Apple is expected to announce the new iPhone 5 at a press event this week in San Francisco. The release of the iPhone 5 should follow shortly after that, perhaps as early as September 21st. Without any consideration of the new hardware, there are already a few hurdles that Apple will need to overcome to allow the iPhone 5 and successive devices to reach their full potential.
Took a Samsung to the knee
The problems with Samsung are really two-fold. The most immediatly pressing are the rumors that Samsung will attempt to file an injunction to stop the sale of the iPhone 5 if that device supports LTE. With their pride still quite hurt from losing their latest patent battle in the US with Apple, they are looking for a way to regain a bit of pride. What better way than to mark it's territory and stop the iPhone 5 from being released by filing for an injunction based on their LTE patent portfolio.
On the flip side, Apple also has quite a few LTE related patents, recently purchased and the ones they already had. This should stop a judge from allowing the injunction, but you never really know with technology and judges. If this happens, expect a bit of a stock hit.
The long term problem with Samsung is their step-by-step duplication of Apple innovations. This will take Apple a long time to overcome in the courts, though recent court rulings have been both for and against Apple. It's a long road, and unfortunately will slow down both companies, and others in the industry. The only real winners in the fight will be the lawyers, as usual.
Not the underdog anymore
Call it human nature, call it contarian thinking, call it what you will. There's a certain personality type that always roots for the underdog. Well what happens when that underdog becomes the largest company in the world?
While Apple has gained millions of customers in its rise to the top, they have lost some along the way. There will always be the certain segment of society that will hate any and everything Apple while they are on top. It's just the way it is. No amount of reasoning will convince these people.
Apple needs to help reduce the effect of these people by being the good guy, at all times. Every wrong move that they, or one of their employees make, especially retail employees, tarnishes the Apple legacy a bit. That in turn means lost sales and lost customers.
Foxconn employee practices, stupid Apple retail employees, odd sales practices, needlessly changing hardware standards, continued service issues with AT&T, etc., are all mistakes that take a bit of shine off the Apple. Be careless for too long, and in the public mind we'll have the next Microsoft on our hands.
Historically, Apple has done best when it's kept the customer first and foremost. It needs to keep doing that and instill this core value in every employee, at every level. They have control of partners - exert that control and make them fall in line with that practice. The result will be a negation of the naysayers.
Slow and steady means you get passed up
The adage goes that slow and steady wins the race. I'm not sure that applies anymore.
An odd side effect of company growth is that you become mired in your own size due to so many layers of approval. And due to that, the company fails to innovate as quickly as they did. They become less nimble. If there are too many layers of approval, too many people that need to weigh in on something before it gets approved, it becomes hard to get anything done. Bad ideas will progress too far, and good ideas take forever to get to production.
Anyone who has worked in a large tech company knows what that is like. Apple is no exception. While I don't think Apple should be putting out product revisions monthly, or make any extreme changes quickly, we have seen too many examples of slow innovation and bad ideas too often lately.
The examples are numerous. Ping. Siri. iCloud. All new ideas, floated out there, and then slow to be completed, even when they work. Or just ignored when they don't, left to disappear at a later date.
By all accounts, Ping is on it's last legs. It hasn't been updated since it was released two years ago. No one uses it. Expect it to disappear this week. It was a bad idea from the start.
Siri is a great idea, with one great feature, the way it interprets your commands. But it does so little, revisions are so slow in coming, it's non-extendable, and when it works is relegated to being just a toy.
Let's talk iCloud - cloud storage is the future, we all understand that. But iCloud fails way too often, it's too expensive, and it's got too few capabilities. Developers complain frequently of iCloud faults and limitations. Apple should have bought Dropbox instead (they tried, BTW).
And for the other end of that spectrum, iTunes. It's been around for 10+ years now. It's functional, but out of date, slow, impossible to use. It is relied on too much, to do too many things, with features crammed in that never should have been. The back-end is, by all accounts, an ancient dinosaur that is impossible to work with. It needs to be replaced.
I won't even discuss the fact that we are still using iWork 09.
Here we are a few hours before the official announcement of the iPhone 5 and we already know all of the major features and have for weeks. We know exactly what it looks like, we've even seen finished devices boot up. (Seek this info on other sites if you wish, here's how to find some of the choicer bits.)
And that's a problem.
However, Apple is known for leaking information to journalists in many cases to test the waters. For example, just about every Wall Street Journal scoop on Apple reportedly comes directly from Apple. For this product release, things look like they have lost control of their supply chains. We've almost gotten as much info as if an iPhone 5 were left in another German restaurant.
Apple needs to plug the leaks, restore the surprise.
The F Word
That's right, the F word.
It's here and it's real. Apple does a much better job of handling the complexities of a growing, changing, and aging product line than Android does, but it's getting complex. By the end of the year we could have 5 screen resolutions, 4 architectures, and 4 device sizes. That's no longer simple.
And it's not just hardware fragmentation - we see app fragmentation as well. Getting developers to abide by some standard practices is nearly impossible. That inability by Apple to get developers to create apps in standard way (Universal, iCloud-synced data, seamless) confuses users.
Take a step back and think about the average user that probably doesn't understand these complexities. They expect all of their apps to be available on any device that can get to the App Store. Apps should be Universal.
Then think about iCloud syncing - if one program the user installs syncs data so that it magically appears on their iPhone and their iPad, they are going to expect all of their apps to do so. When it doesn't, they assume something is broken.
Apple has guidelines on how to develop apps to best utilize the platform and how people use it - it should start incentivizing developers to create the apps in the most consumer-friendly way possible.
The future is bright for Apple, maybe not as bright as it was two years ago, but still bright. Perhaps crowded is a better way to say that Apple faces some real issues coming up.
Apple has the ability and the talent to overcome these and other issues and to continue to deliver the best products imaginable. I hope they do so.