This Is Why It Feels Like Apple Stopped Innovating Three Years Ago

This Is Why It Feels Like Apple Stopped Innovating Three Years Ago

NICHOLAS CARLSON TECH  MAR. 8, 2014, 10:07 PM

Steve Jobs used to call the computer a bicycle for the mind. Apple’s always been best at the pedals and handle bars.

Steve Jobs used to tell a story about how he first became inspired by the idea of what computers could do.

He’d say that once, when he was a kid, he was reading a science magazine and he found an article listing the various speeds of animals.

At the top of the list, there were cheetahs and hawks. Way down at the bottom, there were humans — relatively slow on their two legs.

But then Jobs noticed a second list in the magazine.

This one compared the speed of humans on bicycles versus all the other animals. Humans were suddenly the fastest animals on the planet.

Young Steve Jobs realized that was the power of machines, of tools.

Later, Jobs would say that the computer is a “bicycle for the mind” – a tool that speeds us along much faster than we could ever go without it.

If that’s that true, then the best parts of Apple’s “bicycles for the mind” have always been the handle bars and the pedals.

The handle bars and the pedals are the parts where the human touches the machine, and the machine responds in a joy-inspiring way.

Apple became a $470 billion company over 40 years by examining all the known technologies for how humans can interact with computers, selecting the best technologies, and then perfecting them through a blissful marriage of hardware and software design.

In the 1980s, it was the mouse — invented at PARC and made mainstream by Apple. Paired with graphics-based user-interface, it made home computers plausible.

In the early 2000s, it was the clickwheel. Paired with the iPod’s simple software it made carrying a hard drive in your pocket worth doing.

Then, in 2006, came the iPhone with its miraculous touchscreen. It was far better than any consumers had ever experienced at ATMs or kiosks till then. Paired with iOS, it made smartphones accessible to everyone.

Sometime over the next five years, Apple began to go through the same process. It examined the world for technologies humans were using to interact with computers, looking for one it could perfect the way it had the mouse and the touchscreen.

It found one, and on October 4, 2011, it came out.

That was Siri.

Like the mouse, clickwheel, and touchscreen, Siri was supposed to be a new way for a human to move their “bicycle for the mind.”

The plan was for the human voice to go through a computer’s microphone, and for the computer to react as simply as a bicycle moves when you pedal.

But unlike the mouse, clickwheel, and touchscreen — or bicycle pedals — Siri doesn’t work 100% of the time.

In fact, according to a report from Pipar Jaffray’s Apple analyst, Gene Munster, it only works about 79% of the time.

That’s too rare — by about 21%.

Steven Sinofsky, who led development of the very successful Windows 7, says on his blog that“a general UX principle…is anytime you push some feature on your customer you really want it to be right (correct, useful, helpful) for him/her 100% of the time.”

“If not, chances are your customer will recall the negatives of the feature far more than the positives.”

Can you imagine how frustrating it would be if the touchscreen only worked 79% of the time? Very few people would have ever bought an iPhone.

The reason it feels like Apple has stopped innovating to so many people is that the last time it tried to do what it does best — perfect a technology that allows humans to interact with computers — it failed. And that was two and a half years ago. The last time it succeeded was 2006 — eight years ago.

(It’s impossible not to wonder if, before he died, Steve Jobs thought Siri would be a breakthrough technology the way the touchscreen, the mouse, and the clickwheel were. He died on October 5, the day after it came out. Maybe he thought it would be a huge success, and that’s why he told his biographer that Apple had finally cracked TV. Maybe we haven’t gotten the Apple TV we’ve been told to expect years ago because it leaned heavily on Siri, and Siri doesn’t really work.)

The good news for Apple shareholders, Apple fans, and humans who like “bicycles for the mind,” is that, according to several reports, Apple is about to come out with a new kind of computer built around a new kind of input technology.

That’s the iWatch.

According to several reports, the iWatch will have sensors on the back of its face where the watch touches the skin. Supposedly, those sensors will be able to do things like monitor the wearer’s blood flow, sugar levels, and more.

According to Thomas Lee and David R. Baker at the San Francisco Chronicle, Apple hired a “renowned audio engineer” named Tomlinson Holman to develop software and hardware that would allow a watch on your wrist to listen to your blood flow and then alert you when “turbulence” indicated that you were about to have a heart attack.

If the iWatch works 21% more often than Siri does, Apple will have done what it’s always done to such great success, once again.

For years, companies like Google and Nike and Samsung have been working on wearable technology.

It seems that Apple has been observing their efforts, and is finally ready to come into the market with something more mainstream-friendly — a bicycle for the mind we all want to ride.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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