Is Apple getting stagnant?

A couple of years ago, it seemed as if every twelve months, a product refresh, regardless of the product, would come along. Personally, it doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Ignoring the iPhone release cycle getting knocked out of the twelve month loop with the 4S, it appears to be happening. Here are some examples:

  • The iPod Classic – not been changed since 2009, but on the flip-side hasn’t been discontinued
  • The iPod shuffle hasn’t seen a new generation since 2010, although there have been color updates to it
  • The iPod nano hasn’t seen an update since October 2012, other than similar color updates
  • The Apple Remote – also hasn’t been changed since 2009, and desperately needs to be since it isn’t compatible with the current MacBook Airs, Retina MacBook Pros, or iMacs. You’d think releasing a bluetooth version of the remote was a logical step, but after the discontinuation of the Front Row software I suppose Apple don’t see the point. Personally, I’d find a remote for iTunes other than using my iPod a great benefit.
  • What was missing from the list of incompatible Apple hardware? The Mac mini, which hasn’t been updated since October 2012 and is therefore overdue an update – logically you’d think Apple would have announced a Haswell update around the time of the latest MacBook Air update.
  • The Apple TV isĀ sort of overdue an update – the current third generation was initially released in March of last year, but January 2013 saw an ‘update’ – a very slight change in the processor.
  • Speaking of TVs, Apple’s current standalone display, the Thunderbolt compatible and aptly named ‘Thunderbolt Display‘, has been out since mid 2011, and sports the same chunky edges as the iMacs of that era. 2013 however saw an iMac redesign with incredibly tapered edges, so surely a similarly designed (and potentially Thunderbolt 2 capable) standalone display should be in the works, especially considering the impending release of the new Mac Pro. Incidentally, the Mac Pro would also have made this list if it weren’t for Apple updating it – although ‘update’ is an understatement since it’s more of an overhaul.

That’s quite a long list of products that Apple haven’t discontinued nor updated. Of course, one question is “do they need to be updated?” to which my answer is yes and no – I think the Apple Remote needs updating; as the price of flash storage is constantly coming down Apple could potentially release a new iPod Classic with the same amount of storage, although that may make iPhone and iPod touch owners a bit frustrated; the Mac mini ought to be updated solely for the sake of staying current; and the Thunderbolt Display design should be updated solely for the sake of keeping in line with their current design portfolio. But, none of those are as front-line and in need of updating to match competition as their key computers and portable devices.

Talking of matching competition though, there is an argument for an Apple TV update. Home media centers are an ever-increasing trend, and there’s a plethora of options to choose from. If you have a spare PC, then you can simply use Media Browser Classic or Media Browser 3, Plex, Media Portal, or XBMC. If you want a standalone device you could go for the immensely capable Popcorn Hour, or more web-based products such as Roku and Boxee – although I just discovered that Boxee slipped yet further and doesn’t exactly exist in its ‘current’ form anymore. If you’re after a really web-lite experience, then the Google Chromecast may suit your needs. If however, your household is an Apple ecosystem, you probably have iPhones, iPads, and an extensive iTunes media library, and the easiest way to use a media center with that is an Apple TV. But, with the constant flood of Smart TVs, your old Apple TV probably feels inferior to even your neighbor’s new bargain TV they got on a Black Friday deal. Which is why I think that Apple need to update the Apple TV, and not just a specification increase, something that matches competition. I don’t know what, as I don’t know how much ecosystem control Apple would want to relinquish, but AirPlay streaming and mirroring aren’t quite cutting it at the end of 2013.

As a closing thought, I do wonder if the reign of Cook has anything to do with this rut, just looking at how his overall vision is different to how Jobs’ was it’s easy to draw justifiable conclusions.