As the dust settles on yesterday’s product announcement from Apple – contrary to what the invitation or the internet hype machine says, I can’t bring myself to call these announcements ‘events’ – something clearly stands out.
No matter what Apple announces, it can’t win.
Apple announced something really important yesterday – CareKit. With the support of software developers and the makers of medical equipment, this new framework has the capacity to deliver more timely information to health professionals and patients.
Naturally, the internet focused on two relatively minor, but higher profile, announcements: the iPhone SE and 9.7in iPad Pro.
That’s not to say both products aren’t great pieces of hardware. But, and I say this as a long-time Apple user with a bunch of Apple kit in my office and around my home, they are hardly revolutionary or ground-breaking.
When you look closely at the iPhone SE, it’s merely a speed bump on the almost four-year-old iPhone 5s. That’s it. No 3D Touch, the same camera and the same form factor as the iPhone 5s.
There’s no doubt the iPhone SE will appeal to many buyers – my partner has been holding on to her iPhone 5s because the iPhone 6 and it’s successors were too big in her view.
But calling the iPhone SE a new product is, quite frankly, a marketing trick. It may technically be a new product, but that’s like a car maker putting a larger window washer bottle under the hood and telling us it’s an all-new vehicle.
The 9.7in iPad Pro, similarly, is a shrunken version of the original 12.9in iPad Pro. I’m writing this article on my iPad Air 2 with a Belkin Qode Keyboard. Pen input using the Apple Pencil would be nifty, particularly when manipulating images, but it’s not a showstopper for me.
That aside, the technology in the new, smaller iPad Pro is not revolutionary.
None of this is to say Apple has lost its design chops. But these two new products are a reflection of Apple reacting to the commercial realities of the market.
Smartphone sales have been contracting and people are holding on to their smartphones for longer. The iPhone SE is a reaction to that as many Apple customers, looking for a smaller device, have moved over to the Android world where they have far more choice when it comes to the size and shape of their phone.
Tablet sales have been falling. Apple, and almost every other tablet manufacturer, overestimated the market’s appetite for regular upgrades. I know many people still using the iPad 2. And, my observations in airport lounges is Windows 10 tablets and convertibles are winning over enterprise users.
The 9.7in iPad Pro is a reaction to those pressures. By adding the Apple Pencil to the mix, there’s a compelling reason for many to move to a newer iPad. And it will give pause to corporate buyers who see the Microsoft Surface’s stylus as a significant point of difference.
Reading some of the analysis of yesterday’s keynote, it seems the world expects Apple to release a new paradigm-shifting product at every announcement it makes. It’s simply not possible to do this.
So, in meeting market expectations, Apple disappoints people looking for more. When it released something new last year, the 12.9in iPad Pro, the market hammered it for not being innovative enough.
Yesterday, its share price rallied and made solid gains after releasing two relatively minor updates.
Apple can’t win. Release something new and it’s not innovative enough and its share price falls. Release minor product updates and the price goes up – and some pundits hammer it for pandering to the market.
Whenever someone asks me how Apple can continue to innovate, I answer very simply. With over US$180 billion in the bank, it can bide its time.