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Why Apple’s (probably) never going to make drones

(Reuters/Stephen Lam)

For more than two years, Apple has faced a troubling narrative: that it's falling behind on the innovation front. To hear some tell it, the firm is on a slow fade because it hasn't released a revolutionary product like the iPhone or the iPad in years and is lost without the guidance of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs.

Although Apple impressed analysts with better-than-expected earnings for its second quarter on Wednesday, investors were still clamoring for any scrap of information on its future plans. Competitors like Google and Facebook have been criticized for spreading themselves too thin on side projects to develop drones, high-tech balloons, and original television shows. But when it comes to Apple, people are practically begging the company to experiment.

They shouldn't hold their breath.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook made clear to analysts Wednesday that his company is all about focus, polish and perfection. The company stays “focused on things that we can do best and that...can perform at a really high level of quality that our customers have come to expect," Cook said.

Apple is not interested in side projects, Cook said. It only wants to build things that make sense. Nor is it keen on shouting its experiments from the rooftops. Perfection, he said, not a drive to "move fast and break things," is at the heart of Apple's culture.

Or, in Cook's words: “We care about every detail, and when you care about every detail and getting it right, it takes a lot of time to do that."

In keeping with that philosophy, Cook dropped few crumbs Wednesday about where Apple is turning that laser-like focus. But he did highlight a couple of things.

For one, he officially declared that Apple TV, long referred to as a "hobby project" by the company, has now grown up. Apple has sold about 20 million Apple TV units, Cook said. And it's making some serious money -- at a time when the tech fight for the living room is seriously heating up. Cook said he "stripped off the hobby label" not only because of sales but also because consumers bought more than $1 billion in content from the platform in 2013 alone.

Speaking of content sales, all of Apple's talk about the success of its iTunes Store has also rekindled hope that the company will launch a payments system in the near future to extend its commerce ambitions beyond its own walls. Nearly all of the firms' largest competitors, including Amazon and Google, have launched programs to let other sites use their payment systems, and Apple already has already completed most of the hard part -- amassing credit card data.

With its trusted brand name and market penetration, Apple would do well in the payments space, said Patrick Salyer, chief executive of the online identity service Gigya. Plus, he noted, the company can leverage the vast number of Apple gadgets in the market to provide secure payments by way of its fingerprint readers and voice recognition software.

Payments would be an easy way to boost the bottom line and show that the firm is still leaning toward the future, Salyer said. "They have to get growth -- it's absolutely imperative -- and it's hard to launch a whole new product category," he said.  "We're all running out of shelf space for new gadgets, so they need to start thinking about other assets they have."

Either area -- living room tech or e-commerce -- is ripe for someone to swoop in and perfect a solution, which Apple has certainly done in the past with digital music, smartphones and tablets. But whatever Apple is planning, don't expect to hear about it from the company before a release.

Some people, Cook noted on Wednesday with a little huff, “find it impossible to keep quiet" about the things they're working on.

The unspoken implication being, of course, that Apple does not.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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