Apple kicked off their yearly World Wide Developer’s Conference earlier this month with their opening keynote, which they’ve traditionally used as a platform for showcasing upcoming software releases, as well as minor product refreshes and announcements.
This year, the focus was all things software— Apple announced OS X El Capitan (named after a landmark California rock formation in Yosemite), iOS 9, and WatchOS 2. They also launched their new music service: Apple Music.
It’s a long-running “joke” in the online tech community that Apple is constantly playing “catch up” to their competitors in terms of their product features. From a business perspective, I am usually inclined to disagree with this oversimplified and trivialization of the single-most valuable company in the world’s proven product strategy. It’s completely sound to allow your competitors to ‘go first’ and test out the waters— it allows you to learn from their mistakes and make something better. It’s also a good business strategy to stagger new features so that a) your product is not too expensive and unstable as a result of feature bloat, and b) (this is the more nefarious tinfoil-hat-sounding one) there’s always a new element to entice people to buy your product instead of just sticking with the old one.
However, the tech enthusiast and Apple user in me can’t help but be somewhat disappointed. “Sound business strategy” and “excitement” rarely exist in the same instance. The only people who could be truly excited by these “new” software updates are Apple purists. We all know a few— people who, for some reason or another, strictly adhere to the Apple ecosystems. The new split-screen mode for the iPad is invaluable for power users (where having true multitasking is important). So, of course someone whose tablet experience has culminated an iPad will be excited by this news. The problem is, split screen mode alone will not be very useful for power-usage without a dedicated stylus and palm rejection (which allows for you to rest your palm on the screen without causing the tablet to confuse it for an input).
This may not be immediately apparent to Apple-only users. But for anyone who’s ever used a Surface Pro 3 for at least a couple of minutes, the omissions are glaring. (It took exactly that amount of time for me to realize I had to buy one— I’ll post a full in-depth review once my girlfriend returns from Indonesia with it.) Nevertheless, I suppose “it’s better than nothing” applies in this situation. Hopefully, the inclusion of this feature in iOS 9 is a way to get people used to the idea, with a more robust solution coming in the future. Possibly the rumored iPad Pro that’s been circulating for a while.
Maps & other Apps
Other “new” additions Apple introduced at WWDC as coming to iOS 9:
- Maps now has transit directions. (Truly long overdue— Google Maps has had real-time transit directions since 2011. Also, still, not quite good enough— where are the bicycle directions?)
- Newsstand has been “replaced” by News, which looks to be a news aggregator in the vein of Flipboard. Considering Newsstand was never a news aggregator, but a pointless pseudo ‘folder’ that stored all your magazine/newspaper apps, this seems like a bit of marketing misdirection. I guess it’s a lot more of an elegant keynote announcement to make rather than say “Newsstand was an unnecessary app that ended up not working out and we’re scrapping it. Also, we’re introducing our own version of Flipboard”
- Apple Music— the culmination of the “other” part of the multi-billion Beats acquisition Apple finalized in August of last year. Apple finally comes into the music-streaming-service game, after floundering and falling behind in the wake of services like Spotify gaining mass popularity. With a 3-month free trial, and a strong value-oriented “family plan”, it will be interesting to see how much of Spotify’s market share Apple manages to gobble up.
Apple Watch “finally” gets it’s wings
The other big announcement made was concerning Apple’s new Watch. While coming out of the gate with a solid build quality, battery life, and OS design, the Apple Watch has received criticism for its apps not doing very much outside of being simple alert/remote extensions of their iPhone apps. This is set to change with Apple’s announcement that stand-alone Watch apps will be coming to the second iteration of the WatchOS this Fall.
According to reports, the Apple Watch is the first post-Jobs product from Apple. While clearly a derivative of the iPhone, it is the first full-on product launch overseen by Job’s replacement as Apple CEO, Tim Cook. While the Apple Watch enjoyed a healthy launch, with orders sold out for weeks, there have been problems maintaining the rate of growth, with digital commerce analysis firm Slice Intelligence reporting a 90% decline in sales since release. While it would not be prudent to rush to declare the Apple Watch as “dead”, its success (or lack thereof) will be an important barometer for Tim Cook’s efficacy as Apple’s leader. While Apple remains the number-one public corporation in the world based on Market Capitalization by a wide margin, It can not afford to make the recent dives a habit. Whether or not it is fair, the coming year will be a big indicator in the future of Apple under Cook, and his future as CEO.