Why Apple Is Not Like A Movie Studio

John Kirk / April 24th, 2014

On April 22, 2014, Walt Mossberg wrote an article entitled: “Why Apple Is Like A Movie Studio.”

Is This The Beginning Of The End?

    “Some have argued that Apple’s era of greatness is over, that with CEO Tim Cook sitting in Mr. Jobs’s chair, the magic is gone, and Apple is now, at best, just an ordinary company. Others have countered that, financially, Apple is still doing quite well, and that there’s no evidence that it’s out of ideas.” ~ Walt Mossberg

Let’s make one thing crystal clear from the start. This is not a new debate. The debate over whether Apple’s “magic” is gone didn’t start with Steve Jobs’ death, it started with Apple’s birth. The only difference between the Apple doomsayers of today and the Apple doomsayers of yesteryear is pundits used to say Apple was doomed BECAUSE of Steve Jobs. Today pundits say Apple is doomed because of the ABSENCE of Steve Jobs. The doomsayers have altered their lyrics, but they haven’t changed their tune.

Where Is This Parade Of Which You Speak?

    “Steve Jobs has been dead for about two and a half years now, and it’s hard not to notice that the regular parade of game-changing Apple products for which he was famous seems to have disappeared with him.” ~ Walt Mossberg

Seriously?

The founding premise, upon which Mr. Mossberg’s entire article is built, simply doesn’t exist. There never was and there never will be a “regular parade of game-changing (tech) products” under Steve Jobs or anyone else. True game-changers are few and far between. And they appear sporadically and at anything but regular intervals.

Expecting Steve Jobs’ successor or Steve Jobs himself or anyone for that matter, to produce disruptive, game-changing, category busting products every couple of years simply ignores reality. Tech game-changers are to tech iteration as diamonds are to coal: rare, extremely hard to discover and precious.

Is Apple Like A Movie Studio?

    “…I think the most useful way of thinking about Apple is to see it as a movie studio. Studios release blockbuster franchise movies every few years, and then try to live off a series of sequels until the next big, successful franchise.” ~ Walt Mossberg

Spool and filmWith all due respect, you simply cannot compare the creation of a movie franchise to the creation of a disruptive, game-changing, category creating product. They’re at different orders of magnitude.

  1. A movie franchise emerges once every few years.
  2. A game-changing product emerges once every few decades.
  3. A movie franchise alters the course a company.
  4. A game-changing technology product alters the course of an industry.

Take, as a single example, the notebook computer.

The notebook computer was basically re-invented when the PowerBook was introduced in 1991.

(T)he first PowerBook would set the standard for basic laptop design for the next twenty years, a fact that still surprises everyone. “We hit a homerun with the PowerBook,” Brunner said. “It surprised me to death. There were so many flaws with that machine and that design. I thought it was going to be a huge failure. But looking back today, basically all laptops are that design—a recessed keyboard, palm rests, a central pointing device.” ~ Excerpt From: Leander Kahney. “Jony Ive.”

The basic design for the notebook wasn’t changed again until the introduction of the tablet in 2010 — some nineteen years later.

Demanding Apple “re-invent” computing again — only 4 years after the release of the iPad — is akin to demanding the movie industry evolve from live stage performances, to silent films, to talkies, to digital special effects, every few years. It’s simply unreasonable.

Is It Now Or Never For The Sequel To The iPad?

    (S)equel time is almost up. It’s time for a new franchise. And it had better be desirable, logical and elegant. ~ Walt Mossberg

Are you kidding me?

You say: “time is almost up.” Why is that?

Wasn’t there time enough for the iPod to disrupt the MP3 market? Wasn’t there time enough for the iPhone to disrupt the smartphone market? Wasn’t there time enough for the iPad to disrupt the tablet market?

History’s Answer: “Yes, yes, and oh hell yes.”

You say Apple’s offering “had better be desirable, logical and elegant.” Why is that?

images-87It’s not as if Apple’s tech competitor’s have gotten any traction in the marketplace with the “next great thing” in tech. In fact, when it comes to products like wearables, tech companies clearly don’t have a clue what they should be offering. They keep throwing every conceivable sort of device at the consumer in the hope something sticks and the consumer, in their turn, keeps chucking everything right back at them.

Why The Double Standard?

Why does Apple and Apple alone have to release a new “franchise” every couple of years? Why are there no calls for semi-annual new “franchises” from other tech companies?

Some of the “rules of thumb” regarding success are nothing succeeds like success; success breeds success; past success is a predictor of future success. However, when it comes to Apple — and only Apple — pundits instead apply a “rule of dumb”: Apple succeeded through sheer dumb luck and the odds are bound to catch up with them sooner rather than later; Apple is a one-hit wonder with, admittedly, a string of hits, which only makes it all the more certain their next offering will be a flop; while everyone else is taking target practice, Apple is playing Russian Roulette — each and every time Apple successfully pulls the trigger on another category, it also adds another bullet to the chamber, another nail in the coffin that has been patiently waiting for them these many years.

Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally. ~ John Maynard Keynes

Does Apple Want To Be Pixar?

Apple is not like a movie studio. Pixar is like a movie studio. Pixar had only one innovation but it was a beaut– a process for creating hit animated films. Since then, Pixar has only iterated and iterated and iterated. And not only is that good enough, it’s great. It’s turned Pixar into a movie making hit machine.

Why would Apple want to become Pixar? Think about it. Apple has done everything that Pixar has done, and more. It is Pixar, that might aspire to become Apple. And to do so, they would have to create a new process — a process that would not only revolutionize the way Pixar made movies, but a process that revolutionized the way everyone made movies.

Then they would have to do it again.

And again and again.

Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. It’s very fortunate if you can work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate in that it’s introduced a few of these. ~ Steve Jobs

Will Apple Ever Be Disruptive Again?

Apple is a hit machine, like Pixar, but they’re also serial disruptors — like no one else I’ve ever seen. The hits come out year after year after year. The disruptions (Apple II, Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad) arrive not so regularly and not so much.

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. ~ Dr. Seuss

I honestly don’t know if Apple will ever create another disruptive product. Truth be told, we should be amazed Apple has created as many game-changers as they have. When you look at the careers of geniuses, almost all of them had their breakthroughs before they were thirty. Steve Jobs had breakthroughs before the age of thirty but as the days of his life dwindled, the speed and size of his disruptive innovations grew. And despite his premature death, his biggest disruption may be still to come.

I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company. The whole notion of how you build a company is fascinating. ~ Steve Jobs

Pixar has created a process that routinely churns out mega-successful movie hits. Did Steve Jobs create a process that would allow Apple to remain a serial disruptor? Only time will tell…

…but time knows how to keep a secret and it probably won’t be telling us any time too soon.

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • N.G.H.

    “They keep throwing every conceivable sort of device at the consumer in the hope that something sticks and the consumer, in their turn, keeps chucking everything right back at them.”

    But Apple’s gonna produce an IWATCH and they’ll sell a ZILLION!!!

    Right, and I’ll be George Washington next month…

    • aardman

      You guys never learn. They also said the iPod, the iPhone and iPad were going to be big embarrassing flops when they first came out.

      The problem is you have an idea in your head about what the iWatch is going to look like and it’s all based on what you’ve seen and heard of so far. Of course that will flop. Everything you’ve seen and heard about are failed products. You do not have the ability, intellect, and sheer creativity to imagine what a successful iWatch would be. Neither do I. Otherwise, we would be working at Apple rather than posting our inconsequential opinions here.

    • art hackett

      Yo, George, nobody, but morons, ever claimed apple would sell a zillion anything, let alone an “iWatch”. In fact the discussion amongst sensible people is that at least initially, it will be a relatively marginal product. Hopefully your straw man arguments will catch fire and the burning smell will be your rear alight.
      While this is not an apple site as such, pretty much the only interesting things in consumer tech are what apple does, who copies it and the general failure or decline of other, once mighty, tech corporations largely due to their own lack of vision and and apple showing how to make things that help and delight their customers, rather than the opposite.
      I am a particularly cynical and paranoid person, but I still don’t think apple is the enemy here. You should direct your bile or sarcasm towards big pharma and medical, Monsanto, banks and just now in particular, the scum pushing the FCC to overturn net neutrality. They will really screw the rest of your day (life actually) for so many reasons.

    • qka

      It seems the morons are here – they seem not to understand the sarcasm of “zillions”.

  • Mark Jones

    The more Walt Mossberg writes, the more shallow he shows himself to be. He has no depth in his thinking. Those who criticized him for his softball questioning at the D conference interviews were correct.

  • stefnagel

    Hits: More like the invention of the car than a film in its technological prowess. And as a communication tool, more like the alphabet. Which was only invented once. Apple at least bent history with the iPhone.

    Next: Apple next big hit will be its one billion credit card carrying users globally. At a billion self selected, intimately connected users, quantity transmutes into quality. That is, Apple becomes a new species of organization. It’s superscale, high tech, and high touch. Nobody has been there before.

    Update: Yesterday’s results put paid to pundits like Walt.

  • Mark Jones

    Falkirk: this article is one of your best. Great perception, great quotes. Steve Jobs made it clear that revolutionary game-changing products are rare, so why do these purported Jobs-admirers ignore his words?

    Here’s my view:
    Game-changer: Macintosh (1984) — Related hits: Laserwriter, Powerbook, iMac, MacBook Air
    Game-changer: iPod + iTunes (2001) — Related hits: iTunes Store, iPod mini, iPod nano, iPod shuffle
    Game-changer: iPhone/iPad/iOS (2007/2010) — Related hits: App Store, iPhone 4 (retina)

    Depending on what happens in the future, I might add Touch ID (5s), Siri, iBeacon as hits. I might split out iPad from iPhone as a separate game-changer.

  • Michton

    Great job Fal! I might be able to sleep now as I was so shocked to read this kind of drivel from someone who should know better.

Protected by Gerben Law