An Apple A Day

October 1, 2011

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Earlier this year, as summer drew to its inevitable close, the CEO of a technology company announced his retirement. Normally, such news would barely make an impact outside of the tech trade journals, perhaps a ten-second sound bite on the evening news, but not likely a mention in these pages, even considering our frequent focus on personal/portable electronic technology.

But this was not just any CEO. The broadcast news coverage surrounding the retirement announcement was more akin to that which would follow the passing of a captain of industry, on the scale of Henry Ford, or Alexander Graham Bell.

Departed from the top post at the company he co-founded, but not from the company entirely, and certainly not yet departed from this earth, Steve Jobs’ retirement announcement generated as many premature eulogies as it generated career retrospectives. Jobs will undoubtedly be recorded in history as a captain of industry, having changed a country and the world on a scale comparable to Bell, Ford and very few others.

One of the reasons this retirement announcement merits coverage here and elsewhere outside the tech journals is what it means for the future of Apple and our personal/portable electronic gadgets.

To the casual observer, a retirement announcement is just that simple; story over. But in the world of Steve Jobs, an announcement is simple in form, but never in function. In about one-third the stage-time that most of his competitors spend announcing a minor update, Jobs has debuted world-changing products; short and simple in form, but with memorable details.

Two other important features of a Jobs announcement are the “rule of three” and the “aha! moment.” For example, at the debut of the iPhone, Jobs used both to perfect effect, saying “Today, we are introducing three revolutionary products. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device…an iPod, a phone, an Internet communicator…an iPod, a phone, are you getting it? These are not three devices. This is one device!”

With this in mind, we’ve heard the retirement announcement, and the introduction of his successor, but the third element and the aha! moment are notably absent, . . . for now.

Given Jobs’ flair for the dramatic, and Apple’s track record for creating product categories (or at least turning them upside-down), Screen shot 2011-09-19 at 9.09.13 AMupdates to existing products – the iPad 3 and iPhone 5, for example – are unlikely to qualify for the third element or the aha! moment in Jobs’ latest trilogy. While retiring as CEO, Jobs has not fully retired, and it’s unlikely he will completely retire before helping Apple create and debut “the next big thing,” to carry the company successfully into its next generation.
“I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it.

And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role,” said Jobs in the letter announcing his retirement as CEO.
With Apple’s reputation for secrecy during product development, the best we can do at this point is speculate, but an educated guess points toward two possible directions for that “next big thing.”

The recent debut of Apple’s iCloud, an online service for sharing data files, media and other digital content between your laptop, phone and media devices, suggests the possibility of some form of further “physical” integration of these devices, similar to the mobile device “eco-system” we described in the April 2011 installment of Kelley’s Kool.

The other possibility is a more “Apple-esque” venture into previously uncharted territory. The company already has a significant Screen shot 2011-09-19 at 9.09.33 AMfootprint in homes, offices, briefcases and pockets. What’s missing here? Where else do people spend time? Where else are personal/portable electronics used?

Would the cars and trucks we drive every day be a fair guess?

There are plenty of “good” solutions for (safely) using music players and wireless phones in a vehicle, and vehicle manufacturers have some “nice” offerings for voice control, but Jobs and Apple have the reputation of never settling for just “good” or “nice”.

The same company that made it simple enough for Grandma to download songs and TV shows through iTunes could do quite a bit to improve on the “good” and “nice” communication/entertainment offerings from the vehicle OEMs and the mobile electronics industry.
Apple wasn’t the first into the music player market, but once the devices made it out of hobby status and into the mass market, Apple debuted the product that eventually ruled, and still rules, that market.

Similarly, Apple wouldn’t be the first into the market for integrating and voice controlling vehicular communications and entertainment, but this market is at about the same point now as music players were when the company debuted the iPod.
Could “iRoad” be the third and aha! moment of Jobs’ final trilogy at Apple? With more than one billion vehicles on the road worldwide, a product category made for “hitting the road” would be a fitting swan song for Jobs as he himself “hits the road” from Apple.