It's CES in 2015: Apple's drive for market share has backfired and their brand has deteriorated as a result. They're still a big player and sell a lot of iPhones and iPads, but they're not a leader anymore.
Now that CES 2015 is over, I'm starting to understand why Apple doesn't exhibit there in the first place. Here it is, the year of the iPhone 7m a phone that's not predicted to push the iPhone sales share back up over the 25% mark while everyone else in the known universe is doing far more interesting things with Android Mint Chocolate Chip and Windows Phone 10.
And we still don't know when, or if, iOS 7 is coming out.
A while back, people speculated that Apple ran the risk of becoming boring. From everything I see, something far worse has happened: Apple has become bored.
It isn't difficult to get that way when you're top dog, and when you've grown used to people fighting tooth and nail to get into your ecosystem. But a funny thing happened to mobile in the last couple of years. People stopped caring about ecosystems.
Ecosystems are portals, and when one portal becomes as good as another or better, and certainly cheaper you can expect people to switch. When most every service you use has an iOS or Android (and often also a Windows Phone or Blackberry) app and when those services are little more than fancy HTML 5 driven doorways, meaning they're not confined to any of those devices, either there's little point in being brand-loyal unless you actually like the feel of a lighter wallet.
Which explains experiments like the M-series iPhone. It was clearly designed to keep Apple from losing customers to Android: a $329 iPhone that attempted to sacrifice build quality and profit margins for market share. Build quality was one of the very things Apple enjoyed charging a premium for in the first place, and one of the very things that everyone swore at the top of their lungs Apple would never, ever ... well, so much for that theory.
It didn't take long for people to discover how the M-series really didn't hold up in the field. (As someone else put it, "The 'm' stands for 'meh'.") You could compensate for some of that via an OtterBox, but on the whole that $329 would have been better spent on how embarrassing must this have been the new Motorola DROID™ RAZR™ R3™.
Apple's first mistake was in assuming everyone wanted was the same two devices over and over, ad infinitum. Up to a point, sure: there's comfort value in knowing there's always an iPhone, same as how it feels like there's always been a VW Bug, or an edition of Catcher in the Rye with the maroon cover. But that wasn't all people wanted, and now it's really showing as the former Apple faithful defect for devices that do more, do it every bit as elegantly, and don't blatantly trade cost for workmanship.
Learning from one's mistakes and owning up to them is good practice. After the gigantic stubbed toe of Windows 8, Microsoft gave us a reworked Windows 9 that actually makes touch feel useful, not something tacked on as a sidecar or afterthought. Even RIM seems to have climbed most of the way out of its hole, thanks to a mix of new devices and a smart luring of developers for them.
I never thought I would see the day where the iPhone would be considered a brand as quaint as the Walkman or as tarnished as the Ford Pinto, but here we are.
. We've got a management crisis right now, and we've also got an engagement crisis. Could the two be linked? Tune in for the next installment of IT Life Radio, Wednesday May 20th at 3PM ET to find out.