Wednesday, January 16, 2013

4 Things Apple Needs To Do To Be Cool Again

I have updated my post this week to add two more things that I think Apple needs to do to be seen as cool again and to maintain its edge over competitors.

It appears that Apple is starting to lose its mojo with teens as they start to see Apple products as no longer being cool. Instead, teens are gravitating towards new devices such as the Surface and Samsung Galaxy. This is great news for Microsoft and Samsung, but could spell disaster for Apple. With its stock losing nearly 20% in the past three months, Apple is clearly showing signs of losing its edge.

Apple was able to rest on its laurels for a while when the iPhone and iPad were new innovative products which had little real competition. Such is less so the case now as other companies are starting to give them a real run for their money. Without innovation, the company may continue to lose momentum in the marketplace.

In education, many schools have completely bought in to the Apple marketing machine and decided to brand themselves as Apple schools using the iPad and Macbooks. In fact, the iPad has actually proven a great success for the most part in aiding teaching and learning despite the numerous headaches of managing these devices. I have no doubts that tablets are the way of the future of computing once they prove that they can do everything our computers can do. The iPad is currently my 80% device but I still need to rely on my computer for some of the things I do, including posting to my blog effortlessly.

It is more difficult to justify having students purchase expensive Macbooks to do things which can mostly be done on the iPad or  even cheaper alternatives such as Google's Chromebook.  Schools continue to move towards cloud computing and apps. In our school, for example, much of what students do is done using Google Apps for education. While they continue to use their Macbooks for things like iMovie and Garageband, most of their publishing is done in the cloud.

Although the iPad is proving an amazing tool in education, it lacks the power to be the all purpose computer. The touchscreen is great and there is an app for just about everything. However, teachers and students still need the power to do more and the ability to type with ease.  Apple is not there yet but other companies, such as Microsoft, are starting to prove that a touchscreen tablet can also be your computer. The Surface RT did not succeed well in proving this but the Surface Pro may very well become the new computer of choice if Apple does not innovate quickly.
Admittedly, the new Windows 8 tablets have been slow to catch on, but if the shifting attitudes of teens are an indicator, they may quickly gain momentum and be the new cool alternative to the iPad.

To be cool again, Apple needs a new innovative product which combines the best of the iPad with the Macbook. It needs to be like the Surface in many ways but better and cooler and enable users to use it with the vast selection of apps already available in the App Store (for both the iPad and Macbook).  It is Apple's app ecosystem that gives it the real edge over companies like Microsoft. However, Android is gaining popularity and will likely beat Apple to the race to have one million apps.

The first thing Apple needs to do: 

I suggest that Apple get rid of the Macbook Air as we know it and replace it with the iPad Air which would be a thin touch surface screen and a foldable (or attachable), thin keyboard. It would be much like the Surface in many ways or Lenova's Yoga laptop, but come with Apple's attention to design and, more importantly, its ecosystem of Apps and cloud syncing between devices. The new tabtop computer, if done in Apple's usual style, would make it appear as though Apple has created the great new device in computing, even if Microsoft and others already have a similar product on the market. The new device could be as big as the current Macbook Air (11 inches) but be an iPad type device with the full power of a computer.

The Macbook operating system has continued to move closer to that of the iPad with Mountain Lion having a very iOS feel to it. The new device could use Mountain Lion or an updated operating system which marries iOS with the Macbook to combine touchscreen computing with a full powered computer which could run both iOS and Macbook apps. It could be priced between that of the current iPad and Macbook Pro and prove the perfect device for consumers and educators. The Macbook Pro could serve those who need a computer with more power under the hood. I suggest that Apple introduce this product this spring and price it at around $$800-$1000 to be competitive with devices such as the Surface Pro.  Although more expensive than the iPad, which starts at $500, it would be cheap enough to prove attractive to many consumers and schools.

The second thing Apple needs to do: 

Another area which has enormous potential for Apple, is TV. Rumours of an (actual) Apple TV have been around for quite some time but Apple has yet to show any real signs that it will shake up how we watch TV. I believe that Apple is working on partnerships with TV companies like LG to put an Apple TV type service into televisions and is also working on an Apple TV (much like the current one) which would work with existing TV sets as an external device, to bring games and TV to the living room. In addition, Apple could put the technology into its own large computer monitors such as the iMac.

This would compete with established entertainment systems like the Xbox, Playstation and Wii and would potentially change the whole way that we consume TV. Cord cutters have long been looking for the day when they can enjoy a-la-carte TV together with live television in a way which is fluid and affordable. The huge barrier to this reality is content providers who fear having happen to them what happened to music companies as iTunes offered up cheap, downloadable songs. However, there is clear momentum happening which is bringing us closer to a reality where  we can enjoy our shows much like the way we currently enjoy apps. Numerous companies want to be the one to do this well but Apple stands to win this race if it can get the right content deals in place. Again, they need to act fast and do it well if they do not want to lose their out to companies like Microsoft or Google.

The third thing Apple needs to do: 

Apple needs to stop thinking they can tell people what they want to buy. Jobs vowed he would never make a smaller tablet because people didn't want one. Clearly the popularity of the iPad Mini proved this wrong. The declining demand for the iPhone 5 is likely due - at least in part - to the lack of innovation of the iPhone 5 and demand for phones with larger screens such as the Galaxy S III or even Galaxy Note. A whole new market is developing for fablets which combine large screens with phone capabilities. I suggest Apple either introduce a new product which is somewhere between the size of the iPhone and iPad Mini or add a phone to the next iPad Mini (at least as an option). Otherwise, Samsung will continue its rise and soon be the one on top as the Glaxy Note gains popularity.

The fourth thing Apple needs to do: 

Apple needs to tear down its walled garden and be more open like Android is. A few things Apple did in the past year have really angered even its most loyal fans. The change of dock connector, while perhaps necessary, forces people to spend money on over-priced adapters and cables. The sudden upgrade to a fourth generation iPad just a few months after the third generation one was released, upset the early adopters. The lack of real innovation of the iPhone 5 made it appear that Apple is in it more for the money than for wowing consumers with a great new product. The lack of retina display on the iPad Mini ( while still being far more expensive than the Nexus 7), made Apple look like they were cutting corners for the sake of profit margins.

Apple may be losing some of its mojo recently and many question whether they can get it back without Steve Jobs to provide creative direction for the company. My thinking is that the company still has a lot of magic left up its sleeve but that it needs to act fast if it wants to continue to remain cooler than companies like Microsoft or Samsung.