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Has Apple lost their Midas touch?

By Dan Graham

With the release of the “boring” iPhone 5, and the forthcoming anniversary of the death of Steve Jobs, there has been fevered speculation that this is the beginning of the end for Apple.

There is nothing spectacularly innovative about the latest incarnation of the iPhone, and in truth there wasn’t anything truly revolutionary about the 4 or 3GS either, and so the question must be asked, have Apple lost their Midas touch?

Looking at the iPhone 5 as a stand alone product, you cannot argue that it is a triumph of function and design; the disappointment for Apple users however, lies in the fact that so much expectation comes with every new release.

In the criticism received regarding the iPhone 5, it is clear that Apple are a victim of their own success. This is a company which in the last eleven years has released the iPod, iMac, iPhone and the iPad and so a certain level of innovation is almost demanded year after year.

Apple were in severe trouble before Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997 with bankruptcy on the horizon and shares worth as little as $3. However, this summer, shares have been worth $700, with the company now valued at an unprecedented $650bn. Even in the last year, profits have risen over 60 percent so it is astonishing that anyone is questioning that the end could be nigh for Apple’s dominance.

The reason there was so much added expectancy was because this release was the first major event since Jobs’ death. Intense media speculation suggested that the iPhone 5 was to be some sort of “legacy device”. Jobs reportedly told colleagues that he had left Apple with at least four years of product developments that he had been working on before his death, so if these rumours are correct, this surely can’t have been the big surprise and there must certainly more to come. What this speculation particularly highlights though is the level of reliance of Apple on Steve Jobs, as even after his death, they still look to his guidance- a worrying habit in the long term.

However, this is not the end of Apple, it is simply a different beast. 15 years ago, Apple’s lack of wealth meant that it was in a position to take risks and to push the boundaries of innovation. Apple is now the most profitable company in the world. The fear now is that their main objective will be to defend themselves; this is a trap that major market leaders such as Microsoft have fallen into.

The recent court case against Samsung may have been a Billion Dollar victory, but the PR from lawsuits are not doing Apple any favours as crippling the opposition makes them look like bullies, regardless of whether their claims are correct. Competition breeds invention, and so it is important that they remember this rather than resting on their laurels.

In terms of the products themselves, this may mean that we can expect more incremental evolution rather than revolution. Looking at the iPhone 5, it is thinner, lighter and runs twice as fast due to a new processing device. Despite the maps fiasco, it is obvious that the product is still improving, but the fact is that without major technological advances, this is all we should expect. After a few generations, the maturing product will, if designed as superbly as Apple’s products are, have reached its optimum form. By wishing for radical change, consumers are ignoring the brilliance of the previous generations.

And of course in terms of the shareholders, what is the point in changing a winning formula? In this regard, it is remarkable that they have made the changes they have. We will only see a huge transformation when the product line stops selling at increasingly spectacular rates and it is hard to expect that to occur any time soon.

If we can expect little revolution in the markets which Apple already dominates, the one thing we should therefore expect is that with so much money at their disposal, more in fact than the US Government’s budget, the company is surely going to branch out. After already transforming the music, phone and computing industries, there is much speculation that Apple will move further into the media world with the possibility of internet television sets. It is fairly easy to imagine this transition and it would surely be a winner.

With Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple was always about more than just money, he was already a multi-billionaire, but his focus remained intently on improving and innovating the experience for the user. Every industry Apple has touched so far has turned to Gold, so the only question really should be, where will they turn next? We will now just have to wait and see if the company can continue in the same vein without Jobs, and more importantly, whether they will want to continue taking risks.


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