Is the ‘Age of Apple’ Really Over?


iPhone and iPhone 7

Analysts have to go day-to-day and make some pretty substantial assertions based on a variety of different factors. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re not.

Recently, the co-founder of PayPal, and venture capitalist, Peter Thiel, was asked in a column in The New York Times whether or not Apple has seen the end to its steady climb. It’s a column called “Confirm or Deny,” and it’s a series of rapid-fire questions, sometimes loaded, where the guest is meant to answer them as quickly as possible.

Specifically:

The age of Apple is over.

Confirm. We know what a smartphone looks like and does. It’s not the fault of Tim Cook, but it’s not an area where there will be any more innovation.

Thiel is a major presence in Silicon Valley, so when he chimes in with a quote like that regarding one of the biggest companies in the world, it’s inevitably going to get some traction. It’s also a question that is meant to get plenty of attention, and back-and-forth from Apple diehards and those on the other side of the fence.

It’s a legitimate question, though, if you’re just looking at Apple’s financials. 2016 wasn’t the best year for Apple in terms of iPhone sales (it actually declined for the first time since the iPhone debuted 10 years ago). But that doesn’t mean that Apple still isn’t making money. December, especially near the end, was a huge month for the company. The iPhone is its biggest money maker, but Apple’s working to branch off in areas where it believes it can.

Is the “Age of Apple” over?

Thiel immediately goes to the iPhone, or smartphones in general, and he says that while it isn’t Tim Cook’s fault, the smartphone is “not an area where there will be any more innovation.” I can’t help but think these are two separate things — even if Apple’s biggest product is the smartphone.

First, there’s definitely innovation still waiting to be tapped in the smartphone market. We can get better battery life, for instance, which is going to take innovation to break through and make a reality. (It honestly feels like we’ve been waiting way too long for this.) Screen technology is going to get better, cameras in these smallish devices, and so on and so forth. And these are just the areas where Apple has a strength right now, which will certainly only get better as long as Apple wants its iPhone to stand out.

However, when it comes to broader innovation, I think Apple will need to catch up, like it always does. Samsung and LG, for instance, are planning on launching foldable smartphones by the end of this year! That’s innovation, and we’re getting into real devices that were first dreamed up for science-fiction novels and movies.

I think we can all safely assume that, even if the public welcomes foldable smartphones, Apple won’t be jumping on that bandwagon anytime soon.

That doesn’t mean that Apple can’t innovate with software, either. While the hardware of a smartphone is a known quantity at this point, something that looks as familiar as a piece of technology can, there’s plenty of room to make the software better. Apple has always prided itself on bridging hardware and software into a cohesive experience, and features make software stand out.

But Apple knows that 10 years is a long time, especially for one device to lead the product category for that length of time, and I believe that’s why they are so determined to branch off. For what Apple wants, maybe Thiel is right. Maybe the smartphone, in the way that Apple has molded its device, has reached its apex, and Apple has to simply make a great phone, which serves its job well, while developing other product categories.

Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has said that there is “great innovation in the pipeline,” but he wasn’t being specific at the time. That could mean he believes there are some major moves to be made by the iPhone family, but he did also say it’s things people can’t “live without,” even if they don’t know they need them yet. That’s pretty much the most Apple statement of all time, but at least it hints that the company is still trying to bring something exciting to the market.

Everything is eventual, though, and segments of any market will plateau eventually, even if it does start to pick up again. Smartphones have been plateauing for a long while now, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of any possibilities to get rejuvenated, either.

All-in-all, I don’t think Apple is about to fall off a cliff just yet, and I don’t think the smartphone market has completely run out of steam. And I think that’s a good thing. As long as there are people who are still excited about what’s next, there will be a drive to make those things better. Even if smartphones are as ubiquitous as they are.

What do you think? Is the “Age of Apple” over? Has the company got any innovation left in it? Do you think the iPhone has run its course, or can Apple revive the brand with the upcoming 10th Anniversary device?

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