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Few launches from the last few months contained more hype and frenzy than the recent Apple event — which saw the launch of the iPhone 6S and other tech marvels such as the Apple TV and iPad Pro. I was not going to comment but reading the massive amount of analysis, commentary, and the usual trolling on various forums got me thinking.
Apple launched, as it regularly does, a range of new and updated products. It does this every year around this time, and gets the product to market right on time to capitalise on the holiday frenzy that hits every year from now. In and of itself, this not actually big news anymore. The timing simply makes excellent business sense.
The cadence of new models and upgraded models continues with 2015 being the S year for iPhones and the other releases being bigger better and more integrated with Apple’s vision of the future. Commentators have vacillated from abject awe to complete denigration.
They mostly miss the point, although a few lone voices have seen the bigger picture.
The most notable of these voices in South Africa is Hilton Tarrant with this article on MoneyWeb. The focus here was the Apple TV, arguably the Trojan horse of the event, although it was overshadowed in the end by the new iPhone 6S and 6S +.
Back to my opening statement, things fly by and the world press can’t wait for the next big thing, expectations have generally created a monster of dissatisfaction. Unless it is “Earthshattering”, “ground-breaking”, or an “industry first”, any announcement, especially from the former darling of the media, Apple, gets lumped into the “not-good-enough” category.
Apple is the master of the show with its secret build up and its careful control of the media and its almost paranoid protection of its next big thing. What was missed in all the hype and the hyperbole, is that Apple has been consistently changing the game, beyond the original iPhone launch, it just did not do so in one go. Since the release of the iPhone in 2007 there has been a clear vision of what and where Apple was going.
Again what is missed is that it is most definitely not about the gadgets that Apple produce. Even though they may be huge money spinners in and of themselves. The iPhone as a product produces over 50% of the profits at Apple and dominates 92% of the global operating income in mobile, despite having only 20% share of the world’s smartphone market.
This hugely profitable product obscures the true agenda. It is and never was about the phone. Apple have always focused on the ecosystem around the devices. This ecosystem and partner focus has never been clearer. New products are introduced at launches by what they can do and then the specifications and price are announced. Medical applications, gaming applications, TV, search, and more, are always demonstrated before the hardware specs and attributes.
That has always been the Apple way. Simply put, the focus is on what the product needs to do and how it can integrate within the Apple ecosystem and benefit the user. Apple App store and its ecosystem of developers, partners, and platforms, from the medical and education industry, to big business, notably IBM and Cisco, flesh out a vison of inclusive and comprehensive technology hegemony.
The iPhone truly is a triumph of function over form. Not to say that form is not a critical component. The outstanding execution of form makes the function that much more interesting, but the form never dominates the function. Apple has always produced absolutely brilliantly made and finished products, with attention to detail, including subtle usability, that no manufacturer has yet managed to truly duplicate. Many though, have done an excellent job of copying on a hardware level. The fact that Apple can do this at prices that a many can afford and still make huge profits, is currently the holy grail of modern business.
There are competitors such as Google that are on a similar path, but what keeps Apple out front, is its singular focus on its vison of what technology should do. Part of which is that it is not about the hardware and features and flashy form factors — a fact Samsung and most others truly do not appreciate. If you try to compete with Apple on hardware only it simply will not work.
Apple has year by year, announcement by announcement, since day one, built on its vision of truly making technology a beneficial and essential part of the users daily life, from ease of use to intelligent assistants living on your wrists or in your TV. Each element is not always unique and often others have done it first, the key is in the application, and execution. The breadth and scope of how Apple is pulling it all together is mind-boggling in scale.
What Apple is doing and continues to do is to integrate the functionality on a hardware, software, and ecosystem level, with a keen understanding of how all of us gain from the interaction of technology with daily life. Nothing highlighted this more than the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch arguably did little better that a host of competitive products. Unlike its competitors though, it unobtrusively integrated into everything else Apple does. More importantly, it became incredibly useful in extending and assisting the use of the Apple ecosystem. Developers and users will drive innovative functionality in ways we cannot imagine going forward. The fact that the Apple Watch looks good and has fashionable friends is an added and critical bonus.
The Apple TV does the exact same thing in an equally subtle and effective way. Apps in your living room may not make much sense right at this moment, but add all the other technologies from phone, to watch, to computers, to the smart home, throw in the Internet of Things and big data, all tied together with iOS and OSX and the overall picture becomes a lot clearer. Combine this with the unparalleled Apple developer ecosystem and years of constant refinement and building that Apple has engineered, and you have a complete revolution in use and usability.
For those that have bought into the Apple ecosystem it’s simple, easy, and most of all rewarding. This is not to say there are no others who do a superb job. The main differentiator is that they create these spectacular efforts in an uncoordinated and erratic manner. The 2014 device may be a flop and then 2015 device is a spectacular success. This cycle repeats across manufacturers and product as they keep chasing the next big thing.
Step back from the madness, ignore the speed, and see the cohesive comprehensive and incremental growth of Apples vision of the future. A future where technology is an inseparable adjunct to daily life. Led and fed the Apple way. Love it or hate it, you just cannot ignore it. Apple has the head start and the scale to deliver on its vision, where many others simply do not.
Technology enables and assists in almost every aspect of modern society and the execution takes consistent focused development over many many years. The next big thing takes time and often the best big thing is the one you don’t even notice. The next big thing may well be alive right now and living in your TV. Hey Siri.