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Playing it safe: Apple’s best launch in years was also its least risky

It’s difficult to go into an Apple event objectively these days. If you’re a fan, which large numbers of the tech press are, then launch day is pretty much like Rex Manning Day for Mark in Empire Records. That is, something to be greeted with unbridled enthusiasm. For the non-fans, it’s all a bit sterile, a bit samey and about as exciting as a visit to the dentist.

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So where do these respective viewpoints stand after today’s launch? Well the fans will be pretty well pleased with everything (except maybe for a few Jobsian purists who will hate the idea of the iPhone 6 Plus). Even the most hard-pressed of cynics meanwhile have no choice but to admit that this launch showed just how unlikely it is that Apple will stop raking in enormous piles of cash.

Then again, the reason for that may well be that this was the safest Apple launch in a very long time.

Forgive me if you’ve heard this one before

Let’s start with the phones. The iPhone 6, in both variants, is thinner than the iPhone 5S, it has a better camera and the kind of processing power we were seeing on hardcore gaming computers just a few years ago.

The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus just makes business sense, even if its name is a little inelegant. Most of its competitors have had large screened phones for years now and they’ve sold well enough that it would’ve been pure folly for the Cupertino-based giant not to launch one.

“But it’s not innovative,” I hear you screaming, “everyone else has bloody well done it already!” Ignoring the fact that you could make that case from pretty much everything Apple’s ever built, that’s sort of the point. You just didn’t notice it under Jobs because his reality distortion field was so strong.

Indeed, it lasted for a good while after his death. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are very definitely products of Tim Cook’s Apple though: carefully planned, thought out and scrutinised to the nth degree before launch.

Don’t believe me, let’s take a look at the other headline gadget to come out of the launch.

Stop. Apple time

Cook may have borrowed Jobs’ “one more thing” line when he announced the Apple Watch, but it was hardly unexpected given that we’ve been awaiting its arrival for over a year now. It’s not flexible, it’s not see through and it doesn’t look like something out of a big-budget sci-fi flick. In fact, it pretty much just looks like a watch (or, more accurately whatever watch you want it to look like).

And that’s a good thing. Not if you’re an over-excitable Apple geek prone to bouts of hysteria but if you’re interested in the future of Apple as a company, then it’s very definitely important.

The Apple Watch’s looks, along with the integration of Siri and cool novelty features, like the ability to give your friends a wrist tap are all signs that Cook has been watching Apple’s competitors very carefully and learning from their successes and failures.

And that’s the story of all Apple’s big successes. It’s not about being first, or creating a new market segment, it’s about carefully studying an existing market segment and seeing how it can be improved to the point that people think you’ve invented the market segment.

With the proliferation of global tech publications like this one, that’s not as easy as it once was but there’s every chance Apple could do to smartwatches what it did to tablets and smartphones (even if it does end up being plagued by all the same issues, which is also a distinct possibility).

For the most vivid demonstration of how safe this launch was though, we need to step away from the physical products that were launched and toward something a little less tangible.

It’s all about the money

Apple Pay is a mobile wallet. No wait, don’t go away, we promise it’s not actually boring. You see, Apple’s tried to make paying for things using the service a one touch affair.

It’s something that’s made apps like Uber so successful (hardly surprising then that Uber is one of the first merchants on-board) and Apple’s entry into the space is probably as good a sign as any that the world’s ready for mobile payments to go mainstream.

Sure there are plenty of startups that are doing amazing work in the space, but none of them are Apple. None of them would’ve been able to bring dozens of retailers on-board and ensure that their service was usable at more than 200 000 locations on launch day.

What should we make of this very safe, very strategically thought out launch then? Well the ghost of Steve Jobs has very clearly been laid to rest and Tim Cook has really been able to make his mark on the company.

That means that Apple’s not trying to live up to the impossible, it’s not trying to beat out the people doing things as well as they can be done (dare we mention the Apple Maps fiasco at this point?).

It’s a company at ease with itself and playing to its strength: watching, studying and making tweaks until it has a product that it’s sure will sell in massive numbers.

Today there was just enough to keep the fans happy, but still wanting more and the cynics, well they’ll always be cynics.

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