Ironically, for all the running, swimming and hiking adventures for which Apple designs its watches, hearing peripherals—and to an extent, its smartphones—the company itself is merely jogging in place.
For two years in succession, the world’s richest and most well-known consumer IT device maker hasn’t been able to come up with a new product to maintain the innovation-leader image the company tries to project.
For the record, the last time Apple showcased an entirely new product was in 2014, when it introduced the Apple Watch. Before that, the new product was the iPad in 2010.
Even though it spent an inordinate amount of time at its product launch event Sept. 7 talking about how its products help users improve their overall health and specifically how it has partnered with Nike on a new waterproof watch for running and swimming, Apple offered its customers only variations on current products.
AirPods a Notable Variation on an Older Product
In a media event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco, Apple surprised no one in introducing the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, a set of wireless ear buds called AirPods, an updated Apple Watch and new partnerships with the aforementioned Nike, Nintendo and Facebook’s Instagram.
Is Apple offering interesting new variations? The answer is yes. The addition of a vastly improved set of cameras in the iPhone 7 Plus that includes a telephoto lens and larger aperture is an outstanding new feature many users will value.
AirPods are strange-looking but an interesting concept. These small earphones (not trivially priced at $159 and available in October) are designed similarly to regular Apple earbuds, with a five-hour battery and an antenna that hangs down a few inches below the user’s ears, making it appear as though white tubes of some kind are protruding from the listener’s head. I’m sensing a product redesign in the future, but the idea is a good one.
Oh, one more thing: These little guys will be very, very easy to lose. They’re small, and when one of them falls out of an ear while jogging or climbing–and you can bet they will–you might as well throw the other one away, too, because it will be virtually useless.
Nike Watch Is Ruggedized
The updated Apple Watch Series 2’s main new feature is its own GPS, which enables users to gather fitness data during an outdoor workout without having to take along a smartphone.
Apple also introduced a Nike-branded version of the watch that is ruggedized for running, swimming and whatever other sport in which users choose to compete.
Here is what other analysts and other vendors in the mobile space were saying Sept. 7 after the product launch.
“Though not a completely redesigned smartphone, Apple did announce enough innovation to the new iPhone 7 devices to maintain its leadership,” said Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Thomas Husson. “In particular, the timing is ideal for Apple to leverage its Beats acquisition and deliver new headphones—bundling voice-based services from Siri with an Apple Music subscription offering.
“While Samsung raised the bar in terms of smartwatch functionalities with its more autonomous Gear S3, I believe Apple delivers more value to consumers with the new Apple Watch—simply because it is best-positioned to provide more differentiated services thanks to its partner ecosystems,” Husson said. “That said, the new Apple Watch isn’t the new disruptive product that Apple needs.”
Julie Ask, Forrester vice president and principal analyst, noted: “Consumers underestimate the engineering feats that the iPhone 7 brings, like the audio, camera, processing power, etc., in such a small package. Once they have it in their hands, they will fall in love with it. While it’s hard to market performance and speed, consumers need to experience it firsthand to get it. We may see a lukewarm response, but the iPhone 7 will pick up momentum once consumers have them in their possession.”
Is Apple Innovation Slipping as It Upgrades iPhone, Watch?
Ian Fogg, IHS:
“Apple needs the iPhone 7 to be a major success, because it is the main driver of growth for the whole company. Apple has seen iPhone shipments fall year-on-year in 2016, and it needs the iPhone to return to growth. Direct revenues for the iPhone represented 57 percent of total Apple revenue in the second calendar quarter, but the importance of the iPhone for Apple is much greater than direct revenues alone,” said Ian Fogg, senior director of IHS’ mobile and telecoms group.
“The iPhone drives acquisition for Apple’s entire ecosystem, supports up-sell of Apple Watch, Macs and iPads. The more iPhones Apple sells, the larger the addressable audience for accessories such as Apple Watch series 2.
“We [HIS] expect the new iPhone 7 camera design will successfully convince consumers to upgrade their older iPhones, despite the lack of headphone socket. IHS Technology forecasts Apple will ship 209 million iPhone units in 2016.”
Audio innovation should be possible without requiring the end of the headphone socket, Fogg said.
“Apple also has a long history of dropping support for legacy technologies to make its current products more compelling, by enabling them to be smaller, faster, or lighter. The decision to drop the 3.5mm headphone socket is the latest example. Apple is not the first to drop the socket: The Moto Z and select models from Chinese manufacturer LeEco have launched without the 3.5mm socket in 2016. These manufacturers have had little adverse reaction, in part, because they sell many fewer smartphones than Apple.
“Unlike previous moves to cease offering floppy disk drives, the iPod dock connector, CD drives, multiple USB ports and many others, the headphone is a riskier move for Apple because of the numerous number of non-computing devices which use the socket. The result is consumers will have to compromise with adaptors for many years to come,” Fogg said.
Richard Stiennon, Blancco Technology Group:
“Apple is now catching up to the superior camera functionality of Samsung devices. Increased photo resolution requires more storage capacity. Perhaps another reason why Apple decided to no longer offer 16GB models,” said Richard Stiennon, chief strategy officer at Blancco Technology Group, a mobile diagnostics solution provider.
“The Lightning port will act as the device’s audio, which means third-party (i.e. Bose) headsets and other accessories no longer work. We are likely to see other smartphone manufacturers follow suit in the coming months.”
Jordan Edelson, Appetizer Mobile:
“Apple’s recent releases of the iPhone have all been about refinement to offer the best possible product and experience for consumers—both hardware- and software-wise. I would expect moving forward that Apple will take more calculated risks to venture to new areas with the product. Right now, there is limited risk-taking, but that works for the brand because they have maintained their position in the market,” said Jordan Edelson, founder and CEO, Appetizer Mobile.
“Overall, Apple’s strategy is to make the current line of iPhones to keep the similar shape/size—more evolutionary than revolutionary, as the brand is playing it safe.”
Tanguy Leborgne, Plantronics:
On the addition of the wireless AirPods, Tanguy Leborgne, vice president of consumer solutions at Plantronics, said: “It’s about time. When a major player like Apple makes a bold move away from legacy, analog technologies, it helps the whole industry grow. Removing the headphone jack will encourage more consumers to cut the cord and drive more innovation as the market expands.
“Plantronics has been working to help Bluetooth headsets go mainstream since our first headset featuring Bluetooth wireless technology in 2001. This is not only good news for us, but for an entire industry that is seeking the best in audio solutions, and we’re excited to see where it goes next.”