Apple watchers say it needs another hit like iPad; not sure Cupertino can deliver

March 8, 2014

MENLO PARK – Four authors of books about Apple gathered here at a Churchill Club-sponsored event this week to discuss its future and whether its hit parade of products has come to an end.

Despite critical comments, none of the four think Apple as a company is in any danger of going away, but there is a concern the company, post-Cofounder Steve Jobs, has lost its way.

“I want them to do well, but I worry the platform is losing not just market share, but developers,” said Fred Volgelstein, author of Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution.

“Three years ago it wasn’t close, but last year Google exploded to get to 35% of what Apple pays developers. When that hits 50% or more that’s trouble for Apple.” 

He noted it’s been four years since Apple’s last delivered a breakthrough product, the iPad and that’s a long time for a company that relies on hits to keep the big revenues and developer interest flowing.

“Apple is struggling to find its vision post-Steve Jobs,” added Yukari Iwatani Kane, author of Haunted Empire: Apple after Steve Jobs. “From a revenue and profits point of view Apple’s doing very well, but where are the insanely great products?

Later she added, “No one else is willing to take the risks that Steve Jobs did.”

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Apple still has a few tricks up its sleeve – that you can wear

But Leander Kahney, author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products, says the critics aren’t seeing the big picture.

“You have to remember the iPhone and iPad were the biggest things to come along in 30 years,” said Kahney, noting it may take longer than expected for Apple to produce it’s next big hit. 

He said that “there is tons of evidence from what we hear Apple has going on in its labs and its hiring” that radically new products like wearable devices that can function as health monitors are in the works.

Volgelstein argued that Apple needs a big hit because its premium-priced products can’t afford to have a small market share.

“There’s a point of view that Apple is big enough to operate like Mercedes or BMW and have a single digit marketshare,” he said. “If that’s what happens, I’m happy with that, but historically in the platform wars the big winners drive out most competitors.”

Adam Lashinsky, moderator of the event and author of Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired – and Secretive – Company Really Works, tweaked Vogelstein for showing partiality as a journalist. Vogelstein, a contributing editor to Wired, said he likes Apple products and would rather not have to switch.

Whatever merit there is in debating whether Apple is losing ground, the panel seemed in agreement on one point Vogelstein made – all will be forgiven if Apple can produce another product with as big an impact as the iPad.

Easy, right?

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