Five signs 40-year-old Apple is having a midlife crisis -- and five reasons it isn't

Sometimes a comb-over is just a comb-over

As he opened Apple's latest breathless gadget debut last week, CEO Tim Cook struck three appropriately serious notes for a company that will turn 40 next week.

Apple is safeguarding Americans' privacy, Cook said. It's recycling and going renewable. It's even helping to cure diseases by making ResearchKit. Clearly, this is no long-haired startup in a garage.

But like a onetime rebel who's starting to be defined more by his work ethic than by his wackiness, Apple is starting to show signs of what may be an impending midlife crisis.

It certainly has some of the markers of midlife, like an endless feud with a neighbor (Samsung), and the sprawling, never-finished project in the garage (the iTunes application). But that's just how things go.

Here, however, are five things Apple's doing that may signal an all-out, reggae-playing, baldness-battling midlife crisis waiting to happen. But for each one, there's also a perfectly plausible alternative explanation.

1. Apple's repackaging its old hits

Crisis: Rock stars, who get paid to act young, seem especially prone to midlife crises. If Apple were a rocker, it would be a multi-platinum artist many times over with new releases known to attract block-long lines. But like a pop idol who's grown a little thick around the middle, it's starting to see the excitement fade. In Apple terms, that means iPhone sales are nearly flat. So what's the company doing? Putting out an old fan favorite (the iPhone 5S) in a remastered edition with some extras thrown in. The SE will probably sell millions, but can Vegas and the revival circuit be far off?

No Crisis: It's not Apple's fault iPhone growth is slowing. The smartphone market is positively saturated compared with 2007, when the first iPhone took the world by storm. The SE may prove popular among classic-rock types who are perfectly happy with the phone they bought in 2012, give or take a few cores. But with the lowest price of any iPhone yet, it might attract new audiences, too.

2. It's thinking about building a car

Crisis: A new set of wheels (especially one that's red and fast) is the classic symbol of the midlife crisis. It's expensive, it's flashy, and it promises a more exciting lifestyle. A company can't get behind the wheel of a convertible, but Apple may be doing the corporate equivalent of that by building its own car. What business does Cupertino have getting into the motor game? A dozen major manufacturers have been there for decades, and even Google is years ahead. Is it really about what a sleek, Jony Ive-designed electric car would do for the company's allegedly tired brand?

No crisis: On the other hand, if vehicles start driving themselves, they'll really be computers on wheels, so why shouldn't Apple get into the game? The shift to autonomous technology could crack the market wide open. A car would be the ultimate mobile device and a way for Apple to transplant its complete phone/tablet/cloud/entertainment ecosystem from home to the road.

3. The Mac is a perfectly good personal computer, but Apple now says the slimmer, sexier iPad is the future of computing.

Crisis: Going for a new, more casual look is another common sign that someone's feeling their age. Never mind that Macs have been style winners for years; Apple seems convinced they make it look fat. Much of its pitch for the new, 9.7-inch iPad Pro last Monday centered on why it’s good for work tasks like videoconferencing and generating reports. Apple never told the audience to trade in their (more expensive) Macs for the iPad Pro, but it did push the new device as a replacement for older Windows PCs. The implication was clear: Go mobile and leave your clunky hard-wired keyboard and mouse-driven OS behind. The new iPad Pro is the skinny jeans of desktop computers. Is someone trying too hard?

No Crisis: Apple’s not just looking in the mirror and hating what it sees. Using convertible tablets for business is a real trend, as evidenced by healthy sales of Microsoft’s Windows-based Surface. Work is going mobile and cloud-based, so fewer workers need even a laptop PC. And as overall iPad sales fall, the company needs another way to move hardware. Few consumers will shell out for a new iPad if they only use their current model for browsing, video streaming and social media.

4. Apple keeps getting into new businesses

Crisis: If a 40-something accountant starts moonlighting as a surf instructor and a deejay, it may be too late already. In the past two years, Apple's bought a streaming music and headphones company (Beats Music), started streaming cable channels and live sports, and even producing its own TV shows. Now the company’s up against broadcast networks, cable companies and startups like Spotify. We get it: You're cool.

No Crisis: Entertainment has been a big part of Apple's business for years. The company made its iPod a hit by selling songs on iTunes. Later, it gave consumers a reason to buy the Apple TV by offering downloads and rentals of movies. Those content businesses have long outpaced the sale of devices in terms of revenue, and now the single-serving digital media business that Apple pioneered has shifted to streaming. This is just Apple evolving with the times.

5. Not just a big new headquarters, but a small foothold in San Francisco

Crisis: Not content to be the richest person on the ritzy block called Silicon Valley, Apple’s building a giant home that looks like a flying saucer. Maybe that’s because some other tech companies have found a way into the actual spaceship business. But even that’s not enough: What could be more midlife crisis than renting a pied-a-terre in the city? Apple getting ready to move into 76,000 square feet of office space in San Francisco’s SOMA district, the heart of startup country.

No Crisis: Putting up a new, cool-looking headquarters is a common way for companies to make their mark in Silicon Valley, not to mention necessary to make room for a fast-growing workforce. Google opened a major addition to its GooglePlex in Mountain View just last year. Facebook finished its own futuristic home base last year in Menlo Park. Apple’s been in its main offices on Infinite Loop in Cupertino since 1993, so it’s earned an upgrade. And space in San Francisco is anything but a playground. It’s a key asset for anyone who wants to compete for twenty-something workers from urban startups.

Youth, after all, has its benefits.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Apple

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?