Earlier this week, Fast Company released its annual ranking of the most innovative companies of the year. Apple scored the top spot, moving up from its fourth-place grade a year prior. In a follow-up piece, Robert Safian of Fast Company today published an exclusive interview with Tim Cook focusing on the company's success.
The whole interview's worth reading, but one segment of it stuck with me most. In response to a query regarding whether Cook views some years at Apple as better than others, the CEO replied that every year is a good year, because even if public launches aren't as exciting, there's always something big in the works behind the scenes.
Even when we were idling from a revenue point of view...those were some incredibly good years because you could begin to feel the pipeline getting better, and you could see it internally. Externally, people couldn’t see that. With the iPod, before it came out, we didn’t really know that it would become as big. But it was clear it was changing things in an incredibly good way. Of course with the iPhone it was clear that that was a huge change, a category definer, but who would’ve thought [it would have impact] to the degree that it [did].
Though the example isn't as extreme as the years leading up to launching the iPod or iPhone, one recent proof of what Cook's talking about is the contrast between Apple's 2016 and 2017. The former was viewed as a somewhat unexciting year by many of the company's closest followers. Major product launches included the iPhone SE, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, Apple Watch Series 2, iPhone 7, MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, and just barely squeaking into the calendar year, AirPods. It was a solid lineup to be sure, but many of the product updates felt more iterative than evolutionary, particularly when compared with the impressive year that followed.
In 2017 Apple introduced a low-budget iPad, new 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros, revisions across the entire MacBook lineup, the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular, the Apple TV 4K, iPhone X and iPhone 8, the iMac Pro, and they took the veil off HomePod. It was the sort of strong year, hardware-wise, that you simply can't have every year.
From inside the company, however, it's easier to view every year as a good one – because regardless of what the world at large sees, you're working to build the future.