Years ago, before anyone realized that they were doing something completely different, I worked in one of the only Apple Stores in northern Idaho. Back then, hardly anyone knew that Apple was better or more aesthetically pleasing. You had to stick the newly-developed Macbook Air in a manila envelope just so the customers could see what a truly innovative product it was.
At that point, hardly any consumers could anticipate how far Apple would come. The iPhone had been released the previous summer, and it had been dubbed “the Jesus phone” by certain members of the tech-media. But for most people — still going around with their folding mobile phones — the idea that this company was about to transform the way we lived hadn’t registered yet. People were buying up the iPod Touches which had been released about five months before, but the iPad, which was the real game changer, didn’t come until after I was long gone.
My departure didn’t matter. (The store wasn’t even owned by Apple, though it was the only one in town certified to repair their products.) One employee Apple lost that did matter, though, was Steve Jobs. The company still makes huge returns for its investors, but things haven’t been quite the same since Jobs died. Investors feel this way, and it is beginning to show. Magazines like The Economist ask “If Apple has peaked.”
I haven’t decided yet, but the dead canary in the coal mine for me will be if they decide to build a phablet. So far, the market for phablets has been dominated by Apple competitors. (Think Samsung and Dell.) To many, the notion that Apple should release some sort of intermediary between the iPhone and the iPad mini seems like common sense.
No doubt, they would make some sales to the demographic who don’t particularly care what company is behind the product but just want something that does the job in larger typeface. Nonetheless, an Apple phablet would be a significant retreat for the company and would undermine confidence in CEO Tim Cook’s ability to fill Steve Jobs’s rather large New Balance sneakers.
This is because capitalism is the game of creative destruction, and when it comes to playing that game, Apple has been Shiva the Destroyer. It isn’t just other companies that have been disrupted and unsettled by Apple. The very habits and rhythms of life which we took for granted have been turned upside down. There was a time in recent memory where asking directions from a gas station attendant would not be uncool; but today, it just means that you don’t have an smartphone (or at the very least, have not downloaded the right apps).
Apple was not a company that catered to what people wanted. It was a company that decided what people wanted. This is what their customer base has come to expect from them. Ideas are said to be floating around the company’s research and development decisions as to where they should go next. Maybe doing for television what they did to music? Personalized television is probably the way that consumer demands are heading, but it remains to be seen if Apple can catch up with — and get ahead of — its competitors. Other ideas being discussed are more fully integrating their products with regular home appliances so that you might be able to turn on the dishwasher in the kitchen and laundry in the basement without getting off of the sofa.
Whatever they do, there is no doubt that Apple has made the past few years more interesting. The real question now is whether or not they can flourish in the world that they have made. And if they release a phablet, it won’t bode well for the affirmative.