As the tumbleweeds skitter across the barren, arid landscape and the howl of thin air plays the hollow limbs of dead trees like a haunted flute, the old man who refused to leave this ghost town whittles himself another owl as he sits on the porch of the abandoned dry goods store. They call him: The ol’ prognosticator.
Things used to be different around these parts, he’ll tell you. Used to be products from one end of the town to another, all waiting to be introduced at the next Apple event. Now, it’s all gone. First the five inch iPhone cleared out, and then it was the wearables. Before you knew it, the iPad Pro and the Apple TV 4 disappeared almost overnight. Now, there’s almost nothing left. Maybe, if you look real hard, you might find some Apple TV content packages in a dusty corner. If you listen to that crazy Injun chief who lives in the teepee outside town, you’ll hear him whisper about something the legends call the iCar.
That’s all there is now. There ain’t no more. Just shadows. Shadows and horse droppings.
Snap out of it, Larry McMurtry
Okay, well, it only kinda feels like this. At the Bill Graham event, Apple basically emptied out its’ sack of goodies and introduced not one, but two new product lines. The Apple TV 4 is no longer a hobby and the iPad Pro is the link between the iOS and Mac platforms we all knew would come.
Aside from putting the Apple-prediction people out of business for a few months, the introduction of these products makes another big jump in the expansion Apple’s products and services. The Apple TV is the salvo at the “home hub,” putting iOS games on a console, and the showcase platform for the streaming content service to come. The iPad Pro is the attempt to go after enterprise, education and creatives.
The iPad Pro
I’ve been on this soap box since the introduction of the original iPad back in 2009. I always thought it was just one step away from being a graphics tablet, and then boom, six years later, like lightning, we have it. So now, with another product category added to Apple’s ambitious plans, let’s take a look at the products in this end of the hardware market: You have the iPad Air, the iPad mini, the iPod Touch and now the iPad Pro. You also have the iPhone and the iPhone Plus. All of these devices work off of iOS and have the same general shape and interface. We could also throw in the new MacBook in to this end of the pool, as it is also going after some of the same customers, but from the Mac side.
With the advent of the multi-tasking split-screen feature of iOS 9, and the Surfacesque keyboard of the iPad Pro, you can also start to view these devices in terms of productivity. You can have devices with software keyboards and hardware keyboards. You can have devices that have one window, a split window and floating windows. Some have cell connections, others don’t. They can go pocket-sized to satchel-sized, they all have touch interfaces, and all of them get you a days’ worth of battery life.
One can take a look at that lineup and conclude “Apple’s offering more products in the shapes and sizes the consumer wants.” But then I would have to kick you, because that’s not the lesson here. The lesson is that Apple is refining the product line, and adding in new products to expand into new or underserved markets. This is about growth, not about filling in gaps.
The iPad now goes from being “Apple’s tablet offering” to becoming a product line that provides a real computing solution for not only consumers but prosumers, professionals, students, and creatives. It can be an input device for a variety of industries from medical to aviation to enterprise. It can be a laptop. It can be a thing you give the kid to keep them quiet. Essentially, the iPad now has a footprint of potential customers that is now as big, if not bigger than, the Mac.
That’s significant. The playing field is now level between the Mac and the iPad for all but a few professional markets. What’s worth keeping an eye on is how Apple sells these products in the future. Which do they push on a consumer first? A Mac or an iPad? Does it really matter anymore? If they push the Mac first, are they doing themselves a disservice?
Also, is Apple done with this product line? If the iPad Pro is a hit, could it go even bigger?
The Apple TV 4
The Apple TV 4 is a little disappointing — just a little. While I had long hoped that it would bring a full iOS experience to the TV, we’re getting an “iOS Lite” coming in tvOS, with a hybrid button/touchpad interface. I had also hoped that there would be more “Amazon Echo” in the product, but right now Siri seems to be limited to looking for films and TV shows. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we have to work with, so let’s go.
We were also waiting on the streaming TV service that Apple has been trying to get started for the past several years, but that was a boat anchor on the Apple TV, and it was time to get a new one out and bring the content along when it’s ready.
The principal content for the Apple TV then becomes the app-making developer community, with their spunky can-do attitude. It’s a bit of a risk, going to market with a product that so obviously relies on the developers to make it work, but Apple TV may be exactly the right product to take that risk with. Apple is not betting the farm on Apple TV, and the existing elements of the device are already pretty strong.
Essentially, the Apple TV is in a waiting stage, as games, apps and the Apple streaming service get their act together. I expect this product to get a lot of attention at WWDC 2016, not just from developers, but from Apple. By then, it might be time for an re-introduction of a fully-implemented version with streaming TV, games and home kit applications.
And maybe a new one with a screen?
(Dodges shoe thrown from audience)
There was also something about an iPhone 6s and some watch straps at the event, but it’s kind of hazy now. The real takeaway from the event was that Apple is doing what they need to do to keep the profit machine running by expanding the customer base and selling more products and services to their existing customers.
It’s going to be a fun next three months as we get new phones, a tablet and a TV to play with, but the ramifications from this event will be felt for years. The Watch was a sideshow. These announcements come right from the core of Apple’s employees and engineers and set course on Apple’s next generation of hardware and software. It’s moving away from the Mac, but without shedding too many Mac features. The new laptop is the tablet. The new desktop is the TV.
It’ll be fun to see this play out, and for the first time in a long time, I’m buying all the hardware launched at this event and I’m excited for each one. We’ll have more to talk about soon, as the question of what an Apple streaming subscription service will look like is an intriguing one, and it may not be something locked to the Apple TV. The whole Apple iCar thing is so weird, I don’t think everyone has their head wrapped around it, but if you think about what a car will look like five years from now, it’s really another computing platform, but with radial tires.
Now who wants a wooden owl? I have hundreds of these things.