The view that Apple lost its innovative edge with the sad loss of Steve Jobs has been one of the oft-repeated criticisms of the company in recent years. But this idea is based on an entirely mythological view of Apple as a company that was constantly launching ground-breaking new product categories.
The reality is a little more mundane. The Macintosh, a truly revolutionary computer, was launched in 1984. We had to wait 17 years for the next groundbreaking product: the iPod in 2001. We had to wait six years after that for the next major product category: the iPhone in 2007. And a further three years for the iPad in 2010. (If you wanted to push things a little, you could argue that the MacBook Air was also so revolutionary that it deserves to be included; if so, we’re up to five new product categories in 26 years.)
Note, too, that none of the product categories were invented by Apple. Xerox, of course, invented the graphical user interface for personal computers. There were MP3 players before the iPod; touchscreen smartphones before the iPhone; tablets before the iPad. What Apple did in each case was what the company does best: take something clunky and used only by techies, and turn it into a slick product that will appeal to the masses.
So no, Apple never has churned out revolutionary new products on an annual basis. If we’re going to assess its performance today, it has to be against a realistic background. Zac recently reminded us of Apple’s product timeline for 2015. Looking at this in the context of a company whose true history is occasionally taking a new product category and doing it better than anyone else – and in between times merely refining its existing product ranges – how did Apple do this year … ?
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