Jobs’s Departure Will Cripple the Consumer Electronics Industry

A butterfly flapped its wings in Cupertino...

...And as a direct result, the pace of innovation throughout the world will slow.

Steve Jobs resigned as Apple's chief executive yesterday, and the entire consumer electronics industry will soon suffer as a result.

Why?

Because all consumer technology companies take their lead from Apple, and Apple made products per Jobs' direction. Nobody in business — in any industry — has a better honed instinct on what would succeed with consumers than Steve Jobs.

Today's consumer electronics industry is built largely around copying Apple's successful products. The iPhone comes out, and within months there are countless copycat touch-screen phones. The iPad? This year alone there will be dozens of competing tablets released, most of which would probably not have seen the light of day if Apple hadn't blazed the trail. Scores of companies are spending billions of dollars putting out devices that Steve Jobs thought would be successful.

Need more? Do you think Amazon, Google, RIM and others would have app stores if Apple didn't revolutionize the way now purchase our software? Do you think Microsoft would have opened 11 retail stores this year if Apple didn't have more than 330 outlets worldwide?

(Aside: Apple stores make more money than any other retailer on the planet. While that may not surprise, the company's massive lead on the field is shocking: According to a RetailSales report, Apple generates $5,626 per square foot of store space. That's nearly double the second-most successful retailer, Tiffany & Co, and nearly seven times more revenue than Best Buy, which does $831 per square foot. Think Jobs had something to do with this success?)

My wife asked me yesterday about the possibility of somebody in the industry taking his place as the leader of consumer technology innovation. Not a chance. Mostly because there is so little creative thought in the industry. Products are mostly bland. Marketing mostly stinks. Public relations mostly undermines the companies it's meant to support.

Like the National Football League, technology is a copycat league — and most participants were basically copying the ideas of one man. If I had to put a number on it, I'd argue that more than 80 percent of the creative thinking in the consumer electronics industry over the last five years happened at Apple. The rest occurred at Google, Amazon and Netflix, and a sprinkling of small companies like GoPro, which most mainstream consumers have never heard of.

I agree with my industry insider colleagues who say that Apple has a a number of upcoming products in its bullpen that Jobs has personally designed. Which means that groundbreaking products and ideas and will continue to come from Apple for another couple of years. But Jobs will not be nearly as involved in the devices that follow.

Apple has been on a torrid pace of innovation in recent years: the company has moved the world from desktop and laptop based computing to mobile computing. It has changed the way we listen to music, buy software, and play video games. Apple has changed how we live, and driven the product development and profits at thousands of other companies that followed its lead. Yesterday, its driving force resigned.

Yesterday, a butterfly flapped its wings in Cupertino...

...And in a couple of years, countless consumer electronics companies will feel the resulting atmospheric disruption. Shortly after that, we technology consumers will feel it ourselves in the form of less groundbreaking and compelling high-tech devices, services and ideas.

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