The Apple Falls – From ‘It Just Works’ to ‘It’s Hard Work’

Something is wrong at Apple – they seem to be lost in a mire of confusion and missed opportunities. I started to feel this after the iPhone7 launch; the new MacBook Pro launch just cements it. I’ve long been a fan of Apple’s (well, Steve Jobs’) ethos: creating beautiful products that make your life better. I simply don’t think that they are doing that anymore. Their last two product launches have been disappointing to say the least, with poor decisions – dropping headphone jacks and USB ports – and lack of innovation. But more than that, their crown of creativity is now being wrested from them. Google’s Pixel phone is an iPhone killer. Even Chinese super-manufacturer Xiaomi is launching a phone that looks like the iPhone7 should have been. And now the severely compromised MacBook Pro’s. Apple’s product range used to ‘just work’, now it’s just hard work.

MacBook Pro Fails

The latest MacBooks have missed the point completely. In abandoning USB in favour of Thunderbolt ports, you now basically have to carry a bag of dongles and cables to connect your other devices. You can’t even connect an iPhone 7 with the cables they provide out of the box – epic fail! They also didn’t bother to increase the power of the chips – with similar RAM and processor specs to those released years ago (still 2.4Ghz as standard, so 2010. 2.9Ghz?, oh that’ll be $3,000…). And the Touch Bar not only fails to add real value (quick access emojis ffs!), it does away with the ‘Esc’ key – effectively alienating one of their core demographic –  programmers and developers. They focused too much of their energy on ensuring that apps and programs can communicate effectively and seamlessly through Cloud software but forgot the basics.

Lack of Innovation

The introduction of the Touch Bar had the potential to be innovative but they sacrificed the function keys to make room for it. It’s almost they said ‘You don’t need those complicated things! Look – shiny icons!” – it feels more like a distraction rather than an innovation. Apple are forcing users to divert their attention away from the screen whilst they scroll through selected icons to find the app or program they need. Microsoft, in the meantime, came up with the Surface Dial – a cleverly designed peripheral allowing users to interact with every millimeter of the display.

The Surface Dial is an all-encompassing control device which combines simplicity and practicality – bringing a new dimension to hardware and software interaction. When placed side-by-side, there are some obvious advantages to having a dial which can be placed directly onto the screen, rather than the Touch Bar – which users actively have to break their concentration to use. Compared to the Apple Touch Bar the Surface Dial is innovative, has almost limitless applications, and is perfectly targeted at its audience – creative designers and developers, an audience that used to buy Apple without question.

In the summer, I wrote a piece about how important it is to ignore your competitors and listen to your customers instead. Apple seem to have done neither of these things, preferring instead to  look to the past. Now even Microsoft – formerly the antithesis of Apple, creatively – are beating them at their own game.

I’m Out

On the one hand it’s great to see more competition at the top end of the tech market. Ultimately this is good for consumers – more choice, better products, lower prices. But I’ve long been a fan of Apple, and it’s sad to see them fail so hard. Steve Jobs changed the world with his manic desire for beautiful designed products that define perfect user experience. The limitations of the new MacBook Pro are simply too much for me. I’m ditching my iPhone and switching to Google’s Pixel phone, and i’ll take Microsoft’s Surface Studio, or the Lenovo Yoga. I don’t think Steve would be happy with this state of affairs.

How do you feel about Apple’s new developments? Have i missed some genius strategy in their product line-up, or are they now being left behind by Microsoft and Google? Let me know in the comments using #NewMacBookPro.

Google Pixel: The iPhone Killer?

This week’s news is all about Google’s Pixel: the new phone from Google – and from what i’ve seen so far they have pretty much nailed it! After a few disappointing weeks of tech news – Snap Inc. and Apple, I’m looking at you – we finally seem to be seeing some real innovation and progress in the mobile sector. So, what’s on offer?

AI Is King

Google Assistant is the Pixel phone’s USP, and they have placed it at the heart of the user experience. In a highly competitive market, where Apple and Samsung dominate (but neither have been able to crack the integrated and intelligent personal assistant), AI is the new battleground.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the competitive advantage of AI incorporation, and how this technology will eventually be used to interlink many products from a single company. It now looks like Google is positioning itself to do exactly that, with Pixel Phone and Home Speaker working in unison to bring the Google Assistant to life.

Competitive Advantages

Google Assistant can hold a conversation, in which one question or command builds on the last, rather than dealing with each request in isolation – a point which has caused the most devoted Siri fans much frustration over the years (and leading to situations like this).

It also draws on Google’s Knowledge Graph database, which links together information on more than 70 billion subjects, and has been in use for four years, giving immediate access to a massive amount of useful information.

Google have also addressed one of the biggest achilles heals with the Pixel Phone: it will come with the latest, previously unreleased Android version as standard, and will automatically update to the latest OS. This is one very clear benefit of controlling the vertical

One-Up on Apple

Some of the Pixel’s features have been included in a clear attempt to overtake Apple’s progress and fill in where the iPhone fell short. Almost all the high-profile fails reported with the iPhone 7 have been addressed in the latest Google Announcement, with the launch marketing having a bit of fun at Apple’s expense.

  • Google will also provide a ‘Quick Switch Adapter’ to import iMessage data, photos, videos, contacts and other data directly from Apple’s iPhone, in a move which clearly targets disenfranchised Apple users.
  • Every photo or video the user takes with the phone’s highly-rated cameras are automatically saved in Google’s cloud for free, at full resolution – for life – a clear UX win for Google.
  • The Pixel incorporates premium product design & iPhone-matched price points, which are simply a necessity for any product hoping to compete at the top end of the mobile device market.
  • Finally, the Pixel includes both a flush camera lens and a standard headphone jack – which may not be top of the list for every early adopter, but I know for a fact that it certainly is a sore point for some devoted Apple fans!

 

The Google Hangover

Last week, I discussed some of Google’s rougher experiences – delving into the downward spiral that was Google Glass. The truth is that some of these issues will still be in the back of user’s minds. Google know this and have hired some serious big-hitters to drive this new hardware train. However there is work to do to help consumers overcome privacy concerns surrounding the incorporated use of AI technology and the automatic use of cloud storage.

Well Played, Google!

In my view, a lack of effective competition in the linked hardware & software consumer electronics market has allowed Apple to get lazy & complacent. The below-par iPhone 7 announcement was a spectacular display of a missed opportunity and this has played nicely into Google’s hands.

Google’s range of new hardware is the first real attempt to challenge the status quo, and by putting AI (Google Assistant) at the heart of their products, they are betting big that this is the new consumer electronics battle ground. And, while the launch of Google Home is clearly aimed at taking down Amazon (with their Alexa Home AI) as well as Apple, announcing  both a home hub and a mobile product is a very strong move to dominate the consumer user experience

They arrived fashionably late to the mobile hardware party, but by taking their time, they have been able to find solutions to almost every problem currently facing mobile device users – well played, Google! I’m ditching my iPhone and definitely buying a Pixel when they launch on 20th October. What about you?

Apple And The Innovation Paradox

I noticed that the recent batch of updates and launches from Apple have been met with more muted applause in the media than in previous years. I admit I was also initially underwhelmed by what they announced. Among the shiny new hardware (that looks almost exactly the same as the shiny old hardware) the updates seemed pretty trivial. Removal of the headphone jack; improved AI (Siri) capability; more emoji’s ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; faster processor speeds; better cameras; waterproofing  and GPS-ing the Apple Watch (why didn’t they do this when they launched it?). They don’t really set the heart racing, until you take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Headphone Jack-gate

The biggest controversy was the removal of headphone jack – paving the way for wireless earbuds, the (instal-lose) Airpods. This is a long overdue move – there are now many other branded wireless headphones on the market and Apple have a history of getting in when the time is right and they can own it . Nilay Patel, for The Verge, says;

“Removing the headphone jack is an act of pure confidence from Apple, which is the only company in tech that can set off a sea changes in the industry by aggressively dropping various technologies from its products” 

But as they are also accelerating the rollout of Apple Pay, this move is also a big block to the current batch of plug-in contactless payment devices, from the likes of iZettle; Square, etc. A shrewd strategic move as this immediately grabs market share and provides an additional layer of protection for Apple Pay.

Siri-ously

Siri, the iPhone’s AI and personal assistant can now communicate with other apps. You can now ask her to book you an Uber, WhatsApp your missus and find a decent restaurant for your date night. I called this back in the summer in a post about the how brands were ramping up their AI development and the opportunity for consumers. This just Apple setting out their stall and ensuring app developers and brands develop into their ecosystem. Strategically, another strong move.

iMessage update & Emoji-plus

Whilst this may seem underwhelming, to say the least, there are logical reasons behind competing against standalone messaging apps and keep iMessage relevant. They are consolidating their use of their message tool, developing new features to appeal to the Snapchat generation.

But where was the innovation?

Lets flip this around: why do they need to? They own the premium handset market globally with a devices that arguably have the best hardware and software design. If it ain’t broke…

They’ve upgraded the processors in the iPhone 7 and added market-beating camera technology. They’ve done enough to keep themselves on top. Innovation isn’t need when the product is right – why take a big risk now when they don’t need to. Is this necessarily a good thing for the consumer, though? Marketing guru Seth Godin says

“The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way.”

I think this is partly true with the iPhone, they don’t yet need to find a new path. However a company the size of Apple has the resources to research and develop big, innovative leaps in tech. We need to see more of this. There have been discussions for some time around Apple’s entry into new product markets. Cars and TV’s have been rumoured to be getting the Apple treatment (though they’re clearly having a re-think about the former if they’re laying off a bunch of the Project Titan team). I’d like to see them betting a bit bigger on some of these, and other, tech projects. The risk of not doing this is that they are more likely to miss out on the next big feature that’ll take their business to the next level.

My verdict – Apple have done just enough for now to keep their smartphone hardware and software at the top of the market, and delivered some strategically important updates to protect their proprietary features. This time next year I hope to be talking about how the iPhone 8 also doubles as a hoverboard.

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Why You Should Ignore Your Competitors

In the WWDC announcements earlier this week, Apple revealed that their voice recognition AI, Siri, will be made available on desktop. But the bigger news is that Siri is to be opened up to third-party developers to enable users to access third-party apps through Siri commands. This news has been met with varying opinions, but the loudest appears to be that Apple are falling behind when it comes to beating competitors to the punch. However, I am not so sure that this is true.

 

Too little, too late?

The popular opinion seems to be that Apple is having trouble keeping up with their competitors. Cortana was opened to third-party developers over two years ago, whilst Amazon’s assistant AI, Alexa, was released to developers almost a year ago – with the added incentive of a development fund for innovative uses of the software. Google appeared to be slightly late to the party, releasing their software only last month, so is Apple playing catch-up?

Amazon,  and Google already have stand-alone devices on the market, powered by their AI assistants, all released over the past two years, whilst Apple have only recently announced that they are developing their own stand-alone command centre for homes

The CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Washington university professor, Oren Etzioni, has said “Is it too little too late? Siri is five years old and still trying to learn how to play well with others.” (source)

 

My Take

Watching your competitors is one way of making sure that your products are relevant, but a much more effective method, is listening to your customers. If you are hearing your customer’s demands and working to make them happy, you don’t need to concern yourself with what your competitors are doing.

Apple have long proven that they are innovators, releasing amazing product, after amazing product, they refine their software and products based on the feedback they receive from their customers, which eliminates the need to copy what Amazon and Google are doing.

Although the announcement is still fairly new, Apple have been developing their stand-alone product since before Amazon Echo was released, taking the time to make sure that they are delivering a product that their customers actually want.

This is the best approach to handling competitors as it ensures that they are delivering products that their customers will want to buy. “A lot of our customers have told us they would love…” is a phrase that featured in many of their announcements, for example.

When developing my own services and brand, I made the conscious decision to stop watching my competitor’s every move to make sure that I was in line with them. I can see why people would ask how I could be sure that my business was relevant, if I didn’t know what my competitors were doing. To be honest, I didn’t know whether my products were on par with those of my biggest rivals, what I did know was that my products matched what my customers wanted and answered their needs.

By asking the right questions and using the information our customers provided, we were armed with all of the knowledge we needed about our market. Our customers didn’t want imitations of existing products – they were looking for innovation which answered their calls.

Whilst you are busy ignoring your competition and paving the way for satisfied customers yourself, there are a three key things to avoid:

  • Don’t give your competitors bad press, focus on your business, your innovation and keeping your customers satisfied and the rest will fall into place
  • Don’t assume that customers will fall into your lap; amazing products come with an amazing brand and maintaining world-class customer service will endear your customers to you even more.
  • Don’t price higher just because you can. Fair prices make everybody happy. Don’t be tempted to price too low, you still need to make a profit. On the other hand, do not fall into the mind-set that you can charge the earth just because you meet the customer’s needs better – many people will be tempted to accept lesser value for a more affordable product.

Remember that happy customers are the key ingredient in great business. Exceptional customer service, products which push all the right buttons, and prices which match your target market’s lifestyle will lead to better reviews and an increase in word-of-mouth marketing. Happy customers will lead to more customers. Increased trust in your brand leads to increased profits, and better quality of feedback, leads to better quality products, fuelling the cycle once again.

My Thoughts On The Apple Pencil!

The much anticipated Apple Pencil was the newest product to hit the market this week; and it was met with mixed reactions from consumers and retailers alike.

The Apple Pencil’s main use is for the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro. The Pencil works with sensitive technology; pressing the pencil lightly onto the iPad produces thin strokes, while applying more pressure produces thicker strokes.

Among Apple’s many and varied claims is the Pencil’s super fast chargeability. It is also purportedly more powerful and more versatile in kinetic form, as it can roll more easily and is longer than other styluses on the market.

The Apple Pencil has been likened to Samsung’s S Pen, which works on the Samsung tablets and Note smartphones. That is the first bit of controversy.

The second bit of controversy comes in the form of the creator of Apple – Steve Jobs himself, The Apple boss famously said in 2007 that pen-style devices were ‘yuck‘ and something ‘nobody would want‘. He went on to say ‘if you see a stylus – they blew it’ – alluding to his belief that a stylus was a sign of failure in a device. This raises the question; would Steve Jobs ever have sanctioned the release of such a product himself?

Fans of Steve are outraged and think that the launch of this product is an insult to both Steve and the ‘core’ (pun very much intended) of Apple.

Could it be possible that Tim Cook believes so passionately in the potential of this product, that he is willing to bulldoze all formerly voiced opinions and bring the much scorned Pencil to market?

However this is not the first time that Apple has changed tack on certain subjects – Jobs once famously said it would be ‘over his dead body’, that Windows users could sync their iPods and iPhones on their computers. We soon saw that change! Since Jobs’s death, Apple has also altered such elements as tablet screen size, even after Jobs famously saying that screen sizes categorically couldn’t be bigger or smaller than 10.9 inches. And yet, after Jobs’s death came the birth of the iPad Mini, with a smaller screen than ever.

My personal views are drawn from what I know of Apple’s past products and my own research into Steve Jobs as an entrepreneur and businessman. It is clear that Apple is no longer the company that Steve Jobs began, but maybe this was a progression felt very much by Steve himself as time passed.

Apple is a cunning, clever beast. It calculates with precision the optimum time to launch new products into the market and predicts how well they will be received. Apple can be innovative and creative with its products, maintaining an air of exclusivity yet treading the fine line between aspirational and accessible technology. This could be the key to their consumer appeal.

The Pencil is associated with the iPad Pro. In my opinion, this product is perfect for entrepreneurs as it allows users to mind map creatively and sketch ideas. This freedom in creativity can be absolutely key in driving and furthering business growth.

So what are your thoughts on the new Pencil? A seed of success or a knife to the very core of the business?

It doesn’t come out until November and isn’t cheap either. Costing more than £60 after already shelling out for the new iPad Pro, you’re definitely looking at an investment piece – so let’s hope it is worth it!

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Why does Apple feel the need to take over EVERYTHING?

Firstly, I love Apple. I use an iPhone, I love my MacBook Air – However, Apple Music is one step too far for me.

The reason I think this? The music streaming service I love is Spotify and Apple is basically taking their idea, re-branding it and passing it off as something new and original.

Spotify is one of the greatest music services on our market today, but it is also one of the greatest startups ever. Spotify has been around for years and not only offers a subscription service but by partnering with Facebook also offered a free version with adverts included instead.

Spotify for its day and age was a completely original idea and it was a game changer. It has many positives going for it, personalised playlists and the ability to connect with friends and artists who use various platforms whether that be Apple, Microsoft or Android.

Apple have introduced ‘Apple Music’ this year, trying to lure Spotify’s users over to their service with the promise of a three month free trial, then subscribing for £9.99 a month thereafter, which is the same price as Spotify might I add!

Apple Music has certainly had it’s fair share of PR during its launch thanks to Taylor Swift banning her music unless she gained royalties, she also pulled the same stunt with Spotify but they didn’t react to her demands.

I still haven’t seen for myself why Apple Music is so great or how it is any different to Spotify? After all if you’re one of the guys planning to make the switch, you’re giving up all your old playlists, artist and friend connections you may have made and you’re still paying the same price? It just doesn’t make sense!

The basics of Apple Music are also the same as Spotify, they’ve taken the same features and rearranged them. However, Apple Music will be a new learning experience, just like using any new service, they’ve managed to distance themselves just enough from Spotify to show they haven’t completely copied them.

I just don’t understand the sudden hype over a service which has already been around for a number of years under a different name. The only reason I can come up with is because Apple’s name is on it. If Microsoft or Android had introduced this service would it be receiving the same attention? Probably not.

I’d stick with Spotify, it’s never let us down so far and being one of the most successful startups ever, I know it’s a safe, reliable service.

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