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Does Apple need to invent, or innovate?

Even some Apple aficionados are asking, “Where’s Apple's VR play?”

Apple didn’t invent the PC, MP3 player, cellphone or tablet. But it did make them better, and also created billion-dollar markets for its versions.
Apple didn’t invent the PC, MP3 player, cellphone or tablet. But it did make them better, and also created billion-dollar markets for its versions.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


Everyone is familiar with the saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention." In fact, most inventions come from someone seeing a need and creating a product or service that meets that need. More importantly, inventors pretty much drive much of the world’s commerce as individuals and companies apply various levels of R&D to an idea and use that to invent products and bring them to market.

In various conversations recently, I have heard both Apple backers and detractors bemoaning the fact that Apple seems to be at a crossroads and, for the first time, I have heard both sides saying Apple needs to invent something new to get its luster back.

Now that VR seems to be the next big thing, even some Apple aficionados are asking, "Where’s Apple's VR play?


This is probably a harsh assessment in that Apple is still making record profits and, while its stock has taken a hit, the company still has more than $200 billion in the bank and is spending $10 billion in R&D with, I am sure, plans to continue to create and develop new products and services in the future. Apple has been doing this really well since 1997 and, given that track record, I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt at this time.

However, asking Apple to invent something new suggests that those asking do not really understand Apple’s formula for success. It’s one that the company repeats with every product it has brought to market since the beginning, starting with the original Apple I. Apple did not invent the PC (that came from Micral in 1973), and it was Eddie Robert’s Altair 8800 introduced in 1974 that brought the first commercial PC to the market.

The Apple I came from Steve Wozniak’s lust for wanting his own Altair but not having enough money to buy one. So he created his own and, along with Steve Jobs, made a business out of his version of a PC. But it was what Apple did with the PC over time that really put Apple on the map. With every generation of the Apple I, II and III, and eventually the Mac, Cupertino brought innovation to the design, OS platform and related applications.

This is Apple's approach to innovation on an existing product, such as the introduction of the iPod. Apple did not invent MP3 players, but put its innovative design, easy-to-get music via downloads and an ecosystem of software and services on it — Apple basically owned the portable music player market for more than a decade.

That same approach was also applied to the iPhone. While not first to market with a smartphone, Apple innovated around the concept, created the iPhone, and introduced pocket computing to the world. More importantly, it helped create a multibillion dollar market for itself and many others. Smartphones now are the No. 1 way people gain access to the internet around the world.

If history is our guide, Apple will watch how the VR market develops and, at the right time, bring out a solution that will most likely be superior to anything on the market.


Apple took the same approach with tablets. The company didn't invent them, but it did make them better, and also created a billion dollar market for tablets. Apple is the leader in enterprise-based tablets, and remains a highly preferred supplier of tablets for consumers around the world. Similarly, Apple didn't invent smartwatches, but here, too, it has created what seems to be best of breed, and clearly the best-selling smartwatch at the moment — a product that adds billions of dollars to their bottom line.

Now that VR seems to be the next big thing, even some Apple aficionados are asking, "Where’s Apple's VR play?" Some even worry that Apple will be too late, given all of the activity from Oculus, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR, Samsung and, most recently, Google’s introduction of Daydream and its broader Android VR program.

But if history is our guide, Apple will watch how this market develops and, at the right time, bring out a VR solution that will most likely be superior to anything on the market outside of what is at the ultra-high end. It will create the gold standard for a smartphone-based VR headset with supporting apps and services and, even if late, it could end up with the lion’s share of the market, as it has done with the other products in its line. This same MO will probably be applied to an autonomous vehicle should Apple bring one to market.

This doesn't mean that Apple will not invent something new in the future. But Apple has become a master of innovating around new products that enter the market and show promise but, in their early stages, are not enough to create or drive a large market for them. Apple enters and does what it does best — create a great new device, develop an SDK so developers can create great apps and services for it, and then spend millions of dollars marketing it, while making it part of the broader ecosystem of products it offer its customers.

My bet is that Apple keeps up its successful formula for innovating around new products and categories and that is what will continue to drive the company's growth in the future.



Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981, and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others. Reach him @Bajarin.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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