asylum… or rather in the period between Jobs’s ousting in 1985 and his return as interim chief executive more than a decade later.

And the true innovation wish list is not lacking. Isaacson presented Jobs’ clue that Apple had cracked the key issues with smart TV, and radio is also seen as an area for development. But in a tablet-based world, video also needs to work better with mobile networks.

BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield points to the presence of a ‘radio’ button on iTunes 11, and expects personalisation on the lines of Pandora, plus exploitation of the Lala functionality Apple acquired almost four years ago. “We continue to believe an iRadio product is critical for Apple to create a local advertising/commerce strategy, tying together maps, passbook, Siri and a new music service,” he says.

Forbes contributor Richard Saintvilus volunteers the opinion that Apple should move on from the iPhone altogether. Maybe one more iteration, and then leave it.

We’re not of that opinion. The company continues to bring new ideas to established products, as it has with the Mac over almost three decades.

But yes, wearable technology would be something: The iWatch or iWear devices which have been hinted at previously. Maybe a move towards the boggling advanced augmented reality combination of facial recognition, bionic eyes and internet-enabled contact lenses.

Simply more products isn’t the answer, as it wasn’t when Jobs was exiled to the wastelands; they need to be ‘insanely great’. It’s a model regional news publishers might want to follow… but just being first may be enough.

Endnote: I wrote this ahead of the CES, amid speculation about new products and the emergence of a new word, 'phablet'. Very likely this is 'what Steve would do': Hold out as long as possible until everyone who will buy both an iPhone and an iPad has done so... before selling them something which – supremely well – does the jobs of both.


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