I've been reading "After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul", which is one of the few books I decided to pick up as a hardback. So far it's been an interesting run through the history of both Jony Ive and Tim Cook and their relationship with Steve Jobs (the iconic and emblematic founder and CEO of Apple). It also talks about Steve's fear that Apple would be like Walt Disney and Polaroid after the loss of their founders - a former shell of themselves that constantly wondered what their founder would have done. I'm only 1/3 through the book but this worry resonated with me and crystallized a few thoughts that I've had about not only the computer industry but the media industry as well.
What I've seen lately from the computer and media industries is a lot of folks that are very good at imitation, not innovation. Think back to the 2010s and every year since and show me a product, service, or media property that didn't feel like it was directly channeling the past. There's probably a few here and there, but for the most part we haven't seen the kinds of radical thinking that permeated the 20th century. I'm not sure if this is a generational issue (Generation X, of which I'm a card-carrying member, was very good at mimicking what we've read, seen, and heard) or if this is a larger cultural issue. I have no love for mobile devices, which I see as micro-iterations of the iPhone. Nor do I find keeping up with the computer ecosystem exciting or interesting. It just feels like we're figuring out ways to cram more whoozits into whatzits and setting a competitive price-point for the who-gives-a-shits.
This also feels like what Apple has done for the past 10+ years. They've gotten better about cramming whozits into whatzits. I don't discount Tim Cook's abilities in that department. He's a brilliant supply-chain person. But I fear that Apple, and the computer industry writ large has become a solved problem wherein the only challenges are shoving who-gives-a-shits into consumer hands as quickly as possible without maintaining inventory.
Color me unimpressed.
I don't foresee a radical sea-change like the Macintosh of 1984 anytime soon. Nor do I foresee any kind of sea-change in the next 10 years.
And this makes me wonder where the next changes will come. Will it come from smaller communities? I'd like to think so, but Free / Open Source software has yet to prove a leader in this. They're experts at mimicking existing products and services. I'd like to think the FLOSS community could innovate but I remain skeptical. I'd love to be proven wrong.
What then? Startups? Doubtful. The Venture Capitalists need to have a sure-thing before they'll invest. I doubt anything risky or unproven could come from VC Funded startups.
I'll have more thoughts on this in future posts. I'm hoping this isn't just jaded cynicism at play, but I'm starting to think that we'll be stuck in this same holding pattern for decades if we're not careful. Look at Disney and how they've been unable to take any meaningful risks without having some other company show them how it's done. The only thing these companies bring is scale, nothing more.
We should be able to do better. I'm hoping this sparks someone to take up that risk.