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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Loss of visionary leaves hole at Apple's core

Apple iReport:Apple has grown from a garage startup to a $350 billion giant. But as competitors step up their game, Apple has much to do going forward to hold onto its lead.
This is a still from video of an advertisement by Apple Computers. From the original MacIntosh series of ads known often referenced as "Hello" EDS NOTE: Small file size - use in attic only.
This is a still from video of an advertisement by Apple Computers. From the original MacIntosh series of ads known often referenced as "Hello" EDS NOTE: Small file size - use in attic only.

Steve Jobs started off building a home-made computer in his parents's garage, and ended up running a US$350 billion (Dh1.28 trillion) business that redefined the global electronics industry.

Yet with the death of Mr Jobs on Wednesday evening, the big question for Apple now is where does the company go from here?

"Steve Jobs was so intrinsic to the huge changes that Apple was able to make in the consumer electronics and telecommunications markets," says Matthew Reed, an analyst based in Dubai for Informa Telecoms & Media's Middle East and Africa regions.

"But in the longer term, will they be able to come up with the same kinds of massive innovations they did under Steve Jobs?"

As condolences from influential players in the tech industry poured in yesterday for Mr Jobs, some took a moment to reflect on how the 56-year-old had an impact on their own rival businesses.

"Everything he did really kept us moving forward, driving us to innovate more," says Jack Lee, the general manager for the Middle East and Africa region at Lenovo, the world's third-largest computer maker. "He really drove the PC industry to be closer to the consumer."

A major inspiration for Tom Farrell, the general manager of Nokia's Lower Gulf region, was "the whole package of [Mr Jobs'] vision and his attention to simplicity. He had a massive passion for elegance and beauty that resonates with people".

That focus to detail started when Mr Jobs dropped out of college and took up a calligraphy course.

The experience helped him design "the first computer with beautiful typography", Mr Jobs said in a commencement address to Stanford University students in 2005.

That computer became Apple's first Macintosh.

Mr Jobs became well known for helping to shape influential advertisements that enticed millions of people to buy Apple products. One famous campaign included a dark silhouette highlighting a white iPod in the middle of a body.

"He revolutionised the colour white," says Mr Lee.

But to keep revolutionising the industry Apple must now do everything it can to stay ahead of its pack of rivals.

It has already been expanding into emerging markets such as China and, last month, the company launched an online store in the UAE. Yet to continue to grow, analysts say Apple must also expand a pipeline of new and, most importantly, innovative, products.

If the lacklustre news about Apple's latest iPhone is any indication of what is to come, the company has quite a task at hand.

In what many observers saw as a crucial test, this week's announcement was the first major product launch spearheaded by Tim Cook, the company's new chief executive and former chief operating officer. Mr Cook stepped in after Mr Jobs resigned six weeks ago and became Apple's board chairman.

Besides a few novel features, and a sharper camera, the new iPhone 4S lacked the innovative leap Mr Jobs helped introduce in most preceding models. Following the announcement on Tuesday, Apple's shares fell 5 per cent at one point as Wall Street was left underwhelmed.

Rival smartphone makers have also been making deeper inroads in Apple's prized markets.

Samsung's latest smartphone, which relies on Google's Android software, has been benefiting from faster adoption rates than Apple's iPhone in some regions.

Other phones using the Android programme have also been gaining market share. This is in part due to Google's "enormous financial capacity to just fight until the end", says Thomas Kuruvilla, the managing director of Arthur D Little Middle East, a telecommunications consultancy in Dubai.

"In the medium-term, Google will give them [Apple] a fight," he says.

But then, it was only a decade ago when Mr Jobs rocked the music industry into the digital age, by walking on stage in his now signature jeans and black polo-neck and introducing the iPod. The digital music player has since gone on to sell more than 300 million units globally, although its hot-streak has cooled in recent times.

In its latest quarter, Apple sold 20 per cent fewer iPods than it did during the same period last year. Analysts expect this trend to continue given the plethora of low-cost alternatives now available from rivals.

Competitors in the fast-growing tablet market are also stepping up their game with both more affordable options, and a wider selection of devices.

Mr Lee acknowledges the popularity of Apple's iPad "drives us to do better".

"It drives us to create a better product," he says.

His solution to taking on Apple's iPad is not to focus on creating different sizes of the same tablet. Rather, says Mr Lee, the company is now launching a full family of tablets to market to academics and commercial clients as well as regular consumers.

"With all these categories of products, although [Apple] set the new standard, after a while others do begin to catch up," says Mr Reed.

"If you just try to maintain position, and make gradual advances in established categories, others will begin to catch up.

"And they are catching up."

nparmar@thenational.ae