Apple's problems.. But it's no big deal. In fact, it's the least of
After being unveiled alongside the , the wireless charging mat -- designed to juice up to three Apple devices simultaneously -- never saw the light of day. Marketing chief Phil Schiller said at the time it would ship in 2018, but last year came and went without a peep about AirPower. Last week, Apple finally , admitting it couldn't produce the product "at its high standards."
Embarrassing? Sure. Obviously, Apple never should've announced something it couldn't deliver for prime time. A sign that Apple is losing its mojo? Maybe. But ultimately, AirPower's cancellation doesn't matter. For consumers, this accessory was always, at best, a "nice to have." Anyone who wants a wireless charger has long since moved on and bought one of the.
For Apple itself, the story wasn't much different: AirPower was never going to appreciably move the needle on the sales front. At a presumed price point around $150 -- Apple never confirmed what it was going to charge for it -- AirPower was going to be at the very high end of the market compared to the competition. But even if it had defied the odds and become a megahit like Apple's $159 three quarters of revenue comes from iPhones and services., it still wouldn't make a dent on Apple's earnings report, where nearly
In short, when analysts and pundits look back years from now, no one will identify the AirPower fail as a pivot point where Apple lost its edge. But there are at least three other problems facing Apple, each of which have far more serious consequences for Apple's future. One or all of them could point to rough waters ahead if CEO Tim Cook and his team don't address them head on -- and soon.
Apple has fallen behind Google and Huawei on camera tech
If Apple sticks to its usual schedule, we'll see-- less than six months away. And while the remain excellent overall, there's one key area where Apple is falling behind: photography. Google's models -- which hit stores within weeks of the iPhone XS -- have and can literally take photos in the dark, thanks to a feature called . And Huawei -- notwithstanding the it's facing in the US -- is continuing to churn out amazing, bleeding-edge handsets. Its latest phone, the , includes a , including 5x to 10x optical zoom, meaning you can get in close (or at least closer) to performers on stage, athletes on the field or landmarks on your vacation.
Google is achieving magic with abacked up by some , while Huawei (and Chinese smartphone maker ) are using an to mimic the telephoto capabilities of a full-blown dSLR camera. At least one 2019 iPhone is rumored to have a , and -- even on the single-lens -- show that its own computational photography skills are world-class. But with these savvy competitors coming on strong, Apple can't just add a wide-angle lens and call it a day -- especially on iPhones for which it's charging customers upward of $1,000, the same or more than those competitors.
The MacBook needs a serious do-over
Apple unveiled a-- and its laptop line has been in a weird place ever since.
The 2016 Pro introduced the says they opted for a touch strip after deciding that touchscreens were "less compelling.", a long thin touchscreen that replaced the function keys, and it brought an updated version of the "butterfly" keyboard -- a superflat, short-travel keyboard that debuted in its -- to the Pro line, which costs $200 to $500 more. The Touch Bar remains a curiosity that divides Mac users -- it's a poor substitute for a true touchscreen, it never seemed to be fully embraced by developers, and resent that they're effectively paying extra for something they don't want -- no matter that Apple design chief Jony Ive
But the butterfly keyboard -- named after the design that replaced the traditional scissor mechanism in earlier Apple keyboards -- is the one aspect of current MacBooks that remains the most controversial. While some have adapted to its nearly flattened design (the keys depress, or travel, less than 1 millimeter, compared to 1.5 to 2mm for more traditional laptop keyboards), others have found themselves with unresponsive keys or typing out frequent double letters. In fact, it was said that even a single speck of dust was enough to befoul some butterfly keyboards.
Apple created a recent episode of the Apple-centric Accidental Tech Podcast.for early versions of the keyboard, but that hasn't stopped the negative press. "I'm afraid to use my laptop in a lot of conditions because I know how incredibly fragile that keyboard is," said Marco Arment in a
Meanwhile, the devastatingly clever op-ed and video last week from The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern that went viral included an apology from Apple to what the company called "small number" of affected users. And John Gruber, the godfather of Apple punditry, cited Stern's story to declare the keyboards "the worst products in Apple history." (And these are all people who like Apple products.), which has since found its way into the , doesn't appear to be much better: A
Yes, MacBooks have plenty of amazing tech on board, from their gorgeous Retina screens to their industry leading T2 chips, which handle encryption and security duties. And Apple may well be months away from unveiling a groundbreaking new MacBook that runs on the same sort of fast, fanless and battery-efficient ARM processor found in Apple's own iPad Pro, rather than Intel's hotter and more power-hungry CPUs. But, at the very least, Apple's engineers need to go back to the drawing board on its keyboard -- and maybe just give up on Touch Bar while they're at it.
Siri just isn't as good -- or as widespread -- as Alexa and Google Assistant
Apple's iPads and Macs on the market.alongside the iPhone 4S in 2011. But in the years since, it hasn't found its voice -- even as Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant have surpassed Siri in both effectiveness and reach. Yes, it's still early days in the smart assistant wars, with Amazon , and . But Apple's problem is that it's not even in the conversation, despite having hundreds of millions of Siri-compatible iPhones,
Apple has made some positive steps forward on the Siri front. Last year, it, formerly of Google, to head its AI development, who reports directly to CEO Tim Cook. It's made it , so products like can respond to Siri commands (in addition to Alexa and Google Assistant).
But so far, Apple's only "dedicated" Siri device is the $350 HomePod. And it competes with Amazon Echo and Google-compatible speakers that sell for as little as $30 to $50. I don't see Apple competing in that price range. But it could take a page from its recent moves with Apple Music and Apple TV services, both of which are or on and Roku: Let Siri live on non-Apple devices. Yes, Amazon won't let that happen on its hardware, but that's exactly the point: If Apple continues to keep Siri locked up on high-priced Apple-only hardware, it's hard to see her making inroads -- even if and when she gets smarter.
Buying time until the next big thing
To be clear, Apple is hardly in dire straits. It's still making billions of dollars every quarter, and it has a $245 billion (and counting) cash war chest. It also has popular products including the Apple Watch, iPad and AirPods that are arguably all at the top of their respective categories -- and would each be impressive standalone businesses on any other company's balance sheet.
But remember this quote attributed to MIcrosoft co-founder Bill Gates: "In this business, by the time you realize you're in trouble, it's too late to save yourself."
Apple knows this: Cook and his team already have plenty of other irons in the fire, from Microsoft would be than it does from its Windows software, either.to to, well, . Will any of them be bigger than the iPhone? Separately, I doubt it -- taken together, maybe. But I never would've guessed that
That's why Cook needs to address these issues sooner rather than later: Apple needs its iPhone and Mac businesses to stay healthy, if not grow, and it needs Siri to woo a decent chunk of the nascent smart home market. And all the while, it should keep cooking up something truly innovative to disrupt the smartphone market -- before somebody else does.