Reaction to New Apple Features Mixed

Just from browsing the various business and technology news sources, it would seem that overall reaction to Apple’s announcements today are somewhat mixed. While there was a lot of cool stuff announced today, the closest thing to a “wow” announcement was the new Retina MacBook Pro, which I have to admit is pretty cool. The other things (upgrades to current MacBook Air and MacBook Pro’s, which finally include USB 3.0; the next OS X and iOS releases with their various new features) were welcome and look intriguing. But there wasn’t any “change the world” type technology announced today. What wasn’t announced, but still released, was equally interesting: a new all-around case for the new iPad, a new AirPort Express and updates to the Mac Pro deskside computer.

They Can’t Change The World All The Time

I’m not surprised, and not disappointed, that no “this changes everything” products were announced. Why? Simply because I don’t expect that to happen each and every time Apple announces something. It’s unrealistic. Unfortunately, Apple set a bit of a trend for a while, bringing out multiple new and arguably revolutionary products like clockwork. The iPhone, the iPod Touch, substantially better iPhones, the MacBook Air, the iPad. All of this came in a bit of a rush. It will probably take another year before the media and the fans settle down and realize that, with the product catalogue they have, Apple simply can’t hope to “completely revolutionize” each and every segment every time they open their mouths. What we can expect is a lot of upgrade cycles, with occasional “this changes everything” type products.

The new MacBook Pro changes a lot, but it isn’t exactly revolutionary in terms of what it offers people. Yes, it is ridiculously thin relative to the performance. The new display is certainly a massive step forward. But really, at the end of the day, it’s a substantially faster MacBook Air with a markedly better display. It’s a big step, but it is still really an evolutionary step. A welcome step, to be sure, and it sets new standards for portability and performance. On its face, it shouldn’t be an insurmountable competitive obstacle for other notebook manufacturers, but reality says that it will take them 2-3 years to catch up (again), about as long as it took for them to catch the MacBook Air.

The other features in OS X and iOS are pretty cool, but again, almost nothing that completely changes how we use the technology or how it fits into our lives. A lot of it is about better, seamless integration between functional areas (particularly social media and intercommunication) and about better integration of our workflow across machines. All great stuff. All welcome. Some of it an improvement on features that have long been available in some form in other software. Certainly better, but not “this changes everything” better.

Siri and Automotive Integration

The only other “a-ha!” feature might be the forthcoming integration of Siri with a number of cars. That will certainly be welcome, and anything that can potentially make using technology less distracting while behind the wheel is a good thing. There is, of course, still the debate of how effective hands-free (and, as Apple puts it, “eyes-free”) truly is when it comes to distracted driving.

Controlled studies on the effect on drivers when using hands-free devices seems to indicate that they really don’t help. The problem isn’t the physical interaction, it’s the mental distraction of focusing on the conversation or activity. It’s the cognitive load, not the physical load, that is the problem. In some studies, the effects on driver performance are the same whether they use a handsfree headset, physically hold the phone against their ear, or are impaired.

Will Siri potentially change that? Possibly, but more study will be needed to know for sure. Intuitively, it would seem that anything that allows the driver to look at the road should help. But looking at the road, and focusing on driving the car aren’t necessarily the same thing. I’m glad Siri will be better integrated with new cars. But let’s be realistic in terms of our expectations on reducing driver distractions.

Overall, A Good Set Of Announcements

On balance, I would say that today’s announcements, plus the unannounced upgrades, were overall “very good”. Again, nothing really that changes the world, or radically alters the rules of the game. But a lot of technologies and features that continue to move things in a forward direction at a reasonable pace. Given the breadth and depth of Apple’s product portfolio, having a “this changes everything” announcement every couple of years is probably a more realistic expectation.