The rumors about an Apple event in March had been mounting since the start of 2020. Still, the string of cancellations of every live tech event and conference from February to July had people believing Apple would pivot to an online event to launch what was expected to be a low-cost iPhone, a new iPad Pro and a new MacBook Pro. Then, last week, the COVID19 crisis accelerated across several locations, including Apple’s backyard: Silicon Valley. A date for WWDC was announced and with it the news that the event will be a virtual one. I am sure even for the most avid fans, whether or not Apple was going to have a product launch was no longer top of mind and many might have thought this was not the best time to have a product launch.
To Launch or Not To Launch
I have no insights into the thought process that lead Apple to launch its products, but there were a few things that stood out to me about the process. Some might argue that this was not a time to launch any consumer products. The reality, however, is that the uncertainty of how long this situation will last makes it hard to delay products as doing so might impact other products coming to market later in the year. Also, although brick and mortar stores are closed in many markets, online stores are still open for business.
I thought the way Apple decided to launch was sympathetic to the mood we are all in. There was no live event, which could have been an option we have seen other brands adopt. Instead, there was a press release, a landing page for each product like we usually have and video ads and demos. The video showcasing the iPad Pro new Magic keyboard saw a much less exuberant Craig Federighi than we are used to seeing on stage. There was contained excitement for the product, but the demo was delivered in a very matter of fact way acknowledging the unique situation we are finding ourselves in.
There was one product that was expected to be part of this launch that we did not see and that is the rumored lower-priced iPhone. It could well be that Apple might be facing some supply issues, but I would not be surprised, although I doubt, we will ever know for sure if delaying the launch of that specific product has to do with the COVID19 crisis. A more affordable iPhone would have its greater appeal among potential buyers who have a more limited disposable income. I would argue the economic uncertainty tied to COVID19 is likely to impact this target market the most. That said, I believe the choice Apple made not to launch the new iPhone model at this time had more to do with not being out of touch with reality than a concern about weaker consumer confidence.
Three Thoughts on the New iPad Pro
And now onto the product that most interests me: the new iPad Pro. I will have more to say once I get my hands on one, but from the demos, there were a few general observations I wanted to make.
I have never been one of those iPad users calling for trackpad support, I was just going to be content with a backlit keyboard, but I got both! What struck me about the demo that Federighi delivered was that the trackpad is more akin to the MacBook TouchBar than the trackpad on the Mac, which is why I believe we will see it go from the iPad Pro to the Mac. The idea is for the trackpad to keep the hands where you have them when typing but allowing you to interact with content on the screen as if you were touching it. Wouldn’t that be what you want to do with a Mac?
PC vs. iPad Pro
The “How to correctly use a computer” video has evolved from the “what’s a computer” video of a couple of years ago. The focus shifted from what the hardware should look and feel to how the hardware defines the way we work. It seems subtle, but as the iPad Pro gets closer to the Microsoft Surface Pro, at least conceptually, moving the conversation to how people work points exactly to differences such as the role of a trackpad as well as the app ecosystem.
Over the years, the big argument people would make on whether the iPad Pro could replace a PC was centered around three things: better keyboard, mouse support, and software. Now that Apple has delivered on the hardware front, the software is what needs to be addressed.
In my view, this means that the race that used to be iPad vs. Surface Pro becomes iPadOS+MacOS vs. Windows 10x. With Panos Panay now leading the Windows effort, I would expect a new emphasis on ease of use and richness of the experience. I also expect a lot of learning coming from the effort that Microsoft is putting into Android and bringing Android and Windows closer together.
Even switching from hardware to software, it is interesting to see how these two companies are heading towards a very similar final goal but coming at it from the opposite direction. iPadOS users are calling for software that can handle more, while Windows users are asking for a much slender software. It sure will be interesting to see where we go from here.