NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Recently, an article caught my eye that seemed utterly off base.
Marek Fuchs at Marketwatch wrote: "Tim Cook must rid himself of incremental thinking." The article was based on the popular idea that Tim Cook's incremental approach to innovation lacks the potential for a Steve Jobs-like breakthrough. That Shibboleth needs to end.
The way I've been perceiving Apple's (AAPL) innovation is absolutely through incremental developments. Developments that seem achingly slow in the current time end up aggregating to something much more than we could have imagined in the long run. Along the way, breakthroughs happen naturally thanks to Apple's passion for integrating hardware and software into an elegant human interface.
Here's how it works.
Human Need -> Imagination -> Service -> Hardware + Software -> Technical Advances -> Improved Service -> New Human Need.
This is a Tech Loop. What the above implies is that hardware advances for the sake of hardware coolness is pointless. Hardware must evolve to improve a service or feature. That's why Apple has developed a 64-bit "A7" CPU to support faster, more complex algorithms and the Secure Enclave to support the secure storage of fingerprints.
In fact, when we look at the history of Apple, the hardware is generally driven by the need to do something useful, indeed, cool for the user. Add great industrial design, and there's the awesome new toy we wanted. But it came naturally. Some examples are in order.
1. SoundJam led to iTunes which led to a rapid evolution of iPod hardware. Then replaced generally by the iPhone as the market dictated.
2. iCloud is driving the evolution of the iOS and OS X devices.
3. iTunes movies on a Mac led to the Apple TV and then the iPhone as a remote control.
4. CarPlay will lead to iPhone developments in communication, navigation, human interface and then new services.
Moving on to some of the areas we're fairly sure Apple is interested in...
5. Home automation will lead to primarily iPad and also iPhone improvements.
6. Home theater, a next generation Apple TV, will lead to new human interfaces to the hardware. That will create demand for better hardware and services.
7. Remote payments has led to iBeacon and iPhone developments driven by security, fingerprint scanning, notifications, geolocation and so on.
There is No Serendipity on Demand
In all these examples, there's a loop of development, a Tech Loop. The very process of improving the hardware brings new opportunities, and that, incrementally, with passion and imagination, refines the original service to something never before thought possible. In fact, that's how the Internet itself evolved.
It can be expected that, along the way, new hardware in the form of a new device might be needed to integrate or support certain new services. That's called a new product category. That could be an elegant home automation server, a new kind of media server, better home backup than simple Time Machine drives, or, say, a new kind of display or input.
However, by now it should be obvious that Apple doesn't just dream up new hardware, as some companies do, because it can. (Like Google (GOOG).) Instead, the hardware naturally evolves from the foundation of the current Tech Loops and integrates with all of them. Just as an example, a home automation server, built on iOS, could interface to all the iOS devices present in the household and open the door to new services.
All the above is a far cry from the product sequence, so often seen as a demand from Apple:
Macintosh -> iPod -> iPhone -> iPad -> Device "X"
Where Device "X" is some mythical hardware that Apple must dream up now, in magical Steve Jobs style, or perish.
New hardware devices can be expected evolve naturally from the synergy of Apple's current services, operating systems and hardware. As the company addresses fundamental human problems, the current hardware will evolve, just as the iPhone has.
Eventually, when the need arises, a new branch of hardware spins out as a result of all the previous development. As a result, there's no urgent need to pull Device "X" out of the hat, urgently and on demand by observers, in order to meet some fantasy timeline.
At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.
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