How Innovative Are Apple's Tech Rivals?

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- One of the constant complaints of critics against Apple (AAPL) in the past two years is that they're no longer as innovative with Tim Cook and without Steve Jobs.

But that critique isn't really fair when you start comparing Apple to other tech giants.

If Facebook (FB) is that much more innovative than Apple in the last two years, what do they have to show for it?

It's still a big social network with a new mobile site. But it's only faster because their old mobile site had been so slow for two years.

Facebook tried to "innovate" with their mobile site two years ago but they did so by betting big on HTML5, which ended up being a total bust for them.

They bought Instagram because not enough people were using their homegrown Facebook photos. Post-closing, Facebook innovated at Instagram by urging the company to start selling users' photos to advertisers without user permission. It caused an uproar.

Facebook innovated by displaying your Facebook email address as your primary one and hiding all others.

Facebook innovated by putting more ads in your news stream.

All these innovations were designed to create profits for Facebook and therefore shareholder value. But did any of them make us stop and say: "Wow -- I didn't see that coming." Clearly, no.

Apple has introduced a lot of new stuff in the last two years: Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPods, Siri, Maps, iTunes, management changes, and a new dividend. Like Facebook, all these things have been geared towards generating a lot of profits and Apple has been very good at that aim.

But still the critics carp on the lack of Apple innovation.

Apple has made it routine to come out with a knock your socks off product every three years. Some companies only do that once a decade. Most are lucky if they can have one product like that in their whole lives.

So Apple gets held to an incredibly high standard that they themselves set. All other tech companies get a pass on innovation, as long as they've done one thing really well fairly recently.

This will continue until they show the world they can bring out a knock your socks off product again without Jobs. 2013 will probably be the year for them to do that.

But it's good to be reminded that Apple just doesn't bide its time between those three year product cycles. They are churning stuff out all the time to make their existing product portfolio that much more profitable and up to date.

We will keep holding Apple to an incredibly high standard but let's give them until the end of 2013 before we say they are losing a step.