Facebook is releasing its virtual reality headset, Oculus. It is big, clunky and expensive, and it will cause nausea and other problems for its users. Within a few months of its release, we will declare our disappointment with virtual reality while Facebook will carefully listen to its users and develop improvements. Version No. 3 of Oculus, which will, most likely, come in 2018 or 2019, will be amazing. It will change the way we interact with each other on social media and take us into new worlds—much like the holodecks we saw in “Star Trek.”
This is how innovation happens now, innovation and elsewhere. You release a basic product and let the market tell you how to make it better. There is no time to get it perfect; your product may become obsolete before it is even released.
Apple has not figured this out yet. It maintains a fortress of secrecy, and its leaders dictate product features. When it releases a new technology, it goes to extremes to ensure elegant design and perfection. Steve Jobs was a true visionary, but he refused to listen to customers—believing he knew what they needed better than they did. He ruled with an iron fist and did not tolerate dissent of any type. At Apple, people in one division did not know what others in the company were developing.
Seven announcements Apple made in the March keynote
Jobs’ tactics worked very well for him, and he created the most valuable company in the world. But without Jobs, given the dramatic technology changes that are happening, Apple may have peaked. It is headed the way of IBM in the ’90s and Microsoft in the late 2000s. Consider that Apple’s last major innovation—the iPhone—was released in June 2007.
Since then, Apple has been tweaking its componentry, adding faster processors and more advanced sensors and releasing bigger and smaller forms—such as with the iPad and the Apple Watch. Even the announcements Apple made this month were uninspiring: smaller iPhones and iPads. All Apple seems to be doing is playing catch up with Samsung, which offers tablets and phones of many sizes and has better features. Apple has been also been copying products (such as Google Maps) but not doing it very well.
There was a time when technology enthusiasts like me felt compelled to buy every new product Apple released. We applauded every small, new feature and pretended it was revolutionary. We watched Steve Jobs’ product announcements with bated breath. However, now I would not even have bought the iPhone a few months ago unless T-Mobile included a large rebate to switch networks. There is nothing earth-shattering or compelling about Apple’s new phones—or, for that matter, any of the products it has released since 2007.
By now, Apple should have released some of the products we have heard rumors about: TV sets, virtual reality headsets and cars. Apple could also have added the functionality of products, such as Leap Motion and Kinect, with the iPhone functioning as a Minority Report motion detector and projector. Apple should be doing what Facebook is doing: putting out new products and letting the market judge them. And Apple should be doing moonshots like Google, which is toying with self-driving cars; Internet delivery via balloon, drone and microsatellite; and Google Glass. Yes, Apple might have failed with the first version—just as Google did with Glass—but that is simply a learning experience. The third version of Google Glass is also likely to be a killer product.
Instead of innovating, Apple has been launching frivolous lawsuits against competitors like Samsung. My colleague at Stanford Law School, Mark Lemley, estimated Apple had spent more than $1 billion in attorney and expert fees in its battle against Samsung. And this lawsuit netted Apple just $158,400, which, ironically, went to Samsung. Apple could have better spent its money on the acquisitions of companies that would give it a real edge.
Will Apple release some products later this year that will blow us away? I am skeptical. I expect we will only see more hype and more repackaging of tired old technologies.
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