By Mark Watson
Over the last few weeks the rumour mill has been in a fast spin cycle with speculation on what the Apple’s grand iPad announcement would bring; yesterday we got our answer. For many, it was a bit underwhelming, especially the lack of surprise at the end of the presentation – a staple in the Steve Jobs’ days of Apple.
The features that Apple has chosen to install on the new iPad (as well as the decision to stop enumerating the device versions – this is the new iPad, not the iPad 3) indicate to me that the platform has ‘normalised’ and suggests that future iPad releases will be continue to be iterative rather than revolutionary. The fact that Tim Cook didn’t seem to feel obliged to save any really big surprises for the end of the presentation (and maybe in the processed annoyed some of the global audience, willing to forgive any overrun in the hope of a grand finale) may mean that, under Cook, Apple itself has finally normalised as a company – albeit into an industry behemoth (think IBM in the 70s or Microsoft in the 90s) rather than a game changer.
Stocks fell just slightly after the announcement, indicating that a slightly better announcement was priced in, but nothing major to shock the company or to put Cook in fear for his job. But something has definitely changed. With Steve, Apple had magic, and the magic brought in the business. Now it’s just about the business (which brings extraordinary pressure). It’s not just a question of presentation (and the evidence is that Cook is no showman) but of Jobs’ focus on producing products he could effectively present.
Apple at this point doesn’t have to change the game; the rules of the tablet game are already stacked in its favour: keep several steps ahead of the competition on hardware and user experience, and keep the price point compelling. There’s not much else to do. The iPad iOS user experience is still well ahead of that on Android (and hasn’t changed much since the iPad 1); Apple moved the hardware forward a couple of notches with its screen announcements and kept the pricing the same as the previous generation. Job done. The 4G/LTE thing is a bit of a distraction: it’s significant for Apple’s U.S. carrier relationships, which are important to device market economics (the carriers continue to subsidise the devices). Where I live, in the UK, we don’t have 4G and won’t have it for a while.
The only enumerated product that Apple still has is the iPhone. Everything else has been, to use my term, normalised. If the next iPhone is the iPhone 5, maybe we can hope for a little magic there (and surely some hardware innovation, and some software update, in a far more competitive market than that for tablets). If it’s just “the new iPhone,” then it may be that Apple is heading for a more difficult phase, as Cook struggles with meeting the market expectations and pressures for ultra high growth.
Mark Watson the former EVP of Technology & Engineering at Antenna and former CEO of Volantis Systems, during which time he blogged frequently for Mobile Masters.