19 March 2014

Innovation is the Apple of Google's eye.

Unless something dramatic happens later this year, it seems clear that the throne of innovation has packed the crown and moved 10 minutes northwest to Mountain View. We can blame the passing of Steve Jobs or just plain dumb luck but the fact is that Apple is no longer inventing the coolest new consumer products. In fact, recently, they have not invented much of anything.

Yes, the new Mac Pro design is very innovative, despite limited sales, and, like the Mac Plus aquarium, will quite possibly be the most sought-after rubbish bin ever in a few years when the components are worthless. Sure, the iPhone 5S finger print scanner is cute yet, without Exchange authentication, it is more gimmick than a truly useful security tool. And ... Well. That's about it in the past couple years.

Sure, iOS 7 was a nice re-design, but the innovations there were mostly borrowed from Android and Windows Phone. The new iPad Mini is the best selling iPad ever but is a design based on the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire. No question that the MacBook Air is the best laptop ever but has remained mostly unchanged since the 2009 model. An iPhone 5C is interesting, but plastic and colors were already staked out in the Android camp - even if it is magic plastic implanted with heavenly shades.

What is coming in the future from Apple? If rumors are to be believed, and since Jobs exited the building they should be, we can expect a bigger iPhone, a cheaper iPhone, a new Apple TV and lighter, higher resolution iPad and Macs. Thrilling. Hopefully they will surprise us.

There is nothing wrong with incremental improvements over time. In fact, an argument can be made that the iPhone, iPad and Mac are still the best products on the market so Apple should not mess with success. True enough. We have a dozen of these products in our family alone. But Apple used to create entirely new product categories and the iPod, iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air are prime examples, and there are many of us longing for something new to covet. Meanwhile, over in Mountain View, Google has happily taken that role.

Until "Android Wear" was demonstrated the cultural reaction to wearing a smart watch was a 1980's Casio calculator strapped to your wrist. Not anymore. By integrating Google Now's awareness of what you want before you want it, which is another must-have invention, they have created a technological marvel that has the potential to be the hottest tech product this coming Christmas. Sure - it still needs a smart phone. Sure - you need to give your life up to the Google Borg consciousness for it to read your mind (or re-program your brain, as the case may be). Sure - it is just a watch. Much like the iPhone was just another BlackBerry. Or the iPod was just another Rio. Or the iPad was just another Windows Tablet.

It isn't just Android Wear, though. Chromecast is a tiny HDMI stick that is as powerful as an Apple TV. Chromebooks are eating into Apple's education and consumer markets thanks to ease of use and low cost. Nexus phones and tablets offer the power of an iPhone or iPad at half (or less) the cost. Google Glass may be the most innovative idea of all, despite the negativity in the tech public, and like most new ideas is finding markets that no one predicted. (Example: Folks in D.C. are beginning to wear them as a less conspicuous way to record and communicate while in meetings and conferences.)

Apple's core isn't cooked. If they were to release a smart watch there is little doubt it would have impressive hardware. Even so, they have no reasonable answer for Google Now, which is the reason why Android Wear is so astounding. They have no answer to the amazing variety of hardware using Google's products that, purely based on the law of averages, is occasionally forcing Apple to play catch-up. In many ways, as many others have typed before me, Apple has found itself back on the losing side of the Windows versus Mac OS 1-9 game. Unfortunately, this time their competitor appears to be far more creative.