By Jason Snell
August 31, 2018 9:18 PM PT
The season begins
Earlier this summer my family and I spent a couple of weeks in Europe. After spending my first three decades tethered to North America, since 2000 I’ve traveled across the Atlantic Ocean on many different occasions, and it’s given me a chance to reflect on just how much advances in technology have changed (and, on balance, improved) the travel experience.
On Upgrade, the podcast I do with Myke Hurley, we’ve spent the last two months doing a special segment called the Summer of Fun. The truth behind that segment is that summer is a time for scheduling around vacations, for the audience not paying attention, and—most importantly for a show designed around technology topics—for a long, quiet period between Apple’s WWDC and the announcement of new iPhones.
We’re about to enter Labor Day weekend, the cultural end of summer here in the U.S., though technically it’s summer for another few weeks. (And in the Bay Area, we’ll get our warmest weather in the next two months. But nobody wants to hear about that.) Most importantly, yesterday I got an email from Apple in my Inbox, inviting me to its next media event on September 12 at the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park campus in Cupertino.
Thus ends the Summer of Fun, and begins the fall of many, many, many new Apple products. It’s simultaneously my favorite time of year and the most exhausting. It would be more friendly for those who write about Apple products for the company to roll out, say, a new product every few weeks, rather than potentially rolling out a dozen new products in a two-month period in the early autumn, but Apple’s not here to make my job easier, it’s here to sell a lot of products in the holiday quarter. And it will!
Among the things we have to look forward to, I believe, are new iPhones, new iPad Pros, new Apple Watches, new non-pro MacBooks, and new iMacs. It feels unlikely to me that Apple will roll them all out on Sept. 12, which means we might be in store for a second, late-October Apple media event to announce whatever doesn’t get mentioned in September, probably Macs and maybe iPad Pros, too.
From a very big-picture perspective, it feels like Apple is in the middle of a reorganization of its entire product line. This is most visible with the iPad, which has transformed from a bit of a mess to a category with two clearly defined products with clear names: the iPad, which is cheap and designed for a general audience, and the iPad Pro, which is expensive and loaded with new technology and designed for people who really want to get the most out of the device. I think the clear separation between the two products has helped the iPad as a whole, allowing the iPad to focus on being a good value and the iPad Pro to loading in the cool new features.
Apple has tried to do this with the Mac, but it’s hit a few hang-ups. The cute 12-inch MacBook laptop was seemingly named with the idea that it would be the simple, non-pro device at the bottom of the Mac laptop line, with the MacBook Pro at the high end. But the MacBook Air has carried on way past its sell-by date, and the top of the line has been weirdly cluttered, with two different 13-inch MacBook Pro models with the same name and very different features. It’s a work in progress, though I hope this fall gives it more clarity.
And then there’s the iPhone. Having lived with it for a year, it’s easy to take Apple’s introduction of the iPhone X for granted, but it was a huge move to release three different flagship iPhones at once. This year, so far as the rumors tell us, Apple’s going to continue its remaking of the iPhone line, offering two high-end OLED phones in the iPhone X style, plus a lower-cost LCD phone that’s large and also in the iPhone X style.
It leaves me wondering, what happens to the iPhone 6/7/8 design style people are so comfortable with? It’s unlikely to be gone entirely, but is there an iPhone 8S waiting in the wings? Is the iPhone 8 going to slowly become the new iPhone SE? And where does that leave fans of the smaller phone hardware currently residing in the iPhone SE?
Lots of questions there. But the key is this: After several years of settling into a simple, predictable product line for its most valuable product, Apple is now actively remaking the iPhone as a product line. I’m not quite sure where it’s going long-term—surely the numbering has to stop at some point?—but it seems to be comfortable with the idea that the iPhone is no longer a singular product with some variations. It’s legitimately a product line, with an array of different devices, updated regularly, that serve different portions of the market.
Given that all of us have different priorities (and hand sizes!), the prospect that Apple will offer us more cutting-edge iPhone choice every year is a good thing. We’ll see what the details are on Sept. 12, but given the success Apple has had in making the iPad line make sense, I’m optimistic that the iPhone will end up even stronger after the reshuffling and realignment.