Has Apple become boring? [Friday Night Fights]

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FNF
Are you still excited by Apple in 2016?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple might be the biggest company in tech, with revenues that make eyes water every quarter, but even some fans think it’s getting a little boring in Cupertino.

Friday Night Fights bug Following last week’s big MacBook Pro event, Apple has delivered everything it had planned for 2016. We’ve had upgrades to iPhone, Apple Watch, and the 12-inch MacBook; brand new AirPods (though those aren’t shipping yet); the diminutive iPhone SE and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

But was all that enough, or could Apple have done more? None of these releases were really that revolutionary, and investors are still waiting for Apple’s next big thing. So, is it true? Is Apple really boring now?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we battle it out over these questions and more!

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: I see a lot of fans complaining that Apple has become boring now. Many feel its latest product lineup isn’t exciting enough and that the company is falling behind. I would argue this is the most exciting Apple has ever been.

I will admit that there are areas in which Apple could improve — starting with a new iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro. But I feel it’s hard to complain about much else.

Thanks to iPad Pro, Apple still offers the best tablet money can buy, powered by the best mobile operating system. iPhone 7 might look the same as its predecessors, but it has awesome new features that make it worth the upgrade, like water-resistance, stereo speakers, and that incredible new dual-lens camera on the larger model.

Apple Watch Series 2 is also a nice improvement over the original, with its faster processor fixing the biggest complaint fans had last year. Then there’s the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, which I’m super excited about. It’s going to change the way we interact with macOS and our favorite apps, and in years to come, that Touch Bar will be everywhere.

2017 is going to be even better. It’s the iPhone’s 10th anniversary, and it’s going to be huge. We’ll get the best iPhone upgrade we’ve seen to date, with recent rumors promising a fancy all-glass design, the iPhone’s first OLED display, and a revolutionary new AR experience.

What’s not exciting about Apple right now?

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: I’m on a weird side of the fence here, and one I hope readers will at least hear me out on.

First off, of course Apple is a successful company. Take virtually any Apple business and spin it off as its own company and you’ve got a Fortune 100 company there. It’s not in any way on the ropes, and even the fact that we may have reached “peak iPhone” is offset by the fact that, as today’s news shows, Apple’s making virtually all of the profit in the smartphone industry.

I am 100 percent not saying that Apple’s “boringness” is symptomatic of a company that’s on its way out. On top of this, it’s a company that continues to make beautiful products. The iPhone 7 and the iPad Pro are wonderful, and I use my iMac every day and love it more than any computer I’ve previously owned.

So what am I saying? Simply that Apple’s not the company it once was, in which everything felt like it was reinventing the wheel. The Apple Watch is nice, sure, but it’s not fundamentally different from other smartwatches we’ve seen. It doesn’t drastically rethink the smartwatch interface in a way that finally makes it make sense.

Apple TV, meanwhile, has been a crushing disappointment for me. Apple seems clueless as to what customers want from a reinvented TV experience. It’s majorly lagging behind companies like Amazon and Netflix in this area, and it’s major lost ground when you consider how Apple was on top of the video streaming/TV alternative with iTunes back in the day.

The same could be argued for the iPhone, iPad and even the new MacBook: they’re all just iterative improvements, and in some ways seem more like Apple reacting to the market than dictating it.

I may be totally off my rocker here: after all, my favorite period in Apple history was the 1990s when it was releasing a ton of off-the-wall concepts we look back on as amazing today, but which barely sold. I just don’t feel excited about Apple in the way I used to. Am I wrong here? Maybe I’m just spoiled.

Killian Bell FNFKillian: Apple can’t make drastic improvements to products that are already spectacular. It can’t reinvent smartphones, tablets, and computers every year. If those things continue to pull in glowing reviews and sell well — which they do — iterative improvements are all that’s necessary.

Apple isn’t the only company in this predicament, either. None of its rivals are making revolutionary changes to these industries, which tells us something. We’re at a point where these products have become so good, it’s not easy to see where they can go next. They’re not desperate for major overhauls in the same way smartphones were in 2007, or portable music players were seven years earlier.

Apple has found its winning formulas, so why change them? It can’t afford to make major changes to a product as successful as the iPhone on a regular basis, because major changes don’t always pay off.

I accept your point about Apple Watch. I think Apple’s just as clueless as other smartwatch makers right now, but I think that’s because consumers are clueless, too; no one really knows what they want a smartwatch to be yet. You might argue Apple should show us, just as Steve Jobs showed us what we should want a computer to be, but it’s not so obvious here.

I don’t have much to say about the Apple TV because I’ve never been all that excited about it. I’ve owned a couple, but neither of them got a lot of use. I appreciate the new model is better now that it has an App Store, but everyone’s waiting for Apple to reinvent the TV experience — and again, I don’t think it’s obvious what that should be.

The problem Apple has now — that it didn’t have in the 90s — is that it’s almost too successful to be that company that rolls out the crazy concepts. Too much is on the line now; it can’t afford to take major risks with products as big as the iPhone. And while products like the iPhone are the priority, Apple can only invest so much in attempting to revolutionize other industries.

If Apple was struggling — or it looked like things could go bad in the foreseeable future — I would worry it isn’t doing enough. But clearly that’s not the case right now.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: I agree with a lot of this. If Jony Ive is, essentially, trying to get to the Platonic Ideal of a smartphone, then adding unnecessarily gimmicks for the sake of it is clearly not the way to go.

I do feel like a lot of what Apple does elsewhere feels half-assed, though. Beats 1, iBeacons, Apple Watch and Apple TV were all concepts that, when they were introduced seemed like they had all the potential in the world.

Instead, Apple has its products that it cares about and everything else — and you could arguably add in products like the Mac Pro here — are left to fend for themselves.

It’s all well and good that Apple is allegedly working on a car, but in the meantime it’s missing out on getting involved with newer areas like VR and AR, while — as noted — being left behind by companies like Netflix and Amazon when it comes to its TV offerings.

Apple has so much cash on its hands that it could easily bankroll some original programming to get into the original content game that’s being owned by others. By the same token it could do more to differentiate itself from other streaming music services.

Let me put it to you this way, are you as excited about new Apple products as you’ve ever been? And as a company that’s got a few really successful revenue streams and an upper executive level that rarely changes, do you think it’s even a company with the capacity to change in the way it has in the past?

Killian Bell FNFKillian: It’s difficult to answer your first question because I find it really tough to get that excited about technology now. I’ve been writing about it every day for years, so it’s not quite the same anymore. I don’t think I’ll ever be as excited as I was when I bought my first iPhone or my first iMac, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every upgrade that came after those was a boring one. It’s just not the same.

With the exception of the Mac mini and the entire iPod lineup, I don’t think any of Apple’s big products are boring today. I wrote a very complimentary review of the iPhone 7, which I still stand by two months later, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the new MacBook Pro. If I wasn’t into PC gaming and I hadn’t built a Hackintosh, I’d snap up a 5K iMac in a heartbeat.

I also wear an Apple Watch, and it’s the only smartwatch I haven’t become bored of. I wear it every day and I find it useful every day. I love my 9.7-inch iPad Pro with Apple Pencil.

I think Apple’s a little bit confused about what it should do next, like a lot of its rivals. You mention it’s yet to get into VR — and that’s something I’m waiting for Apple to tackle myself as a VR fan — but I think it wants to avoid following suit like it did with Apple Watch. I think it’s holding back until it has a product that really is an improvement over what’s available today.

Once Apple knows what it needs to do next, I do think it’s capable of changing, yes.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: Well, let’s turn this over to readers. Is Apple still exciting you as a company, or do you think its rivals are outshining it in some areas? What would your pick for Apple’s most exciting years? Or are they still to come? Leave a comment below, and have a good weekend.

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?