Apple’s “Hey Siri” Event Pt. 1

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This might be a difficult one to cover. Apple held their fall event a few days ago and unveiled a ton of stuff, more than usual for a single event. Let’s get straight to it.

Apple Watch

It was in the year-ago event that Apple Watch was seen for the first time. Now we see the first hardware updates since then with new gold Sport models and bands made in collaboration with Hermès.

Of course, the mere fact that a collaboration between Apple and a fashion company exists proves that Apple’s really banking on fashion as the next achievable competence for the company. But it cuts deeper than that - philosophically, the new bands (especially the cuff pictured above) should contradict Apple’s design philosophies.

Look no further than Apple’s own bands in comparison to the ones made with Hermès. For the most part, Apple’s bands are simple and straightforward in their design. On the other hand, the design of Hermès’s bands serve no different purposes to those of Apple’s other than to look different (even if it impairs comfortability) - and I have to say that these look great and complement the watch body well.

It reinforces the notion that Apple is letting the appearance of Apple Watch serve as the function, thus form following that. So, in a weird way, Apple doesn’t compromise that underlying belief that form should follow function. Here’s a quote from an article written by Ben Thompson that clarifies what I mean (emphasis mine):

 

“There has been a bit of consternation about Apple’s focus on “fashion” and all that entails, but there is a very practical aspect to this focus: people need to be willing to actually put the wearable on their body. While “form may follow function” for tools, the priorities are the exact opposite when it comes to what we wear: function is irrelevant without a form we find appealing. In this case, design actually is how it looks.

 

iPad Pro

This one will be difficult to predict the success of and understand without the benefit of hindsight, which makes me expect a lot of negative press when review units are sent out.

Apple’s really taking a gamble on this. They’re offering two new accessories exclusive to the iPad Pro: the Apple Pencil (careful not to call it a stylus) and the Smart Keyboard, at $99 and $169 respectively (the latter being a hefty price tag). Of course, last but not least, is the actual hardware - an A9X-powered humongous slab of glass with a super-responsive touch screen to reduce latency.

Even with all these, Apple knew they couldn’t do it on their own, turning to big name tech companies Microsoft and Adobe, well-known for being nemeses to Apple, to create iPad Pro apps. In addition, I expect IBM to create apps exclusive to the Pro as well.

Apple expects that professionals, at least prosumers, would understand the benefits of having such a device to the point that a lot of people would purchase it and use it in professional environments.  On paper, this should turn heads and really make a case for the product’s existence. Unfortunately, there’s one main thing that I think will prove to be a difficult roadblock for the iPad Pro...

There are big costs for those willing to invest in what is essentially a new way of working. Let’s talk numbers for a minute. The starting price for iPad Pro is $799 (which gives you just 32 GB of storage). A hundred dollars more gives you the Apple Pencil. Even with those two things alone costs you as much as the lowest-end Mac, the MacBook Air at $800. A hundred dollars more gives you the 13-inch MacBook Air. And so on and so forth.

In other words, iPad Pro treads over Mac waters in terms of price. I think Apple expects current Mac users to give the iPad a try. But I find it difficult to see why people would choose this as their next computer given the minor premiums they’d have to pay to access an improved, established Mac app ecosystem (and more powerful hardware, of course).

Furthermore, iPad is a relatively new ecosystem, at least in comparison to the 30+ years the Mac has been around. While it’s still an exciting new frontier, users and developers have much reason to be skeptical, developers especially because of the monetary viability of selling iPad apps, as paid iOS apps in general sell at much lower selling prices than Mac apps.

The new MacBook unveiled in March, which already has access to the reputable Mac app ecosystem, is already a hard sell - how much more would the iPad Pro be? Hopefully demand catches on and volume makes up for the costs, so incremental improvement can take shape, as with other Apple products. Until then, it’s hard to tell what will become of the iPad.

Personally, I feel it can be done. To make a big, capable slab of glass into a viable, if not wildly successful, computing platform shouldn’t be any harder to do than what we’ve done with the laptops and desktops that we now unanimously associate the term “computer” with.

Apple TV

It’s a good product. It’s perhaps not the game changer that people hoped that the successor to the old “hockey puck” Apple TV would be, but I think it’s a great starting point.

Apple’s in the business of laying down the groundwork for the future, not immediate successes. There’ve been rumours of Apple creating exclusive content like online media companies such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have been doing. If Apple chooses to do so (if they aren’t already), it would have to be somewhat profitable.

I think the pros of the new Apple TV, particularly its input methods (touch with the touchpad and voice with Siri) and entry price, still make it a great sell. Assuming this new model would propel Apple TV to some level of ubiquity in the near future, Apple would create for itself a great platform to release Apple-produced content (on top of iTunes on existing devices) and surefire exposure from the get-go.

The launching of the new platform ahead of anything content-related, rather than at the same time, I find particularly strategic. It lets the product in its essence, being the hardware and UX improvements, sell itself by its own merits. It’s been a long time since Apple could credit sales based on those alone, and I hope that such is the case with Apple TV.

With that said, Apple TV did not provide much of a gaming angle, much to many’s disappointment.

App Store games are notorious for being underwhelming in comparison to their Xbox/PlayStation/Nintendo counterparts (although, I think there are a few exceptions, such as the Infinity Blade franchise). Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t seem to recognise that and are relying on the reputation of the App Store in other respects while ignoring the specific needs of game developers that have much more expertise in regards to gaming on television.

In other words, I don’t expect big title franchises porting their biggest games over to Apple TV, instead taking the safe option of creating lightweight but lower quality games like they always have with iOS.

Another jarring flaw is that Apple TV doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Sure, the new remote has a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope for motion control. But the Nintendo Wii’s been there and done that, almost a decade ago. Other console makers tried creating accessories for motion control but as good as they could’ve been, they've not reached Wii-like peaks, making Apple TV’s chances in 2015 all the more slim.

Apple’s landing page for the new Apple TV states this:

 

“You can expect big, exciting games. Imagine apps that turn your living room into a fitness studio or a classroom. Or multiperson experiences that redefine family game night. We can’t wait to see where developers take this.”

 

It wouldn’t be surprising if a paraphrase of this had been somewhere on Nintendo’s website in 2006.

On the next post, the 6s iPhones and the event itself...