Okay, I don’t want to feel left out, so I figured I’d put together some initial thoughts on the latest round of Apple product. That was a lot of stuff announced yesterday. Far more than seems typical. Normally, we get to see one or two “sideline” products, and one flagship, and that’s it. Tuesday, it was a veritable cornucopia of new hardware, with a little software sprinkled in for good measure. We got 2 desktops (iMac and Mac Mini), a notebook (13″ Macbook Pro with Retina display), 2 iPads (4th generation and the iPad Mini) as well as an updated iBooks Author. That’s a lot to digest.
Smaller Is Good (For Me, Anyways)
I like smaller, portable devices. It’s a hold-over from my days of rather extensive international travel. Granted, I didn’t travel nearly as much as our sales team, but the international nature of our business, and the need for some “face-to-face” time with our global customer base meant I got to see a lot of this planet. That started with my time in EFA, and carried on post-EFA when I was doing financial markets consulting. So when I see technology that offers some degree of power as well as a lot of portability, I find that attractive. Do I really need super-portable now? Not really. I haven’t been on a plane in over 2 years now (yay!), and the trips I do take are driving trips, so small isn’t nearly as important. But some habits die hard.
Sure, the 15″ Retina Macbook offers far more processing power than that 13″. But for what I normally, need, I can live with a dual-core Intel i5 if it means less weight and a smaller size. What the screen offers for me is pixels, and lots of them. That allows me to scale things to have a lot of desktop space (granted, with small-ish text) and not have to carry around a machine about the size of a coffee table. Okay, the 17″ Macbook Pro I have now isn’t exactly huge. It is far smaller than most other 17″ notebooks out there. But I welcome a smaller size that is still useful.
The smaller iPad Mini is also intriguing. Sure, it doesn’t have a Retina display, and it is really an iPad 2 when it comes to internal performance. But for what I use an iPad for, it would be sufficient. If offers a higher degree of portability, and it appears that it will fit in some of the pockets of some jackets and such I normally wear. That makes it easier to take along in situations where I would potentially just leave an iPad behind (and with it the utility I get out of an iPad).
The Nexus 7 Comparison
So far, I haven’t heard a lot of complaining about how Apple rigged the comparison with the Nexus 7 (but give it time). I can say from personal experience that Apple pretty much called it. Few, if any, Android apps have been optimized for the larger screens of tablets. Most of the mainstream stuff certainly hasn’t. So yes, most Android apps you will encounter on the Nexus 7 are scaled-up phone apps. Add in the space you lose with the control bar at the bottom, and you do lose some screen space. I understand why Android has the control bar they way they do (because it makes it configurable when compared with the original generation of control bars, which were fixed) and it makes them more consistent (the Samsung and HTC phones had the buttons in different orders and with slightly different icons). But it does take away from screen space.
Notice, though, that Apple didn’t talk about overall performance. They didn’t because, in that regard, the iPad Mini is on-par with the Nexus 7. I have a Nexus 7, and it’s a reasonably speedy little device. It’s certainly nice and more responsible that the Samsung Galaxy Tab I was initially using for Android development. Yes, the Nexus 7 is made largely of plastic, but the back of the tablet has a nice grippy texture that makes holding it in one hand fairly comfortable. It doesn’t feel like it is going to slip out of your hand. The aluminum back on the iPad looks good, but it doesn’t offer the confident grip of the Nexus 7. And that nice aluminum back attracts fingerprints, and it scratches.
And The Other Stuff?
The new Mac Mini looks pretty cool, and for what you get, it’s a pretty decent little machine. Part of me wants to buy a bunch of them to make a computing cluster (for a computational problem I haven’t invented yet, but I’m sure I’ll have one soon). The new iMac is scary thin. Terrifyingly thin. It almost doesn’t look like a real computer you can buy today, but rather some kind of Hollywood prop. Seriously, that is one ultra-thin desktop computer. I have no use for one (my 3-year old iMac is working just fine), but I wouldn’t say no to one either.
The appearance of a 4th generation iPad so soon after the 3rd generation was released was a bit of surprise for me. I honestly hadn’t expected it. Now, it makes some sense logically. It gets all of Apple’s flagship mobile devices using the new Lightning connector. It gives pretty significant bump in performance. But it is sure to annoy those that just bought the current 3rd generation iPad. Apple isn’t going to make many friends with that decision.
Does Apple Need To Get Back To Basics?
While having a lot of “new toys” announced all at once is pretty cool, at the same time it makes me wonder if Apple is diluting the message by doing this. Of course, the alternative could end up being new product announcements every other month. I’m not saying that a big “here’s a lot of stuff” announcement is wrong. The past couple of years has seen Apple break up the pattern that was starting to develop: desktops in January, iPad in March, Macbooks in April, iPhone at WWDC in June, iPod and AppleTV in September. We’ve had various product grouped together, we’ve seen a bit more emphasis on software announcements (and decoupling software from hardware announcements), and we’ve seen the order of things in the year mixed around.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple go back to more focused announcements. I still think that more of a “team show” with all of the presenters taking the stage at the start and the end would break from the script Steve followed. There is still a lot being carried by a single person, and Apple needs to make it clear that they aren’t going to try to do “business as usual”. It will take a team to take over for what Steve did, at least until they (potentially) find a single person who can step in and take Apple in a useful, and possibly new, direction. Things still feel a bit too much like a company coasting on a degree of momentum. We are seeing some deviation from the original plan. I’m not sure that Steve would have approved an iPad Mini, but then again, Steve had a habit of saying “no way” to various products, only to announcement something very similar a few months later. But Apple needs to start to take a new direction, and it is time for other voices to be heard. It can’t be helped. This week’s announcement of a lot of things all at once is certainly a deviation from that part of the original script.