In a new Gizmodo column, Andreas Goeldi calls it the “frosted glass” effect: when a prominent tech company’s latest upgrade to its flagship operating system features frosted-glass highlights as its primary innovation, you know that company is facing a period of severe stagnation.
That’s what happened to Microsoft around the time of Windows Vista, Goeldi wrote, and Apple’s going down the same road with iOS 7. In light of what he views as Apple’s sclerosis, it wasn’t difficult for him to abandon his iPhone in favor of a Google Android ecosystem: “I was already using a Google phone running iOS underneath, and there’s simply nothing in iOS 7 that makes me think I might switch back to Apple’s stock apps.”
But is Apple really becoming the next Microsoft?
In short: no.
Remember that Microsoft, at the time of Vista’s release, dominated two technology segments: “traditional” operating systems (i.e., those loaded on PCs) and productivity software (Office). That dominance—and its executives’ insistence that every new product bind tightly to the central Windows franchise—arguably prevented the company from pursuing the development of next-generation products that could have kept it well ahead of the rest of the tech industry. Microsoft’s defenders like to point out that the company’s researchers were exploring the possibilities of touch-screen tablets and other mobile devices long before Steve Jobs whipped the curtain back from the iPad; but in technology, “we could have done that” doesn’t earn you squat.
Apple doesn’t dominate any of its categories. Sure, it owns solid market-share in certain sub-segments, such as smartphones above a certain price-point; but Google Android continues to widen its lead in mobile devices over all other competitors. With regard to “traditional” operating systems, Mac OS X only possesses a fraction of Windows’ market-share. Earnings from Apple’s productivity software are probably a rounding error compared to those of Office, even with the latter facing significant competition from Google Apps and other cloud-based competitors.
This isn’t a bad thing.
Apple seems to recognize everything that seemed to elude Microsoft’s corporate thinking six years ago: namely, that even the most successful companies need to keep breaking into new categories, and keep innovating, if they want to stay ahead of hungry rivals. Rumors have persisted for quite some time that Apple is prepping big pushes into wearable electronics and televisions, both of which could prove lucrative strategies if executed correctly. Goeldi faults iOS 7 for its frosted-glass effects, which he compares to those of Vista; but similar graphical elements aside, it’s unlikely that iOS 7 will run into the same complaints over hardware requirements, compatibility, security, and so much more that greeted Vista upon its release. In fact, iOS 7 isn’t even finished; what Apple revealed at this summer’s WWDC in San Francisco wasn’t what iPhone and iPad owners will download in a few short months.
In other words, Apple has every appearance of maintaining its competitive verve. Android may be more polished than ever, with all sorts of cool apps and features, but it’s unlikely that Cupertino will allow that situation to stand for very long. Its survival depends on it.