Something that I heard a significant amount of with the release of the new iPad mini, as well as the new iPhone, was this idea that Apple can’t have any more “Just one more thing” moments, mostly due to their inability to mask the movements of their supply chains. Truth be told, it’s difficult to build an economy of that scale without drawing someone’s attention. The eyes of the world are on Apple right now (as well as Google and Microsoft, of course), and it’s clear that the world is poring over Apple’s supply chains in the hopes that they’ll be able to predict Apple’s next move based on fluctuations in part orders and such. The idea is that by scrutinizing Apple’s suppliers, looking at the parts that are coming out of the various manufacturers around the world and being assembled in China, that analysts will be able to stay one step ahead of Apple’s next “big thing”.
Here’s where I disagree with that idea, however. While analysts may be able to look at Apple’s current supply chains and see where they’re headed with their current products, they can’t find what they don’t know what to look for to begin with. We all know that Apple produces smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, and displays (as well as other things). Here’s the thing about their products though: while they’re currently “predictable”, there weren’t always that way. No one really saw the iPhone coming, and they didn’t really know what was up with the iPad before it was the iPad. One might look at those examples and say, “Well, sure, but we saw the iPad mini coming, and we’re able to predict the new iPhones before they’re out…” and so on. Of course people can predict those things because they know what to look for. Analysts have their eyes fixed on display shipments (and the size of those displays), processors, logic boards, and more. They’re looking for all the things that make up the current generation of Apple products, and, since they have a pretty good idea of how those things fit together right now, they can make some pretty good guesses as to how those things fit together, and “predict” the next apple product.
Let’s look at this another way, though. Let’s say an applesauce manufacturer orders a lot of sugar and a lot of apples. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that they’re making applesauce, and there’s the rub. Analysts look at the current state of Apple products and say, “Hey look! They’re making applesauce! I’m so smart!” Except they’re really not. What they’re doing is putting the words on the page together to form a complete sentence, and they’re screaming from the rooftops that they’re literate. While that’s a great accomplishment, it’s only the first step to being able to truly analyze information and synthesize some new ideas.
Apple’s ability to have “Just one more thing moments” hasn’t diminished in the slightest. Their ability to innovate isn’t waning at all, in my opinion. The true innovation will appear where people aren’t looking, and will manifest itself in a way that people aren’t expecting, utilizing components that people aren’t expecting to see. Or, alternatively, they’ll take components that people understand and put them together in an unpredictable or disruptive way.
We can’t know how those things will take shape, because we don’t know what to look for yet. But, I’d be willing to bet that, when it does happen, people will still be just as surprised, and it will make all of the so-called analysts look like third grade children trying to read Chaucer.