It tells you a lot that the only officially sanctioned way to see Apple’s event was by tuning in on an Apple device. Apple likes to preach to the converted and, regardless of what it reveals, there are people waiting to praise it. As smartphone innovation slows in general, there’s been a growing sense of a need for a new product category. It’s been four years since the iPad. The big reveal this time round was to be the Apple Watch.
As it turned out, even watching on an iPad Air or a Mac, we were greeted by a test card and then a stuttering stream with a loud Chinese translation over the top. The stream eventually settled down and worked, but it was an inauspicious start to proceedings for a tech company and completely at odds with the old “it just works” mantra.
You wait for months then two come along at once
It was obvious Apple had a lot to get through because the iPhone 6 launch felt rushed. What we got was the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. A 4.7-inch smartphone closer in size, at least, to the top Android smartphones on the market, and a really large 5.5-inch smartphone or phablet to compete with the likes of Samsung’s recently unveiled Note 4.
This is a significant reversal for Apple. It has bowed to market pressure and consumer feedback and made a real shift to larger devices. It’s late and behind the curve, and we can’t help but be reminded of ads like the one below, but really it’s a move Apple had to make and we’d be criticizing more if it hadn’t.
Where’s the innovation?
We shouldn’t really be surprised by the lack of innovation here. Incremental updates have become the order of the day for smartphones in general. The gaps between the latest releases from the top Android OEMs and their predecessors are similarly small if we’re honest. But compare the specs of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus with the best of Android and they are clearly still lagging behind.
It's increasingly obvious that Apple is a follower and not a leader.
The iPhone 6 display has the same 326ppi rating as the iPhone 5S, the same 8MP camera, and no new standout cutting edge feature that Apple can point to and say this is the best on the market, although they aren’t shy about claiming that anyway. The new iPhone 6s are certainly going to be amongst the most expensive smartphones on the market.
We can’t go on specs alone because Apple has a knack of getting better results from apparently weaker hardware. The iPhone 6 won’t be in the top tier when the benchmarks come out, but it will be a lot higher than you’d expect based on the spec sheet alone.
What’s growing increasingly obvious in the smartphone market is that Apple is a follower and not a leader. A lot of people have been arguing this for years now anyway, but the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are surely irrefutable proof.
New Watch on the block
While the new iPhone 6 handsets had been thoroughly leaked before the event, there were a few surprises in store on the smartwatch front. The first one was the fact that it wasn’t to be called the iWatch, but instead the Apple Watch. This was really Apple’s big play of the night.
The company didn’t invent the smartphone, but when it released the iPhone it presented something better than what had come before. Apple didn’t invent the tablet either, but it repeated the trick of doing it better than the competition with the iPad. Smartwatches have been pouring onto the market for the last year or so, but no one has nailed it yet. Could Apple step in with another well-designed device?
It’s safe to say there isn’t very much that’s new with the Apple Watch, but then that’s not what Apple does.
Does the Apple Watch really represent a leap compared to what we’ve seen so far? It certainly isn’t drop dead gorgeous, it looks in keeping with what’s already out there. It’s safe to say there isn’t very much that’s new, but then that’s not what Apple does. It works on improving what’s already there and we’ll need a hands-on before we can say for sure whether it has or not. Samsung hasn’t exactly set a high bar here, but the Moto 360 will be serious competition.
The user interface looks thoughtful, the Apple Pay support could be handy, the redesigned apps look pretty slick, and it’s certainly more customizable than the iPhone. It’s interesting that Apple didn’t mention battery life. The Apple Watch also won’t be available until the New Year and, surprise, surprise, it’s going to be more expensive than the latest batch of Android Wear watches.
A lot of people still need convincing about the merits of smartwatches in general and there’s no guarantee they’ll catch the public imagination in the way analysts have been predicting.
We can’t write the Apple Watch off without trying it, but it’s tough to imagine that it will kick start the smartwatch industry in the same way the iPhone and iPad impacted the smartphone and tablet industries. If it fails to do that, then many will perceive it as a failure for Apple.
The downward spiral
People are always looking to predict doom for Apple and there’s no doubt that everything comes to an end eventually, but even before this announcement there weren’t many signs of problems in Apple’s bottom line with $7.7 billion net profit in the last fiscal quarter. Though, there’s already been a setback for the new iPhones in China, the world’s largest smartphone market. The New York Times reports that the release has been delayed because the new devices have not yet been approved by the Ministry for Industry and Information Technology and a new release date has not yet been agreed. There could be political motivations behind this, with accusations about foreign companies like Apple posing a threat to national security, which is remarkably similar to what a U.S. House intelligence committee claimed about Huawei and ZTE a couple of years ago.
We’ll soon find out how successful the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, and the Apple Watch are going to be. We might not see any real innovation there, but whether that matters in a business sense is debatable because Apple has already carved out a highly profitable niche and if it can get iPhone owners to stick with the brand then it doesn’t need to steal new customers away from Android to remain firmly in the black.
We can say we’re unimpressed and we won’t be buying, but the truth is, Apple isn’t pitching at us. A lot of people will be impressed by what Apple showed off. A lot of people don’t really care about specs. A lot of people believe Apple is still a leader. If this is really the beginning of the end for Apple you can expect it to be a very slow decline.