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Apple (AAPL) is by far the premier technology company in the marketplace today.  They have a great line of products, fiercely loyal customers, and a stock valuation that is one of the highest in the market.  At nearly half a trillion dollars, it's huge, though there was a time about a year ago where they were valued about 1/3 higher, and the chatter of them being the first trillion dollar valued company was pretty loud.  The price settled and, for now, that talk has quieted down.

I don't currently own any Apple products.  My wife has an iPhone 5 and an iPad mini, so I am fully aware of Apple's awesomeness, and reminded so on a daily basis 🙂

However, I keep pretty close watch, and one of the things I've noticed is that they haven't had a ‘big thing' in a few years.  Since Apple has been on my radar, they've released four ‘big things'.  Here's a brief Apple ‘big thing' history.

Pre-big-thing

When I was in high school and college, Apple existed but was pretty much a joke. I was one of the student workers in the computer labs during college, and they had several PC labs, and one Mac lab.  Getting a shift in the Mac lab was pretty much dreaded because you were forced to work on a Mac, though on the upside it was generally an easy shift because, well, barely anybody used it.  This was in the middle of the period that Wikipedia lists simply as ‘Decline‘ as they were on the downswing from their previous ‘big thing', the Macintosh computer.

1998: iMac

All that changed in 1998 when Apple came out with the iMac.  This was an all-in-one PC that was contrary to the PC.  Most PCs were component based.  There was a case with parts and pieces inside, and even though they often came as one case, the iMac built everything you needed right into the box.  There was not the option to ‘pop out' the CD drive because it was there.  It was built in.  And, on top of that, the monitor was part of it.  People could literally open the box, pull it out, plug it in, and get going.  People loved it and it put Apple back on the map and made them the ‘cool kid', a title they would not relinquish.

2001: iPod

mb-201311ipodIn 2001, Apple killed the Walkman, which was first a tape player, then a CD player, that was portable and could be used to listen to music on the go.  With a device that you copied music to, it pretty much killed it overnight.  They also made earbuds cool in place of bulky headphones.  Between this and the iMac, they now were the leading innovators of technology.

2007: iPhone

It took six years, but Apple hit the jackpot with the iPhone.  It took everything cool that they'd built on the iMac and the iPod and added a phone.  It was the first user friendly smartphone that people used for fun as much as productivity (and killed the Blackberry).  They sold millions and millions of them as soon as they came out, and continue to do so.

2010: iPad

Targeting the PC and the laptop, Apple released the iPad, a tablet that nobody had ever really figured they needed but suddenly had to have.  Since then, everybody makes a tablet, though Apple still gets the most hype with theirs.

20??: What's next?

If you look at the list above, Apple released the ‘next' big things 3-6 years apart.  We're about to hit year four since the last one, and with Steve Jobs no longer around to lead the charge, the whispers are out there that the innovation may not be to the level it had been in the past to lead to these creations.

So what will it be?

I can't speculate on what the next device will be, assuming that there is one.  In each of the cases above, they are easy to explain because once they came out, it immediately filled a ‘need' that people had no idea they needed until it became available.

That's what they have to come out with, thus I can't speculate on what it might be, because if history holds true, it has to be something new and fresh. Simply coming out with a better or more feature-laden version of a current product won't do.  Not to those who have set a half-billion dollar valuation on their stock, anyways.

What if they don't?

The risk if they don't is that they'll eventually hit another period of decline.  I hate to say it, but each release of the iPhone and iPad seems to have a few less impressive features than the last, a little less buzz than the last, and offers themselves to immediate comparison of current products with each iteration.

To put it another way, do you really think Apple will still be the leader in cool, in innovation, and the best tech company in the world if their big annoucement someday centers on the iPhone 15?

Probably not.  And, if that ever happens, I can guarantee that the company will be worth a fraction of the current stock price.

So, what's it going to be, Apple?  When's the next big thing going to come out?