During the cold war, a starting phrase that begins all the best topical blog posts, when the USA was on Not Speaking terms with the USSR, the only way to work out what the political situation in Russia could be was to examine the official photos of events, and take notes of who was standing closest to the leaders, and whose star appeared to be fading. This gave breath to the word “Kremlinology”, the inference of probable facts from disparate unconnected information. Since Apple are so secretive about their intentions and arcs, media covering them generally make things up based on what seems to be true. I’m going to do that in a bit, but I don’t think my guesses will be better than anyone else’s.
I’m wary, though, of anyone who has financial incentive for Apple’s stock price to change. Think-pieces on how Apple “has to launch a new product this quarter” and is “doomed” (frequently) if it doesn’t follow a specific trend. I’m frequently amazed at how many announced (unlaunched, unspecified, and some times *in research & development*) products get reported as being able to kill Apple. A lot of people stand to make a lot of money on long bets of Apple’s stock price, because – like the London property market – it has gone from a thing that is what it is, to being a Financial Item, and is therefore being played by people who have no interest in the market around it, only in the the number it is tagged with. Apple is one of the few companies in its ballpark that knows the meaning of the word “Doomed” from a business perspective. The company has seen how it happens, and it has recovered.
I’m also ignoring the Android “war” in this. I chose my ecosystem a long time ago, and I’m invested in it. Since my first iPhone in 2008, I’ve sunk hundreds of pounds into apps and daily processes that apply to it. My thoughts on “Apple’s copying what X did Y time ago” are that it’s great that my ecosystem can do some of the things yours can do, equally it’s nice that your ecosystem’s picked up tricks from Apple. Rising tide, all ships, etc. Android’s got the market share – more people own Androids than any other smartphone OS. iOS sells fewer units than Android, but Apple makes more money than HTC. Actually, the only real winner is Samsung, since they manufacture iPhone parts and also the competing Samsung phones. Neither company has refrained from bitchy comments, though. Apple’s new Android app to help you move over to iOS was introduced as “The neighbourly thing to do” in a snide comment, and Samsung buying adwords on “iPhone 6S” with bitchy comments was just as bad. The shit-slinging is just petty.
Having said that, the iPad Pro is a broadside shot against the MS Surface. I’m not a fan of the surface keyboards – I’m told there’s a newer one that might be better, but the travel on the keys has always been something that didn’t work for me. The smart-case with a built-in keyboard looks a lot nicer to type on, though I’d need to try it. The screen looks absolutely glorious, though. It was hilarious to watch them announce a keyboard that was on a direct descending line from the Surface Keyboard and then introduce Microsoft on stage to do the dull office stuff and validate use of the prefix “Pro”.
One of the main problems the iPad seems to have – at least for me – is there’s no compelling upgrade path. My phone is tied to a contract I renew every couple of years anyway, and even my laptop is on a 3/4 year obsolesce path due to hard-drive and memory upgrades, but my only compelling reason to stop using my iPad 2 was the retina screen, and even then it took me until the iPad Air to even consider the upgrade. I’ve not even looked at Air 2 upgrades, and another “thinner, lighter, faster” speedbump upgrade wouldn’t change it. My iPad is a reading and triage device, primarily existing to watch comics/movies/TV or to triage Omnifocus tasks, email, Teamwork tickets. One of the reasons it’s not a note-taking device in general is that my soft-keyboard skills aren’t that fast, and writing on it – even with a stylus – is a pain. The Pencil and the Pro look really nice, offer a new use-case for the device, and generally turn a bigger/faster/shinier update into a fairly compelling upgrade.
Notably, though, the iPad Pro’s missed Apple’s new interaction method. From the video, they needed to rework how the screen sensors pick things up in order for the Pencil to work properly, and in the 6S they reworked the screen for 3D Touch, and I guess those things just couldn’t be reconciled into the same device yet. It’ll be interesting to see if the Pencil support makes its way down the line to the smaller devices, or is reserved for the iPad Pro line; but dollars to donuts Touch 3D climbs up from the iPhone with the next hardware revisions.
No new iPads this year, though. Apple works in cycles, and for the last few years the iPads have shared a stage with the OS X release with the October announcements, but for the first few (iPad 1 though to iPad 4) the iPads were part of their own annual announcement in Spring. This year, Spring was the Apple Watch big release (having been teased in the autumn), so I’m wondering if iPads are moving to the Spring announcement with the next Watch. The announcement of the new iPad Mini 4 crammed in at the end of the Pro announcement weirds that out a bit, but maybe they wanted to get the new Mini out in time for christmas.
Apple TV looks good. The big thing it does is aggregate all the places you *could* see a film into one searchable archive (so you find Matrix *first* before finding out it’s not on Netflix but is on iTunes). I’m hoping this has some kind of app-interface, so Plex can say “I’ve got it!” or Amazon Prime – very notable by its absence across the entire presentation – can be plugged in quickly. I’m betting not, though.
The iPhone 6S is a nicer phone in the same case with better camera. Sold. The Force Touch / 3D Touch looks interesting, but seems a little mystery-meat in its navigation. How do you know if a thing can be pushed hard on? It’s all very well to talk about “exploration” and “discovery” in apps, but it’s not accessible. Plus, does it really do anything you couldn’t have done with touch-and-hold?
The final big thing was slipped in at the end, though. Apple As A Service, where you pay a monthly subscription and get a new phone every year. Apple’s finding a way around the 24 month phone contract stranglehold, I think, in order to try and consolidate its customers on an annual loop instead of a biannual one. The implementation is kind of sketched-out and clunky on the site right now, it seems to involve a 24 month loan from a 3rd-party bank, with no mention of the upgrade at 12 months bit, and doesn’t seem to answer basic hire/purchase questions such as “Is the phone mine at the end” and “am I still liable for the rest of the 24 months if I lose or break it, even under insurance” but also missing is “is this coming to the UK” so for me, at least, the point’s moot.
As mentioned on twitter, the entire Macintosh line got the same amount of stage time today as the Lisa II. Post PC society, indeed.