Whither Apple?

on February 17, 2015

About a month back, I wrote a column called “Whither Windows 10,” where I pondered where Microsoft was going with their big new product. Little did I think that, less than a month later, I would feel compelled to write a similar headline for a story on Apple.

Of course, the circumstances are much different. A month ago, Microsoft was about to publicly unveil a number of details about their new OS and had scheduled a press event to do so.

With Apple, of course, no official secrets get revealed until they are intended to be—at an official product launch. But over the last few days, the rumor mill (and press) has been rife with some of the most intriguing discussions about Apple and its future we’ve seen in a very long time.

An Apple car? Seriously?

An Apple Watch that may not offer what the company originally envisioned?

To be fair, Apple is the source of more rumor-based reporting (much of which turns out to be only semi-accurate, or downright inaccurate) than any company in the world. As not only the world’s largest company by market capitalization but also one of the world’s most influential in terms of driving major technology, business and even fashion trends, it’s no surprise everyone seems to want to break the news on what Apple has coming next.

Still, the degree of speculation that seems to be going on right now is at a level of hysteria I haven’t seen in over 25 years of following the company. To be honest, it makes me wonder what exactly is going on.

Even fans of the company have to acknowledge Apple is somewhat notorious for its ability to manipulate the media. While we may not be back in the days of Steve Jobs offering exclusives to Time or Newsweek for cover stories on their new products, the company is famous for getting incredible press coverage even when it does modest speed bumps on an iPad, a Mac or an iPhone.

People love reading about what Apple is planning to do next and the company (and the press) know it and use it to their advantage. If the company hadn’t just completed the most successful and profitable quarter in history, there’s a part of me that wonders if there wasn’t some degree of intentional distraction-creating leaks going on—as if there was some concern about what was coming.

For the record, I’ve said publicly I’m not convinced the Apple Watch will have the same level of impact as the iPad and I’ve even talked about the challenges any wearable vendors would face with the FDA (and its equivalents around the world) if a device’s sensors stepped over the line into a diagnostic medical device. In addition, while the iPhone 6 will continue to sell well for the foreseeable future, I believe the entire mid to higher-end smartphone market will be facing challenges relatively soon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the least bit concerned about Apple continuing to do incredibly well, but no company can continue on an amazing rate of growth forever. Not even Apple.[pullquote]I think Apple is at a crossroads. There are a number of interesting paths they can choose to take as they move into what I believe will be their next era.[/pullquote]

As for a car, count me in the doubters camp. While there’s no question Apple has the money to do anything they want (why not airplanes or hotels or clothing or hospitals or literally, anything you can imagine?), the hassles and additional challenges associated with the automotive industry don’t seem to be a good match for Apple’s strengths or interests. Training service stations how to fix your cars? Building and keeping years of extra parts available for repairs? Building devices with low profit margins that have average lifetimes over 10 years? Call me crazy, but it doesn’t seem like a good fit.

Facing the end of the 30+ year growth cycle that traditional computing devices (PCs, tablets, and now smartphones) have enjoyed does present a challenge for Apple and all of its largest competitors. As a result, perhaps it’s not surprising to start seeing some rampant speculation on where companies like Apple are headed. In fact, I’m sure this won’t be the last of it. There are some hard questions many vendors need to answer about their future growth opportunities.

While the company is far from being in crisis, I think Apple is at a crossroads. There are a number of interesting paths they can choose to take as they move into what I believe will be their next era. Who knows, maybe it is cars. Regardless, I think 2015 will end up being a pivotal year, as we start to get glimpses into the Apple to come.