What Happens Next Is Meaningful For Apple

Monday will not only be an interesting day as to see what Apple® is going to roll out at its annual World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). It could be one of the most significant days in its post Job’s history.

Unlike politics there comes a point where you can no longer lay blame or receive continued praise based on the length of coat-tail left from your predecessor. In business there’s a moment where everyone including you understand – It really is your baby now.

Conversations and more about the way someone else ran the company or, the way this, that or what “they” would do is dead and gone.

I’m not trying to be coy or infuse a form of pun here as in Apple’s case. At some point all questions, conversations, scuttlebutt, and more transform without warning. Near instantaneously everything changes. All of the sudden it’s as if there never was anyone else before you in the position that you now hold.

Every single question, insinuation, and more feels like the sword of Damocles is raised before being asked:  “What are you doing? What have you done? What are you going to do?” As scary as it is when it’s realized – it is the moment one has waited for. It will make or break you.

You know this to be true in your gut. However, so does everyone else – and they’re watching. (Some with champagne if you do well – others with theirs if you fall) Athletes experience this in that “give me the ball” win or lose everything moment. In business, this – is that moment.

Personally I’ve had that moment in my career more than once being involved in turn-around situations. You don’t know nor can you anticipate when it’s about to happen. Only that when it does, you had better be ready because, if you’ve asked for the ball when everything’s on the line. Trust me – it’s coming. (whether you still want it or not)

I believe Tim Cook is entering that moment however, so to is Apple the company. Once again both the CEO as well as the company itself – together. Funny how the more things change the more things stay the same on some levels is it not?

At this moment in time one will not come out of it better or worse than the other. If Mr. Cook bombs – so does Apple as a whole and vice versa. (again, for this moment in time – who knows what the future holds on a longer time frame)

Currently Apple products are hands down the product to own. Period. They are like owning a Mercedes® as compared to any top-tier domestic brand. Many like their current or new devices. But (and it’s a very big but) – they’d like them even more if they sported an Apple logo.

Apple is now a luxury brand as well as device. It is an aspirational brand like it or not. You may wish to throw cold water on such a thought all you want yet denying it, doesn’t make it so. Keeping it – is now the task.

Will Team Cook deliver what both current as well as future customers need to continue viewing Apple through the aspirational lens? This is what is at stake in my view. Again, in my view, all other questions are irrelevant. Everything rides here. It is Team Cook’s “here’s the ball” moment.

It’s win or go home. I’m not trying to be hyperbolic. I do not believe this dynamic or moment can be over played. Downplaying, or poo poohing the importance here is missing the bigger picture in my estimation.

The tech media and more are all a buzz with what to expect from operating system revamp, device changes, to the much maligned or outright hatred of skew-morphism. (For those not familiar with the term, this is where the application takes on the appearance in the digital world of its real world equivalence. i.e., A note taking app looks like your typing onto a yellow legal pad and so on.)

Although I myself never put that much thought into such details ( I just cared if the thing worked as I wanted it to) this is where we will get our first glimpse from the man whose impact both changed or developed the design of all these devices in the physical form. Enter Johnathan Ive (Now Sir Johnathan to be formal) design extraordinaire of the physical product to the digital side.

This is where everything changes – or doesn’t.

I know there will be a ton of people who will shake their heads in outright disagreement in what I’m about to say next. However, I’ll say it anyways. (because that’s what I do)
Right now the outside, the casing, or screen for that matter is irrelevant in as far as needing a design make over. It’s ALL about the interface. With what’s “under the hood” running a close second. i.e., processor speed, brand, blah, blah, blah. For technophiles yes. The rest of us – not so much.

This is exactly the spot where Mr. Ive will be able to prove to both skeptics as well as current or future customers that Apple not only hasn’t lost its way rather, is once again forging new and exciting paths. Incidentally, this is precisely where Microsoft® just had its chance with “the ball” and not only missed, they threw as if blindfolded. (enter the Surface® and New Windows® interface)

The cutting edge design that made people aspire to purchase Apple products in the first place can be laid directly in this mans wheelhouse. In most cases it’s his design prowess that’s responsible for making many of the attributes associated as being Apple – Apple. Now his design and influence encompasses the software or interface side bringing it under his tutelage. This really is a game changer to what it may or may not bring forth in user experience.

If the design of applications (or whatever you want to call the place where you actually interact with your device) can morph or change in both elegance as well as the simplicity as first demonstrated with iPod® then through both Mac® as well as iPhone®. You may not only beat your competition – you just might crush them.

For those who never purchased an Apple product before iPad®. The one take away heard over, and over again with astonishment from users were, “I could not believe there was no instruction manual!” That was a game changing moment as the iPad itself. We could be at an even greater milestone in the development of operating systems (OS) whether it be mobile or desktop. We will soon find out. (or at least get a hint)

I truly believe it’s now more imperative to focus on experience/interface and branding than anything else. Yes, the media is hemming and hawing about competitors pushing out offerings at a far more rapid rate than Apple. People are also implying this is a tell-tale sign that Apple is unable to come up with new ideas. Personally, I think that view is misplaced or, could be a complete misinterpretation of what might truly be taking place. Let me express it with the following analogy.

Years ago I had a discussion with my father. He drove Lincoln Continentals® pretty much all his life. When the Lincoln Mark VII was introduced it was a radical design change for Lincoln. So much so I asked him why would they come out with something so radically different from what Lincolns are known for? (Big square heavy behemoths) Are they trying to attract Mercedes buyers? (more round, driver orientated, etc.) He said, “No. You’ll never get a Mercedes guy to buy a Lincoln. It’s Lincoln’s attempt to keep Lincoln owners from switching to a Mercedes.” I never forgot the importance of that statement.

Current Apple owners are not going to switch anytime soon in my opinion. Once you’ve made the switch from PC to Apple there is no going back. (At least at this moment in time. Windows 8® sealed that opportunity for the near future.) Sure Android®, Samsung®, and others are growing more, and more. However, they don’t have the cache’ or that je ne sais quoi that people just want to own.

It’s now all about how Apple becomes more like “Apple” and all that entails. That’s not a play on words. Apple needs to push further into what it means to own an Apple device and reside under the now ever-present Apple logo-ed umbrella.

The real profits to be made now and into the future might not be with how many “new” devices one sells. Rather, what interface will continue to draw the people with both money to spend – and more importantly – that will spend it.

Apple’s ability to construct its brand into the aspirational genre has been second to none in this regard. They need to continue as to give customers a reason to reach for (as to buy) – not make excuses as to offer lower quality products or standards as to compete on # of devices sold metrics. That’s a race to the bottom where the winner usually ends up the loser.

If Apple truly is at a game changer moment as I believe they could be. Monday’s WWDC could go down being just as important of a day as when Job’s announced he was changing Apple Computer into Apple as we now know it.

The importance of that day wasn’t realized till much later when the Apple brand which culminated out of that conference began to exert itself into the mainstream. Apple has that chance once again in my view. And this well could be just that moment for those that are watching carefully.

It really is all up to Team Cook now. It’s their game to win or lose. Because…
Here comes “the ball.”

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr