Is it time for Apple to say Ive got a problem?

Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Legendary designer, the man who worked so closely with Steve Jobs, is off to pastures new. What does this mean for Apple and is it really time for it to turn around and say, “I’ve got a problem?”

Article updated: 2 July 2019 9:00am Author: Michael Baxter

Jonathan Ive is famous for his minimalistic approach to design. Him and Steve Jobs, worked days and nights for months, maybe years to get the design of the iPhone right. It wasn’t always plain sailing, at one point there was a problem if you held the phone to your ear, it sometimes randomly started dialling. It was nearly ditched for that reason. Jobs was a massive fan of Sony, in the way it designed products. Jonathan Ive paid enormous attention to detail. The resulting product has changed business, I don’t believe it would be an exaggeration to say it changed the world. You could argue about whether it is change for the better or worse, but its impact has been enormous. You could even suggest it is the first product in history to actually augment us.

The iPod and iPad didn’t do so bad either. But one of the more interesting aspects of Apple’s flagship product is that the company didn’t do much research. They didn’t follow that textbook advice: to listen to customers, because if they did they wouldn’t have done the things they did do.

If Steve Jobs had rung me up in 2006 to ask my opinion about a touchscreen phone, admittedly not very likely, I would have said “forget it Steve, me old mate.” Back then I had a touchscreen phone called an XDA, now I don’t want be rude but there is a phrase that can describe it, a triple word phrase. The first word is, crock the second is of, and the third word rhymes with hit.

Apple showed that sometimes that approach is right, indeed even Jeff Bezos applies it sometimes, too. The customer isn’t always the best judge of what products they will want in the future, not when the design and applications are things they hadn’t imagined.

So there was a touch of magic about the Jobs and Ive partnership; that is why Apple is the valuable company it is today.

Can it repeat that trick?

Why should it, maybe the iPhone was a once in a company‘s lifetime product. Maybe it was a once in any company‘s lifetime product.

Technology is changing, it's moving and the devices that we will use to help manage our lives will have to change. I confidently expect the products that we use all the time in ten to fifteen years from now will look entirely different from an iPhone. Yes, they will be able to make phone calls, but this will be a minor feature. They will also boast augmented reality, maybe via contact lenses. They will have real time language translation, maybe accent translation. Keyboards will be displayed in the air, and we will type on holograms keyboards, assuming that is, that we will need to type to convey our requirements and wishes. Our AI assistant will be a constant companion, giving us advice, correcting fake news we might hear, reminding us of who people are when we forget their names or how we know them.

You may not like the sound of all these changes, but they will happen, anyway.

Jonathan Ive was never going to sit centre in this revolution. It is asking too much, no one is so sublimely talented they can come up with killer apps over and over again as technology changes at such a fast pace. Maybe if he was alive today Leonardo da Vinci could have done it, but clever as he is, I suspect Ive is not quite in the da Vinci class.

Whether Apple can make the leap from a circa trillion dollar company to two, three, four or a $5 trillion company, I am not sure.

Apple has strengths. Apple’s approach to privacy is celebrated and it makes much of that in differentiating itself from other giant techs. As for design, even under Ive, it has had its critics in recent years. Not being able to plug headphones into the iPhone while it is charging up is annoying. Apple is a slave to design, not always for the better.

A couple of years ago there was even a rumour that Apple was planning to buy Disney and there has been plenty of talk about it buying Tesla. Apple is one of the few companies in the world that could afford to buy Disney and only one of a handful that could afford to buy Tesla.

I think there is enormous opportunity for tech companies to grab hold of the next stage in technological evolution, or if you prefer, revolution. With or without Ive, Apple could well be one of those companies. It may fall by the wayside of course, that’s why investors need to diversify. Never put all your money in one company because no one knows for sure which companies will upset the money making apple cart, but I expect Apple to be a contender.

These views are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the view of The Share Centre, its officers and employees

Michael Baxter portrait photo
Michael Baxter

Economics Commentator

Michael is an economics, investment and technology writer, known for his entertaining style. He has previously been a full-time investor, founder of a technology company which was floated on the NASDAQ, and a director of a PR company specialising in IT.

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