“It’s been an incredible year for Apple. We’re really firing on all cylinders. And we’re about to make some monster announcements across several of our product lines,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, opening his company’s latest product launch event last Wednesday in California.
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Without judging whether Cook actually kept his promise, we can certainly understand where his sense of the dramatic came from. Apple is probably the only company in the world capable of pulling off such an enormous event. The street in front of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco was closed to traffic for hours as the large number of television crews set up in the street outside. The 7,000 participants started to arrive two hours early, and the festive atmosphere was accompanied by lots of rumors and snippets of information about what to expect.
When the lights came up and Cook appeared on stage, the hall shook with thunderous applause. Last week, Apple launched new products that will reach users worldwide, but Cook’s enthusiasm wasn’t necessarily aimed at his potential customers. About two-thirds of those sitting in the cavernous hall were Apple employees, so the event was intended as much for its 100,000 employees as the millions watching around the globe.
Apple is a little unusual, even in comparison to other technology companies in Silicon Valley. “Maybe we’re not very nice, but we’ll never ‘mess with you.’ The answers you receive will always be straight and to the point,” said one of the company’s spokesmen.
Steve Jobs, the company’s legendary late CEO, used to say that Apple knew what was better for its users than they did themselves, and it seems he was right. Apple knows better than any other company how to develop products, manufacture them in their tens of millions, and distribute them all over the world, and market them as the world’s most desirable technology products.
The latest event was a direct result of this vision: Everything ran like clockwork, without mistakes, without delays.
This year, Apple decided to make its annual launch event even bigger and moved it a few streets west of the usual 750-seater Yerba Buena Center. The huge Bill Graham hall let the company bring in more of its own employees, and also increase the number of journalists being invited from all over the world.
And so, for the first time, among the invitees were two journalists from Israel, a country that wasn’t even in Apple’s sights just a few years ago. But circumstances have changed over the past four years: Since Apple bought Israeli startup Anobit and set up a research and development center in Herzliya Pituah, the country has turned into an important market for Apple. Not because of the sales potential for its products, but mainly because of its 700-800 employees.
Just as Cook wanted to inspire his own employees, so Apple wanted to give its Israeli workers the sense that they’re important, too. This goal has become even more important in light of the company’s intent to continue competing with other multinational corporations for local Israeli talent, and to hire even more Israeli staff over the next few years. To this end, Cook visited Israel earlier this year, and the company is also making careful, cautious steps to increase its presence in the local media.
The new iPhone: Not revolutionary, but impressive
Since the launch of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last September, Apple has enjoyed a very successful year. The iPhone has become the world’s best-selling smartphone, and as a result the firm has reported solid growth in both revenues and profits. Cook’s decision to abandon his predecessor’s strategy and make a device with a larger screen has halted the deterioration in Apple’s market share. It has also created a new and enormous market for its products: China.
In light of this, it’s hard to describe the launch of the iPhone 6s as “monstrous.” True, the device is more powerful and faster. It also has a much sharper, 12-megapixel camera, and faster browsing capabilities. But these are incremental changes. They won’t open up new markets for Apple, such as those that opened after the launch of the iPhone 6.
The most interesting addition to the iPhone 6s is the software known as 3D Touch. This enables the touchscreen to identify three types of touch: short, regular and stronger. This makes it possible for more sophisticated interaction with the user. Similar to the number of buttons on a desktop mouse, the new iOS 9 operating system will let the user navigate more quickly between menus and applications, and speed up use.
For example, a short, light touch on the Mail icon will let you preview an email, making it faster to return to the previous state. The same goes for pictures and links: A light touch will show a preview, and a stronger one will open the item itself. In doing so, Apple has added a lot more shortcuts for its most used actions, such as taking a selfie or sending a text message – which will now be possible from the main screen without wasting time entering and exiting applications. Just as when it launched the original iPhone with its multi-touch technology (in other words, using two or more fingers on the screen), 3D Touch has given Apple another technological gap over its competitors.
However, unlike the intuitive multi-touch technology, with 3D Touch the user is required to learn to navigate around the device in a quicker way and adopt new methods. This is where the main obstacle lies: the user is in no hurry to change habits.
At the same time, applications developers are sure to be fast adopters of 3D Touch. Indeed, Apple even demonstrated at the launch event how Facebook and Instagram have already done so.
Apple’s competitors can be expected to adopt the new technology quickly, with the many manufacturers of Android devices rushing to close the technology gap – so that 3D Touch will soon become the standard. The question is how long Apple will succeed in exploiting this narrow advantage in convincing customers to upgrade their phones – or to steal customers from Android. The iPhone is the device responsible for most of the growth and profit at Apple. Its fate will determine that of the entire company.
A new target market for the iPad
The iPad created quite a stir and changed the way people consume content, but over the past couple of years the category of products has started to shrink. The upgrade cycles have lengthened significantly, and two-year-old and three-year-old iPads still serve their owners rather well.
In an attempt to stimulate growth in the category, Apple announced its iPad Pro – a device with a much larger, 12.9-inch screen. The iPad Pro is not just another device to sit with on the sofa and read or watch a video. Apple is trying very hard to transform the iPad from a media entertainment device into a business tool. It’s doing so with the help of two main accessories: a keyboard and the “Apple Pencil,” which will both be sold separately.
In the past, Jobs objected to adding a stylus to the iPad. But as we’ve already seen, Cook isn’t afraid to break his predecessor’s taboos. The stylus, which costs $99, turns the glass into a platform on which you can create digital sketches. Such things already exist, and have for years – even in devices from Samsung and Microsoft – but Apple claims it has taken things to another level. The stylus’ sensitivity will be higher, the operating system understand how to identify both the pressure of the pen and its angle, and also be able to imitate a normal drawing on paper.
The new keyboard, which isn’t cheap at $169, connects to the device through a magnetic connection and doesn’t require separate power. Adding a keyboard to the iPad Pro would make it a pretty good substitute for a laptop – so although the company wants to open up new markets with graphic designers, the growth of the iPad may well come at the expense of Apple’s own Macbook computer range.