Apple product launch shows bravado, beauty

September 15, 2014

Apple’s announcements last week showed the strength of the company’s product design capabilities. No company can match its skills in industrial design, engineering and the integration of beautiful software and hardware. But Apple is also skilled in its ability to exaggerate. Without taking away from its accomplishments, Apple takes credit without embarrassment for features it hasn’t originated.

For example, the introduction of new iPhones with larger displays comes four years after Samsung and others made that leap. For the past two years, the most popular size display for other phones has been in the 5-inch range.

Just look at the offerings from Microsoft, Motorola, HTC, LG and Samsung. Nor does Apple lead the industry with the highest resolution displays. In fact, if you move from an iPhone 5S to an iPhone 6, the sharpness drops slightly.

Another example: Apple took credit for a “new” feature that enables the iPhone to dial over the Internet using WiFi when cellular signal is poor. It announced that T-Mobile would be the first to adopt. However, Apple omitted to mention that T-Mobile has had this capability built into its phones for several years.

One of the most dramatic examples on display was the focus on the little cylindrical knob, called a crown, similar to what’s been on watches for eons. Apple calls it a digital crown and uses it to scroll, zoom and click. While the application is very clever and ingenious, the company’s video expounding it as revolutionary seems over the top. But all of this is part of Apple’s bravado, originated by Steve Jobs, and plays to a loyal and outspoken fan base.

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the Apple Watch at a product announcement last week in Cupertino. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Now, all of this is not to take away from Apple’s business acumen and often phenomenal products. One of its strategies is, in fact, not to be first in everything it does, but to wait while other companies try and fail. Then it comes up with a much better solution that’s fully thought through and well implemented, bringing along major partners to make the solution really useful.

Apple takes the long view, focusing on what its customers will want and can easily use. Apple may be slow to adopt, but when it does, it’s well executed and resonates with the customer.

That’s what it did with Apple Pay, a way to make payments with your iPhone. Companies such as PayPal and Google have tried and failed or have yet to get off the ground. Apple may be the first to succeed because it brings along hundreds of millions of iPhone users, and the cooperation of banks and merchants.

It appears Apple has thought through security, ease of use and has support from the major credit card companies. And its timing could not be better, with the recent theft of credit card information from Target, Home Depot and others.

Overall, I came away with a generally positive view of the new offerings, but intend to wait for more specifics. For example, the new iPhone 6 and 6+ offer sleeker IDs and larger displays. But Apple iPhones have had mediocre battery life, and no mention was made of whether that will be improved in spite of more power-hungry displays. The reported use of scratchproof sapphire glass never materialized, possibly because it was not ready. Will that be next season’s upgrade?

Most interesting is the Apple Watch, which is not perceived as a limited-purpose device like a Jawbone UP or Fitbit. It’s clearly Apple’s next platform, deserving of a new OS. It’s the beginning. Apple Watch is a multipurpose device that will start out performing some interesting functions, but it’s also a blank slate (or display) that can go in multiple directions, based on new software and services. It’s designed for the long run, not to be replaced with new models every year.

It displays Apple’s core capabilities, such as hardware miniaturization, mechanical design and beautiful aesthetics. It’s likely the first smart watch that both men and women would consider wearing.

Its timeless design, catering to both function and fashion, represents Apple’s entry into wearable computers. It addresses all that has been wrong with other wearable devices: size, attractiveness and functionality.

Just as few of us could envision the potential of the iPad when it was first announced — the same applies to the Apple Watch.

My take-away from the presentation is that Apple is more formidable than ever. As Samsung comes closer to matching its capabilities in iPhones and tablets, Apple has raised the bar considerably.

The company is so good at what it does, you wonder why it has to exaggerate — but that’s Apple, and the fans love it.


Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.

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