Before we begin, a few disclaimers:
- I am not a fan of Apple, however, I do think they have done a lot of things right in the 40 or so years since their founding. Therefore, I will try to be objective about what I write.
- This is not a "who's better?" post. I don't purport to know everything about iOS, Android, or even Windows and Blackberry OS's, so there is little reason for me to singlehandedly determine which one is "better". People have their own preferences. However, for the sake of illustration, I will mention the others.
- This post is definitely open to discussion and commentary, and even criticism. Why? Because if and when you find something that's incorrect, I would rather stand corrected than continue to blurt out falsities and untruths.
Great! Let's begin.
(I mention later that iOS8 isn't available on earlier models of the iPhone, but it seems that it is compatible as far back as the iPhone 4S, according to the keynote that is happening right now. Just keep that in mind.)
What Apple Has Done Right
Right off the bat, I think there will be little disagreement that one of the things that Apple has most successfully accomplished is the way they market their product. By now, many people should have realized that aside from small innovations here and there, Apple has mainly taken existing technology and did something that was smart and effective: they repackaged it in a way that made it sell like hotcakes. For example, the tablet was something that existed long before iPads. One of the more well-known models today is the Microsoft PC tablet, which debuted about a decade before the iPad.
That was back in 2000. Do you remember where you were in 2000? I'm not even sure I knew what a computer was at that age.
Here's the issue, though: the Microsoft Tablet PC was freakin' ugly. It was clunky, unwieldy, and despite what Mr. Gates wanted to tell you, was only Pretty Cool, and not as Super Cool as he thought. So when, ten years later, Apple decided to have a go at it, they were sitting on an existing technology that had ten years to cultivate itself, as well as ten years of other industries improving at similar rates, such as machining. In 2010, the iPad made its debut with basically a slimmer, better looking Microsoft Tablet PC. Of course, this isn't to say Apple did nothing but make it skinnier; of course, they made other improvements to it and added design differences—but the crux of the matter is that it wasn't as "revolutionary" or "innovative" as people thought it was at the time. (Honestly, I still don't understand the intrigue of tablets at all, but to each his or her own, I suppose.)
I use this illustration of the tablet because I think it is a good representation of the way Apple has run their business for the last few years. There are many other similar examples (like the iPod not being the first mp3 player, iOS7's design being a 180º turn, etc.), but I don't think I would be as nice about them. But here's the point: while the technology wasn't new, the design was. What Apple understood ten years after Microsoft was that a product that sells is a product that properly meshes mechanics and aesthetics. It is very hard to sell a smartphone that looks like a cinderblock, even if it has all the latest hardware. Similarly, it is difficult to sell a smartphone that looks like it descended from heaven, but doesn't actually do anything.
(I had actually finished the entire post, but my internet crashed and didn't autosave correctly, so this was the last point at which it had saved. Forgive any terseness from here until the end, because for the sake of my own sanity, I've added brevity to the remaining topics I wanted to talk about.)
Another thing that I think Apple has done right (but don't necessarily agree with) is the exclusivity that comes with their product lines. From a marketing standpoint, the way that they advertise their products engages customers in a more relatable way, but also leads them into a chain of consumerism. The integration between the iPhone and the Macbook is nothing short of amazing. This becomes even more clear with the recent introduction of iOS8 and the new OS for the Macbook (I think it's OSX?). From my understanding (which I'll admit isn't the clearest), a lot of the features on the new Macbook OS are solely for the purpose of someone who has iOS8. If you don't have iOS8, then these features are rendered useless and pointless. Therefore, if a customer decides to upgrade to the new Macbook OS for the features, they will need to update the software on their iPhone as well. However, as luck would have it, the iOS8 is not compatible with some of the older devices. Say the person who bought the Macbook owns and iPhone 4. Their going to have to purchase a newer model in order to use iOS8 properly, regardless of whether or not their iPhone 4 is broken. Then, after they have an iOS8-compatible device and their new Macbook, they can finally use these new features. To be perfectly honest, I thought these new features were more of a novelty than anything that was a necessity. Still, like I said, it is a marketing dream. People don't buy your product unless they have a need for it. So, instead of waiting for the need, why don't you just go ahead and create the need? Paired with the exclusivity of their products, this was a very bold and, in my opinion, successful move. But I also think it is this same exclusivity and creation of a need that will ultimately cause some damage to the company.
From Here to the Future
Out of everything that Apple has done right, I will say that I think their designs are very good, but also that there is a very vital aspect of design that they either overlooked, ignored, or are working on. For the sake of the company, I hope they are working on it.
Customizability, for starters, is not a real word. However, I hope you get the gist of what it means. From a consumer standpoint, I believe that the more you can make something yours, the better chance there is that you will purchase or make it. I don't understand the iPhone 5C. I won't pretend that I understand the iPhone 5C. In fact, I won't even try to fully comprehend the iPhone 5C (say iPhone 5C one more time, Brian...), but what I will speculate is that one of the reasons it sold any units at all, excluding price, is that it gave customers an added sense of personalization. When it launched, you no longer had to be in a sea of people with black and white phones and be part of that statistic. You could be in that sea of black and white phones and be that one dude or dudette with the neon green phone. Neon green. That's weird. But it's your weird, and that's what makes it cool (unless it's gold... don't be that weird). You see, although it wasn't a complete design change, and your phone still essentially looked the same, it was different from everyone else's, even if just by a little. However, I don't think it's enough.
For the most part, every iPhone looks the same, even between different models. Let's be frank here, the iPad is just a stretched out iPhone, in terms of appearance. For people who use Android, Windows, Blackberry, or an assortment of other smaller companies, customizability is something that comes with the territory. Why? Because you don't buy Android, you buy a device that uses Android. You buy a Samsung, HTC, or Motorola phone, and it has Android on it, but the device still looks relatively different than your friends' phones who also use Android. However, even though it is an operating system and not a device, when you buy an iPhone, you essentially buy iOS because it is exclusive to the iPhone and iPad families. Furthermore, I think one of the major selling points of competing operating systems is strictly due to the level of freedom users have with the way their phones look internally via usage of launcher apps or various other options, all of which Apple doesn't have. I believe that if Apple is to continue riding on the waves of their success, there has to be a certain amount of customizability added to the way the devices are presented to their customer base. I am by no means suggesting that they copy other OS's, but I'm certainly not NOT suggesting it either.
Another thing that I think Apple will have to watch out for in the future is the way that their internal economy operates. To illustrate, I will say that I don't know many people who use the in-house Mail app that comes with the activation of an iPhone or iPad. Instead, they opt to download GMail in order to check their mail, despite Mail being able to integrate GMail into itself. Another example is the negligence of Apple Maps. How many people do you know who have decided to use Google Maps instead? In my opinion, if Apple is going to continue to advertise their exclusivity with many of their features, there has to be a push towards improving what they are giving their customer base as a default. The question is, why even include Mail and Maps (for example), if a majority of users don't use them? If they are going to keep them, which I think they should (don't falter, Apple!), they need to focus on bringing them up to a level where they can compete with existing apps. It sounds difficult, and it most definitely is, but Apple has very capable design teams that I believe can make it work.
The Future Still Looks Bright
All in all, I don't think Apple is in any sort of danger in the near future, because they still have a strong customer base and are sitting on what must be a multi-billion dollar revenue that they can sustain themselves on for a bit if things were to go awry. But to prevent that scenario from even happening, I believe Apple will have to make a few vital changes to policies and design decisions that, although may have worked in the past, are becoming an anchor that weighs them down. As with most technologies, the only way to stay at the top of the world is to coincide with the current trends of society. Already, there has been a slight shift towards the smartwatch industry, which Apple has also entered, I believe. But moreso than following trends, I think what every competing company needs to think about is whether or not they can see the trends and predict what's coming next. Even in the past, there have been companies who have fallen because they couldn't predict the future (Kodak comes to mind). So then the question becomes, can Apple predict the trends of the future? And if they can, will they be able to outrun them?
In my opinion, I think they have a very good chance to do so, so long as they focus on the right things. With the recent hiring of renowned industrial designer Marc Newson, I believe there will be a greater push towards making more Apple-exclusive innovations that will be presented in fresher Apple-exclusive designs.
Comment with your own thoughts below!