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Let’s all agree that Apple (AAPL) makes some rip-roaringly good products. The iPhone, the iPad, and the MacBook Air are all massive successes. And there are ceaseless rumors about the forthcoming iPhone 5. But Apple makes many things, and it stands to reason that some of their products are better than others. The problem for Apple (and it’s a problem many companies would like to have, no doubt) is that when the bar is set so high for the good stuff, the merely adequate starts to look unacceptable.
That’s why Apple should consider the Jack Welch approach to product management: Just as the former General Electric (GE) chief executive officer would close or sell business units that did not place first or second in their industry, Apple should look at some of the laggards in its product portfolio and ask some hard questions about whether they have a future at the company. Here’s where it could start:
Safari. It’s a perfectly fine Web browser, but it’s not essential. Many people use Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer already—Safari has never cracked 10 percent of browsers in use. Chrome’s now even available as a free app for the iPhone (it’s really quite good—you should check it out). With few compelling reasons why anyone should use Safari, there are few convincing reasons why Apple should continue to spend time and money on it.
Game Center. I’m sorry, but what is this? I just know it as the annoying thing that pops up before I want to play Angry Birds. Apple’s toe-dipping strategy in regard to social networks has never been terribly illustrious—remember Ping, Apple’s social music feature? Didn’t think so. The iPhone and iPod touch are great gaming devices; there’s no reason to muck up the experience with some riverboat-casino-looking app that’s just getting in the way.
Pages. This is Apple’s word processing application, but it’s the third player in a two-player contest. For most people, there’s Microsoft (MSFT) Word, and there’s Google (GOOG) Docs. One’s bloated and powerful, the other’s limited but streamlined. Nobody needs another word processing program. Apple likes to talk about how great Pages is for interesting layouts, but really—how many family newsletters have you made recently?
Numbers. Another Apple version of software that doesn’t need to be. Numbers is Apple’s challenge to Microsoft’s Excel, but for better or worse, Excel is the standard here. Maybe even Apple’s aware of this—the most recent version of Numbers (and Pages, for that matter) came out in 2009—that’s three years ago, an eternity for software.
Mission Control/Launchpad/Dashboard. Apple keeps pushing these different “views” of your desktop. Most people know them as the weird screens that pop up when you accidentally move your cursor into a corner of the screen and then have to figure out how to get back to what you were working on. And really? There have to be three different apps for all this?
So there are five things that Apple could probably shut down and no one would really notice. And they shouldn’t do it just to be more efficient: Every hour that Apple employees spend on these products is an hour they could spend on something that really deserves their attention. I even have a suggestion: iTunes. What started as a simple computer jukebox program has ballooned to now handle movies, TV shows, apps, syncing, account management … it’s gotten so bloated that it’s starting to look like a Microsoft product. Fix that, and you can make all the weird spreadsheet programs you want.