Apple Stands at a Crossroads: Incremental Upgrade or Innovative Redesign?

by Jeff Wiener on April 11, 2013

Two roads diverged into a yellow wood, and sorry Apple could not travel both, and be one company long it stood and looked down one as far as it could. With all apologies to Robert Frost for butchering his poetic masterpiece, its clear the Cupertino giant now finds itself at a Frostian crossroads, debating whether to take the path well trodden or, as Frost’s traveller does, the path that was grassy and wanted wear.

As we edge ever closer to Apple’s season of annual product releases, there’s little question that the path less travelled for Apple has become over the past several years the path of innovation. The company has contented itself on tweaks, minor modifications, and incremental upgrades and while such tinkering has kept the masses salivating, eventually Pavlov’s dogs will realize that nothing of substance is coming when Apple rings the bell.

In fact, looking at the market one gets a sense that even the most ardent Apple fanatics are starting to rouse from their hypnotic slumber, meaning that more so than ever with the forthcoming iPhone 5S there exists the “potential for a vast fissure in the Apple zeitgeist,” a break in the company’s sterling veneer, one that might send the company’s loyal acolytes searching for another path to technological salvation.

As mentioned, Apple’s Frostian choice stands as this: The company could take the well-trodden path of incremental upgrades, offering users an iPhone 5S that sports some minor cosmetic changes accompanied by a tweak to iOS, or the company could take the path that has become much less travelled, the one that includes an exclusive new feature, some significant upgrades to iOS, and unparalleled synchronization with Apple’s other products like iTunes, iCloud, and perhaps even Apple TV.

Gazing into my cracked crystal ball, if Apple takes the road well trodden then truly all bets are off. Sure Apple will still move product, fans will still buy phones, but Apple’s truly dominant mind share will be lost; the intrigue, the allure, and lifestyle that Steve Jobs spent years creating all gone by the wayside. In fact, should Apple fail to deliver something substantial with the iPhone 5S, I wouldn’t be surprised if shareholders starting calling for a change at the top, simply the last straw for Tim Cook who has shown time and again his inability to keep the Apple ship on course.

Not only that, but failing to make a market splash with the next Apple product will likely dissolve the air of invulnerability that has long surrounded the Cupertino company, and once competitors sense that Apple’s spot in the hearts and minds of the people is up for grabs there will be no stopping them.

But what’s humorous about this whole situation is just how easy—relatively speaking of course—it would be for Apple to avoid all this doom and gloom: simply rebuild the iPhone. Of course more difficult to achieve, what customers want to see, what Apple needs to deliver, is not a minor retooling, not a incremental upgrade, but a drastic rebuild of its iPhone brand, one that would see the addition of an Apple exclusive feature—like Siri, but functional—tweaks to the brand’s stalwart form factor, and upgrades across the board.

That said, I have no faith that such upgrades will occur with the iPhone 5S or any other product, as I’m sure Cook has his head buried so far in the sand that he still believes his company remains on course, unaware that he himself has guided the Apple ship so far astray.

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April 25, 2013 at 5:42 am

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