“Can’t innovate anymore my ass,” said Phil Schiller during his presentation at Monday’s WWDC keynote. And that should tell you more about Apple’s current state of mind than anything else that happened today. Apple used to have one cardinal rule about its rivals and critics: never acknowledge them.
When the iPhone launched in 2007, Apple never mentioned Nokia or Motorola, the leading handset vendors at the time. The iPhone wasn’t a phone, it was something far beyond a mere mobile handset. When the first iPhone models were criticized for lack of 3G support, antenna quality or camera performance, Apple never showed any awareness of the critics. Its product development sailed on in majestic isolation, apparently following some divine master plan that existed on another plane from rival products or industry analysts.
But over the past couple of months, something has changed. In March, Phil Schiller gave a very atypical interview to The Wall Street Journal attacking the Android ecosystem in a highly specific and harsh manner. At the end of 2011, Samsung and Apple still sold roughly the same number of smartphones. During 2012, Samsung pulled substantially ahead of Apple in quarterly shipments. And by the summer of 2013, some of Apple’s executives have started betraying signs of frayed nerves.
Apple is clearly feeling misunderstood and underappreciated. The critical comments some have made about Apple losing portion of its innovative mojo are probably the ones that hurt the worst. But as Tywin Lannister pointed out to his prickly grandson: A king who must remind people he is a king is no true king at all.
Remodeling typography and flattening the design of its app icons are moves that can be viewed as a welcome revamp — or a desperate lunge for relevance via cosmetic changes. Apple is now previewing next autumn’s products instead of shipping stuff the day it makes an announcement, which used to be its style back in the halcyon days of 2009 through 2011.
The skinny new font combined with a flat icon design are eerily reminiscent of the Windows Phone style. Apple may execute both styles better than Windows ever did. But it’s doing them a step later than Microsoft. Something is slightly askew and perhaps that is what is getting under Schiller’s skin.