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Apple’s March event: Nothing New Here

After Microsoft first showed off HoloLens in January last year buried amongst a three hour Windows 10 event, I remember reading the criticism of a rather biased Apple fan who suggested that the gang from Cupertino showed off more substance in a similar length event. I found his argument flawed than when he was speaking about a new MacBook and iPhone compared to something like HoloLens. I can’t help but remember it now as Apple again tries to pass off branding as innovation with their two latest product announcements in the iPad Pro 9.7″and the iPhone SE. Now before the devotees jump on my back and defend the quality of these products I am not arguing that both don’t represent improvements on existing lines and offer something to consumers rather offering a criticism of the portal of either as ‘new’ or ‘revolutionary’.

iPad Pro 9.7 inch

Apple’s latest iPad follows on closely from the release of its larger brother and that is exactly how the team at Cupertino has tried to sell the latest attempt to stop its sliding market share. The new 9.7-inch tablet has been represented as the iPad Pro in a smaller package due to the inclusion of similar specs led by the new processor and access to ‘Pro’ access. In reality the device is just the newest vision of the tablet which Apple released in 2010 and have continued to upgrade over the years with each generation bringing significant improvements in power and additionally features. The ‘Pro’ is no different from the iPad 2 or any other Apple periodic update as consumers expect the company to release the same product with new specs the only difference here is that Apple has taken the opportunity to rebrand the device to improve their ability to compete in the current market. Not only are they using trends set by their competitors but Apple are dipping in to their MacBook line of laptops to try and target more of an enterprise market like they did with the addition of the ‘Air’ moniker to the 5th generation of the tablet. The ‘Pro’ 9.7 inch therefore doesn’t represent anything remotely ‘new’ either in the features which are all in line with its larger sibling, the product line or even Apple’s approach to its consumers. This doesn’t mean that it is not still a significant improvement on the iPad Air 2 in terms of performance and an excellent

iPhone SE

Before the newest iPhone was official announced the rumour mill had it accurately described as the body of an iPhone 5 with the internal of a 6S. The only thing that is ‘new’ about the iPhone SE is the name which dumps the usual numbering scheme as Apple has previously released cheaper iPhones in the 5C and have started making different size handsets with the 6 and 6+. Personally, I’m actually really excited by the release of the iPhone SE as it bucks the current trend of phone makers producing larger handsets. A trend that is especially frustrating for anyone like myself who wants to keep their phone in a jeans pocket, I’m now only hoping some Android or Windows OEM’s follow suit. The only disappointing element of the iPhone SE is that it doesn’t include all of the latest features present in the 6S or offer anything ‘New’. If Apple is successful with the SE in influencing trends this unfortunate fact suggests that those of use that prefer smaller handsets will continue to be treated as second class citizens with the premium features reserved for 5.5 inch or larger devices.

Selective rhetoric and Stats

Besides the annoying and biased views of the devotees what frustrates me the most about an Apple event is their use of the same rhetoric or misrepresentation of stats which no one in the tech world seems willing to put under the microscope. Once again Apple took aim at Microsoft by mentioning the 600 million PC’s still using 5 year-old operating systems which in and of itself is a pointless stat and could be used equally well by Microsoft to suggest customer satisfaction and the longevity of its software. Regardless of this Apple repeating like to take such information out of context for example that most of those 600 PC’s are found in enterprise which resist updating their software because of the cost of retraining which is especially important considering the dramatic sifts in the last few visions of Windows. Additionally, the comparison with Apple’s own tactics regarding software updates is also left unexplored for instance their use of limited backwards compatibility of apps that force consumers to update to the newest versions of iOS and OSX. My own experience at work is evidence of this mentality when a student sent me a pages file after updating to iOS 8 required me to update my own Mac to Yosemite in order to open and correct the work. Apple are able to imply these tactics because people subscribe to the philosophy of the ‘world garden’ present in iOS and the don’t have a sizeable Mac presence in enterprise. Regardless it is a tactic which Microsoft cannot employ without losing customers so all new versions of Windows are purposefully made to be backwards compatibility eliminating this reason to upgrade. This has been recently highlighted in the debate over UWP with epic games’ Tim Sweeney critical of the platform as a threat to make Windows more like the closed sandbox of iOS. Thus the difference between Microsoft and Apple’s strategies and business model render the comparison utterly useless in judging the success of either company.

Alongside these pointless stats Apple has begun to sound a little like a broken record by continually suggesting that the iPad will replace the PC. A statement which is starting to seem increasingly contradictory to the facts as Windows tablet market share has increased by 11% largely at the expense of Apple’s iPad despite the release of the iPad Pro and the inclusion of multitasking in iOS 9. Maybe the iPad Pro 9.7-inch will finally make Apple’s statement true but the fact that it doesn’t offer anything ‘new’ suggests that it won’t stop the market share slide so maybe it will just end up being the same old story.  

I’m sure Apple fans will disregard everything I have said as ‘Apple Bashing’ but if you read and consider everything I hope you can see past my criticism. Both products are well thought out to fulfil needs with in the current consumer market place by offering high end performance in a smaller package which will suit a lot of people’s needs. As a result, both will likely see strong sales if not anything ground breaking with many existing or past customers looking to upgrade their ageing devices. My frustration, outside the Apple philosophy represented by the ‘walled garden’, as anyone who knows me will recognise remains the Apple marketing machine which I have always felt tries to insult our intelligence with branding and inspiring statements rather than substance. Perhaps this point is misplaced and should be directed at the fans who take up this rhetoric rather than engaging in rational argument whenever their favourite tech giant is criticised. Maybe I’m being an idealist but criticism is never anything to fear as it helps us grow so hopefully the more pressure we apply to Apple and other tech companies for that matter will end up leading to something inspiring that truly is ‘new’ and ‘innovating’.

Debunking Tech Spin – Apple fans beware

If you are a tech nerd like myself or an Apple fan boy you have no doubt seen today the latest sale figures of the iPad Pro in comparison to Microsoft’s Surface Pro. While the fan boys are busy celebrating the English teacher in me thought it was about time to give a lesson about how to debunk the tech and for that matter the business worlds continual desire to distort figures and create false perception. Just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about here are a few links to 9to5 Mac, softpedia’s and business insiders take on the latest sales news.

ipad-pro-vs-surface-pro-4

When creating market perceptions the best course of action is always to use statistics from a reliable source which these examples like others have done clearly by quoting IDC’s estimate of “2 million” iPad Pro sales compared to “1.6 million” sales of the entire surface line. Taken at face value this is easy to understand and is a clear win for Apple but the art of spin is about not giving context. Business insider is slightly different in this regard as it states that the iPad Pro was not available until the 11th of November, however again this is selective information. In this instance the information necessary to make an informed judgement is left out, for example that the iPad Pro is available in 40 countries compared to approximately 25 on last count for the Surface line up. These reports also don’t mention the very different retail presence of both Microsoft and Apple which undoubtedly impacted the availability of the newest Surface Pro 4 in many countries. It’s common knowledge that Apple has a well-established retail strategy with 481 stores in 18 countries meanwhile Microsoft has 116 stores in four countries including only 10 outside the US. The result of this disparity is that Microsoft either has to rely on their online store or secondary retail stores like JB Hi-Fi in Australia. My personal observation at several such stores in Melbourne has revealed that most didn’t release the Pro 4 until December and the Surface Book until January. In Australia, much like I’m sure other countries, it is common to get new technology significantly behind the US that is except Apple products which are conveniently available on a global launch day. Given this context the statistics emphasised in these articles has a slightly less impressive and clear conclusion. It is possible to ask why with a larger distribution and stronger retail presence Apple has only out sold Microsoft by 400,000?

Another technique used by spin doctors is to establish credibility by seemingly providing some form of positive information against their established contention in this instance that most of the Microsoft sales were the more expensive Surface Pro models or that the guys at Redman have experienced ‘29% year-over-year growth’. Notice none of this information detracts from the idea that Apple has sold more at least not without further data and analysis but does help to present the writers of the articles in question as unbiased and reliable sources. Unsurprisingly they do not expand too much on the price of the more expensive Surface Pro tablets as it could easily explain the disparity between the sales figures and offer more comfort for windows fans. In Australia the Surface Pro 4 retails from between $1348 ($899 USD) to $3398 ($2199 USD) depending on the hard drive, memory and processor while the Surface Book starts at $2297 ($1499 USD) and increases to a whopping $4197 ($2699 USD) with a dedicated graphics card while the iPad Pro is more affordable in the $1248 ($799 USD) to $1698 ($1079 USD) bracket. This brings up two very interesting points to consider when thinking about the basic economics of supply and demand since demand will be greater in general for cheaper products yet companies will only be able to set high prices if there is sufficient market willing to pay otherwise they risk creating a surplus of stock, Microsoft found this out the hard way with the original surface running Windows RT. Overall this means that 1.6 million Surface sales has likely created more revenue (not necessarily profit as the overhead for both products isn’t actually known) than the iPad. It is also possible to conclude that consumers are willing to pay more for a Surface Pro rather than settle for a less powerful device in the Surface 3. Not only does this additional detail help explain the sales figures but it also raises a question about their actual importance especially since as all the article have had to admit the overall iPad shipments have fallen by 24.8% from last year.

Possibly the most obvious attempt at miss direction is the reliance of weighted comparisons that do not fairly represent similar products. Most people would not try to compare apples to oranges but in the tech world this seems to be common practice as to attack Microsoft’s significance digital trends compares the Surface line to more affordable tablets like the Amazon fire $115 ($50 USD) that can only do a small fraction of the tasks of a traditional laptop. Unfortunately, this is not a onetime phenomenon as 9to5 Mac also highlight a table showing tablet market share this is incredibly rich since they quote IDC’s comments about transitioning to “detachable tablets” and has little relevance on their actual contention about the iPad Pro as it uses existing iPads to inflate market share and utilised the plethora of chip Android tablets to push Microsoft off the list. Unsurprisingly these articles also fail to mention that most market research firms like Gartner don’t actually categorise the Surface Pro let alone Surface Book as a tablet instead it is often labelled a hybrid or ultramobile and counted in the PC numbers. In this context what would be relevant would be a comparison between high end ‘detachable tablets’ or hybrids although an argument could easily be made that the iPad Pro does not belong in this category since most reviews agree that it can’t replace a laptop due to the limitations of iOS.

I hope a few of you have found this a little bit of a learning experience and maybe it transported you back to an English class at school were some teacher was prattling on about persuasive techniques (some of mine are a bit obvious). These types of tech articles are just a perfect example of how we experience subtle manipulation on a daily basis and just proves one of my favourite sayings, knowledge is power. My point although it may not seem like it is not to persuade nor even inform but to encourage you all to think critically and make your own judgement as unfortunately sometimes it’s about choosing which ‘truth’ you want to believe.

Cheers,

Jono