Thoughts on the new Apple Products

Safari001

I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s press event, in which Apple announced the expected iPhone SE, the smaller iPad Pro, new watch bands, and not a lot more in terms of product.

My favorite coverage: Michael Gartenberg on iMore, back from his stint inside the Cupertino cone of silence; Jason Snell on Six Colors; and of course John Gruber on Daring Fireball.

Almost half of the discussion was about non-product issues: Tim Cook touched on the FBI privacy fight, and Apple talked at length about it’s commitment to renewable energy and recycling and discussed the impact it’s health initiatives have been having — leading to the announcement of Carekit.

This hasn’t sat well with a lot of people, but I look at it a bit differently. First and foremost: this event was handled in the tiny Town Hall (seats 300ish). Apple very consciously uses the event venue as a way to start setting expectations: Big Stuff is done in big venues such as Moscone or Bill Graham in San Francisco. Mid-level events have gone to the Flint Center in Cupertino. Town Hall has been reserved for the smaller, evolutionary type products, and in fact, it’s use has been increasingly rare recently as Apple’s chosen to release via press release more for those kind of products.

Daring Fireball: I detect an undercurrent of “That’s it?” in the collective response to today’s event, but I’m not sure what Apple could have done differently.

So why didn’t Apple release yesterday’s products via press release?

I think there’s a key point that Ben Thompson made in Stratechery:

This price point will likely expand the market in the developed world, particularly given the replacement of subsidies with installment plans, but it’s most interesting in developing markets, especially India.

Town Hall only seats 300; the invite list for events there has to be a fascinating challenge for Apple. But if you look at the pictures that have popped up around the net about the crowds waiting to be let in, I realized I was seeing a lot of foreign press there, especially asian.

I think one thing being lost in the commentary about this event in the primarily English speaking and overwhelmingly US-centric writers is that key pieces of the product line announced is really aimed internationally, not at US. It looks to me like the press mix recognized this even if the US press and pundits didn’t.

I think that something being lost is that the discussion on the health and the environment — renewable energy and recycling — led the event wasn’t because it was filler, it was the item Tim wanted to get in front of everyone. The gear-centric echo chamber seems to have skimmed past that trying to get to the techie stuff, but if you stop and think  about it, this stuff’s important on many levels.

In many ways, this was an event that put a stake in the ground that Apple as a company cares about more than creating product and making money. This is clearly no longer Steve’s company but Tim’s, and Tim’s worldview is that Apple has a stake in and an obligation about leaving the world a better place than it found it. These are issues much bigger than matte versus polished bevels, and I think Apple is making it clear that — as a company — these bigger issues are going to increasingly be on the front lines of its activities.

I think people are ignoring the results we’ve already seen from the health initiatives, and the opportunities being created by the release of CareKit. These aren’t technologies likely to noticeably impact the bottom line, but they are initiatives that are impacting thousands and perhaps millions of lives. And have been ignored in the discussion because we want to talk about polished vs. matte bevels.

And I think that’s why they did this event instead of issue press releases: because they want to start the conversation they have with us to be about these other, bigger issues at least as much as they are about the products.

Gartenberg: That’s one thing I felt permeated the event — a lack of energy.

I’m not sure I agree. I don’t think it was a lack of energy, I think it was measured and the hype meter was set to a level appropriate to the products and topics at the event. I also think that this is an aspect of the maturation of Apple as a company and the shift of Apple towards the tone and personality that leads it in Tim Book.

In some ways I believe Apple is fixing a problem I’ve believed it needed to address going back the last few years; when Steve came back and took over the helm, Apple was a failing company with meh to mediocre products, and the general belief was that Apple was dying so why bother with it? And Steve had to fix the products, fix the marketing, and convince all of us that Apple was relevant and worth our time and attention. And in reality, he did all of this, but it required that to keep our attention for many years everything Apple did had to be big, have major impact, be revolutionary and change the world for us — and in all honesty, much of the time the products really were (well, except for the Cube). But that meant that Apple and Steve had to ramp up the marketing and hype and generate a lot of noise for a long time just to keep people paying attention — and now we’re all conditioned to everything being big and the PR being noisy and the hype being off the charts.

That doesn’t serve Apple well these days. Apple is a mature company in maturing markets. In investment terms, it’s making a transition from being a growth-oriented company to a value one, something that is at the core of it’s decision to start issuing dividends.

We’ve also seen huge revolutionary changes in Apple’s products: the creation of the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple TV starting it’s move into the living room, HomeKit, the Watch, CareKit… I think, however, that the next phase of Apple is more evolutionary, where these products are improved and evolved, but without the kind of “this is the iPhone” type major shifts in reality.

But we’re conditioned to the hype and noise and “this changes everything”, so when Apple doesn’t set the hype to 11, we’re left thinking something’s wrong.

Nothing’s wrong, it’s just that not everything deserves the kind of “reality distortion field” hype that Steve brought to things, and this new Apple under Tim is becoming more comfortable with not needing to turn everything into more than it is. It’s starting to teach us to not need the taser to get our attention, but that’s a process that will take time, just like it took time for Steve’s Apple to convince everyone that it wasn’t doing to fail.

So I think it was a fine event, scaled to the venue and the topics. I’m happy to see them not hyping stuff beyond what they are.

And I’m happy to see what Apple’s become under Tim: a bit more mature, confident about what it’s doing, willing to take stands, think about more than product and profit, and willing to sit down and talk to us about those things instead of stand up on the stage with a megaphone.

Apple has grown up. It has traded in that 68 Charger with the slick rear tires and the glass packs and stereo you can hear three blocks away for something a little more — practical. Not a mini-van; god, no. Probably a Tesla. For now.

I loved Steve’s Apple; hell, I lived through that crazy time on the inside. But I have to admit, I’m really coming to respect Tim’s Apple, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of it over the next few years.