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This was a particularly short, yet potent event. Let’s get to it.
Privacy, environment, and health
I don’t think it was a mistake that Apple structured their opening segment this way, as opposed to the usual updates. This is evidently the bottomline Tim Cook wants for Apple. I was particularly intrigued by the two new initiatives in both environment and health.
Firstly, in environment, they introduced a new recycling program that incentivises people with old devices to turn them in, called Apple Renew. They know that making their devices out of eco-friendly material isn’t enough, and that they have to end up in the right place. Their landing page for Renew leads to third party services that take you through the steps in exchanging your device for a gift card. Not announced onstage was a new trade-in program for iPhone that offers discounted monthly fees if you trade in your old phone. There’s a nice chart that makes the fees easy to understand. I really hope these are eventually made available internationally sometime in the future, at least to encourage a recycling culture in places like East Asia where trash and pollution are big problems.
Apple COO Jeff Williams talked about ResearchKit one year on and its unprecedented impact, including conducting the largest Parkinson’s study in history. I think it shows Apple’s deeper understanding of scale (along with the positive effects it can help them accomplish) and Apple’s holistic approach to hardware, software, and services that enables them to make things like ResearchKit immediately available. Now comes their next step in improving the medical process, CareKit, which makes it easier for patients to track their regimen and progress, and makes their information sharable to their doctor or loved ones.
Giving Jeff Williams a segment for health two years running implies its regularity from here on out, much more its importance within the company. It contributes to Apple’s argument for stronger encryption, as people are now putting more and more of their personal data through health apps developed with these frameworks.
It also very much differentiates Apple from its peers in Silicon Valley and other international tech companies that either rely on the “cool factor” in their products or participate in spec wars. Apple’s “force for good” approach is very admirable. I hope that they start encouraging other companies to do the same and use their scale to their advantage as well.
New Apple Watch bands
Apple introduced new nylon bands, as well as new colours for the existing leather and Milanese bands. Tim Cook called it their “spring collection”. They also dropped the price of the Sport model to $299, although there’s no news of price drops for the classic Watch model.
However I think what wasn’t announced is just as important as what was - there weren’t any hardware (pertaining to the Watch body itself) or software updates announced. It’s been almost a year since the current Apple Watch was made available for purchase and a year and a half since the product was announced.
It shows a different product approach by Apple than its other products, which I guess is something they can afford to do with the Watch since its a Version 1 product in a new product category, with no evident release cycles that they’re obliged to stick to besides new bands every few months. We’ll see if that’s a sustainable model eventually, but for now I think this is how the Watch ought to be treated to avoid added pressure for the engineering teams at Apple.
When the rumours came out, I compared the two bigs ones: the 6c with a 6/6s design, and the 5se with a 5/5s design. I concluded that in terms of addressing the 4” phone market, the 6c would make a better product, while the 5se was backwards thinking, but a good product nonetheless.
The iPhone SE announced today more closely resembles the 5se rumour externally, but I didn’t expect it to be so internally similar to the 6s. I think this comes to the size of the 4”-phone market. At the top of the segment, Apple VP Greg Jozwiak addressed the percentage of new iPhone users that bought a 4” phone, being more than half in China, perhaps their most important market today. I certainly didn’t expect the market to be that big, which is why I think Apple decided to pack as much as they could into the smaller 5/5s body, rather than pack in sub-par internals e.g. an older A8 chip, like with the iPod touch a few months before the 6s iPhones with A9 chips were announced.
Still, I can’t help but bemoan Apple releasing a “new” phone with a design that’s old already at launch, but will only be older as the product stays in the iPhone lineup. (Although the edges being matte as opposed to glossy is a very welcome change.) It’s not the design being old per se that annoys me, but it being a notable step down from the current curved phone designs that have a notable space-age aesthetic to the 5/5s’s machined aesthetic. However, there’s pragmatic reason behind it - a 5/5s design has more volume than a 4” 6/6s design, which is ideal for battery life. Jozwiak mentions battery life being improved over the 5s despite having the 6s specs.
While very similar to the 6s internally, there are a couple omissions, particularly 3D Touch. I think even Apple realises that 3D Touch is not a fully understood feature that people will go out of their way to get the latest iPhone for. John Gruber of Daring Fireball points out that the SE uses the slower, first-gen Touch ID sensor that came with the 5s and 6. He referred to these as tradeoffs, and that he was willing to put up with them, which I think will reflect the sentiments of the SE’s target market.
In the next post, the 9.7” iPad Pro and what I think about the event itself...