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Does Apple really risk becoming a BlackBerry?

Does Apple really risk becoming a BlackBerry?

Does Apple really risk becoming a BlackBerry?

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Renowned developer Marco Arment said in a blog post over the weekend that Apple is about to fall into the same trap as BlackBerry.

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Cue the sirens. As the tech industry burns, this is a big deal. If there’s ever been a company that’s acted as shorthand for what a tech company doesn’t want to be – honestly or not – it’s BlackBerry. To be compared to BlackBerry is to be told you’re the wrong combination of myopic, delusional and content to rest on your laurels.

The Canadian company was on top of the world as recently as 2007, then lost it all (in terms of market share for phones, at least) after seemingly ignoring signs of the iPhone revolution. In hindsight, it all seems so obvious that an Apple-led smartphone revolution with apps, rich messaging, full web browsing and more would lead to the old idea of ​​a ‘smart’ phone. Right now, BlackBerry is in the midst of a self-proclaimed turnaround effort. Turnaround efforts are important, but it’s best to have weathered market changes so you don’t need them.

Now Arment and others see a similar change on the horizon and, they say, this time the dominant player ripe for a fall is Apple itself.

It must be said that Apple and BlackBerry are very different companies, with different histories and cultures. And Apple, in its heyday, reached far greater heights than BlackBerry. Yet comparing the two isn’t exactly like comparing apples and, well, blackberries either. There are some similarities to consider. Apple now, like BlackBerry then, is at the top of its game but it is criticized for not innovating as much or as visibly as its competitors. In an age that admires moonshots – heck, even Microsoft has crazy chatbots and the HoloLens – Apple looks downright stuffy. It’s possible the company, known for its perfectionist goals, is keeping something huge and uplifting under its hat until it’s ready.

It’s also apparent from a recent slew of analysis as well as Apple’s own earnings reports that the iPhone just isn’t growing like it used to. It’s not necessarily Apple’s fault, but it’s still not comforting in the short to medium term. This is largely because there are only a limited number of people in the world and a limited number of them want new smartphones right now.

Apple has managed to make enough changes to the iPhone to keep sales going. Increasing the screen size, for example, gave it an extra boost. Other than that, though, it doesn’t seem to consumers that there’s a whole lot of exciting stuff going on at Apple right now. The technical challenges of making a phone lighter and thinner are considerable, but such changes don’t really thrill innovation-hungry consumers. And it makes them ready to keep their phone for longer.

It’s also true that while Apple has a plan to get out of an era where the iPhone is making huge profits, it’s been awfully quiet about it. Of course, the focus was more on other projects – Apple TV, the iPad line, the Apple Watch – as well as VR headsets and an Apple-branded car. Whenever there’s even a hint that Apple might revolutionize an industry like entertainment, automotive, or music, there’s a lot of excitement about it.

But to this day, the real big revolutions have not yet taken place. And society is still as dependent on the iPhone for its profits. So Apple, which will host its annual developer conference June 13-17, is under increasing pressure to provide a vision for its future.

Meanwhile, Apple’s other bread-and-butter service, the App Store, is showing its age, though it’s by no means obsolete yet. But, really, how many more apps do we all want to download? It’s clear that Apple’s competitors, as Arment notes, are looking to replace the app with AI bots. The idea is that soon you won’t need an app for this. You will only have to talk or text a bot that will provide you with everything you need on the Internet, including movie tickets, a restaurant reservation or flowers for your mother. All of Apple’s major competitors – Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon – are battling to lead in this space, as evidenced by their recent product launches and developer conferences.

There’s also another interesting reason why Apple may not be going as strong in some areas as its competitors: its dedication to privacy. Apple simply doesn’t collect data the same way Google or others do, by design. Consumers already offer a lot of information to services to improve them – for maps, recommendations, etc. – and software assistants that can manage our schedules, hack our routes and control our homes will require a lot of pooled data. But perhaps the most interesting part of Arment’s analysis is the footnote in which he says he doesn’t find that a very good excuse.

“It is possible to create tons of useful and intelligent services just by using public data, like the web, map databases, business directories, etc., without any access or involvement of the private data of the user,” he said. In other words, Apple is being overtaken even on non-spooky services.

Now, it’s worth remembering that this whole AI thing is a big gamble. It is unclear if it will perform as well as advertised or if it will be adopted by consumers. Yes, it’s great from a potential point of view. So was the Segway. Natural language processing is a hard thing to do right, and it can take a long time before it reaches a state that is actionable and simple enough for the average person. Smart money may be on the world-eating AI right now, but there’s always a chance that smart money is wrong – or, at least, that Apple still has time to catch up.

Moreover, the app economy has been hugely successful so far and its revenue is growing. This kind of consumer investment in apps gives Apple a way to retain customers better than BlackBerry ever has. And Apple has a huge stack of record cash at its disposal. Apple therefore still has a lot to do, unlike BlackBerry.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that Apple has a distinct advantage that BlackBerry doesn’t – it already knows what happened to BlackBerry. In fact, he should know that lesson better than anyone – considering he precipitated BlackBerry’s downfall. Without forgetting that it is never good to count Apple. It is, after all, a company left for dead in the 1990s, just before Steve Jobs returned to the business and unveiled the iPod.

But whether he’s already heeding the Blackberry warnings or hearing them too late remains to be seen.

© 2016 The Washington Post

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