The Apple keynote at their annual developer conference (WWDC) is one of the few events the Cupertino company holds each year and -in stark contrast to their competitors- isn’t preceded by leaks and can genuinely hold some surprise.
Expectation and Innovation
This year consumers and analysts alike were hoping for a number of these surprises as their share price has fallen significantly while waiting for the next ‘innovation’. Certainly expectations of: a new version of iOS; iRadio (think Pandora attached to a store); and something for the power users in the shape of a tissue dispenser (albeit a pretty one) were met.
Of course incremental improvements has been a winning business strategy for Apple so far but their annual development cycles, and a major design refresh of product line roughly every two years (eg. iPhones, MacBooks) is starting to look slow by comparison. Samsung especially seems to be benefitting with its prolific product output, covering nearly every screen size and niche. While this is more confusing than Apple’s curated product lines their order book shows it is a winner.
The MacBook Air received an update to its processor to an Intel Haswell but this won’t distinguish it in the market and feels like a missed opportunity. That is while the Ultrabook category of PCs certainly were a response to the original MacBook Air they are now innovating at a faster rate – already including Intel’s chips and also able to boast of ‘all day’ battery life but some with higher resolution displays and slimmer form factors. Not to mention options for greater storage, 256Gb as the top end spec isn’t bad for an SSD but 512Gb needs to be an option as it will be too limiting for some and part of the point of a slender light laptop is you don’t want to have to carry a spare hard drive too.
If they had updated both the processor and screen (and possibly battery too) then the Air would at least remain current. Of course the design is still beautiful but there are now a number of equally good looking competitors.
Software innovation in the mobile space feels more like ‘me too’ with many of the ‘new’ features in iOS compared to Windows Phone and Android, which may well be inevitable across platforms; after all there are only so many ways you can display the time, weather and options.
OS X, the Mac operating system had a few tweaks too, basically integrating iOS style features and adding in some of those ‘um why didn’t it already do that?’ features.
However there was a clear attempt to innovate, if not as a response to critics and to redress the perceived lack of support for Pro users. The new Mac Pro is a significant departure from the box-style of desktop to a new cylinder. Comparisons from R2D2 to a tissue holder aside it does look different and is a powerful machine. However given globally declining desktop sales and that this is a niche market it is more of a ‘that’s nice’ than ‘that’s amazing/critical’.
Of course being a Developer conference this is mostly in beta (aside from buying the updated MacBook Air) and we’ll need to wait until the autumn to get the final versions. Hopefully that won’t allow them time to refine these changes into a really polished complete ecosystem, perhaps with a more unified icon set for the new iOS7.
Of course there might just be an iWatch in the wings for September, not to mention new iPads and ‘who knows’. One thing is for certain, Apple Keynotes do keep you on the edge of your seat and their marketing strategy is fascinating.