Editorial: Apple's AirPods, iPhone 7, Series 2 Watch out... journalists
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The September 7 Apple Event raised some troubling questions for many tech journalists and their prewritten narratives. It's almost as if they'd been caught in a huge lie and were now forced to ad-lib a toddler-like series of distractions in a bid to avoid any consequences to their reputations. They're often wrong, here's why.
iPhone 7 Plus
Troubling questions for common sense, populist pundits
Apple's outline of the Apple Watch Series 2, iPhone 7 and AirPod product announcements— and related partnerships— contained a few surprises but basically followed the overall expectations one has when attending an Apple Event.
The real surprise was the catastrophic collapse of the narratives invented by the collective tech media. Their unflattering portrayal of Apple, painted throughout 2016, ended up looking like it had been modeled after an entirely different subject when exposed to the reality presented in Apple's straightforward executive-level talent show, particularly when observing the subsequent reaction of consumers to Apple's news.
Apple's "lack of innovation" was supposed to incite an explosion of interest in Galaxy Note 7 and whet appetites for Samsung's flagship Galaxy S7
For instance, why is the Cupertino company now struggling to meet pre-order demand for its new iPhone 7 models when everyone knew the next iPhones would be totally boring even before having seen them? The tech media and Apple's most plugged in analysts were very clear on this all year long.
Apple's "lack of innovation" was supposed to incite an explosion of interest in Galaxy Note 7 and whet appetites for Samsung's flagship Galaxy S7. But it's now quite clear that there wasn't anything backing up this narrative apart from desperate efforts to erect a false balance.
Nothing new to see here!
Throughout 2016, clickbait had all nodded in agreement: nobody buys iPhones anymore because they already have one; nearly a billion people in India can't even afford one; there are two new brands— OPPO and Vivo, albeit built by the same vendor— that you've never heard about before in China, but that are addressing a market outside of Apple's (they make phones that sell for 1/3 as much to demographics outside Apple's core audience in China's vast urban cores); and everyone already knows that next year's iPhone 8 will be better, so seriously, who will be lining up to buy iPhone 7?
Well, many of the customers with preorders stressing Apple's supply chain are actually already members of its existing [nearly] one billion installed base of iPhone users who didn't buy one of the roughly 200m iPhone 6s models sold over the last year. That means they are now ready to upgrade, which is sort of predictable because this pattern has played out repeatedly over the past decade.
Apple could have simply rereleased iPhone 6s and there would still have been many iPhone 4s/5/5c/5s/6 buyers ready to upgrade to the significantly better model. However, iPhone 7 is actually a major update and so some of those preorders are iPhone 6s buyers who are flush enough to buy themselves a new phone every year.
But it appears that a significant slice of those buying iPhone 7 will be Android switchers who are sick and tired of not getting updates and patches, leaving them exposed to serious security and privacy issues; or who are done with waiting for apps that never make it to their platform or— as in the case of Pokemon Go— arrive but don't necessarily work correctly; or who are tempted to join their friends on iOS 10 so they can be blue bubble people in iMessage and outfit themselves with an Apple Watch and use AirPods or the new Beats headphones that switch between devices without dealing with the rough edges of Bluetooth pairing.
It's very clear that Apple's sales of iPhones are snowballing. This occurs even in years (like 2016) where sales didn't exceed those of the prior year. Dramatic growth is still occurring in the installed base, and that ever larger IB is expanding the pool of future iPhone buyers.
It's very clear that Apple's sales of iPhones are snowballing. This occurs even in years (like 2016) where sales didn't exceed those of the prior year. Dramatic growth is still occurring in the installed base
This is also evident with Apple Watch, Mac and iPad, where despite cyclical sales (where a quarter or even an entire year may be lower than the previous year), Apple's installed base continues to grow, feeding both future sales from eventual upgrades, and surging current revenue sales related to Services.
Whenever you read an opinion that worries that Apple's unit sales are down from a peak or even trending downward over several years, ask yourself why that sort of doom and gloom reporting is never applied elsewhere, such as when Samsung spends three years fighting to win back its sales volumes from 2014, or as Microsoft and Google wallow in perpetually bleak shipments for Zune, Surface, Nexus and Pixel hardware. Outside of Apple, there's little but giddy optimism of a comeback, however unlikely.
Those are the kinds of authors who are lying to you, and fully warrant none of your attention.
iPhone 7 is the new Black
And really, who could have predicted that at least some of the channel-robbing, inventory-abusing interest in iPhone 7 is being driven by the availability of a flashy new distinctive color that makes it clear to everyone else that you own the latest thing? I mean, this is only the sixth consecutive year that Apple has introduced an exclusive new color.
After struggling as hard to get iPhone 4 released in a white case as it did to deliver a CDMA version in 2011, Apple followed up with iPhone 5 in Slate and Silver versions featuring distinctive beveled edges; iPhone 5s debuted Gold and a new Space Grey black, while iPhone 5c introduced a series of bright colors; iPhone 6 reintroduced Space Grey as a flat aluminum look; iPhone 6s introduced a champagne Rose Gold finish; iPhone SE appeared in a refreshed, flat metallic set of colors and iPhone 7 now introduces two new blacks: a high gloss Jet Black and a new matte Black.
One can scoff at the merits of fashion and finishes on a technology product, but it's clear that appearance drives the sale of other fashion products, and Apple has a lengthy and robust understanding of how consumers react to finishes and materials based on millions of sales of Macs, iPods, iPhones, iPads and now Apple Watch. So much so that Samsung now closely copies it.
Don't they know doom is contagious?
Why was Nintendo launching its first mobile game on iOS when everyone knows that a) Android is more popular, b) Pokemon Go was coded by a Google startup, c) there are already so many iOS Apps that nobody can possibly stand out, d) nobody uses apps anymore, e) nobody even buys smartphones anymore and f) two brands in China now sell so many basic smartphones in the PRC that Apple's market share is down in China?
It's almost as if Nintendo doesn't keep up with CNET, Engadget, The Verge, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal and doesn't read IDC's PR reports!
Similarly, why is Nike, the world's most famous sports related brand, now partnering with Apple to make a specialized running edition of the Series 2 Apple Watch, given that we all know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Apple Watch is a huge failure with sales far below that of last year's iPhone 6s?
IDC has made it clear in its graphs and charts that it wants you to think that the two market leaders in wearables are FitBit and Xiaomi, despite the former being unable to launch a desirable watch or upsell its band users very far above $88 and the latter merely shipping millions of $13-25 bands that appear to be used about as frequently as Android tablets ever make contact with the web.
Sure, Apple Watch is vastly larger than the rest of the market combined in terms of wearable revenues and is the only smartwatch vendor to ship in significant quantities, but as IDC likes to emphasize, Apple Watch sales are down from their launch peak!
It's almost as if customers were waiting to see what the new Series 2 generation will offer; either that or there's just a mysterious collapse in interest in buying a year old product at a price point that hasn't been discounted. Call it a big box paradox.
The AirPod conundrum
Lastly, Apple introduced a new product— a pair of wireless headphones in a charging case— that stoked "outrage" in that the product is small enough to misplace or lose. This was an entirely new epiphany the tech media— and meme authors at Reddit— collectively appreciated in common.
Never before had small electronic devices posed such an obvious loss threat to affluent consumers. Certainly not this summer when Motorola introduced its more expensive and even smaller (but poorly reviewed) VerveOnes+; nor when Samsung unveiled its similarly more expensive Gear IconX buds, which aren't standard Bluetooth buds and won't work with iOS devices.
Did you even notice that Apple's AirPod pricing was about 20 percent less than similar offerings from Motorola and Samsung? No journalists seemed to. Apple's also appear to work better, and they can function as standard Bluetooth devices with Android and Windows, albeit lacking the special sauce magic that enhances the experience on Apple Watch, iOS and Macs.
This LossGate issue also wasn't a thing way back in 2007 when Steve Jobs introduced Apple's similarly sized Bluetooth headset for the original iPhone. Suddenly, however, almost ten years later we have devolved into a society of buffoons who can't manage to hold onto anything, at least if its something that's sold by Apple.
Journaling system failure
The quality of the media coverage following this week's Apple Event raises the question: are journalists operating under the assumption that their audience is universally stupid or are they just borderline basic themselves? Why doesn't the tech media seek to clearly journal events rather than writing dramatic narratives of comedy and tragedy?
After sitting through the entire Keynote, you'd think journalists would have a lot to talk about, without any need to contrive a positive or negative slant. These three basic observations also provide some illumination into the industry at large:
One, Apple's approach to fixing the worst rough edges of Bluetooth (providing effortlessly simple and secure pairing configuration that lets you move a wireless audio device between a Mac, iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch) without becoming incompatible with bog-standard Bluetooth products shows that everything in the tech world isn't simply "open" or "proprietary" in a neatly binary way but rather can be a hybrid of both.
As noted previously, Samsung's approach— despite being a major Android licensee— is not interoperable and costs more. Throwing Android at something doesn't necessarily make it magically cheaper or more "open" in a desirable way. Good luck finding acknowledgment of that among the tech media.
Two, Apple is forming partnerships with others to sell its "failed"/industry leading Apple Watch: struggling also-rans like fashion icon Hermes (above) or legendary sports brand Nike. This raises the parallel question: why is Android Wear such a failure in this regard? Despite lots of highly touted partnerships and licensees, Google's Android wearable efforts have not resulted in a functional, commercially viable platform for app developers, fashion labels or sports brands.
Three, iPhone 7 features an expanding array of custom silicon: Apple's new A10 Fusion application processor with an integrated M10 motion processor, Secure Enclave for Touch ID-based encryption and advanced proprietary camera logic; the MEMS technology in the Taptic Engine shared by both iPhone 7 and Apple Watch to provide haptic feedback; and the W1 chip Apple's using in its AirPods to enhance and optimize the audio and user interface experience, from setup to control via tap gestures and automatic pause triggered by an optical sensor when you remove them.
Why is Apple— frequently derided as a marketing company that can't innovate— so many miles ahead of leading technology component specialty vendors?
Why is Apple— frequently derided as a marketing company that can't innovate— so many miles ahead of leading technology component specialty vendors? Samsung/GlobalFoundries has advanced sensors and chip designs and fabrication plants. Yet Samsung, along with world-leading chip fabs TSMC and Intel, are all three dancing marionettes in a play where Apple pulls the strings to achieve the results it needs, leveraging all three to its competitive advantage.
No other chip integrator comes close to Apple in terms of creating mass market demand for premium, advanced silicon. Apple's role here is expanding rapidly. Specialized chip designers— the firms that Apple used to buy off-the-shelf parts from— are now being incrementally replaced with internal custom silicon, whether for motion tracking, camera and image processing, wireless controllers, the 5K iMac and iPad Pro display timing controllers and so on. Apple is now doing advanced specialized work across all these fields. Surely that's noteworthy development to investigate?
Instead we're getting little more than pre-prepared remarks that could have been delivered without even attending Apple's carefully orchestrated unveiling, including naval gazing about the lack of an analog headphone jack— a subject already discussed ad nauseam and that isn't really all that big of a deal given Apple's efforts to mitigate issues users might have in the transition— as well as wasted hours contemplating Phil Schiller's' use of the term "courage" in an allusion to Steve Jobs' mention of the "courage of conviction" required to kill Adobe Flash, rather than attempt to placate journalists demanding that they should be the final arbiters of the feature lists of Apple products.
Capitalism vs the fascist media
That, really, is a core issue in the tech media, which seems to see itself as a check to Apple's market power in leveraging a populist veto arbitrarily dictated as what the people need. What journalists should be doing— rather than seeking to influence outcomes— is to inform readers of the subjects that are of importance to them. It's buyers that influence outcomes via the market.
When Jobs introduced the iPod HiFi in 2006, buyers shrugged it off into a discontinued product. When he introduced the "fat" 3G iPod Nano in 2007, buyers' lack of interest seemed to guide the company back to a tall form factor the following year. In 2010, a new square iPod nano was introduced that pushed Apple toward a wrist-mounted band with watch faces the following year. That seemed to generate enough interest to drive the development of Apple Watch.
The market seems to be working quite well without journalists erecting a propaganda smokescreen to empower them to act as the all powerful Supreme Soviet dictating how and what Apple can and should be doing. If journalists can embrace their role of asking smart questions— even tough, critical ones— and better informing their readers, the rest of us can vote with our dollars and get what we want.
Pretty clearly, individuals with resources want what Apple is serving. They don't want the Android experience that Google and its partners have incompetently delivered over the past several years, no matter how much Samsung plies the press with free kit and glowing self-praise that claims its copycat appropriation of Apple's work is somehow simply brilliant innovation.
Similarly, we don't need media sources propping up Microsoft's Surface, or breathing life support into brain-dead initiatives like the Moto X or Project Ara.
We do not need to be spoon-fed media opinions based on the objectives of Apple's rivals. And we don't need to bathe in a false narrative that Apple isn't really successful, doesn't ever know what it's doing and is at real risk of constant failure for failing to listen to the media's ideas.
So please, give us a break.