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Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage to announce a few new products and demo videos of the company’s latest technology. The presentation, though offered via streaming online, was given 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 is 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 celebrate, while 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, share 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 make iPhone owners want to pony up the cash for a new one. These kinds of general product improvements are to be expected, with no fanfare, in the way a car manufacturer improves its models each year.
This time around, however, Apple’s offering us—wait for it—a bigger screen as the impetus to upgrade to an iPhone 6. If that’s not enough, you can even get a MUCH bigger screen with the iPhone Plus; it makes me wonder if Apple’s running out of ideas for the iPhone.
There was one 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 that tells me the time, why would I need a watch?) 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 (Google Glass, Jawbone’s “UP” fitness wristband and Microsoft’s “Smart Contact Lenses,” for a few examples).
I’m quite optimistic about the Apple Watch — and thank God they called it the “Apple Watch” instead of the “iWatch” like some folks predicted.
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?” 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 (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 real danger I see here is that Apple has 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 aesthetic, 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 spotty, your guess is as good as mine. We may all get a snow day soon.
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Originally published at the Colorado Springs Independent.