Scot Finnie: Is Apple OK?

More than most technology companies, Apple lives and dies by how well it delivers innovative electronics, software and services. The company has weathered many ups and downs in the course of its history, but since 1998, Apple has been recognized as being bold, innovative and successful.

Those were the days between Steve Jobs' return and his death, in 2011.

Since Tim Cook took the helm, Apple has stumbled. Its stock peaked at over $700 in September 2012 and has spent much of 2013 down around $400, only recently moving to $500 territory. There's been a lot of criticism of the company by media, analysts and the financial community some of it warranted. Over the last two years, Apple's biggest new products have been the iPhone 5, the iPad Mini and the Retina MacBook Pro. The Retina display aside, they're all derivative and either play catch-up or, in the case of the iPhone 5, lag behind in both worldwide market share and leap-forward product innovation.

What's more, 2013 has been mighty thin in terms of Apple product launches. You have to go back to 2005 to find a year with fewer new hardware releases. (Beginning in January 2006 and throughout that year, the company released new Intel-based versions of all of its Macs.)

So, has Apple lost its mojo? Has it run out of innovative ideas? I believe that what we're witnessing this year is the end of the pipeline of in-the-works projects from the Jobs era. To be sure, there are plenty of other test-tube ideas Apple is developing that Jobs had a hand in. There has been a delay in 2013, but it's understandable. The first six months under a new CEO must have been a time of uncertainty for Apple employees. It gave them pause. Cook is nothing like Jobs, and that had to affect Apple's corporate culture. It's this adjustment period that resulted in a slow 2013.

All the same, while it's clear that Apple can iterate existing products very well, can the company still hit home runs with new ideas as it did with the iMac, OS X and the iPod, iPhone and iPad?

As I write this, Apple's next unveiling, on Sept. 10, is the subject of much speculation. But it looks to be much ado about very little. Apple is expected to announce an iPhone 5S, said to be a minor refresh, with highlights being the inclusion of iOS 7 and fingerprint-scanner login authentication. It's also been widely reported a midrange-priced iPhone 5C will be available in multiple colors. Not a particularly exciting lineup. If unsubstantiated reports are true, things get somewhat better in October, when it's believed that Apple will introduce a thinner, lighter iPad 5 and a new iPad Mini with a Retina display. Somewhere along the way, Apple will also release a mild revision of OS X, called Mavericks. Beyond that, the rumors are hazy and a little surprising: iWatch (which may be more important as a decorous dongle for mobile payments than anything else) and an Apple-designed TV, dubbed iTV by the press.

If Apple doesn't have "one more thing" by June next year, it may be in trouble. The folks in Cupertino can't afford to rest on their laurels. But this is Apple we're talking about. The company hasn't blown it under Cook's tenure. It just hasn't done anything amazing yet.

And Cook is just one guy out of 41,700 talented Apple employees. Apple is OK. Besides, if there's any company that deserves the benefit of the doubt, it's Apple. It's too soon to count it out.

Scot Finnie is Computerworld's editor in chief. You can contact him at sfinnie@computerworld.com and follow him on Twitter (@ScotFinnie).

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