Apple and Product Diversification

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Today, with little fanfare, Apple dropped a bunch of new products, including a new cheap iPad and a red iPhone.

What?

Okay, let's rewind things just a little bit, all the way back to 1997. Apple is a lost company and Steve Jobs returns to rebuild the crumbling company. One of the first things he does is take an axe to the product line. You can see it really well in this graphic. He killed dozens of products so that the company could focus on doing a few things very well. It really is quite dramatic when you see it on that graphic.

So now, here we are, 20 years later. Apple is among the most valuable companies on the planet. And what is happening now?

Product Overload

The iPad, the first modern tablet, now comes in three sizes. There's the 12-inch iPad Pro, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. And the 7.9-inch iPad Mini. But wait, there's more! There's now the 9.7-inch iPad (but not the Pro!), but it's cheaper than the 7.9-inch iPad Mini? And each of these comes in a variety of memory sizes, a variety of colors and either wifi only or wifi + cellular.

There are 66 distinct possible combinations of the above you can buy.

What? Which one of these do I buy?

Let's look at phones. There's two sizes of the iPhone 7, there's two sizes of the iPhone 6S, and there's a smaller iPhone SE (which is really an old iPhone 4 or 5?) as well. Apple is currently selling FIVE iPhones. Each one of these has multiple possible combinations of sizes, colors and memory sizes.

There are 56 distinct possible combinations of the above you can buy.

Apple sells SIX different models of the Mac, including 3 different laptops. For some reason, the smaller Macbook is more expensive than the larger Macbook Air? And you can buy the Macbook Pro with and without the touchbar? The iMac comes in two sizes: large, and aircraft carrier. And the Mac Pro is still hanging on despite Apple giving it no love.

I would calculate the number of distinct Macs you can buy, but near as I can tell the number can best be described as "a lot."

Apple likely has at least 200 distinct combinations of hardware you can buy, and that doesn't even include the ancillary products like the AppleTV, headphones and other things that you can buy with the Apple logo on it.

In the meantime, what used to be an invincible operating system I now have to reboot almost daily. I usually end up at the Apple store with my phone after about 12-18 months due to some issue, usually related to the battery. I had to have my Macbook Air serviced because it refused to charge.

Somewhere along the way, Apple lost that lesson that they learned the hard way back in 1998 when they were almost dead as a company. They are trying to be everything to everyone and as a result are becoming nothing.

My completely unsolicited advice to Apple: stop. Focus. Take an axe to the product line just like Steve Jobs did in the late 90s and start making truly great products again. You've done it before, you can do it again. And this time it won't be a life or death situation. Considering you're sitting on one of the largest piles of cash in history, now is precisely the right time to do it.

Start making great products again, not average products designed by committees to appeal to as many people as possible.

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