Apple in 2019: It’s all about the software, stupid

Apple’s transition into a service provider is accelerating, with the company hiring more software developers than hardware developers.

Apple, iOS, Mac, R&D,
Medhat Dawoud (CC0)

With over a billion active users, Apple’s transition into a service provider is accelerating, with the company hiring more software developers than hardware developers.

Developers, developers, developers

This doesn’t mean every developer is focused on services, but it does reinforce the argument that software is of compelling importance in a digitally connected age.

You need software developers for everything: operating systems, applications, artificial intelligence, software services, back-end infrastructure, and more.

Apple’s determination to launch new services, including its "family friendly" (hopefully not boring) TV streaming system, new health-related services, and interesting new fintech products rests on the company ensuring these offerings are good to use – and that’s going to take lots and lots of software development time.

This is amply reflected from Q3 2018, when software engineers became the most in-demand role at the company, edging ahead of hardware engineering roles, according to Joshua Fruhlinger.

Apple is a software company

Apple has always been a software company.

The first Apple computer would have been nothing without the software to run on it. The first iPhone nothing but a chunk of expensive materials wrapped around rare metals if Apple had not built the operating system that ran atop it.

This is an interesting statistical illustration that hints the company’s focus on services. However, it may also signal other big moves as Apple’s Project Marzipan gathers steam and the company seeks out ways to bridge the gap between its iOS devices and its Macs.

Purported plans to switch Macs to A-series Apple chips will also require software engineering expertise, as will development of its own 5G modems.

These projects could all be considered critical.

It is important to note that the company is still recruiting hardware engineers. It also seems relevant that in terms of the number of available roles, Apple seems to be slowing hiring in the most recent quarter, according to Fruhlinger’s data.

It’s not as if the company has simply stopped developing and building new products; it’s much more a reflection that as the capabilities of those products is enhanced, the size of the teams required to maintain them also grows.

Apple’s hardware design may be award-winning, but the software is arguably more important; without it, nothing happens.

Move fast, break things

Accepting the importance of software to the company it seems logical to argue that as Apple moves towards new hardware introductions, it will invest more in developing the software to make the very best it can from that hardware.

With that in mind, Apple’s software developer recruitment spike suggests the company is in the process of finessing some of the software components inside those future products. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently confirmed the company is “rolling the dice on” solutions he believes will “blow you away.”

What are those products?

We don’t really know.

Recent discussions have suggested AR glasses, foldable iPads, health-related devices and autonomous vehicles may all be on the Apple road map, but most of these fabled speculations not realistically expected to debut before 2020.

That the scale of the recruitment is significantly changing the balance of its hiring models today may suggest the scale of what is being planned.

It is possible that Apple's admitted focus on services expansion is actually helping the company maintain a shroud of secrecy around its wider plans. We do, after all, know the company has been investing very heavily in R&D since 2010. 

Perhaps the company knows something we don't.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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