Apple Predictions & Development Pace

Apple’s pace of development is a curious thing. At times like the iPad launch, Apple seems completely ahead of the game. At other times their rate of advancement seems frustratingly slow. Apple will lead the way on faster WiFi standards, better displays, better battery life, voice control, or even new device classes, but not issue fairly basic updates to iOS’s home screen or photo viewer for years. At first blush this seems inconsistent.

Increasingly I realize that Apple is great at issuing things at such a pace that everyday people will actually use them. Geeks and tech bloggers are perpetually complaining about Apple’s “lack of innovation”; about how other devices have NFC, eye-tracking, larger displays, higher resolution cameras, etc. I wonder, though, is this what innovation means? In the largest sense, is the meaning of innovation to create things in as much variety as possible, and to let the immediate mood of the market determine which were good ideas and which were bad? Or is true innovation to have a vision and to follow that vision even if it takes time?

There’s nothing wrong with giving consumers what they ask for, but to do so reduces dreamers to manufacturers. If the customer already knows the solution then the innovation (if any) was done by the customer, not the maker. Manufacturing is a perfectly respectable way to make money, but let’s not confuse it with innovation, despite the occasional (and counterintuitive) appearance of being technologically ahead.

Apple clearly understands it’s possible to move too quickly and not invest enough in the things you’ve created; to issue them, and if there’s not immediate uptake, to declare them a failure. And thus, Apple has an eye for the long play. Apple TV, FaceTime, Siri, iCloud, (Apple) Maps, Passbook—all of these things are long plays. None of them were immediately popular, and some of them still aren’t, but Apple is convinced they will be. They see themselves as innovators and tastemakers, working to be ahead of the market, not playing catch-up to it. The approach is never “this chip is cheap now, let’s put one in our latest phone and see what happens.” (And really, why do such a thing when you can let others do it for you?) The question for Apple is: “are we ready to put our weight behind this?" And if the answer is “no”, that almost always means the feature or device is not shipping. The rare exception is an experiment like the Apple TV, but notice that even these exceptions are handled in a unique way: the Apple TV experiment is long-running because the question is not “do people want this?”, it’s “what should our play in this space be?”

So, starting from the perspective that Apple is taking the long view, these are my expectations for Apple over the next 1-2 years: