Apple's True Innovation Is Making Tools, Not Toys

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Many observers of Apple have suggested that a new product category for Apple (AAPL) is essential for growth. It's been pointed out that the iPhone is reaching the saturation point, and that future sales will come from replacements of current iPhones -- not exactly a growth scenario.

And that's why many would have Apple expand into new product categories.

Apple stock closed Thursday at $530.65 per share, down 1.11% for the day and down 5.41% year to date. (Long term investors shouldn't worry too much, though -- it's up 3,750% over the past ten years.)

When it became obvious what Apple has been up to with CarPlay, did the Apple stock skyrocket? It did not, and that's because investors and analysts may not yet quite comprehend the long-term payoff of CarPlay.

It's a low-key, helpful solution without a lot of sex appeal. However, sex appeal doesn't guarantee long-term growth.

What Some Want

It's becoming clear now, in light of the non-reaction to CarPlay, that the real motivation behind the cries for innovation is for Apple to dream up something cool, something vaguely defined, that excites the geeks. This would be a bolt-from-the-blue, such a breakthrough that competitors would be left gasping for years. Apple customers would once again be able to gleam with pride and self-esteem.

Apple would dominate that market for a few years, as it did with the iPad initially, and short-term growth would be restored.

What We Need

Watching Apple these days, it's not hard to see that this is a company dedicated to solving deep human problems, not conjuring up geek toys. What then are we really lacking? The question is not what cool toy can be invented.

Rather, the question is: what human problem needs to be solved?

Apple solved a major problem by perfecting the tablet concept. That delivered us from the technical and security struggles with the classic PC. The fundamental solution just happened to take a form that also captured our imagination, leaving us aching for more. And so, if one wants to really get a handle on what Apple likes to work on, we should think deeply about what would make our lives better.

CarPlay allows us to be better connected in a highly mobile environment. Instead of being trapped in our cars with technology designed by a toymaker like Mattel (MAT), we'll get something from the best company on the planet when it comes to human interfaces.

The (rumored) iWatch, which seems just about certain based on known patents and the kinds of people Apple has been hiring lately, is likely not about Internet data that we can already obtain with a smartphone. As Brian S. Hall points out with clarity, the future is the surging population of older people worldwide, people with means who want to know more about their state of health and want their family doctor to utilize that info. The iWatch could capture that data.

The iWatch concept foretells the day when physicians can tap into a wealth of data that's been archived about a person's ongoing state of being. See, for example, this terrific article on the future of medicine. Right now, doctors don't have a way to deal with stored Fitbit data because not enough people are collecting the data. As James Temple writes:

This idea of personalized biofeedback is one of the fastest growing areas. But if you've ever had the experience of taking your numbers in to see your doctor, whether it's your genome or Fitbit numbers, they say, "Well, there's nothing we can do with this."

The key to all this will be a device that's in contact with the body and can log that data in a fashion that's elegant and useful. Recall what a mess the MP3 player market was before Apple's iPod came along. Now, apply that uniquely Apple disruption scenario to personal fitness and health monitoring.

The Unexpected

Technologies like the iWatch and CarPlay are, in a sense, boring. They serve the owner in a quiet but surprisingly helpful way. But they also lead to a renaissance in thinking that can lead to future breakthroughs.

I predict the biofeedback and logging market will explode with support products for iWatch that will help people help themselves. Books will be written. Entire websites and new apps will be devoted to analyzing and archiving personal health data that, soon, will be collected by the family doctor and analyzed. Apple will use its experience with iPhone security, including Touch ID, to make sure that data is properly protected and handled.

But cool new toys to amaze and, perhaps, intimidate others? Not so much.

At the time of publication the author is long AAPL.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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