Is Apple developing *too fast*?

I've been pondering Apple's latest moves – namely, the shift to Intel processors and the various new and updated products that Jobs announced this week – and it struck me that Apple may be developing things *too fast*.

Obviously that sounds ridiculous in the context of the IT industry, but bear with me. Continuing on from my theory that the only way to judge the likely future of the IT industry is to discover the patterns from the past (I've wrote an article precisely on this), Apple may be making a historic mistake all over again.

One of the biggest cock-ups Apple made with the Mac in the early days was to produce dozens and dozens of variations of it, constantly releasing new ones with barely any difference between them. It ended up overwhelming and confusing potential buyers – in exactly the same way that this modern obsession with “choice” often leads you to scratch your head in shops when faced with 20 different versions of shampoo, washing powder etc etc.

It strikes me that Apple has only half-learnt its lesson. It now continually comes up with new designs, upgrades the hardware slightly and launches it as a new product. Clearly it thinks that if the product is recognisably different, there isn't an issue. I would argue that there is a very big issue: the sheer speed by which new products arrive.

Two examples. Jobs demonstrated the new iMac with the Intel processor in. And [gasp!] he had been using it throughout his entire presentation. The point being that it looked the same as the iMac everyone in the audience was used to. Except, I didn't actually recognise the iMac design. How long has that design existed? The last iMac design that sticks in my head was the one with a flat screen stuck on a demi-globe. And, to be honest, when you say “iMac”, my mind still jumps immediately to the pastel coloured see-through computer that became so famous.

As it turns out the see-through pastel iMac came out in 1998, the semi-globe in 2002 and the latest version in 2004. So the original lasted four years, the second (too big a change to my mind) two years, and the third has lasted under two so far. I would argue that five years would be a better timeshift. Although I also know that Apple fans would be champing at the bit with a five-year delay.

Now, you could argue I should know all the different styles since I'm an IT journalist, but I don't. And if I don't, there is no way in hell that the rest of the population does. Apple – because of its fanatical followers – can often get stuck in its own world and forget what everyone else thinks.

And those people are thinking: where's the pastel iMac? “This, is the new iMac here,” says the salesman, “and it is much better and faster.” Nah, says the customer, I was after the blue one.

Apple needs more patience. It may be rushing ahead, getting excited about new things, but everyone else only likes spending £1,000 on a computer every five years. And while it is exciting to buy something new and jazzy, if people spend alot of money, they often want something they feel they can trust. That is why the bog-standard desktop computer rectangular box is still the most popular shape.

The over-speedy development also comes with the iPod. It is clearly a different market in that dozens of new MP3 players are hitting the shelves every month as companies try to grab some of the market back off Apple. But Apple is almost running away with itself. It really needs to spend more time on an iPod that will stay stationary for longer.

I got my 60GB fourth-generation in August, and yet it is already out-of-date. I can't get video – even though all I ever hear from Apple is video, video, video. The new FM radio won't work with it. The new iPod offers CD-quality recording, but mine is purposefully restricted by Apple to telephone-quality and it doesn't show any signs of producing an upgrade. Apple's entire focus is on new and exciting products and hyping them up.

I am hoping that Apple will settle on the Nano and Video iPod and build things around them, rather than trying to jump to the next one – which I suspect they will do.

Of course this is all nit-picking. Apple has done an extraordinary job in recent years and shaken up the market by producing better products. But that momentum simply cannot continue forever yet Apple has grown addicted to it, which doesn't bode well for, say, 2007/8.

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