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Is Apple truly innovative?

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(Image credit: Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It's undeniable that Apple has left a systemic impact on the tech industry. But as the company continues to dominate with the iPhone 12, Apple Watch 6 and iPad Pro, there are some questioning its continued innovation.

That's exactly what the latest episode of Seriously? covers. It's a new show by Future that features the heads of some of the largest tech websites to discuss a particular topic. This episode brings together Laptop Mag editor-in-chief (EIC) Sherri L. Smith, TechRadar Global EIC Gareth Beavis and Tom's Guide Global EIC Mark Spoonauer to answer one simple question: is Apple truly innovative?

Is Apple Truly Innovative?

"Innovation is like, do something new. Change the game. Make people realize that now we have to go down this route. Apple doesn't do that," said Beavis. "Apple does it sort of it in reverse. Like, backs in to it and forces a message in a different way."

Spoonauer from Tom's Guide argued back, saying that Apple reinvents categories, which is the very definition of innovation. It did so with the smartphone and with the smartwatch. Smith agreed, calling back to the MacBook Pro, AirPods and the new MacBook Pro M1. While Apple isn't always the first, the company does push boundaries.

Most innovative Apple product?

While Beavis doesn't believe Apple to be truly innovative, he cannot deny the impact its products have had. For Beavis, the iPod was the game changer, the one that took over the zeitgeist and redefined how music could be consumed. Sure, there were other MP3 players prior to the iPod, but Apple did it best. Interestingly, Beavis does believe that Apple Pay is innovative, not in its concept, but implementation, pushing biometrics and privacy.

But sometimes Apple can get a little full of itself. 

"Apple is one of the biggest 'Columbussers' in the game. It takes massive chutzpah for a company to say, 'hey, we've invented the pencil,'" said Smith. She's referring to the Apple Pencil, which is available on the latest iPad, iPad Air and iPad Pro. 

Even then, Smith couldn't help but praise the impact of the iPod or the colors of the early iMacs. 

"Multitouch, as an innovation, in it of itself.  Like, there have been pages and pages written about that singular innovation and how it enabled devices like the iPhone to exist," said Spoonauer. "That's how they reinvented the smartphone."

Spoonauer also hit on another tenet of Apple's core philosophy: how to create a product that competitors will try and copy. 

"The MacBook Air. When Steve Jobs pulled that laptop out of the manila envelope, a lot of jaws dropped because they couldn't believe they could pack that technology into something so thin."

Sure, the first MacBook Air was not that powerful, but according to Spoonauer, it took the entire PC industry five years to catch up to Apple in design. 

When did Apple go too far?

That's not to say Apple has not had missteps. Whether it be hubris or a way to get the press riled up, for Smith, the biggest eyebrow-raising moment were the optional $400 wheels that could be added to the Mac Pro. In no world is it justifiable to charge $400 for little wheels to roll around your $6,000 computer.

And that leads us to....the Apple Tax. 

Has Apple made the industry too expensive?

Unfortunately, one of the biggest changes Apple made to the industry was forcing prices of smartphones into four-figure territory. 

"It's bad for the consumer. The difficult thing is, that yes, this is too expensive, and you want to say it, and I've been reviewing iPhones for so many years, you're just starting to get tired of it," said Beavis. "No one's listening, everyone's still paying it." 

Spoonauer added that Apple's greatest feat is being able to charge more than other companies have been able to. The "Apple Tax very much still exists," according to Spoonauer. The AirPods Max, which cost $549, aren't two times better than competing over-ear headphones. Yet, it costs almost as twice as much. The market reacted by rewarding Apple with a sell-out launch.

True innovation? What's next for Apple

With the exception of the M1 chip, one could argue that there have not been many big innovations from Apple in the past year. But there are some big things reportedly on the horizon. 

For example, Apple is rumored to be launching an Apple mixed reality headset as soon as next year, which would offer both VR and AR experiences. And this would be a precursor to a more AR-focused Apple Glass.

And Apple is also reportedly working on an Apple Car, which could be a direct challenge to Tesla and the other best electric cars on the market. But that's apparently several years away. 

This year will likely be dominated by newer versions of existing Apple products, from the iPad Pro 2021 and iPhone 13 to the Apple Watch 7. The Apple AirTags would technically represent a new category as a product finger, but it doesn't seem like a game-changer based on the rumors.

So for now it seems the debate will rage on as to whether Apple is truly innovating or just iterating. What do. you think? Sound off in the comments. 

Imad Khan is news editor at Tom’s Guide, helping direct the day’s breaking coverage. Prior to working at the site, Imad was a full-time freelancer, with bylines at the New York Times, the Washington Post and ESPN. Outside of work, you can find him sitting blankly in front of a Word document trying desperately to write the first pages of a new book.