In the wake of Tuesday’s Apple event, it occurred to me that the company is differentiating itself from the competition even more than in the past. And that’s a good thing. Apple’s product line has grown substantially without becoming convoluted. In the process, though, the company has reverted to some old (and slightly annoying) habits, like attaching premium prices to products that don’t necessarily have premium specs. I don’t think that will hurt the Mac maker’s bottom line, but it’s irksome from a consumer’s perspective.
Here are my thoughts on what we saw from Apple earlier in the week:
The new iMac
First impression: This thing looks gorgeous. I was dumbfounded when Phil Schiller showed it off. It looks super sleek, and Apple is offering a nice range of build options. The new Fusion Drive sounds promising, but this type of thing has been done before to mixed reviews. My guess is that it’ll be just fine, and it will undoubtedly get better with future versions. The price here seems quite aggressive. At $1299, you’re getting one of the best desktop computers on the market. Some will scoff, saying that you can build your own desktop with better specs at a cheaper price. But let’s be honest, your homemade computer won’t hold a candle to the iMac’s fantastic build quality. When you buy into Apple’s pricey ecosystem, you’re getting quality products. Period. The latest iMac is the perfect example of that, and I can’t wait to see it in person.
The fourth-generation iPad
This was a bit of a shock to me. On last week’s Hypercritical, Dan Benjamin speculated that Apple might use this opportunity to add a Lightning connector to the third-generation iPad. Dan was right, and Apple took it a step further.
Sporting souped-up internals, including an A6X processor, this model should see far fewer hiccups than its predecessor. It also has improved networking capabilities, which are welcome. The new iPad seems like a nice iterative update, and while iPad 3 owners might not be happy, the masses will gobble it up. The question among nerds is, what about March? I have a feeling that Apple’s March press event will either focus on another product or be dropped altogether. But we’ll see. I don’t think Apple is going to release new iPads every six months.
13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display
Here’s where I got a little confused: The 15-inch version is a flagship-level laptop, but I feel like the 13-incher isn’t in the same class. Now, I’m no expert on chipsets, but it seems very odd to me that Apple chose to go with an Intel GPU. Maybe the company opted for integrated graphics because of the laptop’s limited space, or because it was satisfied with the improved performance of the Ivy Bridge chips, but I would’ve preferred a discrete GPU. Considering the current-generation MacBook Air chokes during GPU-intensive tasks, I worry that the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, with its massive amount of pixels, will have some serious performance issues when running demanding apps like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro X.
But maybe my concerns are completely unwarranted. I suspect they’re not, but regardless, I was immediately turned off by Apple’s GPU choice.
The iPad mini is everything we expected, with a bit more polish. Judging by the pictures and hands-on videos I’ve seen, it’s a beauty, and its design is in line with the iPhone 5. There was nothing really shocking here. Some are upset at the lack of a Retina screen, but Apple’s decision not to use one makes sense. The resolution should be sufficient as is at 1024×768. The iPad 2 has the same pixel count, but on the mini, those pixels are crammed into a smaller screen, making the pixel density higher. While the mini’s display is a far cry from those of the third- and fourth-gen iPads, it should suffice.
My main problem with the mini is its price. I’m not saying that Apple shouldn’t charge a premium — they always do. But they’ve decided on a very weird spot to enter the small-tablet market. At $329, the mini is arguably out of impulse-buy territory. I was certain that Apple would want to come crashing into the party now dominated by Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7. But Apple clearly has other ideas. By pricing the mini at $329, it seems Apple is both shying away from products like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, and attempting to start a new class.
I’m reminded of how they brought the MacBook Air to the market. The first iteration, while beautiful, was miserably overpriced. The trend at Apple seems to be to bring a new product in at a high price, gradually improve it, and drop the cost over time. The original Air came in at $1799 (if I’m remembering correctly), with grossly underwhelming specs. You were paying for the form factor, and I feel that that’s the case with the iPad mini, too.
Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, let me clarify: I don’t doubt that the mini will be successful. I think it’s going to sell in huge numbers, especially with the holiday season looming. But the mini would sell in even greater numbers if Apple had started it at even $299. I know, that’s only a $30 difference, but it looks and feels more substantial, especially to a family man like me. Products that retail for $249 to $299 feel like impulse buys, while those that sell for $300 or more feel like investments.
The iPad mini seems like a solid device, and I’m confident it will be a hit for Apple. But had the company lowered the asking price just a smidge, they’d surely sell even more units while putting a serious dent in the competition.
Tim Cook moves into the spotlight
As far as I know, Tuesday’s press event was the first time Tim Cook actually introduced a product. He’s usually the one to deliver sales figures or to weigh in on the state of affairs at Apple, but on Tuesday Cook introduced iBooks 3.0. Assuming I’m not forgetting another time when he’s done a product intro, this seems like a big deal to me. As we all know, Steve Jobs was a consummate showman. Cook, on the other hand, clearly isn’t. That’s not a slight — Cook’s very competent, but his specialty is in operations, and he usually plays to his strengths. But Tuesday’s announcement was different. My guess is that the executive team plans on pushing Cook into the spotlight more and more, and I definitely think it’s the right move.