Over the past few years, Apple haters have delighted in the fact that the company has not released a major new product line since the iPad. “Apple can’t innovate without Steve Jobs,” the mantra goes. “They’re dying.”
Yet recall that when Steve Jobs first returned to Apple as CEO in 1997, the company barely had 3 months of cash in the bank (and had to be temporarily bailed out by Microsoft). Jobs was practically forced to release a new product line — the iMac — within fewer than 2 years of re-taking the helm, lest the company go bankrupt. Apple’s short development cycles were a result of necessity and were made possible by setting more “modest” short-term goals. And people got spoiled.
Things are a lot different now. Growing hordes of cash reserves from the iMac (and soon after the MacBook and iPod) have allowed Apple to extend its R&D cycle many more years. Indeed, Apple didn’t release the iPad until a full nine years after it first began working on it in 2001. The recently released iPad Air represents a full fourteen years’ worth of iPad R&D.
Now that it’s 2014 and Apple has about $150 billion in the bank (8x the size of NASA’s budget), do you honestly think that their A-Team is rushing to release a cute new little revenue-earning product within a matter of months? Do you think Tim Cook is fighting Carl Icahn’s dividend demands because he needs that $150 billion in cash to spend developing next year’s products?
With such a fast-growing mound of cash, Apple literally has a responsibility to plan much more ambitious innovations for the long haul. They need to be forecasting what the world will want in the year 2025 or 2035, and their Board of Directors knows it. I have no doubt that Steve Jobs and Jony Ive spent many hundreds of hours formulating this multi-decade strategy during his final years.
So whatever groundbreaking new products Apple releases in 2014 or 2015, I plan to ignore both the fanboys and the haters. I will rest assured knowing that Apple’s best years are way, way ahead of it.