The phrase jump the shark comes from a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of the American TV series Happy Days titled “Hollywood: Part 3“, written by Fred Fox, Jr., which aired on September 20, 1977. In the episode, the central characters visit Los Angeles, where a water-skiing Fonzie (Henry Winkler) answers a challenge to his bravery by wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, and jumping over a confined shark. This episode was widely considered to be the moment in time that the show declined in both creativity and popularity. From this, an idiom was created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality. The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, or creative effort’s evolution declines.
With Steve Job’s passing, many quietly wondered if Apple’s magic would die with him. The innovator, who created and then continually revolutionized the personal computer. The man, who both started Apple and then put it back on the map years later, has been gone for several years now and I fear, so to has Apple’s ability to be an innovator in the industry. Many have predicted that Apple has “jumped the shark” before, but I actually believe it may be true now.
Blasphemy! But is it?
Following the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, what has Apple done since? They’ve added sharper screen resolutions, given you a variety of product sizes, and increased processing power. Apple seems to be having multiple, mini “jumping the shark” moments, as each release becomes more ridiculous. For instance, an iPad Air? Really? A thinner version of an already thin tablet? How about an iPad mini? Smaller than an iPad but bigger than an iPhone? What exactly is revolutionary about anything Apple is doing now? They appear to simply be playing the game that every other computer industry player is:
They’re tinkering and tweaking their existing product lines and doing very little to re-think, re-imagine, or simply start fresh.
Is an Apple a great piece of machinery? Absolutely. I’m a huge fan of my Macbook Pro and my iPho- eh, I was a huge fan of my iPhone. This brings me to iOS7, the latest and greatest offering from Apple. A reimagined iOS that makes your experience slower, less elegant, and frankly, less Apple. Seriously, people are not happy. I remember I switched from a DROID phone to an iPhone 4 precisely because I wanted the gloss and ease that comes with using an Apple product. My iPhone didn’t have hiccups, it didn’t freeze, and it certainly never lost that polish over time. Fast-forward to iOS7, and I feel like I’m using a PC that needs to run Anti-Virus, eliminate rouge background tasks, and possibly wipe the hard drive for a fresh start. No really, iOS7 is that bad if you use anything less than an iPhone 5S. Maybe that was the whole point? To me, this may be the true “jumping the shark” moment that we’ll point to in later years.
Funny story: In my frustration over my iPhone 4 experience, I went like a brainwashed consumer to Best Buy in order to upgrade to an iPhone 5S. I knew even with a discount, I was probably going to have to shell out the better part of $200 to get all set with a cover, car charger, etc. Then a funny thing happened… this beautiful phone with a bigger, sharper screen, one-third more battery life, a 13MP camera, a quad-core processor, expandable memory, and at half the price of an iPhone 5S caught my eye… it was the Samsung Galaxy S4.
The spell was broken. I bought an Android.
I was immediately chastised by friends and family with iPhones: “But now we can’t faaaaaace tiiiiime,” the complaints went. “Why have you left the iPhone faaaaaaaamily!?”
The answer was simple: Because I got more value for my money and my poor user experience with Apple left me vulnerable to look elsewhere. This is what happens in the consumer market. For larger behemoth corporations, these things don’t happen quickly, but they do slowly build with time, eroding the once stable foundations of profit margins and demand. By the time it’s acknowledged in the industry at large, it is usually too late. Just look at what happened to Blackberry.
Of course, I still have and love my Macbook Pro. But that’s not the point. It’s about picking up the trends. I can’t imagine Jobs would have ever let iOS7 be released if he knew what it would do to so many consumers that already own Apple products. It’s about picking up on where Apple is going. I think one could make a relatievly strong case that the standard of quality and innovation that makes Apple products worth a premium, is eroding away. The recent release of Mavericks OS was not nearly as bad as iOS7, and on the contrary, was quite good. However, embedded in the reviews of Mavericks was an underlying theme I’ve been getting at: Mavericks is nothing revolutionary, but another slight tweak from Apple and a passive move forward. Dan Berrg writes:
“Apple’s long talked about ‘bringing together the OS teams’ and bringing iOS features ‘back to the Mac,’ and converging the two operating systems seemed like a logical move. But that’s not what happened. Not really. Version 10.9 of OS X, called Mavericks, is just a gentle evolution of the Mac operating system Apple’s been building for years. It comes with a long list of new features, plenty of under-the-hood tweaks, but a look and feel that is distinctly Mac. Even as Ive and Federighi reimagined iOS, and as Microsoft bet big on an entirely new way of interacting with our computers, the Mac has stayed the course.”
Are you picking it up yet? They’re not innovating. They’re resting on their laurels and tweaking, which isn’t awful now, but where will Apple be in 2020 if this trend continues? That’s my point. I’m in good company as well, because apparently Steve Wozniak agrees with me. Sebastian Anthony writes about Woz’s recent comments at App World in San Francisco:
“Apple, according to Wozniak, has been rather fortunate in the last decade with the massive success of the iPhone and iPad. ‘A whole new category of product doesn’t happen very often,’ said Woz. If it can’t create another new category, then Apple will have to face some tough decisions — such as releasing an Android phone. Woz thinks that BlackBerry could’ve saved itself if it had switched to Android, rather than developing its own OS. ‘ BlackBerry’s very sad for me… [but] I think it’s probably too late now [for an Android-based phone].'”
Wozniak went on to suggest that Apple should considering making an Android phone, before it suffers the same fate as Blackberry. That may seem backward to some, but the logic is there if you consider how good an Android phone with Apple’s polish could be. Blackberry opted to build their own OS, instead of adopting another popular platform like Android and it probably cost them everything.
I haven’t lost total faith in them, I’m just looking at what they’re doing now and seeing the makings of a gradual, but significant decline over time. To me, the backlash over iOS7 and bad user experience motivating users to upgrade their now substandard iPhone experiences is the key. “All good things must come to an end,” as Chaucer once said. Apple has been good. Really good. But so was the Fonz, and he still jumped the shark.