Long-time tech industry watchers probably remember hearing the phrase that it always took Microsoft three iterations to get things right.Of course, it wasn’t always the case, but there were enough examples — Windows 7 was the third try after Windows 95, Surface Pro 3 was the third iteration of Surface and so on — that many people started thinking that, when it came to Microsoft products, it might be wise to wait for generation three.
Lately, it’s starting to look like Apple is becoming a generation two company. More Apple products, it seems, aren’t hitting their prime until their second iteration.
I realize this may sound sacrilegious to many, but there’s actually a solid historical perspective to it. While the first iPhone was groundbreaking in many ways, it wasn’t until the iPhone 3G (which, of course, was actually the second version), that many people feel like they really got it right.
It wasn’t just the hardware getting better on the 3G (although that was critical), but the ecosystem of apps and the timing of other software improvements. The combination of all these elements made the overall experience of using the iPhone much better around the time of the second generation than the first.
Similarly, while the original iPad was a very innovative product, it wasn’t until the second generation iPad, with its dual-core CPU and built-in camera, that many felt they got it right. In fact, iPad sales really started increasing after that second-gen iPad came out. Again, the proliferation of apps also had a lot to do with this, but regardless, the whole experience of using the iPad was much better when it came to gen 2.
While it’s a bit early to say for sure, it looks like some of Apple’s most recent new products may end up following a relatively similar path.
The new MacBook, for example, while offering a number of impressive innovations — such as the cool new haptic (nee Taptic) touchpad — has received mixed reviews from a number of people because of the lower performance CPU and the single USB-C port. Quite a few of the reviews say things like “great product, but wait for the next version.”
The presumption is that the next version will have a faster, more capable CPU (which is unquestionably correct) and it will somehow address the connectivity concerns. This latter presumption is a bit more of a stretch, but could definitely happen, either because they will add another port or two, or because enough time will have passed that the need for additional ports will have decreased. Regardless, it’s likely that when the next version of MacBook comes out, it will offer a better experience for more users.
Many of the reviews of the Apple Watch — though certainly not all — are coming to similar conclusions about waiting for a next generation version.
In the case of the watch, it’s a completely new category, and there’s a tremendous amount of learning that both the market and Apple still have to do. Smart watches, wrist-worn computers or whatever you choose to call them, are fundamentally new devices, and it’s very likely that there will be important improvements or other ecosystem enhancements that will make using the second generation Apple Watch a much better experience than using the first.
Of course, if I were someone who chose to spend more than $10,000 on a version of that first generation product, I’d certainly want some kind of assurance that I could somehow make that investment last a bit longer—but that’s a topic for another day.
To Apple’s enormous credit, the company continues to push the boundaries of where consumer technology products can and should go.
Making hard decisions about building innovative products that either completely create new categories or completely redefine existing ones is extremely difficult work, and they’re very good at it.
A nearly inevitable part of defining that cutting edge, however, is that it’s difficult to ensure that every product is perfect right out of the gate, particularly as those boundaries get pushed farther and farther out.
Apple fans, of course, will continue to happily buy and use the company’s first generation efforts, but for many, it may not be a terrible idea to wait for gen 2.