Apple and innovation: Patience is a virtue

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| August 9, 2013

Innovation. This word happens to be one of our favorite words here in the mobile industry. We can probably thank the late Steve Jobs for that, for it was his company that really started the whole "innovative" smartphone evolution back in 2007 with the introduction of the notorious Apple iPhone.  Although a great word, it seems as if innovation has lost its word value over just a few short years. Although smartphone manufacturers and platforms are always seemingly pumping out new "innovative" technology, to me, it almost seems as if it has lost the magic I once associated with the word.

What I mean by that is that the word just seems to have very little effect on how I see phones anymore. Somebody throws the word "innovation" out during an event and I no longer become phased, or even very interested. Why is that? Is it because the phrase has become so overused, or is it because companies are trying to innovate so quickly that the end product really isn't that innovating at all? Perhaps it is our own fault for putting too much investment in the word in the first place, and always expecting to see great things when it is used to describe a feature or a product. We're like excited dogs who hear the word "ride", but come to find out that the "ride" is only a ride to the vet. It's not that whoever is using the word is wrong, it's that we've been expecting too much when we hear it.

It's been about a year since learning about the iPhone 5, which was possibly the most bland thing I've seen come from Apple in a long time. I can't lie, I was disappointed, but it probably wasn't because of the actual device itself. The iPhone 3G was great, the iPhone 4 was great, and I expected the iPhone 5 to be great as well, but how long can essentially the same product in a new shell be considered "innovating"? If Apple plans on doing anything like in previous years, if you weren't impressed with the iPhone 5, you're probably not going to want to keep your fingers crossed for the iPhone 5S. Even then, the iPhone 5 isn't doing badly in sales - it's just the first time we have seen a real decline in interest for the phone. But every manufactuer has had their fair share of less-than-stellar phones; Apple was bound to hit a wall sooner or later, and it even seems that Apple themselves have caught on to it.

According to a report from Cult of Mac, Charlie Gasparino, a Fox Business News correspondent, has recently reported that "reliable sources" tell him that Apple's own board is pushing Tim Cook to innovate, and innovate quickly. If said reliable sources are speaking the truth, perhaps the worry that Apple is in a decline isn't just a consumer thing; maybe it's not all in our heads. But at the same time, how does one just "innovate" quickly on the fly?

It's true that, for the moment, Apple isn't in any real danger of falling to the ranks of companies like BlackBerry (sorry to throw you under the bus like that, old friend, but you're the perfect example) any time soon. However, it is worth noting that Windows Phone seems to be becoming more popular. While I'm not saying that Apple should pull the ol' Hare and Tortoise and take a nap, they do have some time to really create something great if they wanted to. They don't have to innovate quickly, they just need to come up with something awesome, and for that to happen it's likely going to take more a lot more time than we have grown accustomed to giving.

The iMac was first introduced in 1998. The iPod was first introduced in 2002. The iPhone and iPod Touch were introduced in 2007. The iPad was in 2010. These very successful product lines took years to create. There was even a 5-year gap between the iPod and the iPhone, and it's only been 3 years since the introduction of the iPad. So why are we being so impatient with Apple?

I think it's because the competition responded so aggressively. Just look at Android. The very first Android device was released in 2008, a whole year after the iPhone, and already just 5 years later many of Android's smartphones are at least comparable, if not more powerful than the latest iPhone. They come in more sizes, shapes and colors than iProducts do, and made by several different manufacturers with different types of materials, not to mention generally more affordable. Android is also right on par with the amount of applications it offers in its app store compared to iOS. If you look at a comparison between how Android was when it first started compared to now, and how iOS started out compared to now, you may be surprised to see just how many changes were made in Android for both hardware and software. You may also be surprised at how stagnant iOS has been on the iPhone.

Even with iOS 7 coming, the iPhone, for the most part, remains the same with a few extra goodies. It seems that Android's rapid changes and improvements have skewed our perception of how innovation should work. Sure, you can call Smart View and Smart Pause innovative, because they are. But when it comes to Apple trying to climb back to the top, are small innovations like Smart View or Smart Pause going to work? Probably not. Samsung has a lot more going for it than just its flagship mobile devices, but Apple only has itself. If Apple wants to take the spotlight back from Samsung, they're going to have to do something really innovative. I would much rather wait longer to see what Apple can come up with in time instead of pressuring Cook to come up with something now. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but you're probably going to see better results if you take a longer amount of time to come up with something spectacular that works rather than a half-concocted idea that sometimes works.

Apple just needs to take the time to remind us what innovation meant to us 6 years ago.

Image via Fox News