Apple succeeds in large part not by what they do, but they don’t do. For every product that get’s a yes in Cupertino, there’s likely a hundred if not a thousand that get left on the cutting room floor. This idea has been key to the success of Apple over the past 20 years, and continues to be today, as the idea of “saying no” is at the heart of Apple’s focused approach to product development, the very approach that allows things like the iPad, AirPods, and Apple Watch to dominate their respective markets. This is why, upon first hearing about it a few years, ago, the idea of an Apple Car came as such a shock to me. At first, such a proposition would seem to be a clear rejection of Apple’s greatest principle: focus, as developing a car is seemingly no small task, and indeed a monumental one when compared to smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
And it was this that led me to (initially) believe that the rumors of an “Apple Car” were entirely false, that such a product was such a betrayal of Apple’s principle that doing so would surely mark a wrong turn (no pun intended) for the company. But then I remembered another important maxim that Steve Jobs instated during his reign over Silicon Valley, the idea of putting everything on the line in the name of a product that could change the world, or, you know, destroy your company. It was this ideology that gave us the iPhone, and before that the iPod, and in part, what saved the company with the original iMac (although Apple didn’t have much to lose back then). And it’s also this ideology that seems to be what’s missing with the Tim Cook era of Apple. While he is often criticized for “not innovating” enough when compared to Steve Jobs before him, I think that this is a gross oversimplification, and the real visible way in which Jobs’ and Cook’s respective operations of Apple differ, for better or for worse, are in the risks they took/take.
It’s wrong to say that Tim Cook doesn’t innovate, as, by that logic, neither did Steve Jobs. Both Cook and Jobs and innovations are of the same sort, the good sort, creative innovation through established technologies, the sort of innovation that gave us the iPhone under Jobs and the Apple Watch or AirPods under Cook. What differs between is not innovation itself, but the magnitude of it. Perhaps it’s because Cook, is truly, at heart, an industrial engineer, focused on maintaining the company rather than risking it all on like Jobs did on something like the iPhone. Or perhaps, and, what I’m hoping the possibility of an Apple-designed car signifies, Cook is willing to risk everything on a crazy, potentially world-changing product, he’s just taking the time to get it right.
You see, that’s the other part of the equation. Countless companies risk it all on a single, potentially groundbreaking idea and crash and burn. What allowed Apple to succeed where these others failed was that idea from before: focus, what makes Apple so great. Apple hasn’t released a folding phone because the technology is ready. The same is (probably) true for any AR glasses it has in the pipeline. Now look at either of those two products in comparison to a car, and you get a glimpse of why Cook might not have taken any crazy risks just yet. And the same is true for all of Apple’s risk-the-company-on-a-groundbreaking-idea products in the past. There was 7 years in between the iPod and the iPhone, and those devices, which, are not at all close in scope to one another, are very close in scope to each other when a car is added into the equation. I guess what I’m saying is, no one saw the iPhone coming, even after no one thought the iPod would succeed, is it that crazy, considering the fact that Apple hasn’t taken any particularly crazy risks lately, that they might, just maybe, be building a car?