Jason Snell of MacWorld, PCWorld and TechHive is a name that needs no introduction. He's been at the forefront of tech reviews concerning Apple products and his opinions are one of the most balanced and valued in the industry.
We had the good fortune of interviewing Jason where he shares some of his thoughts about Apple, the iOS ecosystem, the products themselves and the patterns that Apple is establishing.
Here's the full text of the interview:
Lack of True Innovation
One of the biggest accusations that Apple faces today is the perceived “lack of innovation” since the first iPhone and iPad. We see stocks tumbling and analysts pointing at this lack of innovation as a factor driving the stock prices down. But Apple does seem to be wary of stooping to the critics.
iGB: Apple has long since stepped away from true innovation in the iOS product line-up. All products have been incremental upgrades (or in the case of iPad Mini, minification). Is there any trend or pattern that Apple is trying to establish? Like cutting down on innovation, perfecting existing products with feature upgrades etc.?
Jason: You've hit on the pattern: New products followed by regular iteration on those products. John Gruber explained it best on our web site Every Apple product release is followed by iteration and improvement. People complain about a lack of “true innovation,” but they're remembering a fantasy. Every so often Apple releases a groundbreaking product, but then they iterate on it and continually advance it. That's one of Apple's best tricks, in fact. Look at the iPad Air: It's so much more powerful, and smaller and lighter, than the original iPad. That's three and a half years (and four generations) of iteration there. This was the story with the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the Apple TV, the MacBook Air, the MacBook Pro – you name it. This is what Apple does. Or as Gruber said it, “This is how Apple rolls.”
Apple under Jobs and Apple under Cook
iGB: Apple under Tim Cook appears totally different from what it was under Steve Jobs. But Steve was the original innovator. What's Apple's future under Cook or any other CEO other than a visionary like Jobs?
Jason: I don't agree with the premise. I think Apple is following Steve Jobs's rulebook in many ways, including its priorities when it develops the product. Apple's future without Jobs is going to be tougher than it was with him, but in his final years Jobs spent a lot of time picking good people and setting up an Apple culture that could outlive him.
I'd imagine that Apple will make some missteps that Jobs might have stopped, but Jobs-era Apple made missteps too. In the end I think Apple's better off following his business philosophy but not trying to emulate his sense of style, because that can't be emulated. As Jobs himself said, they need to not ask themselves what Steve would do.
The Quest for Market Share
There is a relentless comparison going on in the market. While it's clear that Apple does not like to “compete” but create its own path, the reality is kind of different. Android phones – especially from Samsung – are taking over the world and have already made inroads into markets where Apple is dominating.
iGB: Android's numbers are growing, eating into Apple's shares. How big a threat is Android to iOS some five years down the line? And what would Apple be doing to counter this?
Jason: If you look at Apple's phone business it's profitable. Apple has never been in the market-share game and I doubt they ever will be. Apple doesn't make bargain products to take unprofitable market share; it makes profitable products to make money. The only real threats to Apple right now in iOS are Amazon and Samsung. Samsung's selling a lot of phones in the high-end profitable area of the phone market, and Amazon has tablet offerings that are cheap, good, and integrated with the Amazon product ecosystem. Google is an overall threat but I think there are some questions about where Google is going – Google's goal is not to make money on phones, but to keep compiling user data and selling advertising.
So what I'd say is, Apple's goal is to focus on the areas where it can make profitable products and keep making them. If it can make a good-quality, profitable product that's cheaper, it should do it-but just as in the Jobs days, Apple should refrain from chasing unprofitable market share.
Apple does need to make sure that its customers are the most engaged app users and app buyers. That should be its number one goal. When you look at browser stats or app revenue stats, there's a reason that apps show up on iOS before Android. It puts the lie to the market share numbers, because those numbers are empty. As long as iOS is the premier platform for app development and the place where people buy products and spend money, Apple will be just fine.
iGB: Recent Apple changes (larger screen, cheaper products) appear to reflect a marked difference from older stubborn decisions. Is this a trend that will make Apple even more endearing or will this make Apple become a company like Samsung, HTC etc.?
Jason: I don't agree with your premise. Apple varied the iPod as the product line changed, it varied the iMac, it varied the MacBook. It made the Mac mini and the MacBook Air. It's made cheaper products and smaller products and bigger products. This is what Apple does, and it does it carefully. What Samsung does is try to cover every single product category it can imagine – infinite variation – trying to scoop up as many users as possible. Apple's more careful than that, and sometimes that can work against Apple, but there's a difference between releasing a second screen size and releasing a dozen phones a year with lots of variations. Apple doesn't do that. So I think this is Apple sticking to its playbook. If that iPhone 5C had been $200 cheaper than it is I might agree with your premise, but it isn't.
Finally, One on iOS 7
iGB: Your thoughts on iOS 7 which is probably the single biggest change this year.
Jason: iOS hadn't changed since 2007 and it needed a refresh. iOS 7 is new and it's got quirks that will need to be worked out – it's essentially iOS Mark II version 1.0. But iOS was looking old compared to Android and Windows Phone, both of which learned from iOS and then advanced their design in order to be different. Apple needed to break the old thing and try something new. I've been using iOS 7 since the early betas and I love it, and I think most users will too. The app developers are really doing some amazingly creative things with it. In my mind it's a good sign that Apple did not cling to the old, but realized it needed to break with tradition and do something new. I'd be more concerned if Apple continued to think the original iOS design was fine and just needed a tweak. That would have been delusional.
Thank you, Jason, for your time and valuable thoughts. If you're a MacWorld/PCWorld reader, you are already familiar with Jason's writing. Here are some of his thoughts published at MacWorld.
Also check out our recent interview with Ryan Faas, Apple expert and tech journalist, who shared his views on iBeacons, iWatch, Siri in the car and more things expected from Apple in 2014.