Apple are the kings of taking what appears to be failed product ideas and turning them into gold mines. The iPhone took the smartphone market from a niche market of the geeky and technical elite into a worldwide sensation that continues today. The iPad managed to make tablet computing popular, even after both Apple and Microsoft tried to crack the elusive market. However the last few years haven’t seen a repeat of those moments with the last attempt, the Apple Watch, failing to become the sensation many believed it would be. Indeed their latest attempt, the iPad Pro and its host of attachments, feels like simple mimicry more than anything else.
The iPad Pro is a not-quite 13″ device that’s sporting all the features you’d expect in a device of that class. Apple mentions that the new 64bit A9X chip that’s powering it is “desktop class” able to bring a 1.8X CPU performance and 2X graphics performance improvement over the previous iPad Air 2. There’s also the huge display which allows you to run two iPad applications side by side, apparently with no compromises on experience. Alongside the iPad Pro Apple has released two accessories: the smart keyboard, which makes use of the new connector on the side of the iPad, and the Apple Pencil, an active stylus. Whilst all these things would make you think it was a laptop replacement it’s running iOS, meaning it’s still in the same category as its lower powered brethren.
If this is all sounding strangely familiar to you it’s because they’re basically selling an iOS version of the Surface Pro.
Now there’s nothing wrong with copying competitors, all the big players have been doing that for so long that even the courts struggle to agree on who was there first, however the iPad Pro feels like a desperate attempt to capture the Surface Pro’s market. Many analysts lump the Surface and the iPad into the same category however that’s not really the case: the iPad is a tablet and the Surface is a laptop replacement. If you compare the Surface Pro to the Macbook though you can see why Apple created the iPad Pro, their total Mac sales are on the order of $6 billion spread across no less than 7 different hardware lines. Microsoft’s Surface on the other hand has made $1 billion in a quarter from just the Surface alone, a significant chunk of sales that I doubt Apple has managed to make with just the Macbook alone. Thus they bring out a competitor that is almost a blow for blow replica of its main competitor.
However the problem with the iPad Pro isn’t the mimicry, it’s the last step they didn’t take to make the copy complete: putting a desktop OS on it. Whilst it’s clear that Apple’s plan is to eventually unify their whole range of products under the iOS banner not putting the iPad Pro on OSX puts it at a significant disadvantage. Sure the hardware is slightly better than the Surface is but that’s all for naught if you can’t do anything with it. Sure there’s a few apps on there but iOS, and the products that it’s based on, have always been focused on consumption rather than production. OSX on the other hand is an operating system focused on productivity, something that the iPad Pro needs in order to realise its full potential. It’s either that or iOS needs to see some significant rework in order to make the iPad Pro the laptop replacement that the Surface Pro is.
It’s clear that Apple needs to do something in order to re-energize the iPad market, with the sales figures being down both in current quarters and year on year, however I don’t believe that the iPad Pro will do it for them. The new ultra slim Macbook has already cannibalized part of the iPad’s market and this new iPad Pro is going to end up playing in the same space. However for those seeking some form of portable desktop environment in the Apple ecosystem I’m failing to see why you’d choose an iPad Pro over the Macbook. Had they gone with OSX the value proposition would’ve been far more clear however this feels like a token attempt to capture the Surface Pro market and I just don’t think it will work out.
It seemed that even the announcement of the Watch couldn’t kill the rumour mill about the Watch as there’s been rampant speculation about just what this device will be, what it will cost and what it will mean for tech consumers worldwide. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, any potential Apple product receives this treatment, but it still shocks me just how people are in potential rather than actual products. Yesterday Apple announced the price range for their range of Watches and they start at the expected price, some US$349 and rocket up to the absolutely crazy price of US$17,000. Needless to say those premium editions are far more premium than most people were expecting and it makes one question what the motives behind those devices are.
For starters smartwatches are still in their nascent stages with numerous companies still vying to find that killer design, app or whatever it is that catapults them to the top of the pile. For me it’s still about aesthetics, something which the Watch certainly doesn’t have, and the only one that’s managed to come close to winning in that regard (in my mind) is the Huawei Watch and I’m even skeptical of that given how the Moto 360 turned out. For others though it’s going to be about the features, something which the current Watch seems to satisfy, however as time goes on those $17,000 Watches are going become decidedly dated and this brings in the quesiton about Apple’s strategy with these premium devices.
There’s no doubt that there’s a healthy dose of margin on the higher end devices, especially considering that the innards on those devices is identical to the ones that cost a fraction of the premium models. So potentially these higher end Watches are being used to subsidise the lower end although honestly I can’t remember a time when Apple has done this with another consumer product, a hefty premium on all hardware (and losses elsewhere) is their modus operandi. Whilst I can see the lower end models fitting well into Apple’s yearly product cycle I can’t say the same for these high end models although I’ll be the first to admit that someone paying that much for an Watch obviously has a different sense of value to me.
The argument has been made that these luxury versions of the Watch won’t be bought for the functionality which I agree with to a point however there are far, far better purchases that can be made to facilitate the same purpose for a similar price. The differentiator between those products and the one Apple is peddling is the functionality and it’s highly unlikely that someone who wants a fashion accessory would pick a $17K Watch over an equivalent Rolex or Patek. In that regard the functionality does matter and these watches are going to be rapidly outpaced by their cheaper brethren just a year down the line. Apple could of course offer an upgrade service although nothing of that nature has been forthcoming and they’re not exactly a company that prides themselves on upgradeable products.
Regardless of what I think though it will be the market that decides how popular these things will be and whether or not Apple can break into the realm of high fashion with their luxury Watches. My personal opinion is they won’t, given the fact that whilst functionality might not be important in a luxury watch it’s Apple’s only differentiator at this point. However I also highly critical of the iPad so I’m not the greatest judge of what should make a product successful so maybe an Watch with a gold case will be enough to sell people on the idea, even if the resulting watch will be replaced by a sleeker brother only 12 months later.
I honestly couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been hearing people talk about Apple getting into the smartwatch business. It seemed every time that WWDC or any other Apple event rolled around there’d be another flurry of speculation as to what their wearable would be. Like most rumours details on it were scant and so the Internet, as always, circlejerked itself into a frenzy about a product that might not have even been in development. In the absence of a real product competitors stepped up to the plate and, to their credit, the devices have started to look more compelling. Well today Apple finally announced their Watch and it’s decidedly mediocre.
For starters it makes the same mistake that many smartwatches do: it follows the current design trend for nearly all other smartwatches. Partly this is due to the nature of LCD screens being rectangular, limiting what you can do with them, however for a company like Apple you’d expect them to buck the trend a bit. Instead you’ve got what looks like an Apple-ized version of the Pebble Steel, not entirely unpleasing but at the same time feeling incredibly bland. I guess if you’re a fan of having a shrunken iPhone on your wrist then the style will appeal to you but honestly smartwatches which look like smartwatches are a definite turn off for me and I know I’m not alone in thinking this.
Details as to what’s actually under the hood of this thing are scarce, probably because unlike most devices Apple announces you won’t be able to get your hands on this one right away. Instead you’ll be waiting until after March next year to get your hands on one and the starting price is somewhere on the order of $350. That’s towards the premium end of the smartwatch spectrum, something which shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, and could be indicative of the overall quality of the device. Indeed what little details they’ve let slip do seem to indicate it’s got some decent materials science behind it (both in the sapphire screen and the case metals) which should hopefully make it a more durable device.
Feature wise it’s pretty much as you’d expect, sporting the usual array of notifications pushed from your phone alongside a typical array of sensors. Apple did finally make its way into the world of NFC today, both with the Apple Watch and the new iPhone, so you’ll be able to load up your credit card details into it and use the watch to make payments. Honestly that’s pretty cool, and definitely something I’d like to see other smartwatch manufacturers emulate, although I’m not entirely hopeful that it’ll work anywhere bar the USA. Apple also toutes an interface that’s been designed around the smaller screen but without an actual sample to look over I really couldn’t tell you how good or bad it would be.
So all that blather and bluster that preceded this announcement was, surprise, completely overblown and the resulting product really does nothing to stand out in the sea of computerized hand adornments. I’m sure there’s going to be a built in market from current Apple fans but outside that I really can’t see the appeal of the Apple Watch over the numerous other devices. Apple does have a good 6 months or so to tweak the product before release so there’s potential for it to become something before they drop it on the public.
There’s no question that Apple was the primary force behind the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement. It didn’t take long for every executive to find themselves with an iPad in their hands, wondering why they had to use their god damn Blackberry when the email experience on their new tablet was so much better. Unfortunately, as is the case with most Apple products, the enterprise integration was severely lacking and the experience suffered as a result. Today the experience is much better although that’s mostly the result of third party vendors developing solutions, not so much Apple developing the capability themselves. It seems that after decades of neglecting the enterprise Apple is finally ready to make a proper attempt at it, although in the most ass backwards way possible.
Today Apple announced that it would be partnering with IBM in order to grow their mobility offerings starting with a focus on applications, cloud services and device supply and support. IBM is going to start off by developing 100 “industry specific” enterprise solutions, essentially native applications for the iPhone and iPad that are tailored for specific business needs. They’ll also be growing their cloud offering with services that are optimized for iOS with a focus on all the buzzwords that surround the BYOD movement (security, management, analytics and integration). You’ll also be able to source iOS devices from IBM with warranty backing by Cupertino, enabling IBM to really be your one stop shop for all things Apple related in the enterprise.
At a high level this would sound like an amazing thing for anyone who’s looking to integrate Apple products into their environment. You could engage IBM’s large professional services team to do much of the leg work for you, freeing you from worrying about the numerous issues that come from enabling a BYOD environment. The tailored applications would also seem to solve a big pain point for a lot of users as the only option most enterprises have available to them today is to build their own, a significantly costly endeavour. Plus if you’re already buying IBM equipment their supply chain will already be well known to you and your financiers, lowering the barrier to entry significantly.
Really it does sound amazing, except for the fact that this partnership is about 5 years late.
Ever since everyone wanted their work email on an iPhone there’s been vendors working on solutions to integrate non-standard hardware into the enterprise environment. The initial solutions were, frankly, more trouble than they were worth but today there are a myriad of applications available for pretty much every use case you can think of. Indeed pretty much every single thing that this partnership hopes to achieve is already possible today, not at some undetermined time in the future.
This is not to mention that IBM is also the last name you’d think of when it comes to cloud services, especially when you consider how much business they’ve lost as of late. The acquisition of SoftLayer won’t help them much in this regard as they’re building up an entirely new capability from scratch which, by definition, means that they’re offering will be behind everything else that’s currently available. They might have the supply chains and capital to be able to ramp up to public cloud levels of scalability but they’re doing it several years after everyone else has, in a problem space that is pretty much completely solved.
The only place I can see this partnership paying dividends is in places which have yet to adopt any kind of BYOD or mobility solution which, honestly, is few and far between these days. This isn’t an emerging market that IBM is getting in on the ground floor on, it’s a half decade old issue that’s had solutions from numerous vendors for some time now. Any large organisation, which has been IBM’s bread and butter since time immemorial, will already have solutions in place for this. Transitioning them away from that is going to be costly and I doubt IBM will be able to provide the requisite savings to make it attractive. Smaller organisations likely don’t need the level of management that IBM is looking to provide and probably don’t have a working relationship with Big Blue anyway.
Honestly I can’t see this working out at all for IBM and it does nothing to improve Apple’s presence in the enterprise space. The problem space is already well defined with solid solutions available from multiple vendors, many of which have already have numerous years of use in the field. The old adage of never getting fired for buying IBM has long been irrelevant and this latest foray into a field where their experience is questionable will do nothing to bring it back. If they do manage to make anything of this I will be really surprised as entering a market this late in the piece rarely works out well, even if you have mountains of capital to throw at it.
I haven’t been an iPhone user for many years now, my iPhone 3GS sitting disused in the drawer beside me ever since it was replaced, mostly because the alternatives presented by other companies have, in my opinion, outclassed them for a long time. This is not to say that I think everything else should replace their phone with a Xperia Z, that particular phone is definitely not for everyone, as I realise that the iPhone fills a need for many people. Indeed it’s the phone I usually recommend to my less technically inclined friends and family members because I know that they have a support system tailored towards them (meaning they’ll bug me less). So whilst today’s announcement of the new models won’t have me opening up my wallet anytime soon it is something I feel I need to be aware of, if only for the small thrill I get for being critical of an Apple product.
So as many had speculated Apple announced 2 new iPhones today: the iPhone 5C which is essentially the entry level model and the iPhone 5S which is the top of the line one with all the latest and greatest features. The most interesting different between the two is the radical difference in design with the 5C looking more like a kids toy with its pastel style colours and the 5S looking distinctly more adult with it’s muted tones of silver, grey and gold. As expected the 5C is the cheaper of the two with the base model starting from AUD$739 and the 5S AUD$869 with the prices ramping up steadily depending on how much storage you want.
The 5C is interesting because everyone was expecting a budget iPhone to come out and Apple’s response is clearly not what most people had in mind. Sure it’s the cheapest model of the lot (bar the Phone 4S) but should you want to upgrade the storage you’re already paying the same amount as the entry level 5S. The difference in features as well are also pretty minimal with the exceptions being an A6 vs A7 processor, slightly bulkier dimensions, new fandangled fingerprint home button and a slightly better camera. Of course those slight differences are usually enough to push any potential iPhone buyer to the higher end model so the question then becomes: who is the 5C marketed towards?
It’s certainly not at the low end of the market, as most people were expecting, even though it looks the part with its all plastic finish (which we haven’t seen since I last used an iPhone). It might appeal to those who like those particular colours although realistically I can’t see that being much of a draw card considering you can buy any colour case for $10 these days. Indeed even when you factor in the typical on contract price for a new iPhone (~$200) the difference between an entry level 5C and 5S is so small that most would likely dole out the extra cash just to have the better version, especially considering how visually different they are.
Another thing running against the 5C is that the 5S shares the same dimensions as the original iPhone 5 allowing you to use all your old cases and accessories with it. I know this won’t be a dealbreaker for many but it seems obvious that the 5S is aimed at people coming from the iPhone 5 whereas the 5C doesn’t appear to have any particular market in mind that necessitates its differences. If this was Apple’s attempt to try and claw back some of the market that Android has been happily dominating then I can help but feel it’s completely misguided. Then again I lost my desire for Apple products years ago so I might be missing out on what the appeal of a gimped, not-really-budget Apple handset might be.
The iPhone 5S does look like a decent phone sporting most of the features you’d expect from a current generation smart phone. NFC is still missing which, if I’m honest, isn’t as big of a deal as I used to make it out to be as I’ve now got a NFC phone and I can’t use it for jack so I don’t count it as downer anymore. As always though the price of a comparable Android handset to what you get from Apple is a big sore point with the top of the line model topping out at an incredible AUD$1129. I know Apple is a premium brand but when the price difference between the high and low end is $260 and the only difference is storage you really have to ask if its worth it, especially when comparable Android phones will have the same level of features and will be cheaper (my 16GB Xperia Z was $768 for reference).
I will be really interested to see how the 5C pans out as many are billing it as the “budget” iPhone that everyone was after when in truth it’s anything but that. The 5S is your typical product refresh cycle from Apple, bringing in a few new cool things but nothing particularly revolutionary. Of course you should consider everything I’ve said through the eyes of a long time Android user and lover as whilst I’ve owned an iPhone before it’s been so long between drinks that I can barely remember the experience anymore. Still I’m sure at least the 5S will do well in the marketplace as all the flagship Apple phones do.
You don’t have to read far on this blog to know that the relationship I have with Apple swings from wild amounts of hate to begrudging acceptance that they do make some impressive products. Indeed I’ve been called everything from an Apple fan boy to an Apple hater based on the opinions I’ve put forth on here so I think that means I’m doing the right thing when it comes to being a technology critic. Of course that means taking them, and their fans, to task whenever they start getting out of line and it appears that the latest instalment of Apple fans going wild comes care of the iOS 6 Maps application which I’ve abstained from covering here previously.
For the uninitiated Apple decided to give Google Maps the boot as the default mapping application on their handsets and tablets. The move was done primarily because their negotiated agreement with Google was scheduled to come to an end soon and Apple, for whatever reasons that I won’t bother speculating about, decided that instead of renewing it they’d go ahead and build their own maps application, including the massive back end cartography database. Now they’re no stranger to building a maps application, indeed whilst it used to say “Google Maps” it was in fact an Apple developed application that used the Google APIs, but the application was an unmitigated disaster. In fact it was so bad Apple even got Tim Cook do one of those “we’re admitting there’s a problem without admitting it” open letters pointing to alternatives that were available.
I held off on commenting on the whole issue because since I don’t use an iPhone any more I didn’t want to start trashing the app without knowing what the reality was. Plus I’m not one to bandwagon (unless I’m really struggling for good material) and it felt like everything that needed to be said had been said. I almost caved when I started reading apologist garbage like this from MG Siegler but others had done that work for me so re-iterating those points wouldn’t provide much value. However one bit of unabashed fanboyism caught my eye recently and it really needs to be taken to task over what they’re saying:
Situation: Apple cannot get Google to update its maps app on iOS. It was ok, but Google refused to update it to include turn-by-turn directions or voice guidance even though Android had these features forever. Apple says, “Enough” and boots Gmaps from iOS and replaces it with an admittedly half-baked replacement. The world groans. Apple has egg on its face. Google steps up it’s game and rolls out a new, free new maps app in iOS today that is totally amazing, I’m sure to stick it in Apple’s face… Ooops
Bottom line: Apple took one for the team (ate some shit) and fooled Google into doing exactly what Apple has been asking for years. Users win.
Time to get some facts on the table here. For starters way back in the day when Apple first wanted to bring maps to their platform they approached Google to do it however the terms that Google wanted (better access to user data was their primary concern) meant that an in house developed app was never to be. They could agree on good terms for the API however and so Apple developed their own application on the public Google API. This meant, of course, that they were limited to the functionality provided by said API which doesn’t include the fun things like turn by turn navigation (voice commands however are on Apple’s head to implement).
Instead of capitulating Apple decides to build their own replacement product which isn’t completely surprising given that they’ve done this kind of thing before with services like iTunes and the App Store. Claiming that it was done to fool Google into developing a better app however is total bollocks as if they were doing that they wouldn’t have spent so much money on in-sourcing so much of the infrastructure. Indeed the argument can be made that they could’ve bought/licensed one of the top map apps for a fraction of the cost in order to accomplish the same task. So no Apple didn’t do it to get Google to develop an application for them, they did it because they wanted to bring more applications into their ecosystem.
Google’s revamped map app proved to be extremely popular rocketing to the number 1 spot for free applications after just 7 hours of being available. I (in a slightly rhetorical/trolling way) put the feelers out on Twitter to see what Apple fans would have to say about that particular feat and was surprised when I got a reply within minutes. Whilst their arguments didn’t hold up to mild scrutiny (and I didn’t change their opinion on the matter) I was honestly surprised just how defensive some people can be of a product that even the company who developed it has admitted was bad. Especially when the replacement has been, by all accounts, pretty spectacular.
Apple’s trademark secrecy about its plans and intentions is what feeds into these kinds of wild theories about their overall strategy for their products and their highly dedicated fan base too often falls prey to them without giving them some routine fact checking. I don’t blame them in particular however, it’s hard to see fault with a company you admire so much, but this kind of wide-eyed speculation doesn’t do any good for them. Indeed give it a couple weeks and no one will care that there’s yet another map application on iOS and this whole thing will get filed alongside antennagate (remember that?).
The name of the game for all large technology companies is platform unification and domination, with each of them vying to become the platform that consumers choose. Microsoft has been on a long and winding road to accomplishing this since they first talked about it 3 years ago and Apple has been flirting with the idea ever since it started developing its iOS line of products with features like the App Store making its way back into OSX. Neither of them are really there yet as Windows 8/WinRT are still nascent and requiring a lot more application development before the platform can be considered unified and there is still a wide schism betwen iOS and OSX that Apple hasn’t really tried to bridge.
Predominately that’s because Apple understands that they’re two different markets and their current product strategy doesn’t really support bridging those two markets. The iOS space is pretty much a consumer playground as whilst you can do some of the things that Apple’s previous OS was known for on there its far from being the creative platform that OSX was (and still is, to some extent). Indeed attempts to bridge their previous products with more consumer orientated versions have been met with heavy criticism from their long time fans and their failure to provide meaningful product updates to their creative powerhouse the Mac Pro has also drawn the ire of many creative professionals.
If I’m honest I didn’t really think that Apple would turn their backs on the creative niche that is arguably responsible for making them what they are today. It’s understandable from the company’s point of view to focus your attention on the most profitable sectors, much like games developers do with the whole console priority thing, but it almost feels like the time when Apple still considered itself a player in the enterprise space, only to quietly withdraw from it over the course of a couple years. Whilst there isn’t much evidence to support this idea the latest rumours circulating that they may be considering a switch to ARM for their desktop line doesn’t help to dispel that idea.
ARM, for the uninitiated, is a processor company based out of Cambridge that’s responsible for approximately 95% of all the processors that power today’s smartphones. They are unquestionably the kings of the low power space with many of their designs being able to achieve incredible efficiencies which is what enables your phone to run for hours instead of minutes. Whilst they may no longer be the supplier for the chips that powers Apple’s current line of iOS products their technology is still the basis for them. Suffice to say if you’ve got any piece of mobile technology it’s likely that there’s some kind of ARM processor in there and it’s the reason why Microsoft chose it as their second platform for the WinRT framework.
Apple switching platforms is nothing new as they made the switch to x86/Intel back in 2006. The reason back then was that PowerPC, made by IBM, was not able to keep pace with the rapid improvements in performance that Intel was making but was also because of the performance-per-watt of their processors which was arguably why AMD wasn’t considered. Apple’s direction has changed considerably since then and their focus is much more squarely aimed at portable experiences which is far better served by the low power processors that ARM can deliver. For things like the MacBook and the Air lower power means a longer battery life, probably the most key metric by which these portable computers are judged by.
There’s no doubt that Apple will be able to make the transition however I’m not sure that the cost to them, both in real and intangible terms, would be worth it. Forgetting all the technical challenges in getting all your third parties to re-architect their applications the unfortunate fact is that ARM doesn’t have a processor that’s capable of performing at the same level that Intel’s current line is. This means for creative applications like photo/video editing, graphic design and the like their current software suites will simply not be viable on the ARM platform. Since the transition is a ways off its possible that ARM might be able to design some kind of high power variant to satisfy this part of the market but traditionally that’s not their focus and since the desktop sector is one of Apple’s smallest revenue generators I can’t see them wanting to bother doing so.
This is not to say that this would be a bad move for Apple at large however. Being able to have a consistent architecture across their entire line of products is something that no other company would be able to achieve and would be an absolute boon to those seeking a ubiquitous experience across all their devices. It would also be a developer’s wet dream as you could make a cross-platform applications far more easily than you could with other platforms. Considering that Apple makes the majority of its money from ARM based platforms it doesn’t come as much surprise that they might be considering a move to it, even if that’s at the cost of creative sector that brought them back from the graveyard all those years ago.
I don’t usually comment on Apple rumours, mostly because they’re usually just a repeat of the same thing over and over again, but this one caught my attention because if it turns out to be true it will mark Apple’s final step away from its roots. Whilst the creative professionals may lament the disappearance of a platform they’ve been using for over 2 decades the saving grace will be the fact that on a feature level the Windows equivalents of all their programs are at feature parity. Apple will then continue down the consumer electronics road that it has been for the past 10+ years and where it will go from there will be anyone’s guess.
I wasn’t going to write about Apple’s latest release in the iPad Mini and iPad 4 mostly because there wasn’t really anything to write about. The iPad 4 was a bit of a shock considering that the 3 is barely 6 months old and was a pretty significant upgrade over its predecessor so you wouldn’t really think it needed a refresh this early on. The iPad Mini was widely rumoured for a very long time, so much so that blogging about it would feel like I was coming incredibly late to a party that I didn’t really care about in the first place. Thinking about it more though the iPad Mini represents a lot more than just Apple releasing yet another iOS product, it’s a sign of how Apple is no longer in control of the market they created.
Steve Jobs famously said that a tablet smaller than the iPad wouldn’t make any sense as it’d be too small to compete with regular tablets and too big to compete with smart phones. With Apple’s relatively long development cycle its likely that he was aware of the iPad Mini development but I don’t think the idea for its creation came from him. It was easy for him to make judgements from atop the massive tower of iPad sales that he was sitting on at the time however I don’t think he expected them to be as successful as they were. None of them can match the iPad for total numbers sold yet but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a niche area that Apple was failing to exploit.
It all started with the Kindle Fire just over a year ago. The tablet was squarely aimed at a particular market, one that didn’t want to spend a lot on a tablet device and was happy to accept a lower end device in return. This proved to be wildly popular and as of this month Amazon has shipped over 7 million of the devices putting it second only the iPad itself in terms of sales. This in turn drew other companies to the small tablet form factor with the most notable recent addition being the Google Nexus 7 which as of writing has already sold an estimated 3 million units world wide. Apple can’t have been ignorant of this and saw that there was a rather large niche that they weren’t exploiting, hence the release of the iPad Mini.
For a company that’s been making and dominating markets for a decade now the iPad Mini then represents the first product Apple’s created as a reaction to market forces. Whilst we can always point to technology companies that did what did before they entered the market they’re usually no where near as successful. With the small tablet form factor sector however there are multiple companies who have managed to make quite a killing in this particular space prior to Apple entering. You could argue that Apple still owns the tablet space as a whole (and that’s true, to a point) but when it comes to form factors other than those of the traditional iPad Apple has been absent up until this week, and that’s lost money they’ll never recover.
Comparatively it’s a small slice of the overall tablet pie which Apple is still getting the lion’s share of. Even though they might’ve lost 10 million potential sales to a niche market they weren’t filling they still managed to ship 14 million iPads last quarter. Their figures for this quarter might be down on what people were expecting however with the release of the new iPad and the iPad Mini right before the holiday season it’s very likely that they’ll make up that shortfall without too much trouble. Whether that will translate into dominance of the smaller form factor tablet market is up for debate and realistically we’ll only know once next quarter’s results come in.
Whilst I don’t believe this is the beginning of the end for Apple it is the first product to come from them in a long time that, as far as I can tell, is a reaction to the market rather than them attempting to create one. That’s a very different Apple than the one we’re used to seeing and whilst it isn’t necessarily a bad thing (dominating semi-established markets seems to be their bread and butter) it does make you wonder if their focus has shifted away from market creation. I don’t really know enough to answer that but if you were still wondering what Apple under Tim Cook would look like then you might be seeing the beginnings of an answer here. Whether that’s good or not is an exercise I’ll leave for the reader.
I haven’t talked about the Apple vs Samsung court case that’s been raging on for the past year mostly because I didn’t feel like there was anything interesting to say about it. Usually these kinds of court cases are business negotiations that have gone south and they’re just using the legal system to figure out who should be paying who for what. The Apple vs Samsung case was slightly different as it appeared to be more of a move from Apple to try and block Samsung out of the USA market, one where they’re starting to get quite the foothold thanks to their flagship Galaxy devices selling like the proverbial hotcakes. Samsung isn’t completely innocent in this regard either, pulling the same kind of tactic in other markets.
Of course the news recently broke that after 2 days of deliberation the jury on the Apple vs Samsung case returned the verdict that Samsung had indeed wronged Apple and were awarded a cool billion dollars in damages. The damages were broken down on a per device level based on the jury’s judgement of how much they infringed on what the appropriate damages would be. No matter what the decision in the case ended up being there was always going to be something of a media storm following it, and boy was there ever.
On the surface it didn’t look like the fallout from the case was doing Samsung any favours. Trading for Samsung stock closed 7% down on the day after the announcement was made, wiping $12 billion of value from the company and making the fine look like a pittance by comparison. Of course the verdict isn’t completely finalised yet with a potentially lengthy appeals process (and issues with the way the jury decided the verdict could have the whole thing thrown out) to come but there’s no denying that the immediate down turn in the confidence that the market has in Samsung will affect them adversely in the short to medium term.
However Apple may have set themselves up for an unlikely consequence: they put Samsung in the same league as them.
Us high tech geeks could rattle off the differences between Apple and Samsung’s products for hours and realistically they’re completely different beasts. However with this very public lawsuit Apple has gone on record saying that Samsung is basically equivalent to them and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the general public. Indeed this was very much the same way Samsung managed to establish itself as a dominant player in the LCD TV business, often being touted as the cheaper version of the higher quality Sony¹. The same thing appears to be happening in relation to Apple with Samsung more than happy to be second fiddle in such a large market. Indeed the numbers back this idea up, especially when you look at the sales figures of their recent flagship product, the Galaxy S3.
I didn’t come up with this idea myself however, that credit goes to two posts I caught on Google+. It still might be wild speculation but the history of similar things happening with Samsung and other competitors does lend some credence to the idea. Whether Samsung can capitalize on that, especially with the market looking down on the ruling, is something that we’ll only know as time goes on. Their stock hasn’t tumbled any further though so there’s some indication that the initial fine shock might’ve been just that.
Personally I feel it highlights the problems with the USA’s current patent system more than anything else. Instead of them being used to encourage innovation, as was their original intent, they’re now far more likely to be used as weapons in big lawsuits or in negotiations over licensing fees. How we go about solving that problem isn’t something I have a good answer for but until we do we’ll continue to have these kinds of high profile cases which tie up resources that could be put to much better use.
¹I will freely admit that I don’t have anything solid to back this assertion up apart from the countless hours of research I poured into finding the best TV for the right price all those years ago. A cursory search finds threads like this one which echo the sentiment I’m referring to.
There’s no denying the success Apple has enjoyed thanks to their major shift in strategy under Steve Jobs’ reign. Before then they were seen as a direct competitor to Microsoft in almost every way: iMacs vs PCs, MacOS vs Windows and at pretty much every turn they were losing the battle save for a few dedicated niches that kept them afloat. That all changed when they got into the consumer electronics space and began bringing the sacred geek technology to the masses in a package that was highly desirable. There was one aspect of their business that suffered immensely because of this however: their enterprise sector.
Keen readers will note that this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Apple’s less than stellar support of the enterprise market and nothing has really changed in the 8 months since I wrote that last post. Apple as a company is almost entirely dedicated to the consumer space with token efforts for enterprise integration thrown in to make it look like their products can play well in the enterprise space. Strangely enough it would seem that this token effort is somehow working to convince developers that Apple (well really iOS) is poised to take over the enterprise space:
In the largest survey of its kind, Appcelerator developers were asked what operating system is best positioned to win the enterprise market. Developers said iOS over Android by a 53% to 38% margin. Last year, in its second quarter survey, the two companies were in a dead heat for the enterprise market, tied at 44%.
In a surprise of sorts, Windows showed some life as 33% said they would be interested in developing apps on the Windows 8 tablet.
Now there is value in gauging developer’s sentiment regarding the various platforms, it gives you some insight into which ones they’d probably prefer to develop for, however that doesn’t really serve as an indicator as to what platform will win a particular market. I’d hazard a guess (one that’s based on previous trends) that the same developers will tell you that iOS is the platform to develop for even though it’s quite clear that Android is winning in the consumer space by a very wide margin. I believe there’s the same level of disjunct between what Appcelerator’s developers are saying and what the true reality is.
For starters any of the foothold that iOS has in the enterprise space is not born of any effort that Apple has made and all of it is to do with non-Apple products. For iOS to really make a dent in the enterprise market it will need some significant buy in from its corporate overlords and whilst there’s been some inroads to this (like with the Enterprise Distribution method for iOS applications) I’m just not seeing anything like that from Apple currently. All of their enterprise offerings are simplistic and token lacking many of the features that are required by enterprises today. They may have mindshare and numbers that will help drive people to create integration between iOS products and other enterprise applications but so does Android, meaning that’s really not an advantage at all.
What gets me is the (I’m paraphrasing) “sort of surprise” that developers were looking to Windows 8 for developing applications. Taken in the enterprise context the only real surprise is why there aren’t more developers looking at the platform as if there’s any platform that has chance at dominating this sector it is in fact Windows 8. There’s no doubting the challenges that the platform faces what with Apple dominating the tablet space that Microsoft is only just looking at getting into seriously but the leverage they have for integrating with all their enterprise applications simply can’t be ignored. They may not have the numbers yet but if developer mindshare is the key factor here then Microsoft wins hands down, but that won’t show up in a survey that doesn’t include Windows developers (Appcelerator’s survey is from its users only and currently does not support Windows Phone).
I’ve had my share of experience with iOS/Android integration with various enterprise applications and for what its worth none of them are really up to the same level as native platform applications are. Sure you can get your email and even VPN back in to a full desktop using your smartphone but that’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. The executives might be pushing hard to get their iPads/toy dujour on the enterprise systems but they won’t penetrate much further until those devices can provide some real value to those outside of the executive arena. Currently the only platform that has any chance of doing that well is Microsoft with Android coming in second.
None of this means that Apple/iOS can’t do well in the enterprise space, just that there are other players in this market far better positioned to do so. Should Apple put some focus on the enterprise market it’s quite likely they could capture some market share away from Microsoft and their other partners but their business models have been moving increasingly away from this sector ever since they first release the iPod over a decade ago. Returning to the enterprise world is not something I expect to see from Apple or its products any time soon and no developer sentiment is going to change that.