(Warning: this is NOT an article about the leaked specs of the iPhone 6, the iWatch or the iWhatchamacallit)
When Tim Cook strides on to stage to launch a new iOS device later today, the world will have a pretty good idea what he has up those sleeves of his. And honestly, that should be a matter of concern for the Apple CEO. For, while speculation about the next Apple product has been an annual ritual, in the past, the company has often been able to raise eyebrows by pulling out a tech rabbit out of its hat at the very last moment. Whether it was the App Store, the retina display, SIRI…the company had a knack of doing something that little bit extra that made all the ‘leaks’ about their devices look ill-informed.
Well, that little bit extra has been conspicuous by its absence of late. In fact, speaking personally, the last time Apple really surprised me was when they packed all those pixels into the display of the first iPad with retina display, way back in 2012. After that, it has been, let’s be brutally blunt, a tale of the expected updates. There has been the odd flair of design genius as seen in the iPhone 5, the iPad mini and the iPad Air, but real surprises? Ah, those have been conspicuous by their absence. And before you ask, no, I was not exactly overwhelmed by the fingerprint unlock system of the iPhone 5s or the M7 motion processor. Like Siri, both need more functionality and apps to be built around and that has not really happened.
Indeed, at the cost of ending up on the hit list of both Google and Apple fans (what an achievement, eh?), I would go so far as to say that the past two and a half years have seen most of Apple’s mobile devices follow an almost Android device pattern – a few design tweaks, some changes to the OS and hardware improvements all around. Pretty much business as usual. Which is not a bad model to follow for most companies, who have been flourishing on this routine.
The problem? Well, for most people, Apple is not just another company. It is seen as the ‘crazy one,’ the innovative spanner in the ‘routine’ tech works. Any sign of sanity is frowned upon by the faithful. It is not the place of those from the fruity Cupertino company to talk merely of tech specs – nay, their task is to work up and fan a revolution.
And that, ah, has not been happening. Not for a while.
In fact, if anything, Apple seems to have been treading a path that has been predictable under the reign of Tim Cook. The world expected an iPad mini and got it; the world expected a slightly larger iPhone, and got it; the world expected an iPad mini with a retina display and got it…this is being almost conventional. And that is not the Apple way in the eyes of the faithful. Those very faithful who are now invoking the imagery of Steve Jobs at every opportunity, conveniently forgetting that even the Great One did announce relatively incremental products (the iPhone 3G, remember?). The “Jobs was a creative genius, Cook is just a great logistics guy” statement is becoming a staple of too many conversations, cruel and unfair though it is to the current Apple CEO.
Yet, that is the shadow that hangs over Tim Cook as he gets ready for yet another presentation. There is not much wrong with Apple financially. The company is doing well and making inroads in new markets. But there is a feeling that it is not really the innovative giant that it once was. And the Apple CEO will have his task cut out proving that that is not true – the next iPhone and the rumoured iWatch have been leaked and rumoured about to the extent that surmise has left very little space for surprise. Whether he is able to do so might not have that much of an impact on Apple’s bottom line, but it certainly will affect its reputation for being the innovator supreme.
So tonight, when Tim Cook steps on stage.
He will not just have to launch a new iPhone or a wearable.
He will not just have to prove that Apple is profitable or doing well.
He will not just have to defend Apple’s market share or revenues.
He will have to prove that Apple is still capable of evoking that one emotion that is becoming increasingly rare in a leaky and predictable tech world.
That of surprise.
For to many people, Apple ain’t about manufacturing.
It is about magic.
Tim needs to conjure, not just Cook.