Apple’s Tradeoff between Focus and Stagnation related to Business Innovation

On my Tech blog in June 2013 I wrote about new Apple product announcements and the need for updates for previously released Apple products. Colin Donnell just wrote a blog post on this same topic with the title “The products Apple doesn’t have time to improve.” Colin’s point was to highlight the dilemma that much of the appeal of Apple’s well designed products is their focus but that it is also disappointing when it results in lack of follow-through as their focus changes. His first example is Safari extensions and the web sites promoting them. A better example of a product justifying more focus and priority, which he mentions in passing at the end, is iPhoto especially on the Mac. The recent development of offering iLife and iWork for free could be cause for continued concern if this becomes a rationale for even less focus on these more important personal and business products. It seems to me like Apple is neglecting ongoing evolution of software products as a critical success factor.

A point I made in my June post is that this dilemma is also associated with Apple’s culture with regards to secrecy and partnerships. One possible solution is to subcontract work to third party developers on products that have recently been determined to be noncore (i.e. not of a high enough priority to receive consistent attention and updates). Rather than let the products stagnate they could continue to evolve and be supported under Apple’s guidance or independently. This could involve business model innovation with regards to information sharing and providing a rewarding incentive for partners to support the platform.

Top Products

Walter Mosberg of the Wall Street Journal wrote his last article for that publication today. He last article provided his view of the top 12 influential tech products. Five out of twelve of the products are from Apple (in chronological order):

  • Newton MessagePad (1993)
  • iPod (2001)
  • iPhone (2007)
  • MacBook Air (2008)
  • iPad (2010)
  • These products were mixed in with products like Windows 95, Google search, FaceBook and Twitter so it is a nice little historical summary of major tech milestones in the last few years.

    Walter’s criteria for influential tech products were:

  • Products had to improve ease of use and add value for average consumers
  • Products that changed the course of digital history by influencing the products and services that followed, or by changing the way people lived and worked.
  • Steve Jobs achieved his objective of putting a dent in the universe (or at least our solar system). He doesn’t get credit for the Newton because he wasn’t in favour of it and eventually killed it. It was the one influential product that wasn’t a commercial success.