At Today’s Apple’s Event, I got a question over and over again. I thought I would share my thoughts on it. First off, the question, “Did Apple do enough?” is the wrong question. The correct question is, “Did Apple release a better product than they did last year?” Of course the answer is yes. A smart fellow once told me, “If it is worth doing, it is worth improving.”
We can view product enhancements and demand the revolutionary without realizing that revolutionary requires evolutionary improvements. Leaps in innovation don’t happen without the evolutionary cycles that come before them. But what matters is that each year’s product is better, in a fundamental way, to meet the needs of current and new customers.
I have a core thesis that Apple does not really have any competitors. I know many disagree and we can debate this from a business, strategy, and market standpoint, but from a product standpoint I believe this is true. In fact, I believe Apple’s primary competitive product benchmark is last year’s model. This is why the correct question is whether or not Apple released a better product compared to last year’s version.
Is the new iPad Air better? Yes. Is the new iMac better? Yes.
Getting that out of the way, let’s look at why it matters to today’s announcements.
iPad. In my mind Apple did several important things for the iPad product family. The first is Touch ID. While it may seem like an obvious upgrade, it is also significant for two reasons. In enterprise accounts, where the iPad is nearly universally deployed in some way at Fortune 500 companies, Touch ID is an extremely important improvement. We can debate whether the iPad has peaked in consumer markets but one area I am absolutely certain it has not is in enterprise. What is key to understand about the iPad in enterprise accounts is it is not being deployed to replace notebooks or desktops in most cases. Rather, what it is doing is bringing a computer to a field worker who used a simple handheld device or no computer at all.
The iPad is being deployed to many mobile field workers who are generally on their feet all day. Public safety, construction, employees doing truck rolls or installs, compliance officers running routine safety checks on oil rigs, power plants, etc. These mobile field workers usually use a clipboard and have may never have used a computer regularly in their day job. Desktops and notebooks are designed to be used while sitting down, not walking around in the field. This is the enterprise use case for which the tablet form factor is best designed. But because these workers are mobile, they are also the more likely to lose or have their work tool stolen. This is where Touch ID is critical. Enterprise has been clamoring for Touch ID on iPads for the security elements they enable. The upside for the iPad in enterprise is still large and Apple’s partnership with IBM will greatly enhance this.
Enterprise sales alone won’t continue to drive annual iPad growth. So what is the current story for consumers?
Apple has shared a statistic over the past few quarters. 50% of iPad buyers are new to the iPad. This is a key metric. Rather than look at Apple’s lineup and wonder if it will drive upgrades, look at it and wonder if the current lineup is inviting to first time iPad buyers. Here is the full lineup.
From beginning to end, Apple has an iPad for nearly every price point. By keeping the original iPad mini in the mix at $249, Apple has an attractive price across the board. This is a key story when we think about first time buyers. Not everyone needs the current generation iPads. Last year’s models serve a purpose in helping fill price gaps and giving consumers more options.
The challenge of thinking about upgrades is we still have literally no idea what the consumer upgrade cycle is. We have estimates about how many Gen 1 and iPad 2s are still in use and it is a significant number. But we have no read on if those consumers will upgrade at this point. Because of that, predicting the consumer upgrade cycle is near impossible. It could happen one random quarter and catch everyone off guard or we may get early signs. But right now, we don’t know. So in my analysis, I’m focusing on the story for first time buyers. And that story is strong with the full iPad lineup.
Retina iMac. Lots of interesting things about this computer. The first is I joked Apple made a 27″ 5K TV for $2499 (less than a 4K HDTC) that just happens to include a computer. The display is something to behold when you see it. With this product, Apple continues to cater to their bread and butter customers – the creative professionals. This is a product a creative professional will see and say it is NEEDED not it is just wanted.
Whether you make movies, TV shows, create graphic arts, edit photos, etc., there is literally no better option than this 5K Retina iMac. I expect significant demand for this iMac and let’s hope Apple can keep up with it.
Tying it All Together
Again Apple has emphasized the story of their ecosystem. During the event I tweeted:
Key point from Cook – Apple’s products are designed to work together seamlessly. Very different reality than other ecosystems.
— Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin) October 16, 2014
The hardware story, iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite with features like Handoff and Continuity strengthen the ecosystem. No other company is addressing the full lineup from desktop, notebook, tablet, smartphone, and soon a smartwatch, to work together this harmoniously from a user experience standpoint. If you are going to own any combination of computers from PCs, tablets, smartphones, and eventually a smartwatch, Apple’s seamless ecosystem is presenting itself with the strongest offering across categories. This is the heart of the “only Apple” narrative.