Apple's March Press Event: The Highlights

Today Apple held a press event which saw the release of a new iPhone, iPad and more. Here is a summary of the details:

- Tim Cook started by talking about Apple's 40th birthday on April 1st, and discussed the ongoing security case in the US

- Lisa Jackson talked about Apple and the environment, and their ambition to use 100% renewable energy. To date 93% of worldwide facilities run on renewables and 100% in the US (people may question the purpose of this presentation but this is a big aspect of the Apple brand)

- Jeff Williams presented update on HealthKit, used in the iPhone, iPod and Apple Watch. He showed how medical research can be improved by HealthKit due to the large number of participants. He also announced CareKit, which helps to monitor patients, especially those recovering from treatments/operations

- Tim Cook reported that Apple Watch is the top selling smartwatch, and introduced new woven bands, plus new sports bands. There are also new black Milanese Loop and new leather bands

- The price of the Apple Watch also dropped to $299

- On Apple TV, from today you will be able to organise apps into folders, enter text through dictation and view Live Photos

- Greg Joswiak introduced the new low end 4" iPhone- the iPhone SE. It comes with the A9 chip, 12MP camera, ApplePay, better battery life, Live Photos. It is twice as fast as the 5s.

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What Does Alphabet Mean for the Google Brand?

This week's news that Google is to create a new umbrella organisation called "Alphabet" raises a question about the Google brand. Splitting the Google company out into segments may well be the right corporate choice, but does it harm the values and identity of Google?

Firstly let me mention Apple (it is compulsory on this site!). Apple's brand identity and values inform so much about what it makes, how it acts and what it says. Apple rarely call it the Apple "brand" but Jobs and now Cook frequently speaks about the Apple way and how it approaches each decision in business.  Some of the recent criticism of Apple Music focussed on how the service was confusing and possibly at times very un-Apple due to the complexity of the choices and the array of services (Apple Music, iTunes Match, iTunes Store etc). 

This also relates to other aspects of the company. John Gruber, recently discussing appointments to the Apple board, said that : "The company attributes its profound success over the last 15 years to the Apple Way — and rightly so, I say. I doubt Appleā€™s board would consider an outsider as CEO until and unless the company falters significantly and loses its way."

This idea of an Apple "way" is what I would call the brand. A brand identity does not stop at the product or service, but should extend into every aspect of the decision-making process. This is certainly true for a company like Apple, which is a lifestyle brand. Apple can be in multiple markets such as PCs, tablets, phones, watches, cloud computing because their entry and their success in that area is informed by the core Apple brand. Their approach to each category is informed by their central values- taking a beautifully designed product or service to the consumer and making it as easy as possibly to understand and use. Excellence in product execution, delivery and support crosses all of Apple's markets. Apple rarely enters new markets, but when it does it is because it feels it can contribute to this category but remain true to its values. 

Which leads us back to Google. Most of the income at Google comes from search. For me, Google is a science plan. In terms of its brand, it is clinical and accessible, but not loveable. Its values centre on efficiency and connectivity and when this is applied to search or maps they are highly effective. People use Google services because it is efficient and fast, not because they have a major loyalty to Google or feel close to its values. 

So when it comes to splitting out the parts which make up the current Google structure, it is rather like splitting atoms or engineering components. Many of the elements in the current Google mix sit alongside their counterparts like odd ends in a box. Google search currently sits next to Maps, Android, Docs, Glass, YouTube and Gmail. The organisation feels like a collection of odds and ends, packaged together but not sitting neatly like bricks in a home. There is no strong central brand which holds these parts together. 

It may well be argued by Google that they have brand values- I don't doubt for a second that they have spent time and money on this. But the brand identity is a lose collection of ideas- being unconventional, innovative and experimental all spring to mind. But does the customer care about this? Hardly. Cutting the existing Google into pieces and calling it Alphabet matters from a corporate point of view, but the consumer will continue to search and navigate with its products, almost unaware of any change.

In the end this is due to how the Google brand sits in the heart of the consumer- a change induces a shrug of the shoulders at best, mostly people won't even notice. Emotionally the brand is something of a blank canvas, an open toolbox for new concepts and products as time passes. Breaking these pieces apart would matter to Google if its brand had been developed in the way that Apple had; but this is not the case. 

So while Google can be split into its constituent parts and renamed as Alphabet due to the openness of its brand identity, the danger lies in that those parts can also be replaced by consumers and perish without the customer feeling any sense of loss. In the fast moving world of technology, Google relies on superior function to keep users interested. It certainly can't depend on loyalty or passion for its brand values.

WWDC Highlights

Looking back at the WWDC keynote, it is worth reflecting on what was good and what was not so great:

iOS 9: this looks like a solid upgrade. It will be free, will arrive in the late Autumn, and should help to make the iPad a more work-orientated device. The changes to the keyboard, such as new shortcuts when working with text, are very welcome. So too is the idea of the virtual trackpad. The iPad can be fiddly when working with text- my Mac is always my preferred machine for letters and documents. But these changes should help. I am typing this post on an iPad because I love its mobile capabilities which even the MacBook Air can't match. But typing does take longer on an iPad, and so anything to help is welcome. 

The multitasking features such as the split screen looks great, but it was a pity that it will only be fully available on a new iPad Air 2. My iPad Air 1 feels a bit left out, and this may well be the inventive to drive new iPad sales (reasonably Apple's intention, given how slowly people upgrade iPads).

OS X 10.11: also looks like a slick update, with a real focus on stability and bug fixes. I love when Apple do this as it helps all users and solves a few headaches for me when teaching about the Mac. 

Music: well, that was all a bit of a mess.  It has been a long time since I groaned at the style of an Apple keynote, but this was pretty bad.  It seemed chaotic, long, and without a real focus. I am also not sure that the Music app and streaming service will appeal to me. I can see how people like Spotify and Apple wish to get in on this game, but I will have to see what it is like when launched. It does not seem to be something I will be paying a monthly fee for. The three month free trial is a good hook though as I will certainly take a look.

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Overall the keynote was way too long, and seemed to get out of control. Tim Cook started to run on and off stage towards the end and this gave the whole thing a panicked and rushed feel. It is a pity as I really liked the early part and the main iOS and OS X announcements. When it got to the Music section I nearly turned off. But overall the announcements set out an exciting set of changes for 2015-6.

WWDC 2015- What to Expect

Apple's developer conference, WWDC, is coming up next week with the keynote address on June 8th. Everyone should note that this event is geared towards developers and so some of the announcements are not focussed on consumers. Instead this event normally sets out the Apple agenda for the coming year, especially in terms of software. 

One of the main parts of this will be the announcements on iOS 9 and OS X 10.11. Apple have committed themselves to a yearly upgrade schedule, and assuming this does not change, we will be introduced to a preview of the next versions. Expect to see information on items like CarPlay and HomeKit too, both aimed at the developer community. Showing off the new operating systems is key to working with the developer community. 

However we are also likely to see the launch of two other item- the first is the revised iTunes and Beats Music service. Ever since Apple purchased Beats in 2014 it has been expected that we would see a revised service from Apple, including a music streaming service. It may be that we see this announced at WWDC but this could also come later in the year, which was traditionally the event when iPods, iPads or iPhones are launched. I expect to see an announcement at WWDC if Apple can get agreements in place with the record labels. 

Apple TV will also be updated- the announcement earlier this year that the price of the current Apple TVs had dropped to a new low seemed to be a very strong hint of new hardware to come. A new Apple TV would also sit nicely next to a Beats music announcement, with a deal with other TV network operators likely. Apple announced a deal with HBO in March. 

Don't expect much change in terms of Macs; the laptops have been updated recently. I expect the iMacs to be revised later this year and so one possibility is news on revised Mac Pros, something which might be appreciated by some developers. 

Another intriguing piece of info would be the Watch OS- will Apple show off changes to Watch OS and announce new features? I expect to see Apple announce changes to attract high quality Watch apps and because this is the year of the Watch and Apple will be promoting these new features in the Christmas buying season. 

Overall is is likely to be a tech-heavy keynote, setting out the software and a few hardware bits for the rest of 2015. 

Becoming Steve Jobs

Looking forward to starting this book. I always found the Walter Isaccson biography to be one dimensional and fixated on what made Jobs seem different- unusual and abrasive. But to have built a team at Apple which stuck around for years, there must have been more to the man and he seemed to be more of a draw for talent. 

Given how Apple executives have contributed to this book, it seems like they are attempting to reset the clock and retell the story from the start. 

Simon Spence/2015

Three Reasons Why Tim Cook is Apple's Greatest CEO

I have been impressed by Tim Cook, long before he took over from Steve Jobs as CEO at Apple, In fact when we look back at his seventeen years at Apple, Cook has been responsible for much of the success.

Nuts and Bolts: When Cook arrived at Apple in 1998, the company's supply-chain was a mess. It was Cook who worked on their supplier list and reforming how the company purchased components. One of the major challenges for a company such as Blackberry and Samsung in 2015 is how Apple have locked up the supply of essential components. Take the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the iPhone and iPad; you can be sure that Samsung would like to have something equal to Touch ID, but they have locked in many of the parts required, making it hard for competitors to compete. Others have to settle to second best.

Focus: Steve Jobs mentioned this as a reason for Apple's revival on many occasions, but Tim Cook is the essence of focus. One of the ways that Apple makes such huge profits from their large revenue is that Cook has led the drive to eliminate waste and streamline expenditure. The company is notorious for driving a hard bargain with suppliers and his focus on detail means that Apple are not left with stockpiles of old products. Apple's supply chain is lean, something which is frequently mentioned at the financial analysts call at the end of each quarter. In the 90's, Apple were left with old Macs in the chain, most of which they could not sell. Today Apple is lean and supply is normally constrained, much to the frustration of many would-be buyers! Ask Amazon about being left with $170m Fire phones or Blackberry about their $1bn write-down. Apple tend to hit the 6 week mark on inventory- always selling manufactured products in that timeframe.

Leadership: although this will probably be proved one way or another over the next few years, Cook appears to have a great touch in placing people in the right posts. The press will quote John Browett who came from Dixons to head up Apple Retail; and then left within a few months. But most of the appointments have been good- with Cook's focus on trusting long-term Apple employees such as Craig Federighi, Jonny Ive and Eddie Cue. Cook is a team player, less interested in leading from the front, which was a trademark of Jobs' early years as Apple's CEO. Jobs' led the team-building towards the end of his leadership and Cook has embraced this role. He introduces keynotes at Apple events, but is happy to hand over to is team to make of the big announcements.

So when it comes to Apple's record breaking results, they can be traced back to the early days of Tim Cook at Apple and how he reformed Apple's supply chain and partner relationships, a model which has been the bedrock to the company's success in recent years.

Simon Spence/2015

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