Today’s Apple announcement was marred by an absolutely atrocious streaming experience. Sure, the products were cool (and I’ll cover some initial thoughts on those), but the fact that Apple couldn’t get the live stream to work until more than halfway into the presentation was an embarrassment. Don’t be surprised to see Apple recruiting for new positions in the media group, and I would suggest that the two internal candidates for the head marketing job not get their hopes up.
Let’s Talk About Embarrassment, Shall We?
The lead-up to the presentation seemed to go well. It was the usual “Apple stuff”: contemporary music playing while we get treated to video of the audience arriving, chatting, taking their seats, etc. Then, moments before Tim Cook is to take the stage, it all falls about. We get to see the static placeholder image (used in broadcast to let distributors know what’s up, and what’s coming next). Then we go back to video we already saw 20 minutes before. Then the static image. Eventually, a video starts, then is interrupted, pauses, then back to the static image. Eventually Tim takes the stage, and we get treated to an interpreter (Mandarin? Japanese? I wasn’t sure). More interrupts. Then just audio and blank screen. Reloading sometimes resulted in a “not authorized” page. It was a disaster. It finally settled down as we got to the Apple Watch. But it took nearly an hour for someone to finally get it right.
Someone seriously screwed up. It’s as if no one bothered to test this before it happened. The infamous “it compiled, so it will work fine” approach to implementation. Should someone lose their job over this debacle? Probably not. That would be a harsh response. But then again, Apple’s announcements are a critical part of their success. To have it screw up this badly could certainly cost some people their jobs at Apple. With the selection of a new head of marketing still not made, an outside candidate probably has a better chance, and the two leading candidates may find their opportunities are about as stable as the live stream was today.
The New Phones
As many predicted, the iPhone 6 has a bigger screen, and there is an even bigger model in the iPhone 6 Plus (which features 1080p in landscape mode, basically). Faster, better, etc, etc. Other than the size, and the addition of a barometer, it isn’t exactly a huge leap forward in smartphones. As with every recent product from Apple, Samsung and others, this is now about evolution, not revolution.
Yes, it is a nice phone. Yes I will be getting one (since I skipped the 5S generation). For myself, I’ll get the smaller one. I already have an iPad, I don’t need a tablet in my pocket.
So what Apple is offering is a variation on something that we’ve had in Canada (and has been in western Europe) for years. NFC-enabled cards have allowed for touch payments. Chip and PIN technology have made the decades-old magnetic stripe obsolete. “But you don’t have to dig out a card”. I still have to dig out a phone. My cards and my phone are both easily accessible. This isn’t to say I don’t like the idea. I do. I think it is a big step forward. But, except for the United States, this isn’t exactly a revolution. And the “online payments”? Only if you use an app. There was nothing mentioned about real “online”, when I buy via a website.
Not having to have a card isn’t a bad thing. It is one less thing to lose. Even with Chip and PIN, possession of the card gives someone some kind of access, even if only for on-line payments. Having to have nothing more than a driver’s licence and my phone would make things simpler, no question. However, this new technology from Apple is US-only, and only at select retailers for now. They are apparently working on adding other countries. It will be interesting to see how well it does until then.
The Apple Watch
The Apple Watch is very interesting, and it should have guys like Pebble and Samsung worried. Their watches are “good” (for Pebble) and “okay” (for Samsung). The Apple Watch, if it works as advertised, could be considered “great”. It offers a pretty advanced interface. It is stylish and easily customizable. The new metal Pebble looks less clunky that the original plastic watch, but neither are examples of superior design. The Samsung Galaxy Gear isn’t offensive, but it is a bit clunky.
But let’s be clear here: the Apple Watch may offer some very cool technology, but a lot of isn’t as revolutionary as they imply. Apps have been available on Pebble for a while, and Google has an SDK for their wearables. The UI on the Apple Watch looks nicer, and at least Apple uses real industrial designers to design their product. That is a step forward that the other watch makers will have to take. Apple has another challenge on their hands: getting people to wear watches again. Watch use has apparently been on the decline (I haven’t worn one regularly for over a decade now). The smartphone made wearing a watch unnecessary. The Apple Watch will have to be pretty compelling to get people to reverse course.
What wasn’t mentioned on the Apple Watch was anticipated battery life. They made a big deal about the magnetic induction charger connection, but said zilch about how long the battery should last. I expect a second “event” as we get closer to the release date for the watch, and they will hopefully discuss batteries then. Uncharacteristically, Apple pre-announced this product pretty far in advance. Sure, they’ve done that before (they did it with the Mac Pro, and do it all the time with OS releases). But for a mainstream product that is expected to be a new and significant line of business, pre-announcing this early is a departure for Apple.
Evolution For The Most Part
Nothing announced today was really a revolution. It was all evolutionary, and that’s okay. The new iPhone 6 looks very nice. I look forward to getting one. I will probably get an Apple Watch. Apple Payments are an interesting theory, but until they arrive in Canada, aren’t something I can use. It also isn’t as big a leap forward as Apple makes it out to be, because other than “you can use your phone”, the features are the same as we’ve had in Canada for years. US card payments are years behind everyone else, so for Americans, this is a step forward. For the rest of us, not so much.
The Apple Watch is a step forward in smartwatch design. Big questions about performance and battery life remain unanswered, and we are months away from knowing. Even if the first model’s performance isn’t ideal, it will probably do reasonably well. But the longevity will be determined by durability, utility and the life of the battery, not just how well it works.
At least we got free music today. Some instant gratification is always nice. Now we have to wait for the rest (and endure the next round of “what’s up for iPad” speculation that the media will obsess over).