The story of Apple Incorporated is far from over. It is the most valuable company in the world, by a large margin. Apple produces a range of exceptional and much loved products. It employs many of the most talented designers and engineers on the planet. But I think Apple has peaked and the story of the next few years will be one of a slow but real decline.
Some background: I worked at Apple for four years in the late 1990s, as a software engineer and engineering manager. I joined during the disastrous reign of Gil Amelio, the desolate end of a desolate decade for the company. I was there when Steve Jobs returned and executed the most spectacular business turnaround of our lifetimes. I got to know Steve quite well and Apple really well. I’ve been rooting for them ever since. I’m an avid Mac user, though for mobile devices I prefer Android – I also worked at Google for five years.
Why do I think Apple has passed its peak? There are a number of signs. The most visible recent one is the Maps debacle. Replacing Google Maps with an obviously inferior experience shows how much Apple has changed. Apple’s success had been all about offering users the best possible experience; suddenly it is willing to give users a clearly worse experience to further its corporate interests – in this case its long-running dispute with Google. We might expect this sort of behaviour from Microsoft, but we don’t expect it from Apple.
Now, Apple has taken missteps before. Even under Jobs the company has launched failed products: in 2000 the Cube didn’t set the world on fire; Apple’s early forays into cloud services were embarrassing; iMovie 08 was a mistake. No company is perfect, but what’s interesting is all of these were attempts to build better products and services for users, even if they failed. That’s not what happened with Maps: Apple deliberately offered an inferior product, because its fight over Android was deemed more important than its users.