Has Apple Lost Its Innovation Mojo? : All Tech Considered Apple was once considered the most innovative company in the tech sector. But by some accounts, it's being shown up by products from Amazon, Microsoft and now Samsung.

Has Apple Lost Its Innovation Mojo?

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It's hard to overstate how the technology developed by Apple has revolutionized our lives. But fast forward to 2017; innovation now is increasingly coming from other companies. NPR's Laura Sydell looks at the reasons behind that shift.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: In 2007, Apple was in its heyday when CEO Steve Jobs introduced a device that would change everyday life.


STEVE JOBS: And we are are calling it iPhone.


JOBS: Today...


JOBS: Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.

SYDELL: And it did. For the first time, a mass-produced mobile phone had a touch screen, a music player and an Internet connection, things we now take for granted. Bob Burrough was a software engineer and a manager who worked on the team that helped create the iPhone. Burrough says, under Jobs, everyone at Apple was passionate about the products.

BOB BURROUGH: It was all about we're all working towards the same goal. We're all working on the same product. And if there is something that you see that needs to get done, you basically just stepped in and took care of it.

SYDELL: Burrough, who spoke to NPR via Skype, recalls a time when he was working on the iPod Nano. Just as they were about to ship the first units, Burrough realized that 2,000 of them had been left running, draining the batteries.

BURROUGH: I told the distribution center, look, you need to go pull them back out of the box, shut them down and make sure that the batteries are fully charged when they come out of the box to go into the customer's hand for the very first time.

SYDELL: But in 2011, the culture of Apple changed after Steve Jobs died and Tim Cook took over as CEO. Burrough says when he noticed something wrong...

BURROUGH: The way that I was expected to deal with it was shut my mouth and do my job and take care of whatever my assigned responsibility was and don't worry about what anybody else is doing.

SYDELL: Burrough believes the culture shift has affected the products. He left Apple in 2014. Bryson Gardner has similar memories. He worked there for nearly a decade and was one of the team leaders for iPod and iPhone development. He says Jobs encouraged debate about the products, but then he brought it all together.

BRYSON GARDNER: His clarity of vision was very effective. It actually made my job very easy in retrospect.

SYDELL: Gardner says Cook is a more traditional CEO. The company's more hierarchical. Cook brings together his top managers and builds consensus. And Gardner thinks Apple is also a victim of the iPhone's success, which brings in about 70 percent of the company's revenue.

GARDNER: Looking historically at Apple, there was more equal importance across a lot of the product lines and more opportunity to push into new spaces. One of the challenges is how do you manage the iPhone in relation to all the other technologies that you could be doing?

SYDELL: Arguably, Apple has made innovations with its watch, Apple Pay and its fingerprint security. But many analysts say Amazon's Echo, a speaker device that responds to voice commands, Microsoft Surface, which competes with the Mac, and now Samsung's Galaxy S8 smartphone with its high-end screen are having much more impact on consumers. To James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, Apple risks going down the same path as Sony Electronics, which once dominated the market for portable music players.

JAMES MCQUIVEY: As recently as 2000, people were still talking about the Walkman and what a big innovation that was. Well, you don't hear people talk about Sony like that anymore.

SYDELL: Apple could still turn it around. It is the most valuable company in the world. But many of Apple's users and fans are still hoping that the company can find a way to wow them once again with its innovation. Laura Sydell, NPR News.


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