The Post-Steve Jobs Decline of Apple's Genius Design Theory

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Since Steve Jobs passed away, we've seen the release of two Apple products without any design innovations from a company that won gadgets users over with its well-designed products. Could this be the beginning of a TK trend? We've always loved our iThings because the products both look good and work intuitively in ways we never knew we wanted. Unlike other companies, Apple has innovated, in the words of Senior Vice President of Industrial Design (and creator of the iPod, iPad and iPhone) Jonathan Ive. "Most of our competitors are interest[ed] in doing something different, or want to appear new - I think those are completely the wrong goals," he explained in an interview with The London Evening Standard's Mark Prigg. "A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us - a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better," he continued. But with the latest releases Apple hasn't quite lived up to that philosophy. And the timing suggests it may have something to do with Jobs' death. 

Both the newest iPads and iPhones look just like their predecessors, not presenting anything "genuinely better," as Ive proposes. The iPhone 4S offered zero design changes, and, the iPad has just one: A thicker, heavier shell. And, this change actually makes the product "genuinely" worse, compromising look for specs. (The bigger shell houses the bigger battery, which the iPad needs for its more powerful chip.) Other than that, we get two of the same products, with "better" insides. The biggest sell on the new iPad, and the focus of Apple's commercial, for example, is the super sharp retina display. Even if it might improve viewing quality, that's a spec modification, not the type of design upgrade that Ive meant. 

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Having the same look, doesn't mean these products won't sell. In fact, Apple will most certainly sell bunches of iPads -- the company has already sold-out its pre-order stock of the iPad. And, the iPhone 4S already proved itself as a "hot" item with record sales. For, now, Apple doesn't have to worry.

But, in the longer-run, this shift in overall thinking could be dangerous for Apple. "No, there will be no more great new stuff beyond whatever's currently in the pipeline," writes Y Combinator's Paul Graham on his personal site. Apple has created new industries with the iPhone, iPod and iPad. Maybe we'll see an exciting something in the TV department. But, beyond that, all we're seeing are battery and screen improvements on the same gadgets. And, as a result, we may see the end of Apple, according to Graham:  "Apple's revenues may continue to rise for a long time, but as Microsoft shows, revenue is a lagging indicator in the technology business." 

How is Graham so definitive on this beginning of the end? These two product releases also happen to align with a post-Steve Jobs Apple. CEO Tim Cook took over at the end of August. The iPhone came out in October. Jobs died the next day. To Graham, that's no coincidence. "Now Steve is gone there's a vacuum we can all feel," he writes. Upon Jobs's death many asked what would happen to the company without its visionary. Now we know: huge profits for not-so-new products. As far as revolutionizing technology goes, there is no post-Steve Jobs Apple. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.