"What Apple's Money Can Buy"

Apple Innovation

In an article for The New Yorker, Nicolas Thompson has posed an interesting thought regarding Apple’s cash reserves. Nicolas writes:

Apple should take a big chunk of that money and put it into broad-reaching research and development. It should create something like DARPA, which has an annual budget of three billion dollars, or the old Xerox PARC or Bell Labs, or even like the old General Electric Research Laboratory, which in 1909 hired a brilliant young scientist named Irving Langmuir and told him to work on whatever interested him. He went on to help invent the incandescent light bulb, and he became the first industrial chemist to win the Nobel Prize.

Honestly, I think this is a brilliant notion.

Given Apple’s recent successes, the folks in Cupertino have a heretofore unseen capacity for experimentation and industry leadership. Having pioneered in a number of industries, Apple has developed a reputation for redefining previously uninspiring product categories. Whether it’s music or tablets, Apple has shown a repeated propensity toward the recognition of misguided concepts, and has impressively sought to reinvigorate innovation in such fields.

Now, however, Apple is at the peak of virtually all industries it touches. Barring the oft-rumored Apple Television, I can think of few more established marketplaces that Apple could upset.

Accordingly, Mr. Thompson’s vision of a dedicated DARPA-esque development wing is thoroughly appealing. Unbridled engineering coupled with Apple’s penchant for aesthetics makes for a compelling prospect — an entity with a distinct capability for entirely redefining the way in which we comprehend computing (again).

Google, of course, has its hushed development division but, lacking any design clout, such an organization lacks the truly affable characteristics that an Apple competitor might boast.

Thompson’s conclusion is particularly striking:

Apple doesn’t have an obligation to build stuff, show it off to overcaffeinated twenty-four-year-old geniuses, and then get stamped on. But technology advances most when basic research is done and ideas are shared. Apple could do a lot for the world, and a lot for itself, if it took some of that cash that’s sitting abroad and started telling chemists, physicists, and engineers to come to Cupertino and just dream.

An attractive prospect, n’est pas?