On Monday Apple reached a new pinnacle of success, becoming the most valuable company of all time. While clearly built on the backs of its legions of rabid and insatiable fans, the Apple Empire, in my opinion, still has a lot to prove, given the fact that over the last two or three successive iPhone releases the Cupertino company has been resting on its laurels, letting the market hype drive the meteoric and record shattering sales of its relatively lacklustre devices.
Further, given the fact that rumours and speculation of a paradigm altering new iPhone has fuelled Apple’s recent Wall Street success, I would say that now more than ever the pressure is on for Apple to produce something that blows us all away, that sets new market milestones; something we simply haven’t seen since the original iPhone burst onto the smartphone scene.
That said, while I will admit that the new iPhone will likely be a hit regardless of whether it delivers a radical smartphone paradigm shift, should the new iPhone not blow us away it might just be the beginning of Apple’s long fall from its lofty perch.
To date the successive iterations of the iPhone remind me a lot of an episode of The Simpsons I once saw (5-14, Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy), where discontent with the current state of stereotypical dolls marketed to young girls prompted Lisa Simpson to create a paradigm shifting alternative that empowered its audience, instead of pigeon-holing girls into pre-determined ‘female’ categories. The new doll, however, lost out to the established ‘Barbie’ incumbent because the latter was re-released with a new hat.
At this point the iPhone seems strikingly similar to that mainstay Simpsons doll, simply because of its ability to draw the attention of much of the market simply by offering a few minor tweaks and incremental upgrades. If you compare the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 4, for instance, it truly looks like the former was given nothing more than a ‘new hat.’
Again, that’s not to say that I don’t like Apple (in fact I think the iPhone is a great brand) but simply that all of us Apple fans are getting a little tired of new phones that don’t even feature the current market technology (4G LTE capability for instance). What consumers what, and what Apple will likely need to stay atop Wall Street, is for Apple to push the envelope, to create something that other’s need to imitate simply because it has redefined what a smartphone should be.
Further, while I warned against it last week, one of Apple’s greatest enemies leading up to the release of a new iPhone is itself, as I would guess that more so than ever before people are capitalizing on the inventory clearing marketing strategies for the iPhone 4S, simply because they’ve seen the lack of innovation between previous iPhone upgrades. If Apple wants people to really flock to the iPhone 5, it’s going to need to “Wow” us, and that’s no small feat.
In the end, Apple has achieved its meteoric success not through market domination, but through market creation, developing products like the iPod and iPad that the market simply hadn’t seen before. But as we’ve seen so many times before, innovative companies get lazy, they rest on the laurels of their previous success, and this always spells trouble. While the initial numbers likely won’t show, if Apple doesn’t blow us away with the new iPhone, we may start to see public interest wane as other companies look to fill the innovation void.