The last five generations of iPhone have been iterative (it finally got slightly taller), so have three generations of iPad and a mini (it got smaller); the core of iOS is the same as it was when unveiled nearly six years ago, Macs have got thinner and – with the advent of Retina Displays – more expensive. Meanwhile Mac OS X has seen point releases since March 2001. Even its feline naming tradition has become less ambitious: Cheetah (10.0) to Puma (.1) to Jaguar (.2) to Panther (.3) to Tiger (.4) to Leopard (.5) to Snow Leopard (.6) to Lion (.8) to Mountain Lion (.9). Mac OS 9 lasted 17 months, now 10 years on the idea of a Mac OS XI seems beyond radical.
None of this is Apple’s fault. Its revolutions are by necessity. The Mackintosh (1984), iPod (2001), iPhone (2007) and iPad (2010) all came at times when Apple either needed to reinvent its business model or capitalise on immature markets and it did so with unparalleled success. It was widely reported the iPhone 5 was the last product in which Jobs was directly involved and the landscape has already changed drastically since Jobs’ reign. The Google Nexus 4, 7 and 10 are squeezing the margin out of smartphones and tablets and Microsoft is finally ready to throw billions at a mature smartphone operating system in the hope its licensing strategy can again repeat the dominance it achieved over Apple in the PC space.
Meanwhile Apple’s last two quarters have missed market expectations and its stock price has fallen consistently even before the September announcement of the iPhone 5 and subsequent iPad Mini. It now sits at $595 a share at the start of November, down from a high of $702 in August. Furthermore, despite a big win over Samsung in the US courts, international copyright disputes are proving far less clear cut and, in some cases, embarrassing. The living room has already been called as the next major tech battle ground, a place where Microsoft has the Xbox 360 and Samsung the televisions, so the need for Apple’s next revolution is fast approaching.
Which is once more where Scott Forstall comes in. Despite being the youngest Apple senior executive he represented the old Apple, an Apple which no longer fits in with humble public apologies, products with reduced profit margins and skeuomorph-free software design. Then again this is no easy-going, hippy Apple. What we are seeing is a company that is once more cracking down on complacency, the release of unfinished products that don’t ‘just work’ and highlighting there is no hiding place for those accountable. It is also giving off the image of a famously smiley CEO who is finally stepping out of the shadows and putting his own stamp on proceedings. Cook has a recipe for a new Apple, only time will tell if it is the right one.