Apple Has Too Many Devices: Silly Meme #236

Yesterday’s meme-of-the-day seemed to be that Apple has too many devices and isn’t focused enough.

UX leader (but also Google employee) Luke Wroblewski wrote:

“When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 the company had lost its way w a confusing lineup of undistinguished products” and posted a photo of similar-looking iOS devices: https://twitter.com/lukew/status/712322467180642305

Sounds damning, doesn’t it? Well, not if you put any effort into thinking it through.

Andreessen-Horowitz’s Ben Evans had a similar thought, talking about the iPad Pro 9.7″ introduction yesterday:  https://twitter.com/benedictevans/status/712333128409350145

He makes it sound like the iPad Pro is replacing the iPad Air (as in “v2 rethink”), and even questioned the future of the iPad mini.

Does Apple have too many devices, too many colors, too many screen sizes, too many options?

When Apple was a much smaller company, it made sense to have laser focus on just a few great product lines: Macs, then iPods, then iPhone, then iPad.

But as a company starts selling hundreds of millions of devices every year—no matter how beautifully and functionally elegant they are—you risk looking ordinary. People like to be unique (think about Android & Windows users’ desire to “skin” the OS).

Perhaps you saw this tweet a year ago, showing a lineup of identical-looking Apple MacBooks: https://twitter.com/mmcauliff/status/557715212858839040

That’s very impressive for Apple, that they’ve captured so much mind share and sales of high-end devices and branding power. But there’s a downside to that much popularity: familiarity and sameness.

How does a user/owner stand out if everyone else’s Apple device looks exactly like theirs? If every MacBook is 13.3″ or 15″, if every iPhone is 4″, if every iPad is 9.7″, and every Apple device is silver with a white edge, they all start to look the same, no matter how beautiful.

With iPhones, people buy custom cases. Even if they have to sacrifice thinness and elegance, owners now have a device they can show off to others, yet it’s still an Apple iPhone.

Similarly, think back to a few years ago when we started seeing stickers all over Apple MacBooks:

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I thought it ruined the elegance of the device, but I understood how there was a creeping sameness about all these MacBooks.

There’s historical precedence for a business that made identical devices getting overrun by more agile competitors. You many know the business story of how General Motors overtook Ford:  Henry Ford got popular by making thousands of identical Model T’s in black, and only black. After selling millions of them, though, they all started to look the same. Meanwhile, GM came out with different models and different colors to sell to different markets.

It’s more than just branding and appearances

While Apple devices are more upscale than a Model T, they ran into the same problem of sameness after selling hundreds of millions of devices. So now iPhones, iPods, iPads, and even MacBooks come in different colors.

And it’s more than just branding and appearances.

As a product becomes more popular, and sells hundreds of millions of devices, to gain the most users you need to handle different use cases: some want the lightest device (Air’s), some want to sacrifice weight for power (Pro’s), some have small hands and want 4″ iPhones or iPad mini’s, some have big purses and want 5.5″ iPhones or 12.9″ iPad Pro’s.

This isn’t just for iOS devices, either. Macs have done this for years: MacBook’s/MacBook Air’s, MacBook Pro’s, iMac’s, Mac Pro’s, Mac mini’s. You can customize screen size, RAM, CPU speed, and storage. This is nothing new.

Each of these models does not have to be best-selling. An iPad mini that sells fewer units than an iPad Pro is not necessarily a failure. A business needs to provide options for different people, different needs, and different wants. What’s great for an individual is not necessarily what’s great for the enterprise or education.

Claiming that the debut of the 9.7″ iPad Pro means that iPad Air and mini were mistakes (or “v1”) is like saying that after Audi created the A4, and then the A3 and A6, that the A4 was now a superfluous “tweener” car that no longer made sense. Not true at all.

Which devices any one person choses varies considerably based on needs and wants for technology, power, performance, and fashion

Not only does Audi make the A2, A3, A4, A6, A7, & A8 (& A8L) they also make the A5 (essentially a 2-door A4), TT, S3, S4, S5, S6, S7, S8, R8, RS4, RS5, Q3, Q5, Q7, etc., etc. Success is measured by many factors, such as whether it provides an inexpensive entry point to the brand, how it competes with similar cars from similar brands, how much profit it makes, how well it does in specific markets (North America, Europe, & Asia are quite different), whether it’s a flagship for the brand, etc.

One way that Apple is different from a car company (although it may be a car company, too, someday), is that people typically have more than one Apple device. Let’s say people average 3-4 Apple devices: which devices any one person choses varies considerably based on needs and wants for technology, power, performance, and fashion.

  • The best devices for me are an Apple Watch 42mm with leather band, iPhone 6s, iPad Pro 12.9″, and 27″ iMac.
  • Someone else may prefer an Apple Watch Sport 38mm with nylon band, iPhone SE, iPad mini, and 12″ MacBook.
  • Yet another person might want a black Apple Watch 38mm with steel band, iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Air, and Mac Pro.

So, does Apple make too many devices? Does the introduction of a Pro device mean an Air or a mini is destined for the dustbin? I don’t think so.

As technology overtakes so much of our lives, and our Apple devices replace phones, cameras, videocameras, maps, GPS units, MP3 players, video players, watches, gaming units, PCs, and more, we need to be able to pick and choose the weight, performance, style, and fashion that suits us best.

One size does not fit all.

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Was Apple’s iPhone SE Event Yesterday a Flop?  No.

Now there are some stories running that yesterday’s Apple event was a big, fat flop. Apple announced an iPhone SE and 9.7″ iPad Pro, to no one’s surprise.

Well, no one’s surprise because of the leaks.

But think back to last fall. The Twitterverse was agog about a 9.7″ iPad with keyboard and Pen, like the 12.9″ iPad Pro. But no one expected a Pro/Air line separation for the iPad (although I did blog that a keyboard and Pencil would not come to a model called Air).

Likewise, people who loved 4″ iPhones were beside themselves, thinking that Apple would never make a new 4″ iPhone again.

Fast-forward 5 months and both wishes came true. Is that big news? I think so.

But it’s more than just whether the news was leaked or not. Yesterday’s announcements are important for what’s coming this fall.

Let’s not forget the 32-bit Ax process to 64-bit processor transition that’s been under way since the A7. Apple has already forced developers to make 64-bit versions of their apps on the App Store. Apple doesn’t do legacy. 32-bit apps are going the way of the dodo bird. When? It could happen as early as iOS 10 this fall. Why do I think that?

Well, an inexpensive, $399 iPhone SE (special edition: just for 32-bit phone users!) was the final nail in the coffin for 32-bit Apple iOS devices (well, except for the Watch, but I’ll get to that). Everything Apple sells now is 64-bit, from the iPod touch, to all iPads, to all iPhones, to all Apple TVs. All new/updated apps in the App Store must be 64-bit. iOS 10 will be announced at WWDC 2016.

WWDC is the perfect time to announce that iOS 10 is 64-bit only, and users that want to upgrade to it will have to have a 64-bit device.

Now users won’t be able to whine that they don’t want a large iPhone 6 or 6S, because they’ll be able to buy the 4″, 64-bit CPU iPhone SE. For just $399. Or free with contract in the US. Painless upgrade.

Likewise, splitting the iPad line into iPad Air and iPad Pro, with a $200 price differential, leaves room for a future iPad line in the middle. A new iPad Air this fall would presumably have an A9 chip and be much thinner than an A10-bearing iPad Pro (and regular iPad?).

People complain that iPad Pro is not a laptop, but it’s not meant to be. Right now, it’s perfectly justifiable as a touchscreen device with a keyboard accessory for occasional typing duties. It’s not meant to be a laptop with iOS 9. Perhaps, iOS 10 will change that equation, and with Pro-level photo, video, audio, & business software, the iPad Pro may come even closer to being the ultimate computing device for many users who simply don’t need a complicated Intel-based PC.

Therefore, the 2 main announcements from yesterday’s event are laying out the groundwork for iPhones & iPads with iOS 10 and Apple’s A10 CPU this fall.

So, what about the Apple Watch?

First, the $50 price reduction (Apple doesn’t reduce prices very often!) signals that Apple wants to get a wider swath of entry-level wearable users, stealing them from FitBit and Android Wear. I had concerns about lack of Apple Watch upgradability, but the cheaper it is the less a concern upgrading is.

Secondly, developers have complained about watchOS’s WatchKit API as being too high level, not allowing fine-grained controlled over the watch. Perhaps this plays into the 32-bit/64-bit issue. Perhaps WatchKit is so high level so that it would work on both 32-bit and 64-bit watches, and Apple will bring out a 64-bit Apple Watch this fall and a new watchOS API will be available and 64-bit only? That would explain away some of the weirdness and complaints of WatchKit as it stands today.

No, yesterday’s event wasn’t groundbreaking. No major new visual designs. No new categories of devices. But then it wasn’t WWDC or a 2+ hour keynote, either. The purpose of yesterday’s event was to get the word out about an inexpensive phone that you can upgrade to in order to get iOS 10, and a smaller iPad Pro that could replace your need for a PC.

Sometimes your strategy is more laying the groundwork for future announcements, and less about groundbreaking new things.

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