11
Sep 14

The iPhone/Watch event: errant observations

The iPhone/Watch news has been pretty well dissected at this point. But hey, there are always a few more nooks and crannies to explore. Here are my not-so-quick reactions.

Death by streaming

I spent the first 45 minutes in agony. I get why the streaming failed so miserably now — but for it to happen at this historical moment is truly unforgivable. A hundred lashes for those responsible.

Opening video

A+ for imaginative use of typography. C- for droning on with self-importance. This video would have been a nice opening for a WWDC, paying tribute to developers who think differently and change the world for the better. I just get squirmy when Apple heaps this kind of praise upon itself. Though I’m not a fan of the “people around the world using our stuff” ads and videos we’ve seen from Apple lately, something like that would have been far more suitable as a setup leading to the unveiling of new empowering devices.

The disappearing iPhone

I think it’s safe to say the sun is now setting on the idea of a plastic iPhone, no matter how unapologetic Apple may be. Last year’s iPhone 5c was year-old technology in a lower-cost body. Today it’s two-year-old technology offered up for free. Yeah, I’m aware that the 5c actually sold well, but clearly it didn’t have the impact Apple hoped for after it was launched with such fanfare. Thank you, 5c, for being your spunky self — but it’s time to start thinking about your retirement years.

Now available in Plus sizes
I was surprised by the “plus” word, being a term one normally finds in a certain section of the JCPenney catalog. But remember, the criticism leveled at product names usually blows over fairly quickly.

Apple Pay

Love it. I’ll be first in line when we gather to toss our physical wallets into the bonfire. It hurts my brain to imagine how much Apple stands to profit from this.

“Best iPhones ever”

Not so easy to come up with new ways to describe the newest version of an existing product. How many ways can a company say “faster, “cooler” or “thinner”? I empathize with the Apple writers’ challenge, but I still had to chuckle when Tim so boldly proclaimed “These are the best iPhones we’ve ever made!” Sure hope so. If Apple ever introduced an iPhone that isn’t better than the previous model, I will turn in my Apple Enthusiast badge. That’s a threat.

iPhone 6 commercials
A celebrity coup for iPhone 6 advertising — the pairing of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake in voice only. Health is charmingly amusing, as the two brag about their health accomplishments. Duo is creatively risky, which we can appreciate. Unfortunately, it will likely annoy more people than it charms. Whether anyone even gets the 2001: A Space Odyssey connection, or understands who the voices are, remains to be seen. According to Creativity, these ads are the result of a “collaboration” between TBWA/Media Arts Lab and Apple’s in-house agency. Love to know what that means. Maybe the children are playing nice now?

“One more thing…”
Tim’s lead-in to the Apple Watch segment was a high point for me. At this time, nearly three years after Steve’s death, at a show where the stakes were so high, when Apple’s ability to innovate has been under fire — I found this “one more thing” to be a heartwarming moment. Without even mentioning Steve’s name, or the fact that he was borrowing Steve’s famous line, Tim was simultaneously playing to the audience and paying tribute to “the master.” The reaction of the crowd, with many people rising to their feet, added to the emotion of the moment. I’m not usually one to get all mushy about such things, but I very much enjoyed this part.

Where’s the iWatch?

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, the entire world had been referring to it as the “iPhone” for months. The name was expected and appropriate. This time, despite the fact that the world had been buzzing about the iWatch, what we got was the Apple Watch. Shocker!

There are a few possible explanations. First, understand that many inside Apple — including Steve Jobs — have pondered the fate of the i before. When is the time to move on? The argument for keeping the i is that it has become a super-powerful Apple branding element. It’s hard to say goodbye.

Apple is the master brand, and has only rarely been used as part of a product name. Apple TV is the most recent exception, and that decision followed much discussion.

One could also argue that the i has been hijacked by many other companies, while the Apple-word is un-stealable. So, the naming of Apple Watch could well be the start of a new naming direction, with more importance placed on Apple and less importance placed on the i.

It’s not farfetched to imagine a future time when the Apple Phone and Apple Pad are sold alongside the Apple Watch and Apple TV. One never knows…

Another issue might have been the legal challenges that were already being made over the ownership of the iWatch name. (The very existence of these challenges provides ammunition for those who argue that the i is too easily stolen by others.)

Perhaps the new Apple regime doesn’t believe it’s a battle worth fighting and sees more power in the Apple word.

Eddie Cue

Eddie hasn’t exactly been the most sterling Apple presenter in the past. In fact, he’s been seriously outshined by the likes of Craig Federighi. However, I thought Eddie lifted himself up a few notches with his performance here. He was good.

The Retina HD display

Given that “Retina” was Apple’s way of saying “beyond HD” when that screen technology was first introduced, I find this name to be rather redundant. I’m getting that Spinal Tap feeling as I watch Apple turn it up to 11.

The digital crown

What a perfectly Apple-like solution to navigating on a small screen, so the fingers don’t obscure what you’re seeing. It’s one of those things that feels obvious and natural once you see it, but it’s far from obvious until someone actually invents it.

The Samsung vs. Apple drama

Apple’s entry into the smartwatch category puts some very interesting gears in motion.

Samsung proclaims itself to be a true innovator, yet it stands accused of having copied both the iPhone and the iPad. In the midst of all the legal action, Samsung introduced its Gear watch — which marked the first time it entered a category before Apple. For those on the Samsung side, this was further evidence that Samsung was suddenly “out-innovating” Apple. But it also set up the true day of reckoning to come. Because when the Apple Watch arrived, we’d see the true difference between the companies’ innovation philosophies.

What Samsung did with the Gear is somewhat predictable. It created a wrist-sized version of a phone. Apple took a more unexpected route, based on the realities of the small screen — with the digital crown being a highlight. Apple’s strength is in imagining solutions that feel simple and natural.

But the best part of the comparison may be yet to come. If the Apple Watch is a success, we will see how Samsung’s smartwatches “evolve” as a result. It will be awfully hard for Samsung to pretend it’s not copying when we can compare its pre-Apple Watch and post-Apple Watch products.

Secrecy

It’s hard for Apple to keep secrets anymore. Heck, it was hard for Apple to keep secrets even in the last years of Steve Jobs’ reign. One of the reasons why this event was so well received was that it was not spoiled by leaks in the weeks leading up to it. Sometimes death threats really do work.

The Apple Watch video

For many years, I have railed on Apple about its formulaic product videos. Jony Ive talking on a white background has become one of the most widely parodied video styles on earth. The Apple Watch video was excellent, largely because it gave us a tour of something new and seemingly revolutionary. But another reason it felt fresh is that Jony Ive narrated without being seen. That not only eliminated the formula shot, it allowed editors to slice and dice Jony’s words to perfection. I’ve never heard the man sound better.

iPhone only

Wow. Didn’t see that one coming. As you can tell from my previous article, I thought it was a no-brainer that the Watch would be for iPhone owners and non-owners alike. My assumption was that one wouldn’t get the full goodness without iPhone, but the built-in apps and third-party apps available in the App Store would make it a seductive choice for everyone. While the AAPL stock price was up $3.00+ halfway through the event, it dropped like a rock when it was revealed that the Watch was for iPhone people only. Suddenly Apple was talking to 15% of the market instead of 100%.

Might Apple get around to this later, as they did in making the iPod work with PCs? I’d be surprised if Apple’s elves weren’t already working on a more independent device.

Astronomy watch face

Okay, I’m officially a sucker for such things. I did love the idea of seeing all the planets in their actual positions every day. So very useful too!

“Love shack” or “Wild thing”

I’ve always felt extremely lazy when I explain my main reason for wanting an Apple Watch. It would eliminate the need for me to reach all the way into my pocket to retrieve my iPhone when it buzzed. I stand by my brazen laziness. And I very much appreciate that the Apple Watch will analyze incoming email to create its own “quick choice” reply. Very smart, and possibly even more useful than the astronomy watch face.

The Macintosh word

Tim did it again. Near the end, he referred to the Apple computer line as Macintosh, not Mac. It was way, way long ago that Steve Jobs purposefully stopped using the full Macintosh word, and in an agency meeting requested that we use “Mac” only from that point on. That would be consistent with Apple’s move to eliminate the Macintosh word in computer naming. There was no Macintosh after iMac was introduced some 16 years ago. Maybe there is no official Apple rule on this — but the Macintosh word feels very old to me. Watch it, Tim!

The missed Christmas

With all the fanfare over the Apple Watch, I haven’t heard much wincing over the timing of it. Clearly the goal at Apple would have been to ship the product in time for the holiday season. The Watch would have been the hottest, most buzz-worthy gift item in years. I can’t imagine Tim was too happy the day he was informed that they’d never make the date.

The unmentionables

While Apple did an excellent job of whetting our appetite for Watches yesterday, two areas were conspicuously unexplored. We got a small taste of Apple Watch pricing (“starting at $349”). I assume that’s for the smaller version, and does not include the band. Prepare for some sticker shock.

And then, as you know, there was no mention of battery life — which doesn’t bode well for whatever numbers are known inside Apple. My guess is that the Watch is still “under construction” and Apple doesn’t want to alarm us unnecessarily until it’s fully cooked. Unfortunately, by not mentioning it, they alarmed us anyway.

A very Apple event

This was the most satisfying Apple event in a long time. It was certainly the most satisfying event since Steve’s passing. There almost wasn’t enough time to present three major things: iPhone 6, Apple Pay and Apple Watch. There was a lot of enthusiasm and confidence on stage. I know that some of you have issues with the presentation and/or the Watch, but I’m speaking in terms of public consumption. The reactions have been almost universally positive, with a lot of “Apple is back” spin on it. Anyone who knows Apple knows it had never really left, but that’s besides the point.

Zigging while others zag

The press and analysts have been almost universally positive after this event. I can barely remember the last time that happened. Thankfully, there are still people like Joseph Volpe at Engadget who feel it’s their duty to prove their smarts by breaking from the pack. The Watch is “much ado about nothing,” largely because it fails to meet the Volpe standard:

“My stance on the smartwatch as a viable mobile accessory is unambiguous; I’ve argued my case before. As a category, it needs to replace — needs to completely replace our need for a cellphone.”

Volpe does leave himself a little escape clause by saying it’s doubtful that iWatch will fail. But that’s due to the “persistent, lingering Jobsian-halo surrounding the Apple brand,” as opposed to anything the Apple Watch brings to the party. Perceptively, he also concludes that the Apple Watch will “get better with time; most things/people/products inevitably do.”

Good thing for inevitability, or Apple would be in serious trouble.

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  • Sean

    At the iPhone launch, Steve mentioned that ‘in 1984, we introduced the Macintosh…’

  • SSpindler

    Any thoughts on U2’s participation at the end?

  • Steve

    … did the iPad replace something completely?

  • bregalad

    Surely you were joking about the secrecy around this event. We knew the screen sizes months ago, saw extremely accurate images of the new cases, knew about the inclusion of NFC and John Gruber had published the native resolutions including the fact that there would be retina 3x images back in August. The iPhone 6 Plus scaling its output down to 1920×1080 was a surprise, but shouldn’t have been a big one. Getting enough 2208×1242 displays at the quality and price point Apple demands was always a bit of a long shot this year and it gives Apple an obvious way to improve the Plus next year during the normally dull “S” cycle.
    We knew about Apple Pay and the Apple Watch (although erroneously thought they’d bear the i prefix). Sapphire covers on rectangular watches were givens as was health monitoring and lousy battery life.
    Heck we even knew U2 would be performing. That Apple would push their new album to everyone was the only genuine surprise and that part of the show was by far the weakest I’ve seen in ages from Apple.

  • ehych

    I think he’s talking about the Apple Watch, even though we knew they were presenting it, there was absolutely no leak about it’s design/functions.

  • ksegall

    Yes, I was talking about the Apple Watch.

    There were some hints about glass and such, but I don’t believe there was a single leak about how the digital crown, the interface or the many software features.

  • ksegall

    When one refers to a Macintosh computer, he is allowed to call it a Macintosh. The Macs are a different story….

  • “Apple Pay – I’ll be first in line when we gather to toss our physical wallets into the bonfire.”

    Me too but Apple Pay won’t enable that – unless you don’t need/want to carry around things like driver’s licenses, insurance cards and the like.

    “I can’t imagine Tim was too happy the day he was informed that they’d never make (Christmas)”.

    Sorry Ken but wrong. Just like the original iPhone, the Apple Watch needs to go through any number of governmental procedures before it can be sold. The FCC documents will be publicly available. So Apple *had* to announce the Apple Watch now because, once they send it to the government, everyone would know about it anyway.

    And sending it to the government is why Apple is saying, “Sometime in 2015”. They don’t know how long the process will take.

    It has the added advantage of hurting sales for competitors’ smartwatches this Christmas. :)

  • ksegall

    Impressive that Apple and U2 worked out the giveaway deal, and that U2 played a song live. Not being a U2 fan myself, my favorite part was when Tim Cook walked up to Bono and said “You guys are freaking great.” I love it when Tim talks the talk.

  • Tim Cook slipped up and accidentally called it the iWatch during his interview with ABC, so I feel that was probably the original name, but they decided against fighting/paying-off a trademark. The Apple logo, just followed by WATCH in all caps sure does look nice wrapped around that circle path in the back, though. I suppose it could’ve been chosen because they wanted to keep all caps text in the back, in homage to the great watch designers that came before them.

  • “I feel that was probably the original name”

    Or that he’s heard it so often in the past 12 months that he, as you said, simply slipped up.

    Don’t read too much into it.

  • “Impressive that Apple and U2 worked out the giveaway deal”

    Apple offering U2 a metric buttload of money so they would give away the album (remember, for only a limited time) isn’t all that impressive. :)

  • ksegall

    I didn’t mean to say that Apple Pay alone would eliminate the need for the whole wallet. What I meant was that I can’t wait to let the physical wallet go, period. There’s just no need to carry all that crap anymore. If I can use an electronic U.S. passport (which I do), surely I can have an electronic driver’s license, insurance card, frequent flier card, etc.

    And yes, I know that the Watch requires FCC approvals, just as the original iPhone did. But I’d still be wiling to bet one share of AAPL stock that the original plan was to have the Watch ready for the 2014 holiday season. And in that scenario, there would still have been a moment when Tim Cook learned that it couldn’t be done. I’m sure it was a sobering moment. But in the end, the overriding concern always has to be “does it meet the Apple standard yet?” That’s one rule that can never be broken, or the brand is seriously damaged.

    I totally agree with your last comment. If there is an upside to missing the holiday season, it’s that holiday sales of the other guys’ watches will be seriously stunted.

  • Yosef ben Israel
  • > Death by streaming
    Without a doubt, the stream was a disaster. But the article you link to is BS. Just scroll down and read the comments. We have yet to hear why the stream went so poorly.

    > iPhone only
    I’m not at all surprised by this. I don’t think technology is ready for the phone to be completely stand alone – it’s just a peripheral like the iPod was at first. Adding support so it works on other mobile platforms, or Mac or Windows takes time and effort. On every engineering project something has got to give and these are logical things to let go of.
    It gives the Apple Watch an air of exclusivity too; like the iPod had when it first came out. And if they think availability is going to be constrained anyway (these look like mass produced jewels, cannot be easy to make), might as well shrink the addressable market for now.

  • ksegall

    Thanks for pointing this out.

    After I posted the article, I saw the comments casting doubt on the story I linked to. I’ve now updated that link to point to an article cited by John Gruber. However, this story is also unsubstantiated, so readers will have to judge for themselves.

  • The opening video was very imaginative. But the people who imagined it weren’t Apple. They were OK Go. Apple just copied OK GO. You know, the way Microsoft copies Apple. And Samsung copies Apple. And now, Apple copies Samsung.

  • J Jameson

    A couple of long-winded comments:

    The missing ‘i’
    The ‘i’ made sense when the iMac was introduced (and the iBook, too). The internet was a fairly new thing and they were early internet-enabled computers. It didn’t make so much sense for the iPod when introduced; it wasn’t internet-enabled in any way – just marketing. They dropped the iBook for MacBook. Half of everything is internet-enabled today: thermostats, garage door openers, cameras, some cars. Even some refrigerators (I can live without my fridge talking on the ‘net.) The ‘i’ doesn’t really have any cachet any longer.

    So, replace it with the  where it make sense. The  certainly has cachet today, and Apple is the only company that can use it.

    iPhone only
    Makes perfect sense to me. I expect it will stay that way for at least the short and mid term. Maybe the long term. The technology in processing and batteries is not capable in the form factor of the Watch. It needs the iPhone to do the heavy lifting, and it’s heavily dependent on iOS8 and the new features of the iPhone 6.
    I’ve read comments from people that wanted GPS, phone and more. Seems unrealistic to me at this point. Garmin makes a GPS watch, but the battery doesn’t last too long. I’ve a GPS computer on my bike; it’s much larger and the battery doesn’t last too long. And the Watch does so much more!!! A day will be good, two would be great. After all, the battery is tiny and the watch is a relatively powerful computer.
    I doubt that Android is capable of supporting the watch. The requisite stuff isn’t in the OS and probably will never be. Maybe Apple could create an app for Android that would supply the necessary stuff, but how many Android phone would be able to support it?

    (Hope the  looks like an Apple logo when I post this.)

  • dr.agon

    Watch is like CarPlay just relays most of what is on the iphone.
    It is most likely using an embedded processor so
    it is not running full OS just enough to fool into thinking it is.
    Battery Life is secret so as not inform the competitors.
    Apple didn’t let most play with it because again don’t want to tell
    even what is the resolution of the device.
    This way it doesn’t need to be upgraded every year either.

    Pay is make Apple 25 bps but is limited to only 6 processing
    companies. So while major banks and credit card companies are on
    board. Major retailer are not like WalMart and Amazon.
    In order for developer to use Pay, they have to create an account
    with one of those processing company. and there are competing
    system which are not going to play ball with Apple.

    I am sure strengthened rose gold with ceramic back and sapphire glass
    will be above $2000+. They are using aerospace precision milling.

    HD specifically anything higher than 1280 by 720.
    It is a TV standard term. Retina is about PPI.

  • I think it’s more impressive on U2’s part. This is huge for them.

  • Hi Ken, what’s an electronic U.S. passport? D’you guys have an app states-side which is as valid as a physical U.S. passport?

    Or was it a reference to simply having an image of the passport in your Camera Roll? (I switched to doing this and it seems to be considered valid by places that need me to show a photo I.D.).

  • ksegall

    Not sure when it started, but when you apply for a U.S. passport these days, it comes with an e-Passport. It’s a little chip embedded in the physical passport that contains your ID data, allowing you to skip the lines at customs. Not all countries honor it, but it did work for me entering Singapore recently.

    So … no, it isn’t an app, but it seems like a relatively short evolution from e-Passport to iPhone Passbook data.

  • Hamish

    It pretty much killed netbooks dead, so yes.

  • Hadi Santosa

    There is an easter egg in the Apple Watch introduction video narrated by Jony Ive.
    (1:06:24 in ‘Apple – September Event 2014’ or 1:48 in ‘Introducing Apple Watch’ on YouTube)

    In the date adjusting screen, it shows Jan 24, 1984. It’s the day we will never forget :)

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