In search of the MacGuffin - Apple's quest for the next iPhone

When you set the bar so high, it's difficult to keep topping yourself. Apple has found this out with its first fall in sales since 2003.

Apple needs some new ideas, writes James Gilheany (credit: 360b / Alamy Stock Photo)
Apple needs some new ideas, writes James Gilheany (credit: 360b / Alamy Stock Photo)

First and foremost, let’s not start writing the epitaph for Apple just yet – it still has enough cash tucked under its mattress to turn the moon into an Apple logo if it wants to.

But it wasn’t lost on investors that Facebook and a rebounding Samsung reported far better numbers during the same period.

While ‘The Zuck’ is trying to connect the planet during his paternity leave, and Samsung has made a land-grab for virtual reality, what has been happening at Apple?

It’s been building the world’s largest non-flying UFO as its headquarters, locked in battle with the FBI and firefighting the latest exposé of its working practices at Foxconn.

When Steve Wozniacki starts calling your latest product little more than "jewellery" when you are the benchmark for the industry, something is not right.

There was a time when Apple product launches were met with genuine excitement. Now, it’s increasingly becoming a new way of telling the same story. In many ways, the iPhone is like the Rocky franchise. No one could believe how good the first was, the next two were fine additions, the fourth was amazing. But since then, we’ve had new incarnations that, while passable, don’t really bring anything new to the table.

What Apple needs to do to bring back the wow factor is a whole new product category. Rumours persist of a smart car, but nothing is looming on the horizon that will strike a chord the way the iPhone did.

Perhaps rather than looking at hardware, Apple should be looking to move further into streaming services.

One of the few bright spots from its last quarter was the success of Apple Music, a clear justification for Apple’s purchase of Beats and its Beats1 radio subscribers, even if the price was eye-wateringly high.

Given that success, and with more cash at its disposal than Arsene Wenger during a transfer window, Apple could be looking to take on entertainment services such as Netflix by producing its own content.

The other option is to go the whole hog and offer a quad-play bundle by buying a telecoms operator, therefore owning the entire ecosystem in which its hardware operates.

Given the disappointment of the last quarter and the contrasting success of it technology rivals, Apple certainly needs to get back on the front foot and try and change the apathy that has set in every time version 2,000 of the same product is announced.

Beyond really, really good products, what is Apple known for? It’s incredible secrecy. That has created an aura around the company that has seen it accomplish staggering success.

Now that unbelievable run is over, and in the absence of a new product to excite consumers, perhaps now is the time to pull back the curtain and excite people with the brand again.

James Gilheany is head of telecoms at CCgroup

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