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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Opinion: Has Apple run out of ideas?

Opinion: Has Apple run out of ideas?
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NewsPoster
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Sep 14, 2015, 12:13 AM
 
If we are to believe some of the reports following the Apple's "Hey Siri" event, Apple would seem to have run out of ideas. Apparently the iPad Pro is a "complete rip-off" of the Microsoft Surface Pro -- as Apple is selling a first-party keyboard accessory alongside it, as well as a stylus. The iPhone 6s is only an "incremental upgrade," and the new Apple TV is also another example of Apple playing "catch-up." Further, the new Apple Watch models are apparently evidence that the Apple Watch is struggling and Apple is trying to kick start sales. Apple naysayers need to scratch a little beneath surface.

As our own William Gallagher recently wrote, when Steve Jobs made his remark, "if you see a stylus, they blew it," he was referring specifically to the use of a stylus on a tablet as principal navigational tool. In fact, while under the tenure of Steve Jobs, and later Tim Cook, Apple had been awarded several patents for styluses. The Apple Pencil, as it has been dubbed, is designed for the iPad Pro specifically, has not been designed for Apple's smartphones, and is an optional drawing tool, not a mandatory general-use tool, made specifically for the iPad Pro. The technologies it uses, within the implement itself and embedded in the display, make it one of the most advanced implementations of any stylus to date.

Critics of the new iPad Pro, many of whom haven't even used the device yet, have suggested that it is a reaction to the Microsoft Surface Pro. If the Surface Pro, or in fact any of the Surface devices are in fact so wonderful, why have they failed to get anywhere near the traction that Apple's iPad line has gained in the market? That said, we have always argued on this site that, despite its poor sales, the Surface has always had a lot of potential. However, it was slugged with either the truly awful Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT, while mobile, touch-first app support for the Surface was also poor.

People seem to have short memories when it comes to the iPad and the keyboard. When the iPad launched, Apple originally released a keyboard accessory for the iPad. It looked like Apple's standard full-size wireless keyboard for its Mac desktops, but had a dock that only allowed the iPad to connect in an upright position. Some early iPad prototypes actually had two docking ports that would allow the iPad to connect to such an accessory, in either portrait or landscape mode. Apple dropped the accessory, as it was a bit clunky, and better-integrated third-party solutions quickly flooded the market.



Further, Apple also added Bluetooth support for keyboards on the iPad many moons ago. Are these the actions of a company that is somehow anti-keyboards for tablets? There is a good reason why Apple never released a first-party integrated keyboard cover for the 9.7-inch iPad (let alone the iPad mini). Quite simply, the 9.7-inch iPad is not wide enough to support a full-size typing experience. If you've ever used an integrated third-party keyboard solution for a 9.7-inch iPad, you will know that is no where near as comfortable as typing on a full-size keyboard. It's just not a great experience, as your hands can quickly become cramped and fatigued. The arrival of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is much more suited to having a first-party integrated keyboard accessory, given its width - hence, the new Apple Smart Keyboard cover.



Another reason why the iPad Pro is no Microsoft Surface rip-off is that the two devices take fundamentally different approaches to their respective operating systems. Apple's iOS has been built from the ground up as a touch-first mobile operating system. Microsoft's approach to the Surface has been to have it run its full desktop operating system, which tried, but failed, to properly adapt to the mobile tablet experience -- at least with Windows 8. Windows 10 is a different proposition, and we are interested to see whether Microsoft has got the approach right this time around for these types of devices.

It's arguable that running an operating system that supports desktop apps gives the Microsoft Surface an edge on the mobile-only iPad Pro. However, as Apple pointed out during its presentation, the A9X chip is more powerful than 90 percent of mobile PCs that shipped over the past year. In fact, based on our testing of the older A8X SoC from the iPad Air 2, which is almost as fast as the current-generation Intel Core M, the iPad Pro will be eating Intel Core M-powered Windows tablet PCs for breakfast.

You can expect a whole new class of high-power, desktop-class mobile apps purpose-made for the iPad Pro that will just about nullify this argument. Head-to-head, with the powerful new multitasking features in iOS 9, the iPad Pro will more than hold its own against the Surface and similar PC competition.

The iPhone 6s has been accused by Apple detractors of being a merely "incremental upgrade." Sure, it follows Apple's trend of retaining a device design language for two generations, but even the aluminum in the new 6s chassis is all-new. In fact, if you splayed the innards of the iPhone 6 and placed them next to the new iPhone 6s, very few of the components carry over. The iPhone 6s has all-new camera optics, front and rear, it has an all-new Touch ID sensor, the all-new 3D Touch display, an all-new Taptic Engine, and of course, the all-new custom Apple A9 SoC. It is a truly next-generation device in just about every regard, and is full of new thinking.



The new Apple TV has seen the naysayers suggesting that is another example of Apple playing "catch up." Apple is not always the first company to hit the market with all-new product categories, and to expect that of Apple is simply unrealistic. However, what Apple excels at is refining existing product categories in ways that inevitably others follow. But the way the rumor mill is these days, as soon as there is a whiff that Apple is working on a new product, Samsung, more than any other competitor, rushes a new product to market that is based on the rumored Apple product. 

I can think of several instances where Samsung has beaten Apple to market with a device that is a response, not to a released Apple product (as it did with the original Galaxy smartphones), but to the rumor of an Apple product. Thanks to Samsung's industrial capabilities, it has beaten Apple to market with Galaxy smartwatches, its larger Galaxy Tab Pro 12-inch tablet, and in bringing voice control to its TVs. The difference between Apple and Samsung is that Apple likes to beta test its hardware and software in-house, whereas Samsung is quite happy to release underdone and half-baked beta products on the unsuspecting masses. 



Getting back to the Apple TV, which features the voice-controlled Siri remote, it may not be the first set top box to market with voice control or even an app store, but you can guarantee that it will be the most refined and thoughtfully-developed user interface out there. Apple's natural voice control interactions also look to have taken ease of control and navigation to new levels of simplicity.

You can also bet the next Samsung remote will also feature a swipe control surface too. Nintendo, meanwhile, will be wondering how it is now going to survive in the face of not only the threat of the Microsoft Xbox and Sony's PlayStation franchises, but now Apple entering the casual motion-controlled gaming space too.
 
As for the new Apple Watch models, far from an admission that the Apple Watch is struggling to gain traction, this is all about Apple continuing to build a momentum in this new product category, while it continues to shift the goalposts for its competitors. Based on the most reliable estimates, the Apple Watch is already the most popular smartwatch yet made. It is thought that in all of 2014, Android Wear sales from all manufacturers totaled just 700,000 sales. Apple Watch sales in the first weekend alone easily outstripped this.  Even if the Apple Watch has its flaws, it is by far the best smartwatch on the market and we have found it quickly becoming an indispensable part of our daily workflows.

The new Apple Watch Hermés collection is a masterstroke and shows that Apple is thinking and acting in all-new ways and continuing to evolve. Never before has Apple partnered with a company like this. The most valuable piece of real-estate on the Apple Watch is the face of the device and Apple has allowed Hermés to co-brand it -- no doubt for a decent fee. Expect to see more of these types of strategic partnerships from Apple with the Apple Watch, and quite possibly with other devices in its line up. 



If you look across Apple's current product portfolio, the company is looking in very good shape. Apple retains several key competitive edges that stem from its unique combination of control over hardware and software. It also has at least a 12-month lead over mobile chip makers with its A9-series SoCs, while its Force Touch, 3D Touch and Taptic Engine technologies are also unmatched by the competition.This is to say nothing of its market leading customer service and overall ecosystem.

If there is one area that has let Apple down somewhat in recent times, it has been aspects of its execution. However, Apple has far from run out of ideas, and its product range is loaded with new thinking and offers broad appeal across multiple consumer and professional market segments. For some reason, people continue to write Apple off, only to discover that people find new and innovative ways to use Apple technology that aren't immediately obvious. Expect the technologies unveiled at the "Hey Siri" event to push further into lives of people in unexpected and new ways, just as Apple has been doing especially well this past several years.

-- Sanjiv Sathiah
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Sep 18, 2015 at 01:01 PM. )
     
bleee
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Sep 14, 2015, 07:55 AM
 
I've never used a surface but I have used a Windows XP Tablet edition back when they first came out with the swivel screen that could convert the Laptop to a Tablet. I thought the hardware was fine but the software was terrible. The experience wasn't seamless so using the pen in tablet mode which you had to for text entry and navigation sucked. XP wasn't optimized for the pen as a text entry or navigation tool and third party apps weren't either.

Originally I thought tablet pc was a great idea but Microsofts problem had always been execution. Their other software untie just don't work well together.

Jobs is still right you shouldn't need to pull out a pen to do basic things like responding the an iMessage or surfing the web with Safari. A pen is a specialized data entry tool.
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MitchIves
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Sep 14, 2015, 09:06 AM
 
I'm a Mac guy, but I see Surface tablets everywhere... particularly in business. Yes, the iPad is great, but here I am using an Air... why? Because an iPad has it's place, but it's no replacement for a computer. I'm not sure it will be any time soon, but I'm prepared to be wrong...
     
prl99
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Sep 14, 2015, 09:49 AM
 
@Mitch, I agree with your comment but I have a different perspective on it. I used a Mac when I was working for a government contractor but most of the people were constrained to using PCs. As the internal system was developed, more and more of the data was kept on servers and less on the actual PCs. This served three purposes: 1) data was accessible wherever that person was logged on (both Macs and PCs bound to AD), 2) the data was easier to back up because the entire server was backed up, and 3) security and maintenance was increased and improved because the data wasn't on the desktop. Of course, I didn't like following their rules so I backed up my own data. With an iPad, you should be able to integrate into this environment where all your data is on the internal cloud. Most of the users I dealt with didn't do anything special other than email, Office product use, and web access (for lots of things). An iPad can do this just fine. It's amazing how many people in business don't actually need a "computer," all they really need is a dumb monitor into a computer/server system. As long as you have access to your company's server, you have access to your company's data.
     
bdkennedy1
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Sep 14, 2015, 12:11 PM
 
You know, I keep reading sh*t like this, but Apple continues to set sales records. Apple didn't just pull an iPad Pro out of their as*. It takes R&D and 2-3 years in development to come out with a polished product.
     
Spheric Harlot
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Sep 14, 2015, 01:17 PM
 
You need to read past the headlines.

Betteridge's Law of Headlines holds true: If the headline asks a question, it can generally be answered with "no".

Sanjiv comes to the same conclusion in this article.
     
climacs
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Sep 14, 2015, 05:00 PM
 
iPad Pro: meant for the corporate/education/health care markets. Think the Apple/IBM linkup. Recently read through a thread with professional photog/videographers discussing the iPad Pro. Consensus: they prefer the SP3 for several reasons, including not-yet-available Adobe apps and most importantly inability to directly load image/video files onto it, nor attach external storage. That's because it wasn't designed for you, not really. Enjoy your Surface Pro 3, though (really, not meant sarcastically). iPhone 6S/6S+: sooooooo sick of reading rants from fandroids about stupid crApple sheep overpaying for a status symbol. Because, you know, if you can't root your bloatware-crippled phone then you're a loser who shouldn't be allowed to have a smartphone. It's entirely possible to like your Android phone without shitting on people who prefer iOS. It's like listening to eight year olds throwing tantrums because someone said something bad about their mommy. If you're blind to the significant flaws with the Android OS and its various implementations, if you can't admit Apple's hardware is very well-engineered, there's no hope for you. Oh and I wish I had a buck for every fandroid who valiantly battles the strawman of "Apple didn't do it first you poopyhead, unh uh!"... I'd plow it all into AAPL, which is still insanely cheap. Finally, Apple Watch: I've still seen more of these in the wild in the few months it's been out, than I have in the nearly two years Samsung's craptastic, fugly watches have been on the market. Has Apple Watch been a home run? No. Was Apple implying it might be? I don't know, I sure did not think it would be. A lot of people are going to have to be convinced it's worth buying. The people I do know who have it, they absolutely love it. I never imagined it was going to be an iPod-like home run the moment it came out (even the iPod took a couple years to get its legs under it). Let's revisit Apple Watch in 2017, when HomeKit and HealthKit enabled devices are more widespread. Only then will, I think, people see the potential and usefulness of it.
     
climacs
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Sep 14, 2015, 05:03 PM
 
oh, and iPhone 6S/6S+ is selling quite nicely in pre-orders. Investors are way overestimating the impact of China's stock market retreat on Apple sales. They forget that Apple prospered handsomely even while the Great Recession was ravaging the US and world economy. I am also certain that we still have not seen the end of switchers who will abandon Android now that Apple also offers a large and very large screen.
     
panjandrum
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Sep 14, 2015, 06:02 PM
 
Honestly I'm less concerned about new ideas and a lot more concerned with the quality of the software and UI. I would trade every new hardware-advance of the past 5 years if we could just get the wonderful Apple usability back. (Just spent another wonderfully frustrating afternoon trying to explain how the idiotic "versioning" system is supposed to work to a group of teachers. It's left me in an especially nasty mood regarding Apple's "progress" over these last few years. Most of these teachers are reasonably good with technology, all of them have used Macs in the school for almost a decade now, have had years to adjust to the new system, and NONE of them can learn the new system by anything other than pure-memorization. Why? Because it makes absolutely zero sense. It's like trying to learn to drive a car where turning the steering wheel right turns you to the right, but turning it left applies the brakes, and the brake pedal also acts as a brake, but only if your left elbow is on the arm-rest, and... and... and... It's possibly the single least-intuitive thing I've ever seen in an OS. Well, expect for Windows 8 of course, that was indisputably biggest nightmare of all time...). So I guess I agree that Apple isn't out of ideas, but when it comes to their software, most of their ideas are simply bad ones...
     
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Sep 16, 2015, 07:55 AM
 
@panjandrum I've read your post 3 times now and (with all due respect) I have NO idea what you are talking about. I'm curious however. Could you please elaborate?
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Spheric Harlot
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Sep 16, 2015, 08:28 AM
 
I too don't get it.

The automatic versioning in Yosemite has saved me work a few times when I inadvertently opened and edited an old invoice before doing "Duplicate" (Cmd-shift-S, just like the old "Save as…" command), saving it before realizing that I'd just saved over the old invoice.

Showed recent versions, picked the last one...done.

In what use cases is it causing problems?
     
   
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