With the eagerly anticipated announcements from Apple out of the way, now’s a good opportunity to reflect on some of the things reported, and what we can glean from them.
1. Apple recognises the encroaching threat from Android
Apple used to be fairly and squarely in the premium end of the mobile market – a single product with a high price point and the richest functionality to match. They didn’t really worry what anyone else was doing as they knew that they did it better.
But then Google brought its might to bear and, in Android, has developed a platform that commands a greater number of users and is often first to market with improvements to both hardware and software. Apple recognise the threat this brings and in amongst the headlines are a number of things that appear to directly counter this. For example, why the iPhone 6 Plus if not to face-off against the likes of the Galaxy Note and other Phablets (God I hate that term)… and looking back, why the 5C also?
Improvements in the iPhone screen, display, camera etc. are all great to see, but many only mirror what can already be seen in leading Android devices.
Apple has also granted more control to app developers. Whether it be via the richer, widget-based notifications or extensions (which allow apps to expose their own functionality to other apps), this is a loosening of the stranglehold that Apple once maintained on app capability and inter-communication. It’s only a small one mind you, they are still a long way from the relative Wild West of Android, but it is a recognition that they need to allow app developers a degree more freedom to develop in a more integrated and connected ecosystem.
2. If they are going to do something, they’ll do it properly
It certainly seems possible that Apple could have included NFC capability into the iPhone 5.
The technology existed and had been proven on other platforms and half of the developed world was screaming for them to. So why did they wait until the iPhone 6 to do so as part of Apple Pay? Well, the answer is in the question really – Apple Pay?
The strength of Apple, why they (with Android) blew Nokia out of the water for example, is that they do not just release products, they release platforms, as part of ecosystems. NFC was meaningless to Apple without the payment platform Apple Pay, and Apple Pay was meaningless without the inclusion of heavy-hitters in the credit space such as Visa and MasterCard, and the retail space such as Disney and McDonalds and with it supporting in-app payments.
Apple, whilst often late to the party, when they do gatecrash they generally like to storm in through the door, make a massive noise and steal everyone’s attention. They’ve done it again with Apple Pay, presenting a near-complete, end-to-end article bringing near frictionless payment, in a form that is ready to go and already supported in what may very well be a critical mass of retailers.
They allowed much of the hard work to be done by Android, let the investment in infrastructure take place, and release a ready-to-run platform that is likely to overtake everyone else within a month. And for this, they were prepared to sacrifice those users that bought the iPhone 5 without NFC (probably knowing there are a large number of users on 4, 4S or 5 that will jump up to the 6 as soon as possible or on 5 will wait for the Apple Watch to use Pay).
3. We are being moved away from the device as the primary means of interacting
What struck me as I delved a little deeper into the changes to notifications (now supporting widgets and extended functionality) was that it negates the need for us to unlock our phones. I’m sure there’s been some research or other, indicating that a significant number times phones are unlocked is to reply to an email, text or OTT message received or to post to Facebook or Twitter.
Apple has addressed this, and we can now do it without unlocking the phone via the notifications centre (in the same way we are already able to access controls for iTunes and fire up the torch or camera).
Of course, with the further delegation of control for certain apps and functions to Apple Watch, and extensions to other devices such as via Apple Car Play, we are seeing the gradual relegation of the mobile device to the role of an internet hub, simply the means by which a periphery of interactive devices are connected.
And what’s more, leveraging this data connection together with technology such as iBeacon (BLE) and NFC means that interaction for consumers is becoming increasingly frictionless. I can only see this continuing as we see more innovation with connected devices and the Internet of Things.
Apple clearly has to evolve, it cannot expect to operate in the market in the way it did in 2009-10 – so much has changed in just 4-5 years. It is great to see, following a few underwhelming years, that they continue to push the consumer and drag the market in equal measure.