By Dan Moren
March 21, 2016 12:24 PM PT
Apple shifts focuses from small products to big issues
Your typical Apple event, that was not.
In a presentation that ran just about an hour, Apple spent almost as much time talking about its social initiatives as it did new products. And when the dust cleared, we were left with essentially two new sizes of existing products: the 4-inch iPhone SE and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. (Okay, and a bunch of nylon watch bands.) If Apple’s usual keynotes are a two-hour marathon, complete with musical number, then this was a brisk 5K.
It seems no accident that Tim Cook and company decided to hold this event in March, as it’s just about six months away from the major fall show the company usually holds in September, which in past years has seen usher in brand new iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, Macs, and more. What we saw was the “tock” to the fall event’s “tick,” a chance to expand Apple’s product lines in breadth, if not push them forward to the next major milestone.
The same could be said of software. Apple talked up iOS 9.3, with its new Night Shift feature and password-protected notes, and tvOS 2’s Siri improvements, but both were more in line with the kind of update you’d expect from a 9.5 or a tvOS 1.5—something to tide you over until a major overhaul gets previewed in the summer and released in September. 1
This was all about putting a stake in the ground. Apple’s now likely to have three events this year, about three months apart. In June, the company will appeal to its developer audience at WWDC (though we got a taste of that today with the ResearchKit and CareKit promotions), and in the fall to consumers.
So today…today was about the social message. With the company scheduled to appear Tuesday at a court hearing in its case versus the Department of Justice, it was the perfect time for Tim Cook to not only make the latest in a long line of public statements about privacy and government intrusion—but even more so, to follow that up with a one-two feel-good punch. They’re saving the environment, see? Recycling iPhones with the help of a lovable robot! Building their solar panels around indigenous wildlife! And lest you think they only care about trees and yaks, they’re also working hard to make people healthier! All designed to bring home one message: these are the good guys.
If the Apple-FBI fight isn’t yet about public opinion, it probably will be if the matter ends up going to Congress. So it’s no surprise that Tim Cook is going to use his bully pulpit to push Apple’s track record on the welfare of its customers and the world at large, rather than how many products it’s sold and how much money it’s made. In a rare moment, Apple even took a jab at itself when, during its introductory video lauding the company’s 40 years of products, it mentioned the Newton, only to quickly scribble it out. 2 If not exactly a moment of humility, then it at least demonstrates a bit of self-awareness for a company that often seems to take itself in deadly earnest.
With its position as one of the most valuable companies in the world, Apple’s fights are increasingly less with its direct competitors in the technology space than they are with the edges of society and reality that the company’s starting to butt up against: the environment, working conditions, privacy, diversity, even foreign relations. 3 Technology has become an intrinsic part of all our lives, and that means it’s not isolated in its little bubble, but part of the big, scary world. Tim Cook’s Apple clearly aims to take that head on.
Which, when you think about it, seems a bit unfair to the upgrade cycle, since three months out, Apple employees are surely already deeply embroiled in the next major releases of all of Apple’s platforms. ↩
No mention of the hockey-puck mouse. Too soon? ↩
Honestly it starts to sound less like a technology platform than a political one. ↩
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