For Apple it's been a tough few months ... year ... uh ... well, you get the picture. Financially, things are still great with record quarters and more money in the bank than anyone could possibly know what to do with. But when it comes to the basics that enable all that revenue and profit, Apple begins to look something like Microsoft did a couple of years ago, with lots going on other than consumer pick-up. Here are some of the signs:
- In its September 2015 launch, Apple sounded like it was borrowing from Microsoft when it came to innovation. Look at it this way: The really big announcement was a large tablet that could use a pen interface, much as Microsoft had tried to do two decades before.
- Some strong appreciation for Cortana, the voice assistant in Windows 10, is the type of user love that Apple used to get. And Siri isn't the automatic first choice of people comparing offerings from Apple, Microsoft, and Google.
- The days of introducing a product and having sales rocket off are far behind Apple. Apple Watch? Some millions of units have sold, but it's nothing compared to the iPhone or even iPad. And iPad unit sales have been falling quarter after quarter for a couple of years now.
- Apple is perceived to have an ongoing software problem, with newer versions of operating systems and applications getting worse in terms of quality.
- Samsung has been able to overtake Apple at times in customer satisfaction with smartphones. A few years ago, that would have been unheard of.
- Between its 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, Apple increased its advertising budget by 50 percent. Staying popular is costing more and more.
Big changes are tough for large companies to digest, and the loss of Steve Jobs, for all his weaknesses as well as strengths, was perhaps the most difficult. The one person who obsessed over every detail and who had no compunction about airing his dissatisfaction is gone.
Momentum can mask a lot of problems. It did for years at Microsoft. So long as people felt that they needed to keep upgrading Windows and Office, they would, keeping the money rolling in. That is, until they felt, with mobile devices, that maybe the treadmill wasn't necessary. Microsoft continued to make tons, but its industry dominance slipped.
Microsoft has been working hard to battle back and diversify. Apple, though, may take a while to learn the same lesson about not presuming its dominance, as well as diversification. The company is completely dependent on the iPhone, which drives profits and use of services. Unless management can recognize the growing issue and, more importantly, find ways to reverse the trends, Apple could look more and more like Microsoft did not too many years ago.