28 March 2016

Some remarks on the recent Apple event

Last week there was another Apple launch event, shorter than usual and considered by many ‘boring’ (and, if current rumors are to be taken seriously, we are in for another whole year of boring incremental releases). I gathered a couple of thoughts since and instead of doing small posts with links for each announcement I will share them together:

‘Green Apple’: one of the first announcements was that 93 percent of Apple’s global operations now run on sustainable energy. Certainly a good step for the environment, but I have to wonder how far does it actually go. From what I understand, this refers primarily to Apple’s data centers around the globe. What about the manufacturing operations handled by third parties in China and elsewhere? If that’s powered by ‘dirty’ coal energy the percentage would be much lower.

The forgettable Watch: people who were expecting a new Apple Watch model had to settle for a couple of new bands and hope for more in the fall (or maybe next year?). Also, apparently the gold-plated Edition is being slowly phased out in stores; I guess celebrities are used to receive such trinkets for free in exchange for promotion, not actually buying them.

The smaller iPhone: awful name, but good design and specs. I always liked the iPhone 4/5 design much better – including how it can stand up on a table – and I don’t think anybody will miss 3D Touch. On the other hand I don’t see myself returning to a smaller screen anytime soon, quite the contrary: I’m starting to feel that the iPhone 6 screen is too small! The same can be said about my friends and acquaintances using iPhones: I’ve heard no one asking if there is going to be a new small-screen iPhone, everyone talks instead about bigger screens. I would say that at this point Apple is content to having the iPhone as a cash-cow, carefully segmenting the market to maximize profits without too many changes in the manufacturing process.

Finally the new iPad Pro: so it’s smaller than the otherwise identical model launched 6 months ago, but still more expensive than the iPad Air. Does that make sense to anyone? The large iPad Pro hasn’t changed the downward trend in iPad sales and I very much doubt this lighter option will.

Apple has clearly had a v2 rethink around this, to try to drive greater switching from PCs (and Macs) both within that upgrade cycle and perhaps accelerating it. It has added the pencil and the keyboard (both pretty much the 'right' instance of each), added split-screen multi-tasking and pushed into productivity, both with OS features and the partnership with IBM, while Microsoft has helpfully also put Office (mostly - some elements such of charts are works in progress) onto the platform. It's trying to address the things that keep people on Windows or Mac - generally that one app or use case.

Benedict Evans

And here is precisely the problem: focusing on single apps or use cases (for example selling Office subscriptions for the iPad Pro, doubly ironic since Apple has its own office package, iWorks) misses the point of why people are using PC’s (and to some extent smartphones): combined with the right software they are extremely versatile. Doing a couple of things on par or better than a PC will not get people to permanently switch to an iPad. Most people can’t afford to have a dedicated device for some tasks – see next point – so they’re sticking with what they know and works.

‘Sad’ PC owners: an unfortunate remark during the presentation made fun of people who don’t upgrade their computers that often. It highlights the ‘dark side’ of being a hardware vendor: because hardware sales drive the majority of revenue, Apple can afford to care so much about privacy and push for extra security on their devices. But when the replacement cycles becomes longer and the market saturated, as it’s arguably the case for both high-end smartphones and tablets, the hardware manufacturers begin to struggle for growth, hence these clumsy remarks about users not upgrading often enough.

At the beginning of Phil Schiller’s iPad presentation, Schiller mentions that a lot of users come to iPad from PCs. “This is an amazing statistic,” he says with a serious look before revealing that there are more than 600 million PCs in use that are over five years old. “This is really sad.” Schiller continues. The audience laughs. “It really is,” he says, and tries to continue before being interrupted by more laugher and applause. “These people could really benefit from an iPad Pro,” he finishes.

C. Custer

It’s rather sad that Apple doesn’t offer more compelling devices, especially on the software side, so that people would have a strong reason to buy them…

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