It’s the morning after the introduction of the iPhone 7, and I thought I’d take a few minutes to explain my thoughts on the products announced yesterday and the event itself. In reading the coverage, I think two pieces sync up with my thoughts well: Ben Thompson on Stratechery and Jason Snell on SixColors.
It’s interesting to step back and look at how the reality of the event matched up with the rumors leading into it. The rumors got a lot of details correct, including the dual cameras in the 7s, but a huge portion of the announcements yesterday — from Nintendo’s partnership and games to the W1 wireless chip to everything about the Earpods except the name — show how the rumors leading up to these things can bias both our view of it and media coverage.
One of the earliest things to leak was the phone chassis, and because it wasn’t massively changed, that created a media story about how this phone was going to be a mere tweak and this update incremental and boring. It set expectations that Apple tried hard to overcome, but it’s unclear how well the general public will pick up on it.
In fact, there’s some massive technology improvements in the new phone; the new camera technology is stunning in ways that make the dual lens hardware bit seem almost trivial. The new wireless chip looks like it may really smooth the bumps and pains we all know with bluetooth (but reality will tell over time), and Apple stuck a flag in the ground to make it clear that’s their future direction. That should be no surprise to anyone paying attention. The upgraded processor in the new phones significantly improves its horsepower, and Apple added battery in recognition of our shift towards heavier duty applications on the phone (cough Pokemon go cough). I’m fascinated by them putting FOUR CPUs in the phone, two heavy-hauling processors and two low-power processors, and having the system switch between them. Apple doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the work they do at the system level to improve battery usage, especially from those demanding they simply lather on more battery with a butter knife… For a nice reasoned look at the phone, check out the Verge’s piece.
The improvements on the Watch are pretty impressive, also: a massive improvement in processing power in the 2nd gen “Series 2” phones, which they also retrofit into a 2nd edition of the first gen phone, now known as the Series 1, as opposed to the first gen model, which I guess is the 2015 model. I think retrofitting the new CPU into the old phone was a smart move, because while WatchOS 3 goes a long way towards improving the original watch, for App developers, the improved CPU/GPU on the watch is going to be key, and this will get those into the hands of more users. For us owners of first gen watches, I think the devices will be fine for now, but in a year or so, expect them to show their age as WatchOS apps mature and take advantage of new features. But Kudos for Apple on the new Watch software for not just thanking first gen buyers and then innovating them into a corner.
Oh, and Apple removed the headphone jack, as expected. And everyone is screaming and yelling, as expected. And I get that. But as I’ve been saying, the message Apple has been getting seems to be You Must Innovate! But Don’t Change Anything! and the only possible response to that is Physics Wins.
Apple did a good job of explaining the technical issues behind the decision to remove the jack in an interview with Buzzfeed. that said, I don’t think that’s all the story: the existence of the W1 chip and it’s ability to streamline and enhance wireless device pairing and connectivity shows the removal of the jack plays to larger, longer-play plans as well.
And while Apple explained their case well with Buzzfeed, I don’t think they did as well during the announcement. Clearly knowing the criticism that was coming, they laid out the case in great details, but to be honest, the Phil Schiller “Courage” dance fell flat with me. The idea behind it was sound and a correct strategy, but the use of that word and the way they explained it had the wrong tone. They would have done a lot better talking around that point rather than facing it directly, and I think it kept people from hearing the rest of their argument during the event. A moderate mis-step beacuse I think they came across as trying too hard to settle the controversy (which would never be settled, except by time. As I’ve said, in two years this level of upset will be seen as almost quaint, but that doesn’t minimize the reality of the disruption we’ll go through getting there).
So Apple came into the event with weak expectations because of the leaks causing a focus on superficial and cosmetic details — but lets be honest, the iPhone depends on a style/design attraction as well, so these issues are important (but it’s not the lead feature each time, which gets forgotten) — and there were some sour notes in the event itself, especially the “Courage Dance” that sidetracked us fro the meat of the event. And that’s too bad, because the good stuff was really good, but it’s muted in the conversation because of the other distractions.
Overall, though, I give the event a B or B+. Not their best, clearly not their worst. Very solid technology jumps, a nice enhancement to the watch and a strong message of Apple moving forward into a wireless future.
So, what’s on the menu for a meetup between Apple’s products and my credit card?
iPhone 7: Laurie and I are both on iPhone 6, so it’s our time in the cycle to upgrade, and we will. I knew going in I’d have to choose between the iPhone 7 or the Plus with the enhanced camera, because I don’t like the larger phone size nearly as much. And after sleeping on it, both of us agree: it’s the 7. There are enough enhancements to the camera system overall and we just don’t feel the need for that second lens enough to go to the larger more expensive phone. So 128Gb Blacks for both of us (but not day one, due to various logistics; we’ll order when we get back from an upcoming trip)
Watch series 2: looks very interesting, but I want to live with WatchOS 3 on the existing one for a while. I expect to order a new watch in the next six months or so, but not right away. I do think it’s a worthy upgrade, I don’t think it’s a must have right away for me.
Earpods: I’m not a fan of in-ear headphones, so I’m not going in this direction. I am, however, looking at some of the Beats stuff with the W1 chip to see whether any catch my eye.
One talking point I haven’t really seen enough thought on
Missing from this event entirely: New Macs. This was expected, given the rumors, but still frustrating. On the plus side, Sierra has gone GM and is shipping in two weeks (with IOS shipping next week), and if my guesses are correct, the new Mac announcements can’t happen until Sierra is shipping to support them, so here’s hoping this logjam of updates finally clears out in early October for those of us desperately wishing for new Macs to buy (on my wishlist: a Mac Mini with iMac G5 horsepower; if I get it, I’ll get one along with a Macbook. If not, I’ll take a close look at what the 13″ Macbook pros can do. I’m wondering what the future of the Mini and Mac Pro are, and I’m hoping we’ll know by the end of October, because the current situation is terrible. But it’s clear Apple knows it, wishes it was fixed already, is tired of being yelled at about it, and is moving forward as fast as it can. How did it get to this point? Mostly a combination of a few decisions that went bad for Apple, and Intel’s CPU processor delays — I talk about it more here. And unfortunately with a company like Apple and its product lines, you can’t just make changes overnight, it’s a huge undertaking to get a product out the door, and it simply takes time.
So overall, I’m satisfied with what we saw yesterday. I’m a little disappointed that the leaks set an expectation that when you look at the phones, was clearly off-base, but which will be hard for Apple to fix — but that’s the reality of the market today. I think Apple tried too hard to argue the reasoning for the headphone jack removal and actuall hurt their cause by doing so, but in reality, nothing was going to make this controversy go away except time, adn the best response they had for it they actually did: they set the dongle’s price at only $9, and included one in the box. That’ll solve the problem for most people, except those looking for a reason to complain.
It may not have been a blown-away and the-universe-just-changed day, but it was a good day. Maybe a step or two short of a great day, but these are mature products where it’s harder and harder to find the earthshaking innovations — but the camera and CPU updates show there’s a lot going on inside Apple.
And we’re going to have to live through the inevitable noise and garment rendering over the headphone jack, buy a few dongles, and move on to the next thing, just like we did with the PowerPC->Intel, the ADB->USB migrations, the removal of the floppy disk and later the CD/DVD drives. It’s part of the process of innovation and evolution, and sometimes you simply can’t innovate without making changes that disrupt your users once in a while. Fortunately, Apple is thoughtful about deciding when that’s necessary, and seems to do so with a vision of what possibilities it creates for them and for us.
Time will tell, but I think this year’s event gives us a good look at that vision, and it’ll be worth it.