My best contribution is not settling for anything but really good stuff, in all the details. That's my job -- to make sure everything is great. -- Steve Jobs
As far as legacies go, the late Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs arguably casts as lengthy a shadow over the company he helped create as exists in the business world today.
With the beginning of the new year, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the major storylines for all things tech in 2015. Probably unsurprisingly, the Apple Watch stands as my most talked-about device to come to market this year. In reflecting on Apple's upcoming smartwatch, a question recently occurred to me whose answer probably speaks volumes about the current and future state of affairs at Apple.
Would Steve Jobs have launched the Apple Watch?
Did Apple's magic pass with Jobs?
Potentially melodramatic heading aside, there's real cause for concern about what the Apple Watch says regarding the company's future in its broadest sense.
Although it has successfully launched several successful iterations of Jobs-era products since his death, the Apple Watch will be the first device developed largely by the company's current brain trust. Perhaps it's unfair to expect the same industry-redefining greatness from the Apple Watch as we saw from Jobs' numerous game changers, but the early reviews of Apple's forthcoming device have struck me as being of the decidedly good-but-not-great flavor.
In contrast, Jobs was legendary for his unflinching will to create only the best devices, an obsessiveness in the extreme that created its fair share of bruised egos and emotional dysfunction among Apple employees and suppliers over the years.
Say what you will about him, but the man got results.
In the cases of the Apple II, Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, each device's respective industry already existed when they were introduced. However, these Jobs-era products proved so much better than any of their peers that they redefined just how great each of these device categories could be.
So would Steve Jobs have launched the Apple Watch?
Obviously, there's no way to answer this, for a few reasons. With several months to go before Apple Watch even hits the shelves, it's clearly too early to tell. But my instinct still tells me the answer would be a resounding "no."
In my attempts to substantiate this opinion, I kept recalling the rationale Steve Jobs himself laid out for the iPad when he introduced it in 2010. Take a look a listen at around 6 minutes and 39 seconds.
This argument is by no means new, but I, at least at this point, don't see the Apple Watch as being "far better" than your smartphone at many of its core functionalities, and certainly not to the extent of justifying its minimum $350 price tag.
For the record, I'm extremely bullish on smartwatches in the years ahead. It's easy to envision that, following additional hardware innovation, that smartwatches could drastically improve the health care industry by monitoring and relaying key health data in real time. However, the first iteration of the Apple Watch is likely to largely lack this kind of compelling functionality, and that's partly why I find it so concerning about the Apple of the future.
What does this say about Apple?
Absent the actual device, any kind of firm takeaway should be taken with the appropriate grain of salt. However, I still have a few thoughts that bear consideration.
For starters, it's certainly possible Apple's C-suite knows full well the smartwatch is the next big thing in consumer tech, and that the second edition of the Apple Watch that is probably already in the design phase will usher in the truly game-changing features we've come to expect whenever Apple enters a new device category.
However, Jobs' fierce unwillingness to compromise on product quality in order to meet shipping deadlines stands in direct opposition to the idea that present management is simply using the first-generation Apple Watch to establish a beachhead in this soon-to-be-booming industry. I think it's safe to say Jobs wouldn't pursue that tactic. If you're looking for a signal that Apple is no longer run by the product guys, this would almost assuredly be it.
What would that say about Apple's product pipeline, the key to its future growth? I'm not sure, but it probably isn't encouraging.
This article is intended as a "think piece," so I apologize if the lack of any firm takeaway proves frustrating. It's a rhetorical question that hopefully shines a new light on the Apple Watch drama. Of course, we won't be able to properly assess the true merits of the Apple Watch for another few months. However, despite this dearth of concrete information, my generally underwhelmed perception of Apple's first post-Jobs device launch made this seem like a question worth asking for Apple investors today and tomorrow.