Apple’s announcement on Tuesday definitely had a lot to cover. They weren’t kidding on the invitation. Was it too much at once? You could argue that. Apple seems to try to keep these sorts of events to 90 minutes, and parts of it definitely felt rushed. Having lots of new toys is cool, though.
Was Anything Disruptive?
I’m going to get this out of the way, because our industry is obsessed with things being disruptive (even when almost nothing is). No, nothing we saw Tuesday was truly disruptive. Some of it was certainly innovative, a lot of it was very creative. But nothing we say is going to really disrupt anything.
And that includes Apple giving away OS X, iWork and iLife for free. Some might argue that giving away a major operating system for free would cut the legs out from under guys like Microsoft. If Apple held a substantially bigger share of the PC market with OS X, I would normally agree with that. But the Mac is still a fairly modest, albeit not insignificant, 10-15% of the PC market (depending on the numbers you look at). Giving this stuff away for free might budge that needle up a tiny bit, but the price of OS X isn’t what is holding it back. It’s the cost, specifically the cost for some people and companies to make the switch.
Besides, Apple’s inroads in the PC market aren’t coming via the Mac, they are coming via the iPad. Depending on the numbers you look at, the iPad is anywhere from 5% to 20% of all PC’s. It depends on if you look at shipped, sold or usage. Companies like Samsung, who are moving a modest by still small number of tablets out the door, only report their shipped numbers. This is a rigged game in the worst way, because companies can stuff the pipeline with product, claim “victory” as they take a big chunk of the “units shipped” marketshare pie, and then write the inventory off months or years later, after we’ve forgotten that detailed statistic. Sold is better (at least it means someone bought the thing), but the most telling is usage. Those are people actually consuming content and buying apps. They are making lots of people money. Shipments only put money in the hands of the warehouses and transportation companies.
A Nice Evolution
Ranting about measuring marketshare aside, everything we saw on Tuesday (outside of the Mac Pro) was a welcome evolution of Apple product. The timing wasn’t bad, given that there has plenty of grumbling about how iWork hasn’t really changed or improved in several years. Sure, it worked well, so you could argue it didn’t need updating. But people, and analysts, seem to figure if you aren’t always changing something, you are behind the times.
The new iPad Air is a sharp looking device. The new exterior design, and the drop in weight, are certainly welcome. It isn’t that the current (or even first) iPads are boat anchors. But lighter is always nice when you can get it. The rest of it, though, is an iPad, and that’s a good thing. The usual increases in CPU and graphics performance aren’t surprising, and don’t change the fact that it is still and iPad. And that is a good thing.
The Retina iPad Mini is the one I was most looking forward to. The addition of a 128GB version is also nice to see. Recently, I’ve found myself using an iPad Mini more often than a regular iPad, and I’m not expecting to buy the iPad Air for myself. I will probably get the iPad Mini with Retina.
The updated MacBook Pros are also a welcome advance. These look like impressive machines. Packing a lot of punch, heaps of memory and storage, and all in a package that is far smaller than the coffee-table sized 7-10lb monsters you see some high-power users carrying, borders on astonishing. Of course, the top-end MacBook Pro doesn’t come cheap. Even with the price reductions, the MacBook Pro is still one of the more expensive notebook PC’s you can buy.
Then There Is That Cylinder
Then we have the Mac Pro. Here we have a cylinder that isn’t much bigger than some desktop USB disk drives, but with silly amounts of computing power. The top end model, fully loaded, is incredible. Up to 12 cores, a maximum of 64GB of RAM, and dual video cards with up to 3GB of VRAM each. All in a package that takes up a fraction of the space of other machines.
But it isn’t all roses and sunshine. That small package comes with a price. The first is expansion. No more slots to add various expansion cards. Your only options are adding devices via USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt 2. There is a category of user that won’t want the new Mac Pro. But, to be blunt, that community is tiny. Very, very tiny. Only a small number of people ever bother to use expansion cards. Given that desktop sales continue to drop, and most of those that go out the door only sell because they are cheap, and your peripherals like keyboards and screens can be re-used. Seriously, Apple isn’t going to lose a ton of customers because they don’t have expansion slots in the machine, in part because they never sold a lot of Mac Pros in the first place. If expansion were really such a big deal, people won’t be buying all-in-one PC’s (like the iMac) or notebook/laptop computers in the numbers that they do.
The other “downside” is that you can only put up to 1 TB of disk inside the machine. For many people, this may be enough. But there are categories of users that need more (a lot more). They are left with only one option: external storage. The upside of this is that you have plenty of options available. It gives you some flexibility. The downside is that nice, sleek cylinder has to sit alongside boxes of various shapes and sizes, with cables connecting the lot together. It’s flexible, but if you hate cables as much as I do, it can get ugly.
But Was It Too Much?
Consider what Apple covered on Tuesday: OS X Mavericks, iWork, iLife, MacBook Pro, Mac Pro and iPad. Some parts of the presentation clearly looked and felt rushed. The good part was that we didn’t get yet another repeat of the in depth and gory details about the wonderful and amazing technology that is OS X Mavericks (see, repetition gets annoying after a while). When Apple announced OS X Lion, they basically did the whole thing twice. First, there was the pre-announcement, which took nearly an hour from start to finish. Then we got to see Lion again at WWDC, and it consumed a big chunk of the keynote. This time around, they only had time to touch on a very small number of items. The same went for iWork and iLife. The changes are nice, but they aren’t exactly gamechanging. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer Pages over Word and Keynote over PowerPoint. But really, they are still just a word processor and presentation program at the end of the day.
I think that the hardware announcements may have been a bit shortchanged because of the length of the list. In some ways, Apple may have been better served to have stuck to the software and iPad, and left the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro for a November presentation. I think it might have given them more time to cover the iPad Mini with Retina (which was kind of mentioned as an afterthought), and a bit more time to showcase the new iPad. It might have also allowed a little more time on the software side, because Numbers and Keynote were not much more than bullet points on Tuesday.
Even More To Come
The flip side is that, with even more likely to come, Apple had no choice but to squeeze in what they did. Spreading all of it out, limiting the announcements to one or two products, could mean an Apple announcement every other week for a couple of months. That’s a lot of announcements, and the messages will likely get diluted. Apple gets enough exposure courtesy of the media (and bloggers like me). Overdoing it themselves is probably not a wise thing to do.
So what haven’t we seen yet? First, the iPod Touch still hasn’t had an update or refresh. I know that iPod Touch sales have continued to decline, and maybe Apple is hoping that the iPhone 5C might appeal to someone thinking about an iPod Touch. The problem, though, is that the iPhone 5C is at least 50% more for a device with comparable storage. It’s too big a jump for that category of buyer.
The other iPods are also unchanged from a year ago. The AppleTV is probably due for an update (although those don’t seem to come annually). I suspect we’ll have another Apple event in November regarding those personal technologies. I also expect speculation that Apple will announce a watch of some kind and a full-on television. The watch I could believe. I’m not convinced Apple will want to build a television set.
The Overall Verdict
I fully expect plenty of “experts” to continue to say “Apple isn’t innovating anymore” or something like that. The hardcore fans will try to make these announcements (going back to the iPhone 5C and 5S) sound like they are turning things on their head. The pragmatist in me says “cool”, but I don’t see anything that fundamentally changes the rules to any particular game. The new phones are very nice. The new iPad Air looks pretty cool, and the addition of Retina and a 128GB option on the iPad Mini is a big step forward. The new MacBook Pros look sharp, but those are far more about evolution than revolution. The Mac Pro is very, very cool, but I haven’t come up with a reason to get one (yet 🙂 ).
All of these changes put Apple slightly ahead of the curve, but only until the other guys announce their new wares. Any advantage in these updated devices is largely temporary. The pace of change, practically speaking, has slowed for everyone. Most, if not all, of the meaningful hardware bits are in place. The extra bits of gingerbread (like fingerprint sensors) are interesting, but aren’t a fundamental shift in anything. About the only major piece missing from these devices are pico projectors. Otherwise, what we can expect are updates in industrial design and faster/more/less/wider/longer/lighter of various bits and pieces. Smartphones and tablets are now commodities, and trying to innovate gets harder, trying to invent becomes almost impossible and disruption will have to come from without, and not from within.