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A case for incrementalism.

The release of the new iPhones and iPads elicited a somewhat odd initial reaction from a number of tech commentators. There were appreciative nods to the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, new 64-bit A7 chip, and redesigned iPad body, but there were unmistakable overtones of disappointment.

The problem was that the latest versions of two of the most spectacularly successful pieces of 21st Century computer hardware just weren't radically different enough from the current models. The new iPhones, two new iPads, and even the new iOS 7 operating system with numerous improvements didn't cut it with an audience looking for revolution instead of products with feature creep and assorted refinements.

Our national marketing machines seem to have successfully welded the idea of creative destruction onto what we think of as innovation. As a byproduct, they're creating attention-deficit-addled consumers who are only attentive to those who can grab at their sleeves with the proffer of radical change. You can't just round corners and improve the way a thing works. You now have to overhaul things to create any kind of significant noise.

Consumer computer tech marries essential digital function and product design in a way that will never be apparent in the industrial racks of Dell servers at work. And unlike most other digital innovators, Steve Jobs was obsessed with more than processor speeds, battery life, and boosting memory in Apple's devices. His official biographer, Walter Isaacson, explains the other side of his genius. Isaacson writes, "Jobs thus became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors."

At the introduction of the first iPad three years ago, Jobs extolled the magic of this entirely different kind of computer. But it was during the second launch for the iPad 2 that he offered a sharply focused definition of Apple's unique approach to technology.

At the time of the launch of the iPad 2, the Windows and Android communities were doing what they could to catch up. Jobs had already demanded from his marketing teams that the original iPad be presented not just as a product but also as a manifesto ushering in the post-PC era. The company's second version featured several major improvements.

Jobs explained to those gathered for the launch in San Francisco, Calif., "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. [We believe] that it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing. And nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices. [Folks are] looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and the software are done by different companies. And our experience and every bone in our body says that that is not the right approach to this. That these are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC. And where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than they do on a PC. We think we have the right architecture not just in silicon, but in the organization to build these kinds of products."


The build of the iPad tablet has steadily improved from version to version. There are those who argue that the annual release of each new version seems to be more about marketing and squeezing down on the grip this product has in the new genre, but it's hard to deny the value of the improvements. Incremental, yes, but what's wrong with perfecting the quality of a mature product?

For the latest iPad release, the fifth iteration, there were no overnight lines in front of Apple stores. Early online ordering for the latest tablet began at 12 a.m. San Francisco, Calif., time on launch day. Those who set their alarm could boot up and place their order, go back to bed, and show up at their local Apple store the next day to pick up their iPad Air.

And how did the new iPad measure up? For anyone upgrading, all they had to do to appreciate the remarkable changes in the latest version of Jobs' "manifesto" was to hold their older iPad in one hand and the Air in the other. The specifications mark the Difference--from 2.33 lbs. for the Wi-Fi version of the iPad 2 to 1 lb. for the iPad Air--but those numbers hardly explain the difference you feel in your hands. No doubt, the reduced size of the aluminum body of the Air, which feels more like an iPad Mini than the large-screen version, is responsible for this reduction. The screen size, on the other hand, hasn't been touched by the reduction. It still measures 9.7". The original concept of the tablet had a screen size approximately the size of a piece of paper. The current iPad is still a few inches short on the diagonal--9.7" diagonally while standard paper has an almost 14" diagonal stretch--but there are rumors already about a possible supersize screen on a later version.

The other outstanding difference is that the new iPad is very fast at loading Web pages, processing spreadsheet calculations, executing searches, and smoothly turning e-book pages. For those upgrading from an iPad 2, the clarity of the newest screen is due to a doubling of the pixels per inch because the Air offers a Retina display.

Add in the new A7 with 64-bit architecture, and you now have the possibility of future apps running like desktop apps. A boost not only for gamers but also for those who would like more robust productivity apps.

Jobs is now gone, but the Apple mobile revolution rolls on. Scattering in its wake is the production of the older owners of this part of the computing universe--Blackberry and Nokia--as well as the recent unseating of Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, who announced his resignation after more than 30 years at the company--a resignation based on his failure to keep up in the mobile, tablet, and distributed services theaters. And improvements for the iPhone and iPad continue to be rolled out incrementally in launches scheduled near the end of each year.

By Michael Castelluccio, Editor
COPYRIGHT 2013 Institute of Management Accountants
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Title Annotation:TECH FORUM
Author:Castelluccio, Michael
Publication:Strategic Finance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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