Apple is a clothing company

applebutton1The headline above came to me this morning after reading Walt Mossberg’s latest, titled The post-Jobs Apple has soared financially, but lacks a breakthrough product.

Because the main things Apple makes are extensions of ourselves. That’s what our phones and laptops have become. They are things we almost wear, like our clothing.

Is it just coincidental that Apple Stores inhabit shopping districts also populated by upscale clothing retailers? Or that Angela Ahrendts, who runs those stores, came to the company from Burberry? Or that its Watch, sold as what the fashion business calls an accessory, clearly matters far more to the company than what we used to call “peripherals” (screens, printers, drives, etc.) and that Apple hardly seems to care at all about the latter?

And is it coincidental that Apple has lately clarified how it differs from nearly every other tech company by caring almost absolutely about personal privacy?

Apple’s Jobsian obsession with design (and, one might say, fashion), while interesting, also misdirects attention away from the company’s deeper focus on enlarging its customers’ capacities in the world.

Dig this: Apple cares so much about the bodies using its products that Tim Cook recently said this to Rick Tetzeli of FastCompany: “When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”

With all that in mind, it’s easy to understand why Apple’s product lineup looks stale. Shirts, skirts and hats are stale too. They’ve also been around for thousands of years, and we’ll never stop wearing them.

It took me a long time to come to this realization. Here’s what I wrote in Apple Rot, a post here in January 2013, and repeated in Proof that Steve Jobs is dead, posted May 2014:

…look at what Apple’s got:

  • The iPhone 5 is a stretched iPhone 4s, which is an iPhone 4 with sprinkles. The 4 came out almost 3 years ago. No Androids are as slick as the iPhone, but dozens of them have appealing features the iPhone lacks. And they come from lots of different companies, rather than just one.

  • The only things new about the iPad are the retina screen (amazing, but no longer unique) and the Mini, which should have come out years earlier and lacks a retina screen.

  • Apple’s computer line is a study in incrementalism. There is little new to the laptops or desktops other than looks — and subtracted features. (And models, such as the 17″ Macbook Pro.) That goes for the OS as well.

  • There is nothing exciting on the horizon other than the hazy mirage of a new Apple TV. And even if that arrives, nothing says “old” more than those two letters: TV.

Since then Apple has come out with the Watch (points for originality with that one), introduced the hardly-seen (but cool-looking) Mac Pro (now also very stale), killed its Thunderbolt display, held its Time Capsule to a paltry (and damn near useless) 3Tb, done little to improve its AirPort Wi-Fi base stations — and has iterated its desktops and laptops so minimally that you can get along for years without a new one. Kinda like a good pair of jeans.

So maybe all that matters for Apple is that it accessorizes its customers better than everybody else.

You can hear a hint toward that from Tim Cook in this recent FastCompany report: “Our strategy is to help you in every part of your life that we can…whether you’re sitting in the living room, on your desktop, on your phone, or in your car.”

Here’s betting Apple’s announcement on Wednesday will be all about stuff meant to be a part of you. And not much that sounds like the rest of the personal computer business. (Which, we might remember, Steve Jobs pretty much invented.)


  1. Chip’s avatar

    And so it comes to to pass :

    BTW : conversation yesterday with university professor working on “nano level” films … nearing the end of Moore’s Law …

  2. Britt Blaser’s avatar

    It occurred to me yesterday that Apple might buy LensCrafters when it introduces its inevitable, invisible Google Glass-like layer integrated into any fashionable eyewear you want, in about an hour. As Apple always does, it would transform a broadly attempted, badly implemented tech like VR and leverage it into a line that extends to the winning carplay UX.

    Also adds 1,000 or so retail points of presence and an army of affiliated optometrists who can act as agents and guides for customers/patients the HealthKit revolution Apple is clearly planning.

    They’d be Eye Beacons–the next level of Apple intimacy, for which the Apple Watch would be seen as a UI prototype.

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Good call, Britt.

    Eyeware is an expensive business, largely because of regulatory capture. Ever wonder why you can buy off-the-shelf glasses with +1, +1.5, +2 diopters and not with -1, -2, etc.? It’s because the latter are illegal, to protect the optometry fulfillment business. Basically, to protect the likes of LensCrafters.

    Apple would have to deal with those laws as well as the market opportunities.

  4. Chip’s avatar

    Doc : largely by “monopoly” ownership
    Luxottica :

    That and “regulatory capture”

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