Today was a big day for Apple. Big, Big day even by Apple’s own lofty standards. After a lot of speculation and a whole lot of leaks, Apple unveiled the next generation of iPhones, a simple new payment mechanism and one more thing, the Apple watch. There is so much material being typed about this as I type that I will just point you to a few links at the bottom of the article for a much more in depth coverage. In this relatively short post, I will cover my thoughts on each product and where I think they will impact the most.
The Event Itself
I had written yesterday about how Apple is the gold standard when it comes to product launches. They validated my hypothesis today by putting on one of the best shows I have seen in years. It was that good. The presentations were crisp and the whole thing flowed very well. Lots to learn for other big companies putting up product launches.
On the downside, the Live streaming was outright unacceptable. For the most valuable technology company in the world that is demonstrating some of the best in class, having a live feed that lurched between unavailable (lot of it) to having a loud Mandarin translator speaking to jumping to the beginning of the event even when half of it was done was just awful. With Google Hangouts on Air making rapid strides, Apple needs to seriously work on this before their next live streaming event.
iPhones – Its all big and grown up now
This was long coming. Apple tried to convince everyone that a 4 inch display was all they needed. But the ground beneath them was shifting fast, especially in rapidly growing Asia. They had to build a bigger device. So they built not one but two larger iPhones to complement the iPhone 5s ($99 on contract) and iPhone 5c($0 on contract). Enter iPhone 6 at 4.7 inches and iPhone 6 Plus at 5.5 inches. So yes, Apple built an iPhablet after all.
Apple has tried to work around the one-hand use challenge with large screens (the ones it used to make fun of) with a software workaround called “Reachability Mode“. The 6 and 6 Plus are very similar for the most part. The areas where they differ are screen resolution (1330×750 vs 1920×1080), digital image stabilization (iPhone 6) versus Optical Image Stabilization (iPhone 6P) and some customizations in software for making use of the larger 5.5 inch screen real estate.
I never saw a 5.5 inch device as something I could use on a daily basis and I don’t think the iPhone 6 Plus does much to change that. I currently use a 4.7 inch HTC One which is a great size for phones- the right spot between having good screen real estate versus pocketability. And to that effect I think the iPhone 6 will do much better than the Plus. The iPhone 6 is also $100 cheaper for the base model which might make a stronger case for it.
I will write a detailed review of the iPhone 6 family when I get my hands on a device (it ships on Sept 19th). One other interesting aspect to these iPhones is that the iPhone 5s and 5c will continue to be stocked for the foreseeable future. This allows Apple to continue to cater to the folks who want and prefer a smaller device and also cheaper ($99 for iPhone 5s and $0 for iPhone 5C on 2 year contract).
Yes, as you have heard by now, there is an Apple Watch. And it looks fantastic. For now, this is the most compelling smartwatch that I have seen. Better designs will come as will better performance and most importantly battery life. But the Apple Watch Gen 1 looks great. The Apple Watch needs an iPhone (5x or better) to work with. It does not have cellular connectivity for standalone operation (not this generation atleast).
I would not be surprised if the Apple Watch converts folks to iOS just for the sake of using the Watch. It is infinitely customizable (thanks to Beats and all the apparel/fashion industry hires Apple has made in the past couple of years) and comes in flavors that suit your style and more importantly, budget.
Apple Watch definitely looks classy and sophisticated. For the nascent smart watch ecosystem, the Apple Watch is a great first step but like any first generation product, it will have its challenges. Battery Life is the biggest question mark on the Apple Watch and Apple has chosen to not talk about it yet. If the battery lasts only a single day like the Android Wear devices, it will be a deal breaker for many. Traditional watches last months to years on a single battery. Having to charge yet another device, one as personal as a watch might be cumbersome.
Much of the Watch functionality is tied to the iPhone. The Watch requires an iPhone 5x or better (BLE 4.0 capable). Notifications, GPS, interactions all require a paired iPhone. And because it is closely tied to the iPhone, an Android or Windows Phone user will have to jump ship to iOS if he/she is interested in using an Apple Watch. How this strategy plays out remains to be seen.
Apple Watch will support a slew of health and fitness tracking features that threaten to pose a serious challenge to FitBit, Jawbone, Withings and the like. I will be writing about this in a Wearables 2.0 article fairly soon. The Watch will support wireless MagSafe charging. Apple has launched a WatchKit for developers to write interesting apps targeted for the Watch user. The Watch will also support Apple Pay which was the intriguing piece in today’s event.
I wanted to write about this in particular because I do believe this is a huge step for Apple and something that can potentially be a game changer in the years to come. Apple unveiled (a much rumored) mobile payments system simply titled Apple Pay. Apple promises that Apple Pay (which is supported on the iPhone 6 and 6P only due to a new secure element) will dramatically simplify the POS transactions for many of us. It also supports online payments via apps on the iPhone 6x devices. This demo video seems to echo the simplicity of the process. Time will tell how this gets adopted.
Google Wallet and now Paypal have been offering such a payment system driven by NFC technology. But adoption has been very poor. Apple could dramatically change the equation with the sheer number of iPhone 6/6P it is expected to sell. Apple Pay will make use of the Passbook component of iOS that has existed for a couple of years now.
I will be writing a series of posts on Mobile Payments and will cover Apple Pay in much greater depth there. Suffice to say, this could be a game changer for the ecosystem and a potentially big threat to Google, Amazon and Paypal.
To be continued…