We keep talking about mobile replacing desktop.
But what if Apple changes the game? What if the iPhone is really just an extension of the Mac?
I've been thinking a lot about Apple's upcoming event.
Mostly because the last event marketing was so obvious: the blurred bokeh image elements and the tag line: "see you" at the event. To anyone who knows anything about photography, it was completely obvious that they were going to do something with photos. Combine that with the iPhone product cycle and most of the announcements were completely obvious.
This time around, most if not all of the speculation and rumors around the Apple announcements are related to projected/forecasted new hardware specifications, and maybe, at best, improved form factors (shapes) of current products.
I think we're possibly in for something much, much bigger.
I think Apple may announce something completely new. At least, dramatically new.
At least I hope so.
Apple doesn't do anything by accident. The logo this time clearly represents a major theme or concept. What that concept is is up to a lot of interpretation.
Apple has been doing exactly what a company should do when it intentionally creates a product as radical, as impactful, and as in-demand within a tech-hungry culture as the iPhone: Focus on selling as much of that product as possible. Two reasons: The first reason is, you always want to sell as much of your product as you can (duh). The second reason: When you're first to market, it can be to your advantage in a number of ways. Think of how locked in Apple customers are to the iTunes and App stores. When you buy a new iPhone, you're transferring hundreds of dollars in software investments that only work with the App Store, and hundreds (thousands?) of dollars of music and other media bought in the iTunes store. Are you going to ditch all that to buy a cheaper phone, saving a hundred or two hundred dollars? Hardly. Now that's strategy.
As soon as the last event was over, the blogosphere erupted - as it typically has with the past several events - with sighs, whines and gripes that Apple had continued to neglect its desktop customers. Was Apple abandoning the Mac in lieu of iOS? Are desktops dead? Questions like these get thrown around, while some of the nerds on twitter self-promote their newly configured iOS-only productivity, entirely devoid of any Macs, notebook or desktop. From a consumer standpoint, it appears that Apple's investing everything into mobile.
At least, that's what we can see.
Today's Apple doesn't have limited resources, not like the Apple of 10 years ago, and certainly not like most companies. The amount of cash on hand (and cash flow) is mind-boggling. Anyone involved in any growth-oriented, mature, well-managed company knows that nothing accidentally falls behind. The MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros, Mac Pro, and Mac Mini are not managed like the Newton team that Steve Jobs canned for missing deadlines repeatedly and producing little to nothing of value on time. No part of Apple has operated like that since the Newton team was disbanded. These teams, as well as the teams of people who have been acquired (see Apple's list of acquisitions) must be incredibly busy doing something.
The current blogosphere and twittersphere of rumors out there are boring. One of the bloggers I respect the most posted a grid of all of Apple's products, color coded for what he thinks will get updated. That's a mature company's tactical game plan (see below for more), and those kind of companies are usually about as great as they're going to get. I don't think that's Apple.
At least I hope not.
It's my belief that there are only two possibilities about the forthcoming announcements:
The first possibility is that we'll be blown away by something really big.
I mean, really big. Even bigger than an entirely new form factor. Imagine something completely new that replaces both the Mac Mini and a Mac Pro. And what if Apple were to announce a new kind of desktop that even becomes the new Siri agent in your home (think making Alexa look like a trinket). Creepiness aside, how much could Siri really know if it can go through your bills, your photos, your email and messages. Sure, Alexa is a neat device that works really well.
The AI in Her did far more than just order products. It read him email while he was driving, reviewed a day's agenda on the calendar, made reservations or confirmed dates, and even more personal things. I personally don't believe Apple's going to let Siri fail, or that Siri is the strategy. I think Siri is only part of the strategy. What if Apple announces the first new member of your family since your last child was born?
Think about it: Apple has the technology to do this right now. The medium of data sharing is in place (iCloud, rendezvous), the processors are fast enough, and they have been acquiring machine learning and AI companies continuously since acquiring Siri. Home kit seems to be the scaffolding they need to tie in all the disparate IoT devices into your home's new immobile (for now) robot.
The only great announcement this Thursday is one that gets an Oh myyy from @georgetakei.
Apple's announcement has to be that good. (I'll be checking George's twitter feed throughout the event)
The other, much more boring possibility
is that they release one or more computers that iterate on the past by adding neat features, improves specifications, or maybe if we're lucky some kind of major form factor or software functionality, like entirely touch oriented notebooks, iOS apps now run on macOS.
An OLED touch bar? Longer battery life? Faster processors? Touch ID? Flatter keyboard a la MacBook? USB-C?
These feature iterations still need to happen. Apple has two types of customers looking for new, cutting-edge features. The first group are those who will buy the latest model of anything Apple produces, and typically the maximum configuration. This group includes high-end affluent consumers, and to a lesser degree, techies. The second group are those with aging Macs. There are consumers who value the longevity of a Mac. I'm one of them: Compared to a PC, a Mac is a viable computer, much longer than a typical PC. But there are those who look at amortizing expense, not value, and when a computer dies they're going to look for another computer, and the only thing that will woo these over to Apple will be features radically standout enough to override the "it's more expensive" argument.
Why I hope Apple surprises us
I really hope Apple surprises us. A new notebook is nice, but I don't need it. I need them to fix the software that runs my 2015 MacBook Pro.
What's more, I see where Apple appears to be in the business lifecycle (maturing). Apple has changed and they're continuing to change, and not always in a good way. Take for example something I'm dealing with this week that would never have occurred in the old Apple: I'm waiting for a team of Apple employees to figure out how to re-ship a MacBook Pro sitting in one of their warehouses that I paid for almost a month ago. Yes, it's my property, and sitting in a warehouse. The key issue? Apparently two: One team at Apple can't talk to the other team other than via email, and they apparently don't. The other issue? It's not in their process. Yes, they've become too big for someone to go walk up to the notebook, stick a shipping label on it, and get it (the customer's property) to the customer. Instead, corporate friction at its finest. The Apple I remember was awesome at looking deep, enabling and empowering accountable individuals to make decisions to keep moving forward.
Why is this personal anecdote relevant to my concern about Apple in its business lifecycle? Simple: Because it's a fact that when businesses become extremely successful, a kind of fear of failure can set in. Taking risks is consistent with increasing the probability of failure. The person who can and should but hasn't shipped my notebook is afraid of something. Otherwise it wouldn't take 3-4 weeks and dozens of emails.
What if this kind of fear of failure has set in somewhere higher up? What about higher up? Even higher? Afraid of the media? Of Congress? Of all the eyes on you now that you're the biggest 800 lb tech gorilla?
I personally don't think the fear exists with Tim. I think he has something special at his core that prevents him from operating with secretive fear in control. I think he, like some other American entrepreneurs who have a certain special perspective, has the guts to bring something completely new forward. And I think he's been hinting at it a lot lately.
But while Apple hit it big with the iPhone, and continues to produce new iterations of our favorite mobile device, Apple hasn't really done anything strategic since the App Store. In fact, when look at the innovation over the years since Jobs passing, most of it has been acquisitions of other smaller startups with a neat, nascent technology. Take Siri for example. Siri was acquired by Apple in 2010. Today, in 2016, Siri still can't understand my wife's very common Japanese name if I use Siri in English. And if I train it to understand her name, it goes on to completely misinterpret any other Japanese person's name that starts with the same initial sound.
What have they been doing with Siri since 2010?
I hope we get to say Hello to something Insanely Great this Thursday.