Where were they? For years, Gene Munster—a prominent financial analyst—has been on the Apple TV bandwagon. And why not? In interview after interview, Tim Cook has told us that television is broken. It’s like something from the 70s! And yet, year after year passes—keynote after keynote—and we’re no closer to that revolutionary product. Revolution, it seems, is in transition.
Then the excuses come. A tide of Apple commentators washes in:
- Deals with content providers have fallen through
- A Retina-quality screen is supply-constrained
- TV is a bad market. People replace their phones every two years, their TVs every seven.
And anyway, Apple already has a TV product. It’s called Apple TV. But at Apple's last keynote, it didn’t event get a modest update. What’s the story?
I think it’s a story of platforms, and a story of transition. Not just on the TV—on all of these products that are so important—and yet, strangely, missing.
- Apple TV
- iPad Pro
Shortly after Steve Jobs’ passing, there was fear that Apple couldn’t change, couldn’t innovate. That maybe it would stagnate; we’d see slow, incremental improvements to each product line, but no new product lines themselves. We’d see, maybe, great design changes, but fewer and fewer grand strategies. We’d see only the shadow—the shape—of what Steve Jobs had envisioned before he died. Everything new and good we could attribute to his final product road map. Everything old and bad we could attribute to the rudderless ship he left behind.
But that’s not the story at all. Apple, it turns out, is under completely new leadership with Tim Cook. In fact, the more I see it, the more I feel like the transition between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook is greater than the transition between George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
A NEW NEW
Leaders tend to build organizations in their own image. Open and friendly leaders try to foster open and friendly workplaces. Forceful and opinionated leaders foster structured and rigid workplaces. Apple is more open under Tim Cook than it was under Steve Jobs. It’s welcoming journalists in through the front door at events, instead of the side entrance. Its executives are speaking out—at conferences, in interviews, on Twitter. But all of this isn’t just about style; it’s about strategy.
Steve Jobs was fundamentally a product designer. He wanted to make great products: the Mac, the iPhone, the iPad, the Pixar Campus and Apple itself. What is a product? It’s a thing. Something you can hold in your hand, or put on your desk, or walk around. It’s a noun.
But there are limits to products. Products age. They feel heavy. They fall out of fashion—like a building falls out of style. New technologies and new priorities leave them behind. You can’t use the new Handoff feature on old Macs because they weren’t built with Bluetooth 4.0. You can’t roll a wheelchair down into the New York Subway station because the Subway system wasn't built with accessibility in mind. These aren’t failures of design; they’re the reality of design. Of designing products—things—nouns.
But Tim Cook? Tim Cook isn’t a product designer. And Apple, fundamentally, is no longer a product company. Apple, today, creates experiences. An experience is an action, a verb. I need to go from home to work—get me directions. I need to switch from writing this email on my iPad to my Mac. I need to pay for this with my phone—with my fingerprint. With my watch. What is an Apple that fundamentally designs verbs, instead of nouns?
- It’s an Apple that recognizes music is no longer about iPods. It’s about access. And selection. And curation.
- It’s an Apple that recognizes that an "iPad Pro" is no longer about bigger screens. Or keyboards. Or even pro-apps. It’s about partnerships with enterprise.
- It’s an Apple that recognizes a great TV as more than a great user interface. Or a Retina display.
This isn’t to say that Apple never developed verbs. The experiences of iCloud and Siri are verbs. Rip, Mix, Burn are verbs. “It just works,” is a verb. But these were features—not the product’s fundamental value. Today, however, Apple’s value is increasingly in selling verbs, not nouns.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR PRODUCTS
I'm writing this on my iPad. I mean, right now, as I type this sentence, I'm on my iPad. When I started, I was on my Mac. Both times it was in an app called Pages. Not "Pages for iOS" and "Pages for Mac"—just Pages. This wasn't possible just a few years ago.
The Mac was the first with Pages, Apple's alternative to Word. When the iPad debuted, Apple built a word processor application for it, with the same look and feel—and the same name—as its PC software: Pages. But Pages for the iPad was the same in name only. It used a different file format and had fewer features. But you know what? Pages on the Mac worked flawlessly. Pages on the iPad worked flawlessly. It just worked.
The only problem? They didn't work together. To work between your Mac and iPad, you were constantly converting from one file format to another—just as if you were working between Pages and Microsoft Word.
This is what happened in a world where products were king. The iPad was great. The Mac was great. And never the two shall meet. This may sound overly dramatic, but from everything we know about Apple’s internal structure, it was true in practice. There was an iOS team and a Mac team—so distinct and so far from one another that, as John Siracusa has noted, they might as well have been in different companies.
For users who only had one Apple product, this was a great time to be a customer. Pages operated without a hiccup. Scrolling was fast. Waiting was non-existent. My iPad 3 felt consistently faster than my Mac because it wasn't working on Mac-sized applications and files. Everything was bite-sized on this bite-sized device.
Through this lens, the Mac and iPad are for completing fundamentally different jobs:
- My iPad is for browsing the Internet and answering email. Creating digital artwork. Playing games.
- My Mac is for video editing. Photo editing. Getting work done.
In this world, what I want to get done determines what product I use.
But that's not the world we live in anymore: The iPad is a joy to edit video on. And Internet browsing is still immersive on a Mac. I'm not trying to do different things on different devices anymore. I'm trying to do the same things in different contexts.
What do products look like in a world where I need to get the same job done on my Mac as on my iPad? Yes—what does a world look like when the size of the screen doesn't determine what you can get done on that screen?
It's a world where you can pick up where you left off on any device. Answer the phone with your Mac. Edit a photo on your iPhone. Reply to a text message on your iPad. It's a world where the product doesn't define your experience. It's a world where the value is in verbs.
These all describe actions—experiences that will define the next era of computing. The Apple Watch isn't about putting a computer on your wrist—it's about extending your particular computing experience to new contexts. And a new, refocused Apple is working around the clock to establish the new structures and bridges—the new platforms—to get you there.
THE SHORT TERM
That's the long term vision. In the short term, it sucks. For the experience to truly be seamless, it helps if the capabilities of these devices are seamless, too. But they're not. The reality is that the iPad—now on its 6th generation—is just beginning to reach the computing power of traditional PCs. The iPhone is still a few steps behind. The Apple Watch? A few paces.
But that's not the only reason why Pages on my iPad Air crashed three times while writing this blog. That's not why a note I wrote on my phone has taken more than 24 hours to sync to my Mac. Today's products weren't conceived as part of a seamless experience—they were conceived as stand-alone devices. And the unfortunate fact is that it's going to take a few more years to get them on the right track. In the meantime, things are going to suck.
Pages for iOS and Pages for the Mac can communicate now. And that's great. But neither of them work as well as they used to when they were designed to be perfect for their perfectly singular products. They've found middle ground...and for a while they are going to be middling experiences.
We're in transition.