The Apple Has Fallen Far From the Tree

It’s all about services. That’s the message from Apple Inc. these days. It’s a good line and it should be true. It’s the perfect opportunity for the world’s most recognized consumer technology brand.

But if this is a true pivot, then the best place for the company to start is with its mission statement. This is the sentence or two that should describe what a company’s vision, goals and aspirations are. Here’s Apple’s today:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad

Notice anything strange about that statement? To begin with, it’s not a mission statement. It’s about what Apple does today, not about what it wants to become. It doesn’t even mention services, at least overtly. And what’s with the bragging? Who needs that? How does that inspire any employee, customer or partner of this massive conglomerate?


Let’s look, in contrast, to the mission statement Steve Jobs put out in the 1980s:

“To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

Whoa. Notice the difference? This isn’t about what they do but about what they desire to be. It’s positive, inspirational, aspirational, passionate, clear of purpose and bold.

And therein lies the difference between the “Steve Jobs” Apple and the “Tim Cook” Apple.


Tim seems to be a nice guy, a decent guy. He has done an admirable job keeping the engines running. So I wouldn’t go as far as to say Apple has lost its way since Jobs’s death; it has simply drifted aimlessly. It has no vision. It has no focus. It has no passion about making a “contribution to the world.”

Don’t get me wrong: Apple is an amazing company. It has amazing products. I use many of them every day. I am probably the best example of an Apple customer: loyal to a fault. I appreciate quality over price. I appreciate ease of use. I want everything to work seamlessly together and I’m willing to pay for that, too. (I am a musician and Apple makes the best tools for producing music today.) I have nearly every Apple product or service.

But what has the company truly done since September 2011? It has grown its user base of iPhone customers to 1.3 billion. It has launched Apple pay, the watch, Air Buds, acquired Beats, launched Apple Music. It has amassed $235 Billion in cash on hand. It’s still making money hand over fist.

With Jobs gone, Tim Cook has focused on running the company, that Jobs built. Meanwhile Jony Ive, the design genius, has gone off the deep end with form over function. Every product that Apple makes these days requires a handful of expensive dongles to make it work. But boy, are those products pretty to look at. So sleek, so simple.

What’s clear is that neither Tim Cook nor Jony Ive know where to go next.

With a closed ecosystem of 1.3 billion users, millions of app developers, and a fully integrated set of technologies, the obvious answer is services. Yes, it has built services into a $10 billion business over the past 10 years. That’s admirable. But it’s not nearly enough.

iCloud is dated, outdated even. While DropBox and Box innovate and create new offerings, iCloud still offers a measly 200 Gb of space and for that you have to pay. Every iPhone or Mac or iPad user ought to get this for free. And have you tried using Photos or iTunes and dragging and dropping files between those apps and iCloud? It’s a mess. Speaking of iTunes, it is even more of a mess. The user interface is completely unintuitive. And this is the umbrella product for TV, for apps, for music that you buy, but NOT for streaming music. Oh, no, that’s a different service.

Apple is supposedly relaunching a TV service. But Netflix, the preeminent video streaming service, isn’t playing along. Apple’s also trying to consolidate news organizations, but, again, not everyone wants to join. It has massive clout to make things happen. It is giving Spotify a run for its money, for instance. But it is still rudderless and these seem like toe-dipping exercises compared to what it could do with such a massive, locked-in user base.

And what about totally new markets? Autonomous vehicles? Virtual or augmented reality? Internet of Things? Well, they may or may not be working on these things. Apple is a very secretive company. But consider this: Right now, Amazon is spending about $23 billion in research and development. That’s about twice Apple’s budget. Twice the budget of a company that prides itself on making the “best personal computers in the world.”

Meanwhile, Amazon has launched several new products and services, including Kindle for reading and voice-activated digital assistants (Alexa). And it launched an entire new industry with Amazon Web Services for cloud computing. Love them or hate them, Amazon is focused. And guess what, they have a mission statement that reflects that focus:

“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company, to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”


An Apple a day

I’m a big fan of Apple products. I’m writing this on a 6-year-old MacAir that still works like a charm. I have or have had all the other gadgets over the years. They are innovative, reliably and they interact (in most cases) with each other to provide a seamless experience.

But the oft-asked question is: has Apple peaked? There are supposedly 1 billion iPhones out there. That’s a lot. Maybe the market is saturated. On the other hand: that’s 1 billion phones. That’s one heck of an installed base. Facebook can claim more “users” but ultimately, switching off Facebook is a lot easier to do than trading in your hardware device.

Chart source: Statistica

So Apple has this incredible installed base with, as we like to say in the industry, stickiness.

Apparently, the tepid response by analysts right now is: they have a good chance.

Can iCloud, Music and the App Store grow quickly enough? Services are where it’s at: Lower margins, annuity-style revenue and lots of chances for upsell and cross-sell.

My personal experience with iCloud as a proxy is this: They can do better. Dropbox and Box are moving much more quickly and nimbly. Apple should have the home court advantage, built-in features that make the laptop and iCloud seamless. But they are not there.

Still I wouldn’t count them out just yet.

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The author is long on Apple, with total ownership of 0.871 shares. At Tuesday’s capitalization of $858 billion for Apple, the author’s ownership amounts to 0.0000000001693881818 percent of the company.