Saturday, September 27, 2014

Apple’s Groundhog Day

Posted By on Sat, Sep 27, 2014 at 9:02 AM

click to enlarge ANDREY BAYDA | SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Andrey Bayda | Shutterstock
Recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage to announce a few new products and demo videos of the company's latest technology. The event, though streamed online, was shown to a highly selective audience of industry analysts, tech bloggers and journalists.

Apple’s product launch is the one presentation each year that “fanboys” like myself watch with rapt attention, and the one that Microsoft or Google customers love to hate. But as I watched this year’s event, I noticed that it's starting to become a spectacle like Groundhog Day.

When Punxsutawney Phil pops out of his hole and "announces" six more weeks of winter or an early spring, some participants wind up happy, and some are disappointed. Similarly, financial analysts, app developers, graphic designers and even casual consumers split after an Apple product launch: some feel relief or excitement, and others sighs of frustration.

With this particular event, I find myself in the latter camp.

Case in point: Apple’s best selling product is still the iPhone, but this year’s new iPhones are quite uninspiring. Sure, we got all the standard fare with a product refresh — a thinner phone with better graphics, faster processing speeds, a better camera, a few new apps, etc — but there’s really nothing that compelling for an upgrade. These kinds of improvements to a product are to be expected, with no fanfare, in the way a car manufacturer improves its models each year.

This time around, Apple’s offering us a bigger screen as the impetus to upgrade, and if that’s not enough, you can get a much bigger screen; it makes me wonder if Apple’s running out of ideas for the iPhone. 

There was one big announcement that was very interesting, a brand new product that Apple’s never had before: the Apple Watch. It’s been interesting to see how tech bloggers have responded, with a lot more negativity than I expected, in the days since the unveiling.

I don’t wear a watch, and think it would take a lot to convince me to wear one. (I have an iPhone, why would I have a watch, too?) However, when analyzing Apple as a manufacturer of consumer tech products, I think it’s a step in the right direction. There’s a compelling case to be made that wearable technology is the next frontier in “the Internet of things.” Many tech companies have already begun the rush to develop all kinds of products that you can wear and take anywhere (Jawbone’s “UP” fitness wristband and Microsoft’s “Smart Contact Lenses,” for example).

I’m really quite optimistic about the Apple Watch — and thank God they called it the “Apple Watch” instead of the “iWatch." 

Most of the criticism I’ve heard so far about the Apple Watch is based on two kinds of comments, the first being, “Who needs a watch that does all those things?” I’ll be quick to point out that when the first iPhone came out in 2007, a lot of people were saying, “Who needs to have the Internet on their phone?” Yet clearly, half a billion iPhones later, plenty of people decided that the Internet on their phone is exactly what they needed.

The original iPhone was revolutionary in concept, but also a piece of junk in terms of quality; the camera was terrible, the Internet was unbelievably slow, and the battery life was horrendous by today’s standards. But it essentially launched an entirely new form factor for cell phones that didn’t exist before.

The second criticism I’ve heard of the Apple Watch — which I think makes even less sense — is the price point. The watch starts at $349 and will, ostensibly, go up significantly (perhaps even thousands of dollars) from there based on your choice of straps and accessories. But the base price is nearly half that of an iPhone, and there are no monthly contracts. This is not lost on me, and as I said, I don’t even wear a watch.

The only danger I see her is that Apple’s ventured far beyond its comfort zone, now creating products in a genre that are often purchased only for their stylistic value. Other manufacturers have done the same for a while — Samsung and Sony, for instance — but the jury is still out on whether the average consumer will purchase wearable tech or not. It remains to be seen whether Apple, though famous for their style and design ethos, will be able to overcome this hurdle, as technology has always been the backbone for their products’ appeal.

I’ll be watching with interest to see what the next step is for Apple, as it tries to retain its crown as one of the largest, most profitable tech companies in the world, and the one with the highest brand loyalty. For now, I think our friend the Groundhog is predicting an early spring, but since we know his track record is about as spotty as it gets, your guess is as good as mine. We may all get a snow day soon.

Ron is a web guy, IT guy, and Internet marketer living in Colorado Springs with his wife and five children. He can often be overheard saying things like "Get a Mac!" and "Data wins arguments,” wandering around the downtown area at least five days a week. Follow him on Twitter at @ronstauffer or email him at indy@ronstauffer.com. Questions, comments and snide remarks are always welcome.

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