You're looking at the stagnating iOS years on, rather than at what Apple did during Jobs' tenure.
I was a Palm user when the iPhone was released, and I thought I was totally satisfied with my Palm devices (which I'd been using for years) and that the premium for an iPhone was pointless. I poo-pooed the iPhone until the 3GS was released and I finally tried one. I was blown away. Full web browser, lots of useful apps that installed *over the network*, fast and complete WiFi support to enable this, large capacity to hold lots of songs and images, a camera capable of producing large images, the list went on and on. It was a HUGE step up from other things in the market at that point. Apple had taken half-measures scattered throughout the phone ecosystem and brought them all together as full "best of breed" measures in a single device. This is what the Jobs Apple excelled at.
NOW iOS is stale in comparison to Android (see my post above), and that's the problem with Apple and why they are rudderless without Jobs, but early on this was simply not the case—the iPhone was remarkable when it was introduced.
I'm a technology early adopter (not necessarily an Apple one) and this happened several times with Apple products under Jobs:
- MP3 players. I'd had several MP3 players prior to the introduction of the iPod, but the classic iPod blew them all out of the water. Far faster, large screen enabling actual navigation of your music library, capacity to hold thousands of songs (rather than just a couple dozen), played just about any MP3 file you could throw at it rather than requiring you to use their own encoder (or, in the case of Linux users like myself at the time, carefully curate and tweak command line for Lame to create files that the device's bandwidth could handle). The iPod was simply far more functional that other MP3 players at the time.
- iPad. I'd used other tablets for years: Vadem Clio, Hitachi eSlate, Fujitsu Stylistic, etc. They had compromised battery life, a resistive touchscreen, an OS that was difficult to work with, had dog-slow processors and little memory, could not run a full web browser (in the case of the CE devices), required desktop sync or a desktop environment, were heavy and difficult to hold for long periods of time and/or to carry around, etc. iPad was hand-holdable, had massive battery life, did not require desktop sync or that you run a desktop environment that suffered as a tablet, and was generally the device I'd been hoping for for all those years as I struggled to make previous tablets work. Again, the iPad was a tablet done *right*, rather than making me buy the "promise" but suffer through the compromises.
- OS X. I switched from Linux. Why? Because OS X gave me a *nix command line environment and infrastructure, robust stability, support for high-end hardware, *and* off-the-shelf retail purchases of software and devices without having to recompile code or worry about compatibility. It's still the only OS that does this.
Jobs had a talent for spotting technologies that were essentially at the "proof of concept" stage but were making headway in a few tiny niches, and were already being sold to (dissatisfied) consumers and riddled with compromises, and getting his team and company to engineer their way around and through those compromises to realize the technology in consumer-ready, appliance form. Other companies released Ford Model T cars (hand-crank start, too many levers to micromanage mechanical functionality, counterintuitive and dangerous gearbox, rotten ride for grandma) and Jobs could look at what was there, spot the potential, and then put his team to work on a car that could be started from the passenger compartment, manage the obvious parts of its own mechanical operation, that had a safer gearbox that matched the way that people think and expect machines to work, and that let grandma work on her knitting in the back seat without poking herself.
He was masterful at (1) identifying potential in new tech that was either failing in the marketplace or had already been dismissed, (2) seeing why this new tech was flagging, and (3) managing his team to solutions to the obvious problems, so that previously taken-for-granted limitations and complications were removed, (4) all within the realm of consumer budgets (even if at the high end of these). He was also very adept at (5) bringing lots of different technologies of this sort together in a single device or system, with all of them significantly improved, i.e. using lots of disparate tech in combination to solve the problems with each and multiply their effect.
This is the "vision" that people talk about. He spotted this stuff, recognized which limitations weren't as obviously necessary as people imagined, and could find a path to release with much upgraded and/or improved design specs, when everyone else thought it was impossible, and maintain the determination and optimism to keep the business afloat and the team working toward the goal in the meantime. These are not small things.
To me, that is innovative, it's just innovative at the process end, rather than at the "invention" end of things. Jobs was process innovator and a UXD innovator, not an inventor.
What Apple lost with Jobs was this vision to see where (a) potential is hidden and (b) the real UX problems lie with high-potential tech.
They are back to being in the business of "accept what already exists and the taken-for-granted limitations, then iterate with evolutionary improvements over the release cycle." They are consciously trying to innovate at the other end, but they are back to releasing half-baked new tech at the essentially proof-of-concept that really only appeals to niches willing to nurse it along. In short, they're just like all the other tech companies again. They are no longer the company that plucks tech that previously only geeks were capable of using or saw the purpose of, then perfects it beyond all expectation and gets mom to buy it for grandma for Christmas, as was the case with the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.
The Apple Watch is their only post-Jobs attempt, but Cook called it done long before Jobs would have, and the result is that Apple released a product like the Vadem Clio or Fujitsu Stylistic of old that I mentioned above—appealing to a few geeks, but niche, limited, hard to use, and with a small (and often frustrated and product-abandoning) audience in the end.
In short, Apple has become another HP or Compaq once again, just like they were before Jobs came back. They take existing product categories and tech limitations and parameters for granted, build "one of those" to have it in their product line up, release, and hope to compete on build quality alone. Just like they did in the late '80s and early '90s. History says this won't work for them. They have more cash this time, but they're still in a losing position right now.
To maintain the brand, they need to find another person who adopts relatively immature tech that the public doesn't know about, and that those who do know take for granted as niche and limited, and then organizes Apple's huge resources and brain trust to realize them as far less limited consumer devices that work better, and with fewer limits, and more conveniently, and more user-centricity, than was previously imagined to be possible.
Until they find such a person, I'd be short Apple.