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September 10, 2014 Anuj Srivas
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Reuters

In 1997, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs returned to the company that he was so unceremoniously ejected from a few years earlier, beginning a second innings that the Wall Street Journal christened the Second Coming of Apple and Steve Jobs.

It would be quite bold to state that today’s announcements—packed as they were with new iPhones, a Watch and U2’s Bono—represented a Third Coming or a shift into a different phase, but it is difficult to see it any other way.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the presentation is the fact that Apple is finally stepping out from Steve Jobs’ shadow. You can see it in the decision to drop the i-Naming convention, Tim Cook’s decision to embrace the ‘One More Thing...’ slide, the unveiling of a product category that Steve Jobs may have not approved of, and so on.

But more importantly, today is a culmination of the last three years. CEO Tim Cook has taken decisions to fire popular executives who couldn’t work under his leadership and also to be more open and embracing of its developers (new programming languages, relaxing of NDAs etc.). This is a brand new direction for Apple. The company is no longer the underdog that Steve Jobs spent a lifetime portraying them to be and today’s announcements (and WWDC earlier this year) reflect that.

Not only has this reflected in the products—which we’ll take a look at a little bit below—but also in the location of the event itself; the Flint Centre was where Steve Jobs marked his return to the company with the unveiling of the iMac.

The iPhone 6 Plus – Definitely the least exciting thing from a pure product standpoint, but conversely the most exciting from a market and strategy perspective.

The decision to go with a 5.5-inch screen is almost purely a responses to market pressures. Across Asia, there is huge demand for bigger screen smartphones. Samsung has carved out its highly popular Note niche on this basis—and there is a little doubt that future iPhone growth will be driven by bigger screens.

From a product arrangement standpoint, this makes things tricky. Based on initial hands-on reviews, the 6 Plus looks like it may end up cannibalizing the iPad Mini if the general consumer audience ends up taking to it. The iPad Mini and the iPad will no longer be able to rest safely in the “tablet category” with the 6 Plus. Therefore, this could put pressure on Apple into turning the iPad into a ‘laptop-killer’, the way Microsoft is trying to do with the Surface Pro 3. This of course will have a domino effect on the Macbook Air line-up.

Apple Watch – It is clear that this product is Tim Cook’s baby. It was the only product in the line-up that Cook introduced, and the one product that had the honor of being clubbed with the ‘One More Thing’ slide.

It’s also been clear for some time that the watch had to be an acceptable fashion accessory AND prove to be technologically groundbreaking in some way. The stress on lifestyle was evident from the number of fashion journalists invited— including the Vogue’s Alexandra Shulman—and the decision to trifurcate the watch into three different finishes.

Not only is the watch stunning in terms of appearance (though Vogue is yet to take a stand), there are a number of clear Apple characteristics (the heartbeat communication), quirky use-cases (Walkie-Talkie ability anyone?) and user interface ‘innovations’ (the digital crown, whose success is yet to be determined).

In terms of pure software applications, it is difficult to immediately argue that this is miles ahead of Android Wear. However, the very nature of the Watch paves the way for fascinating new forms of social messaging.

What is missing, however, is an absolutely compelling use-case; a factor that will make sure the Apple Watch is a must-buy. While American customers will have Apple Pay (which we will come to a little later), the rest of the world may be left a little unsure. What is important to understand is that there may be crucial, yet not immediately discernible, details that will make it successful. My hunch is that it will have more to do with the fact that Apple Watch is clearly being introduced to the world as a watch and not as a wearable. Apple Watch is clearly a watch.

Galaxy Gear and Android wear are clearly wearables. Another important fact: we have no details on connectivity and battery life, which is a vital factor in deciding whether the Apple Watch will be the next iPhone.

Apple Pay: The new payment system is clearly the magic sauce that ties the new device ecosystem together. The ingredients are all there: the Apple Watch is the carrier vector and the large number of merchants that Apple announced are those who are willing to take a chance on eliminating the physical credit card.

Apple is clearly going where the money is, as analyst Horace Dediu has pointed out. The very fact that a payment system has received ‘Apple’ branding (unlike the company’s music service iTunes) speaks volumes in itself.

The company is also naturally stressing on the fact that it is adding value by adding security to the whole payment process. “Apple doesn’t know what you bought, where you bought it, or how much you paid for it,” Tim Cook beamingly announced, in a clear dig at Google. And he’s right—though whether security will prove to be a good enough assurance for wide-spread use is still yet to be seen.

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