It wasn't long ago that you couldn't walk down the street without tripping over some new Apple rumor or buzz over the latest and greatest Apple gear. Now, it's all about the white noise we hear from the tech industry as a whole. Are we living in a politics-style news bubble, is Microsoft beating Apple at their own game, or does the Cupertino megalith have something up its sleeve that would make the ghost of Steve Jobs giggle.
I remember, albeit vaguely, when Steve Jobs rolled out the brand new iMac in 1998. You really had to be there to see it live, but I did manage to see it eventually. I was, at the time, an Apple "phanboi", Ever since my first Apple ][, I had loved Apple. I've had lots of Apple products. I drank the kool-aid, as it were. After all, Apple was just dropping new products like creepy old ladies drop candy on Halloween. The iMac, the PowerMac, then the shift to Intel and the advent of the MacBook. Then, like a bolt from the blue, the iPhone and the iPad. The computer industry was having a hard time keeping up. It looked like Apple had a crystal ball and the competition tried and failed to copy Apple's formula, but Steve beat them handily, time and time again.
Then Steve Jobs died.
I'm sorry if that seems harsh (you might want to have that looked at), but it did happen. Tim Cook was installed as CEO to shepherd along what was already one of the single most valuable companies in the entire world. It didn't take long to see that Apple did not have a crystal ball, though. What they had was Steve Jobs. That's because, despite all of his ludicrous flaws and foibles that are common to genius, he had a crystal ball in his head. He could see the trend-makers and beat the competition to the punch, but the one thing he couldn't do was teach that trick to anyone else.
Even with annoying British designer Jonny Ive at his side, Tim Cook has been struggling to define a course for Apple that still pops out innovations. There was no Steve micromanaging every tiny detail every day, all day long. So, they just plodded along and started to copy what others had done while chasing them. The iPhone got bigger. The iPad got smaller. The Apple TV added voice and games. The Mac Pro got more expensive. Every exercise that used to produce real innovation melted boorishly into iterative microchange with a premium price attached for good measure. Apple, in my estimation, jumped the shark around the iPhone 6s and/or iPad Pro.
While the rest of the industry has now long been hawking the 2-in-1 lappy nee tablet in full awareness that the tablet industry is tailing off, Apple still makes nothing more than traditional laptops. Where you can get a tablet that runs full octane Windows 10, your iPad Pro still runs tablet software. Grab yourself an overpriced Samsung Galaxy S8 and you can take it swimming, where Apple still slaps you on the wrist if you get their gear damp. If you want something hot and new in Apple products, just grab yourself the new MacBook Pro with it's amazing Touchbar, a video strip that replaces the function key row. huzzah.
And, of course, everything Apple does is promoted with breathless intensity. Every event is Bob Hope's presentation of the recently risen Jesus Christ atop a gleaming, floating cloud hovering over Trump's Maralago. Yet, there were few showmen of the same caliber as Steve Jobs, and Cook has not followed in his mentors footsteps. Nobody has. The only person in tech today I can think of who has a presence as compelling as Jobs is Microsoft's Panos Panay. Panos is a natural on stage, speaks in an unscripted manner, interacts well with the crowd, and is enthusiastically hyper about Microsoft's Surface product line like an amp cranked up to 11.
Now Apple rolls out a $5000 iMac Pro?! Is this Apple's response to Microsoft's astonishing, if subtly flawed, Surface Pro? I'm not going to dig into the world of pain that is Intel's i9 X-series multicore mega parts clusterfuck, but Apple has bought in completely. The stupid thing is that the X-series gear is designed for enthusiasts (sorta, more cobbled, but then I'm quibbling) and is meant to be built, not presented. Apple "presents" gear. You are meant to take it as it comes, use it as long as you can, and replace it with another steeply overpriced gadget they've breathlessly announced. In a sense, Apple is lucky that the mobile phone blew up, since that kind of gear is right up their alley.
None of this bodes well for a company that has long been playing at the edges of marketshare. I don't mean to suggest that Apple will go away. Far from it, but it does risk sliding back into the same tasteless, colorless mire it did when they first lost Steve Jobs. It's a fascinating history and if you don't know it, go look it up. You'll be amazed.
TL;DR - Steve brought in former Pepsi head John Scully to make corporate things work better after Apple's early success with the Apple ][. Following the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984 and after a lot of grief in the executive suites later, the board votes to fire Steve and put Scully in the CEO spot to replace Mark Markkula (yeah, Steve wasn't CEO). Steve goes off to found NeXT and Pixar, while Mike "The Diesel" Spindler was screwing up Apple's next gen OS and mobile aspirations. This led to Gil Amelio signing his own pink slip by suggesting Apple bring Steve Jobs BACK to consult. Then iCEO Jobs cut loads of fat from Apple's projects roster, started work on Mac OS X, ushered in the iMac, and began the road to making Apple one of the most powerful companies in the world before he died. Crazy, eh.
Yes, Apple has a huge share of the market in the iPhone, but all of the momentum they built over the years with desktops, laptops, and mobile devices is starting to catch the edges of reality and slow down. I don't think Tim Cook has much longer as CEO, and somebody needs to hand that Ive dude a severance check. His moody crap is really starting to bother me.