While Apple didn’t announce any new iPhones yesterday, the event was a busy hour. Apple has announced four new hardware products, a major new service and a new bundle. By any objective standard, this is a great day. As I’ll note below, the most important products may not be hardware, but Fitness Plus and the ability to turn an Apple Watch into a kid’s tracker.
Apart from these announcements, the main thing that struck me this year is that Apple appears to be making a subtle but important change in its product strategy. You may have heard of the “Good, Best, Best” pricing strategy ̵
The old among us have Steve Jobs’ famous Mac product grid indelibly marked in our concept of how Apple approaches products. On one axis was “Consumer vs Pro” and the other was “Desktop vs Portable”.
But it’s no longer applicable on both axes, and it certainly doesn’t work for the many types of products Apple makes now. There are simply more levels besides “consumer” and “pro” for most of the product categories. Also, in the Apple world, the word “pro” itself doesn’t mean “for professionals” as much as “the best” these days.
Get Apple Watch Ads. Apple has announced both a flagship Series 6 watch line and a low-cost SE line. At first, I thought the Apple Watch SE paralleled the iPhone SE. So it seemed to me that the trend is that Apple has to make cheaper products that are technically new because it’s harder to get consumers to buy last year’s model. But after thinking about it, I think it’s not quite correct.
The good, best, best cadence for the Apple Watch seems to have different names than the iPhone. The SE naming scheme just launched me. Here’s how I think it goes:
- Good: Apple Watch Series 3 / iPhone SE
- Best: Apple Watch SE / iPhone 11
- Best: Apple Watch Series 6 / iPhone 11 Pro
The “good” option at the bottom of the lineup actually serves two purposes. It’s a killer deal and makes Apple products more affordable. But it also makes room for the best option to be more advanced and more expensive. Last year, Apple probably sold a kajillion series 3 watches at its low price – this year it has a very clear increase in the SE.
The same basic logic applies to the new iPad and iPad Air. The new iPad Air takes on many of the things that make the Pro compelling, to the point that unless the words “ProMotion” and “LIDAR” mean something to you, the Air is a better choice. It’s also $ 100 more than last year’s iPad Air.
I think Apple isn’t too worried about the iPad Air cannibalizing the iPad Pro – after all, it’s still selling you an iPad and it’s definitely making a good margin because that’s what Apple does. In fact, I suspect “margin” is often the answer as to why the best option is missing a feature that has the best option. The Apple Watch SE is also a Series 6 with less expensive components: no blood oxygen monitor, always-on display, or the latest chip.
In other words, all I’m talking about here is upselling. The quality of the “good” option gets you in the door (now metaphorical) and the upsell to the best option is right there. Apple’s trick is to make upselling its own variation best thing instead of an improved version of the good thing. The Apple Watch SE is based on the 6 series. The iPhone 11 is closer to the 11 Pro than the iPhone SE. And the iPad Air is now more like an iPad Pro than a basic iPad.
Like any model, this idea can break with too much rhetorical pressure. I don’t know how that applies to the MacBook lineup, for example, but that lineup is in such a flux right now with the upcoming Arm chips that I think has a pass. For me, this model is what Apple strives for, but depending on where a certain product line is located it could be difficult to achieve.
Whenever Apple releases a new product in a line, there is always some variation to the question “Why does this have to exist when it’s so similar to that other thing?” I was wondering yesterday with the iPad Air and the Apple Watch SE. And now I think the answer is to make sure the “best” one is better – and it doesn’t hurt Apple if that means it’s also a little more expensive.
Rounding out Apple’s news
┏ Apple’s “Time Flies” event: the 9 most important announcements. This is a good summary of everything in one place. You can also find all the stories we have posted in this story stream.
┏ Apple ‘Time Flies’ Live Blog 2020. If you want to see my thoughts and Nilay Patel’s in real time.
┏ Apple publishes an ASL translation of its “Time Flies” event. Every business should do this.
┏ Apple announces Apple Watch Series 6 with the ability to measure blood oxygen levels. Blood oxygen measurement is the big news, but there’s also a U1 chip that may unlock some future features someday, like unlocking your car or locating those unannounced AirTags.
┏ Apple announces Apple Watch SE, an affordable successor to Series 3. The main things you will miss from the Series 6 are the always-on display, the blood oxygen monitor, the ECG and other bits like the U1 chip. Importantly, it has fall detection.
┏ Family Setup will allow you to manage multiple Apple Watches from a single iPhone. I think this low-key might be the most important thing Apple announced yesterday. You’ll have to pay a carrier a monthly fee for this to work, but I have to imagine that anyone looking at those kids tracker watches will think twice before getting an Apple Watch instead – particularly if it ended up being pressured by peers!
A couple of notes I learned during briefings with Apple: Children are made aware of certain types of parental surveillance (like virtual fences) and can approve or deny sharing certain health stats. For kids too: The shift ring tracks overall activity time, not estimated calories. Apparently this is because it makes more sense to monitor how active a child is, but I’m also happy because it’s probably not good for kids to think about calorie intake.
My very informal poll of my Twitter followers has a lot of answers from parents who are paying attention and thinking about this new feature. It also reveals a surprising number of parents who want to implant the chips directly into their children’s skulls.
┏ Apple is removing the USB power adapter from upcoming Apple Watch packages. As I wrote when it was rumored that Apple would do it for the next iPhone: good. For the environment, I mean. Oddly enough, Apple’s overpriced versions of the Apple Watch still come with a charger. I guess the rich wouldn’t be able to handle the logistics of finding their charger in a drawer or something?
┏ Here’s how to choose between Apple Watch Series 6, SE, and earlier models.
┏ The new Apple Watch band comes in 12 sizes and you will need to measure your wrist to choose the right one. I saw a short video conference demo of these straps and they stretch enough to fit in your hand before shrinking to their original shape on your wrist. But the whole way to measure your pulse with a print is really inconvenient. Not that I think there is a better solution, but an uncomfortable watch is the worst and I fear that people will get the wrong size and then live with it.
There is, however, one more complication. The three largest loop sizes are not compatible with a 40mm watch, while the three smaller sizes do not work with a 44mm watch. This means, for example, if you want the smaller watch but have a large wrist, you may not be able to get one of the new Loop straps that fit you.
Services: Apple One and Fitness Plus
┏ Apple announces Fitness Plus virtual workouts. They don’t live like Peloton, but there will be new weekly content on a variety of different training styles. However, an Apple Watch is required, which is perhaps just a little disappointing.
┏ Apple confirms the Apple One subscription package, which brings together Music, TV Plus, Arcade and more. So there are three levels, which seem like too many levels. But that’s okay, Apple has to charge more for a family plan than an individual plan because music labels charge more for it, I’m told. Additionally, Fitness Plus and Apple News Plus aren’t available in all regions (Fitness Plus is only available in six countries to get started). Put them together and it kind of supports Apple on three levels.
But I still feel like there is some confusion here, honestly. My personal calculation is that the 200GB iCloud storage plan is no longer enough. So I have ten dollars a month for 2 TB. Add another Apple service like TV + or Music and I’m crawling on $ 20 or $ 25 per month. So you start trying to do some math on what you want and don’t and eventually you just do it, fuck it, I’ll get the one with everything for the whole family – and if you’re a whole family that’s a good deal!
I still feel like an upselling to me, just a little bit. And my regular reminder is that every time you see a monthly price, you’d have to do some mental math to see how much it costs per year. It’s a scale that makes comparing to other purchases easier or, you know, saving your damn money. So the Apple One Premier tier is $ 29.95 / month or around $ 360 per year.
Finally, will Apple start offering packages with hardware subsidies attached? In a way it makes sense! In others, though, there are so many iPhone models that it’s hard to know which one would stick at what price.
┏ Apple says its new Apple One service package isn’t unfair with Spotify. The award for the strangest statement of the day goes to Spotify, who wanted to step in and point out that Apple’s service package puts it at a disadvantage. In a well-crafted statement, Spotify could have backed that case, but it chose more anger than clarity.
The interesting thing for me is that Apple felt the need to respond with a public statement. I think if there wasn’t so much heat around antitrust right now, Apple wouldn’t have worried.
iPad and iPad Air
┏ Apple announces the upgraded 8th-generation 10.2-inch entry-level iPad for $ 329. The iPad continues to be one of the best deals in consumer technology. And Apple is continuing its efforts to get them adopted in schools instead of Chromebooks.
┏ Apple announces the new iPad Air that looks more like an iPad Pro, starting at $ 599. The processor is newer than that of the iPad Pro, but the iPad Pro has more cores and a more powerful GPU. And what about switching to USB-C? He tells me there is no religion on ports at Apple. But I don’t expect the iPhone 12 to switch to USB-C either.
Which I think is a shame, but I understand Apple’s calculation that it would be destructive to a large user base. On the other hand, being willing to disrupt a user base in the name of technological advancement is something Apple was not afraid of – literally it was called “courage” to ditch the headphone jack.
┏ Apple will release iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 on September 16. The tragedy is that developers have historically had a bit more advance notice of these releases. It means that a group of developers who have worked to create iOS 14 specific features or updates will not be able to advertise them on the first day of the update.
┏ Apple has sold more than 500 million iPads in the past decade. Apple has held in high regard the fact that over 50% of all iPad buyers are first-time iPad buyers. He wants to show that the iPad has room to grow and the ability to invade the PC and Chromebook market. He specifically pointed out how both new iPads were faster. While I have to say that Apple touting benchmarks like this seems hollow to me – it should win on experience and the software ecosystem. Chromebooks aren’t popular in schools because they’re fast, they’re popular because they’re cheap, affordable, and relatively easy to manage.
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