eWEEK 30: Two and a half years after Steve Jobs' death, Apple is treading water searching for a breakthrough new product, raising questions about whether the company can hit new heights without his vision.
Much like the biblical Moses, Steve Jobs brought an entire culture out of a wilderness and into a new Promised Land.
More effectively than anybody else in his 56-year lifetime, the late Apple co-founder and on-and-off CEO looked at IT from a user's standpoint and productized it in ways nobody else had imagined.
Before Jobs came on the scene in the late 1970s, computer user interfaces were merely strings of words on a screen, phones didn't respond to voice commands, animated movies were glorified paintings, and the music industry was run by radio stations and a few large record labels as it had been for generations.
By the time he died on Oct. 5, 2011, Jobs arguably had changed the world more thoroughly than any nonpolitical figure in his lifetime. In the two and a half years since then, nobody yet has shown the potential or aptitude for progressive IT thought creativity that Jobs brought to PCs (Macintosh and iPad), music (iPod and iTunes), smartphones (iPhone), movies (Pixar) and online retail (App Store).
In this post-Jobs era, the No. 1 question on many people's minds remains: Can Apple continue to invent, design and market products as successfully as it has in the last 30 years?
Because Jobs was such a singular force, most observers seem to be skeptical that the company can continue at its high level without him. In all fairness, few—if any—companies could withstand the loss of such a visionary and survive in the same way.
The fact remains: Apple has not come out with a truly ground-breaking new product since the fall of 2011, when it launched the iPhone 4S with the Siri voice command interface the day before Jobs died. It has released incrementally improved iPhones, iPads and Macintosh laptops.
A smartwatch is in development, eWEEK
has been told, but it's been delayed for various reasons. A new television product, the company's second, is expected to be unveiled soon, but it remains to be seen as to whether those products can move the needle of innovation beyond where Apple's already high standards have been established.
When it comes to innovation in the past four years, it's difficult for any company to compete with what Google is doing in terms of its own projects—driverless autos, wearable computing, space-related programs and robotics, for only a few examples.
Apple plays in none of those arenas at this time. But many computer industry observers believe Apple has to surprise people again if it wants to retain its flair for innovation from the Macintosh, iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad launch days.
Without Jobs, Apple lacks not only a true long-range visionary but a front man who commands a high level of respect from customers and media folks. Jobs wasn't a powerful public speaker, but he was a showman and a salesman par excellence—someone absolutely focused on his company's image and the mission of making Apple the No. 1 company of any kind in the world. He was able to accomplish this lofty goal not once, but at least twice during his career at Apple.
Jobs taught IT people—and the world of business innovation—that no matter how outstanding and progressive a consumer product may be, it's dead in the water unless it is intuitive to use. It also helps if the product is actually fun to use. Users do not have a lot of patience with something they do not know, and neither did Jobs, thus he was perfectly attuned for his mission in life.