Apple’s widely expected to launch new iPhones and a wearable device, generally referred to as the “iWatch” early on Wednesday morning. Apple will have plenty to say at its keynote – but it’s what it doesn’t say that will really stand out.
If you’re so inclined, you can watch a livestream of the keynote at 3am Wednesday morning AEST, and catch all the action. Previous Apple keynotes have tended to attract a healthy audience, and I’ve even been in the audience for a couple.
The funny thing about Apple keynotes is that despite the hype and anticipation, Apple doesn’t actually run its keynotes all that differently to anyone else with a technology product to launch. I’m not privy to Tim Cook’s private iCloud, but I can pretty much pick with a fair degree of certainty how the keynote will run.
Introduction with music. Then Tim Cook enters, talks relative sales stats, possibly a small heartwarming story, probably a small dig at Android phone and a few very carefully selected media quotes (primarily from US media) will be flashed up onscreen to show off Apple’s brilliance. He’ll then leave the stage for the actual launches. If I’m Apple, I’d probably lead with the heavily leaked dual iPhone strategy before talking up any wearable devices, although it’s quite likely that the former will outsell the latter, at least at first. After all the self congratulation, allow at least one music act to play. U2’s been suggested, but equally it’s been knocked back as well. I guess Apple knows what it’s doing.
Apple gets better than average receptions for its keynotes, not because they’re inherently better than anyone else’s (I’ve sat through a few hundred product keynotes, and I’ve seen everything from woefully bad to expertly managed), but at least partially because it chooses its audience carefully.
Apple staff are everywhere, but so are members of the media (predominantly US) including many with serious Apple fan status. I can recall waiting around prior to the iPhone 5s and listening to more than a few gushes about everything Apple does. Excuse me, but I’m just a little more critical than that, which isn’t to say that there aren’t critical elements in the Apple keynote audience. It’s also interesting to note that Gizmodo US will be present, given the particular history there. Still, positive room reactions count for a lot, as any actor or rock star could easily tell you.
Apple, though, will define its new range of products as much by what it omits to say as by any whizz-bang new features it chooses to include. Here’s a few thought points, again emphasizing that I don’t have a magic portal into Cupertino to know exactly what they’re going to release.
Will they talk security – and if so, how much?
This has got to hurt Apple pretty deeply. As per the rumour mill, NFC and possibly iBanking are on the cards for the new devices, and those kinds of devices rely on an awful lot of inherent trust in the underlying security architecture.
Which would be fine, were it not for the fact that the launch comes just a week after a massive leak of information from Apple’s supposedly secure iCloud. No, we still don’t know the exact specifics of what went wrong, although (as I’ve noted before) Apple seems to suggest that password security around iCloud password resets may have been an issue.
Apple probably can’t get away without at least acknowledging the issue, but at the same time it’s going to be hamstrung by the fact that there will be ongoing criminal investigations, possibly limiting what it can reveal, and, naturally, it would much rather sweep the whole thing under the carpet. The extent to which Apple seriously talks security, and not just around the new products but around its entire ecosystem will be particularly telling.
Big or small, or no changes at all?
Again, as per the rumour mill, Apple is planning to repeat its dual phone release strategy, with a smaller screened iPhone and a larger screen – possibly over 5″ – iPhone 6 model. If previous years are any indication, we can expect the iPhone 5s in a 16Gb configuration to become the new “cheap” iPhone, unless it becomes a dead end and the cheaper (for Apple to produce) iPhone 5c fills that void.
Either way, Apple’s treading into new territory with a larger screened device if it does indeed go that way, and it’s one with a few potential pitfalls. Again as per the rumour mill, the iPhone 6 larger screen variant is likely to have a better camera, and may (as the iPad Air did to the Retina iPad Mini) have more internal RAM or other configuration options.
That’s going to be interesting to manage from Apple’s side, where fewer products has always been the name of the game.
I’m very much in the camp of preferring smaller phones, and I’m not alone. The issue is that to date, there have been very few “premium” smartphones with significant power outside the Apple ecosystem. Apple’s effectively owned that space, and how it chooses to proceed will be critical.
If Apple does go for the bigger is better and more powerful strategy, will it be leaving loyal customers aside to do so? Again, the devil will be precisely in the detail here, and Apple isn’t always forthright when it comes to absolute technical specifications for prospective customers. If it’s selling a smaller less powerful phone, expect them to gloss over the specifics in favour of the bigger, higher margin handset. If they’re identical (which I doubt) then expect them to hype up the “choice” aspect.
Apple can make wearables hip, but can they make them last?
I’m curious to see what Apple does with its wearable strategy. I have few doubts that they’ll make something that looks good, although the smartwatch space particularly is one that’s awash with some very nice looking wearables right now. I’m particularly keen to get some hands-on time with the Motorola 350 and the Samsung Gear S particularly, and those are just two wearables Apple’s got to compete with on the wearable tech front. Still, Apple is nothing if not good at both design and marketing.
There’s a problem, though, and it’s one that hits every single smartwatch you can buy right now.
That problem is battery life.
Out of every smartwatch I’ve ever tested, only one has broadly acceptable battery life, and that’s the entirely monochrome Pebble. I like the Pebble a lot, and (as I’ve said before) it’s pretty much my go-to example of which smartwatch to buy, simply because you won’t be recharging it on a daily basis unlike every other smartwatch. I’m particularly alarmed by the reports that the Moto 360 doesn’t even last a day.
Enter Apple and the iWatch. Now, maybe they can crack it in a way that their competitors haven’t, but the simple reality here is that there’s only so much space behind a reasonable sized watch face for battery power. This will be exceptionally telling.
I fully expect Apple to run the usual breathless Jony Ive fronted videos about how wonderful the design is, and how the features (whatever they end up being) are equally
If Apple does have some secret power sauce on its hands (or in this case, specifically its wrists) expect it to never shut up about it at all. If it’s just brushed over with non-specific terms like “long-lasting battery”, however, then alarm bells should ring. Although possibly not from an iWatch, because it may well be flat by then.