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Will Wearable Computing Be Tim Cook's Rubicon or Waterloo?

Jan 17 2014, 12:11pm CST | by

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Will Wearable Computing Be Tim Cook's Rubicon or Waterloo?
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Will Wearable Computing Be Tim Cook's Rubicon or Waterloo?

Many misinterpreted my column of yesterday as predicting that Tim Cook and Apple will fail. Even Paul Carroll, my “New Killer Apps ” coauthor, took it that way, and suggested that Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo would have been a more appropriate historical reference to invoke.

The point that I am trying to make, however, is different in a significant way. Yes, history tells us that Cook will probably fail. But, I’m arguing for a path by which Cook can buck history. Let me try again.

History tells us that the natural progression of Apple’s leadership position today is towards failure with the next class of computing. (Rather than repeat that argument here, based on Bell’s Law, see my earlier article .)

This is not a statement on Tim Cook’s capabilities. Remember, I referred to him as “already one of most successful managers in the history of business.” Instead, I am pointing out the historical record for market leaders of every computing class to date. Each has treated the next computer class (mainframes, minicomputers, personal computers and smartphones) as an enhancement of the existing one and, in the process, missed out on leading the new industry that coalesces around the new platform.

My view is that Apple will fall into the same historical pattern if it treats wearables as an incremental extension of its iOS ecosystem. Who doesn’t think that would the natural strategy for it to follow?

It could be entirely rational for Tim Cook to take this view. Every one of his key lieutenants, who are responsible for the day-to-day defense and extension of Apple’s iOS ecosystem, must be even more whetted to this point of view. If there is any fight for resources, mindshare, talent, etc., you can bet that they’ll want to invest as much as possible to iOS. History also tells us that industry analysts will focus on today’s sales, margins and growth forecast at those important quarterly conference calls.

Momentum will drive Tim Cook and Apple down this path—as similar forces drove Steve Ballmer and Microsoft down the path of defending and extending the Windows/Office ecosystem at the expense of smartphone/tablet/cloud dominance.

But, as I point out in the piece (and is the main point of my book ), the lessons from those previous failures are clear and there is an alternative path that Cook can take to beat history.

That alternative path follows the innovation roadmap of Thinking Big, Starting Small and Learning Fast.  It requires Tim Cook to internalize the doomsday scenarios associated with the path of least resistance (wearables as just iPhone peripherals). He must also start from a “clean sheet of paper” and develop alternative visions in which wearables are a distinct computing platform at the center of a new industry and ecosystem of peripherals, applications, content, etc.

Now, here is the hardest part: Tim Cook must realize that he hasn’t really explored alternatives unless he pursues models that might destroy the existing iPhone franchise. The reasoning is very irrefutable. This is what has happened with every previous computer class.

So, if there is a scenarios where history repeats itself and something cannibalizes the iPhone, wouldn’t it be better for Apple find it rather than leave it to someone else?

I’m not advocating that Cook burn the iOS platform today. He must prepare Apple for the day, if it comes, when it needs to jump to the next platform. As CEO, only Tim Cook can authorize, guide and protect such an option.

Remember, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo.

Caesar defied historical prohibitions and marched his army across the Rubicon River. In doing so, he toppled the prior regime and enabled the flowering of a new Roman Empire.

In the world of business today, that is called disruptive innovation./>/>

Chunka Mui is the coauthor of The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups . Follow him at Facebook , Twitter @chunkamui  or at Google+ .

Source: Forbes


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