What Did Apple Do?

Tuesday Apple held another one of their “events”, and what was anticipated to be nothing more than showing us what we’ve already known – the existence of the iPad Mini – became something much more, and upset many of their biggest fans by wiping out a product many of them just bought.

Before I get into the iPad drama, let’s briefly review the other product updates shown.

iMac – the overdue refresh is interesting for a few reasons.  First the screen sizes remain the same (21″ & 27″) but offer a new mega thin, sexy form factor.  They get this by removing the optical drive.  In doing this Apple has now effectively eliminated any way for old dinosaurs, like me, to use physical media.  I am that guy that still buys CD’s and DVD’s… But now I can’t plop those into my new iMac and rip them (yes, I can buy the USB Super Drive $80) like I have been able to do since, well, forever.  Apple wants you to buy this material from iTunes, and if they can also achieve a nice design factor in the process, well that’s great.  The new iMac also has maybe the coolest new feature mentioned all day, Fusion Drive.  A marriage of a flash SSD drive and a normal HDD, and while this has been done before it is the native software that will automatically move regularly used software to the SDD portion of the drive so the user’s access to that is much faster. 21″ starts at $1299, 27″ $1799.

MacBook Pro – A new 13″ with retina display was shown off, also with a nice lightweight design.  Nothing really new here, but the 13″ laptop is really ideal for portability and this comes with that awesome display and starts at $1199

Mac Mini – vastly updated versions of these little wonders in a little box get bigger processors and more memory.  For under $1000 you can get a rather nice everyday use computer that you can plug in and use with that monitor and keyboard/mouse that you already have.  Starting at $600 and goes up depending on how you option it.

Ok, so the iPad Mini was introduced and it pretty much is exactly as we expected.  7.9″ screen, but it is NOT retina display, and in fact kinda disappoints with a pixel density of 162ppi.  That’s important because that is a lower resolution screen than competing devices, which are less expensive.  And that brings us to the price, starting at $329 Apple did not come in under that $300 point that many think they needed to be competitive.  But Apple sets prices to make money and they are banking on the idea that the iPad Mini – even though it’s $80 more than a Nexus 7 or $130 more than the Kindle Fire HD – will blow you away with it’s “superior design, build quality and most importantly, apps.  Apple is going to be able to test their premise that “apps matter” and having over 250,000 apps available that are designed for the iPad platform, rather than with Android a whole bunch of “phone apps sized up” that user experience is enough to get you to pony up for the higher priced device.  And this has been the case with the full sized iPad.  Apple bragged they’ve sold over 100 million iPads since the product launched and their ownership of the tablet market is anywhere from 70-90% (depending on who you believe).   With the Mini, will people care enough about that to spend the extra money, especially with the word that cheaper, better Android tablets are on the way?

Which takes us to the news that rocked everyone.  The 4th generation iPad.  Just forget that the 3rd gen was rolled us just less than six months ago – you can’t buy it no mo’.   This was stunning news that became obvious as Apple began to explain the “update” was more than switching to the new Lightening connector.  Nope, now there is the new A6x processor, that is “2x faster” than the one in the iPad bought as recently as yesterday.  It also has a better forward facing camera, better LTE and wi-fi.  These are incredibly significant updates and Apple just did that to everyone that just bought the new one.  Watching the reaction of the crew at TWIT was really interesting simply from the standpoint that even they were shocked that Apple would make a move so fast.  The looks on their faces when they realized what was happening was very telling.

Here are my thoughts on this… Apple felt they needed to do this for several reasons.  First, I’m betting that Apple wanted to move it’s production schedule so that iPads could roll out in the fall, before the holiday buying season.  Tablets are products that people buy for others as gifts (phones, not so much), and now each year they can roll out new versions just as that time is approaching.  The only way to do that was either, now, or wait another full year before updating.  Doing it now creates some drama and hurt feelings but Apple couldn’t wait a full year.  Why?   Because the Surface is coming out now, and there are an untold number of Android products on the way with the very, very nice new versions of that OS.  Apple couldn’t wait, and oh btw, they had the new, mo’ faster parts to stuff in there anyway.  And what this portends for the 5th generation iPad I assume will go on sale a year from now – Apple must have something really big planned.  If that’s true, it makes more sense of what happened here.

Should you be mad?  Sure, if you’ve recently bought the 3rdGen model. (If it was a month or less ago, Apple will refund your money)  But otherwise you still have a fantastic device that is better than anything else in the category – other than the newer iPad.  It also strengthens my mantra that you always buy the fastest, baddest version of an Apple product (or any brand for that matter) you are shopping for at that time.  Simply because you never know when its going to go from current model to outdated.  But people have a right to be pissed if they paid $500+ on a device just months, or weeks, ago that now is not “top o’ the line” – but they will get over it because what they have is still better and works great.

Apple minus Steve Jobs is a new and fascinating beast.  Lots of talk yesterday about if Apple would have done this, or the detailed product comparison that was done in the event between the iPad Mini vs the Nexus 7.  Who knows?  Things are very different these days as the competition that was not there when Jobs was continues to get better and make outstanding products that in many ways are better options for many consumers.  Apple is in the position they are in only because they created these successful markets and got massive head starts and were able to establish their products as gold standards for everyone else to reach for.  To keep  that position Apple is going to have to make decisions that go against what they’ve said publicly before (iPad Mini) and make hard decisions that will peeve dedicated fans.  It’s the cost of business.