Apple: treading the technology tightrope


Apple has long been the company to beat – at the forefront of revolutionary technology trends in music, media, computing, hardware and software. Indeed, the Californian iPod-inventor has, at times,

seemed like the only place pushing market-disrupting innovation over
the past decade.

Today, however, Samsung, Google, Motorola – and yes, still Apple – are competing for the headlines. So while the direct descendants of 2007’s iPhone are still hugely important products, there’s now exciting news in other areas. Motorola is wondering whether we will be able to interact with products via tattoos. And Google thinks we might be able to unlock digital devices simply by looking at them in a certain way.

On Monday, however, Apple is set to make what could be seen as its most significant announcement since the iPad. At the Moscone West Conference Center in San Francisco, the company will unveil changes to the software used by millions of people across its products. The perception among technology aficionados in some quarters, is that this is the make-or-break release for Apple: either it shows it can keep up with the pack, or it proves it has lost its mojo.

This is not how the business has always fared. A quick look at the most-read tech stories on reveals an interest in Apple that no other company can match through its own endeavours. BP, for instance, needed an unprecedented catastrophe to generate the same level of international fascination. When Apple founder Steve Jobs died – tragically early as a result from cancer – the news was top of bulletins around the world. The company still hovers around the most valuable on the planet.

The trouble now, of course, is that there’s nowhere to go but down. If you’re number one, the challenge is only how long you can stay there in the face of global competition. It’s only innovation that keeps Apple where it is and, when you become the incumbent, retaining the cool that attracts crucial talent becomes ever more difficult.

In truth, the announcement of iOS7 is quite unlikely to be radical. Not because Apple is suddenly afraid of innovation, but because the company is painfully aware of its duty of care to existing users. The worst that could happen would be to frighten people – not so much into the arms of other manufacturers, as to doubting their trust in Apple. That could affect how consumers think about buying apps, music and – in the future – TV, too.

So where does that leave iOS in practice? It remains the most profitable platform for application developers and it is also still the only place to go for really beautiful apps (those that might be the successors to coffee table books).

But Apple must do more than give it a lick of paint – if for no other reason than avoiding the accusation that it values style over substance. It needs to introduce changes that fundamentally allow consumers to do more, whether that’s seeing the time of their next train on their home screen or checking the news headlines without opening an app or pulling down a window.

Introducing any of those changes, though, will further complicate an operating system that is founded on simplicity. Apple has a tightrope to walk and the world is watching.

No other company has such a unified base of users – so many people with the same operating system and so many unfamiliar with any other software. That means on Monday we should expect evolution, not revolution. But with so much pressure, resisting the big bang approach may yet prove to be the bravest approach.



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