I’ve seen mentioned a few times lately how investors and critics are concerned that Apple hasn’t introduced a new class of product since before Steve Jobs’ passing. Is this a valid concern? Let’s break down the time between past product announcements to compare.
Steve Jobs’ return to Apple in 1997 kicked off a golden age for the company, a time of explosive growth and incredible creativity. Several entire industries were changed forever by the products Apple created and shipped over the next fourteen years. But some are growing worried that Apple’s golden age has passed, that a Jobs-less Apple won’t be able to chart the same kind of revolutionary territory that its former CEO led them to.
The naysayers point to Apple’s falling stock prices as evidence. Or Samsung’s increasingly popular Galaxy smartphone, which some believe boasts more advanced features than the iPhone. Or the Apple Maps backlash. Many of them are pointing to current CEO Tim Cook in blame.
But maybe it’s time for a little perspective. Are these investors and pundits knee-jerking? Has enough time really passed since Jobs’ death to suggest that Apple’s grown stale in his absence? Perhaps history can help us decide. Here’s a table that visualizes the data, breaking down Apple’s biggest product announcements under Jobs’ tenure, the date they were announced, and most importantly for this article, the time gap between each one.
|iMac||Announced May 6, 1998|
|1 year, 2 months|
|iBook||Announced July 21, 1999|
|1 year, 5 months|
|iTunes||Announced January 9, 2001|
|iPod||Announced October 23, 2001|
|3 years, 3 months|
|Mac Mini||Announced January 10, 2005|
|MacBook Pro||Announced January 10, 2006|
|Apple TV||Announced September 12, 2006|
|iPhone||Announced January 9, 2007|
|MacBook Air||Announced January 15, 2008|
|iPad||Announced January 27, 2010|
There are a few things we can take away from this, but I would be remiss not to point out that all things aren’t equal here. There are any number of reasons why some gaps are longer than others — different internal teams working on different product launches, component negotiations and availability, manufacturing time frames, and so on — so comparing one gap against another is not an entirely fair endeavor. And, it’s not like Apple was twiddling its collective thumbs in those in-between years; they were busy refining and refreshing existing product lines and working R&D on the stuff that hadn’t yet been announced. That being said…
Going by the list above, the average time between announcements of major new products or new project classes is a little more than nine months. If you don’t count the iPad Mini (which I don’t), then it’s been over three years since Apple last announced a new class of product. That is considerably longer than the nine month average. But it’s also worth pointing out that over half of the last three years took place under Jobs’ tenure, not Cook’s. It’s only been a year and some change since Cook took over.
But this list of “major products” is awfully subjective. I could have included OS X, for example, but didn’t. How does one even define “major new class of product”?
Well, another way is to think only of the really big stuff — the so-called “4 pillars” of Apple’s business: iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Broken down that way, the gaps look like this.
|3 years, 4 months|
|5 years, 3 months|
In this comparison, the average between announcements is a little over three years and ten months. By that math, Apple is due to announce a fifth major pillar of its business around this October. Something like an iWatch or iTV, perhaps. (Commenters, knock yourselves out debating the qualifications of Apple’s forthcoming smartwatch or television set as new “major pillars” of its business.)
Now back to the question at hand.
Are the critics right? Has it been “too long” since Apple has announced a big, innovative, new product? Drawing a definitive conclusion is impossible, because as you can see above, it’s all in how you look at it. Besides that, one could make the argument that Research & Development is a kind of artistic exercise — especially for Apple, where design standards are so high. And everybody knows you can’t rush art.
So it comes down to personal opinion. Considering the data above, what’s your answer? Are the glory days over? Will it never be what it once was? Or is the legacy of Steve Jobs still alive at Apple, with the next big thing just over the horizon?