Everything we learned at the latest #AppleEvent
The teaser shared by Apple for its “Hi, Speed” event lived up to its promise. Apple is embracing 5G in a really big way, and practically everything the company announced was designed to showcase how the new technology is optimized to work with high-speed 5G networks. Foremost of those announcements was a new, much-anticipated lineup of 5G capable iPhones, but we also saw some other notable announcements about the Homepod mini, a new MagSafe charging and accessibility ecosystem, and, of course, better cameras, sharper video, and new LiDAR sensors on the iPhone Pro family that promise to improve augmented reality (AR).
Small is big in 2020
We expected to see flagship iPhones, which Apple is delivering with the iPhone 12 Pro (starting at $999) and iPhone Pro 12 Max (Starting at $1099), and, of course, we also expected the iPhone 12 (starting at $829). The exciting news today was the announcement of the iPhone 12 mini (starting at $729), the smallest, thinnest 5G capable phone on the market. Weighing in at less than 5 ounces, the phone touts a 5.4 inch OLED screen, and like all the new phones, it will be equipped with ceramic shield technology (developed jointly with Corning of Gorilla Glass fame) with 4X better drop performance than its predecessor.
5G is more than just a chip
Apple didn’t publicly mention the Qualcomm modems that will power the new iPhone 12 lineup, but they did spend a lot of time talking about how 5G will impact privacy (because you connect to public WiFi less) and accelerate the adoption of technologies like machine learning (ML) and AR and generate other benefits like optimizing developer cycles and app performance through enhancements made to iOS 14. Although we’ve seen flagship 5G phones available from other Android OEM’s for some time now, I don’t think we’ve seen such a comprehensive approach to embracing 5G in all its manifestations. Also notable, despite rumors to the contrary, all of the phones will support millimeter (mm) wave technology, which Apple claims is capable of delivering downstream speeds up to 4 Gbps (under ideal conditions) to an iPhone 12. Although theoretically 5G mm wave can support speeds of 10 or even 20 Gbps, it really seems like Apple is off to the races.
Tighter alignment with Verizon
In a surprise move, Hans Vestberg, the CEO of Verizon communications, joined Tim Cook on stage to talk about how Verizon has optimized their network for 5G and specifically to support the next generation of iPhones. When the iPhone launched in 2007, AT&T was the exclusive partner in the U.S., and Verizon focused on the Android OS through a partnership with Motorola and a lineup marketed as “Droid.” Thirteen years later, things have shifted somewhat, and it seems that Verizon is taking center stage with preferential pricing, also available to AT&T customers, on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini (its $30 cheaper.) Apple did mention they have done extensive 5G testing with 15 carrier partners, including the other big two in the U.S., AT&T and T-Mobile, but none of them were up on stage with Tim this year.
A swing at Amazon during Prime Day
I wonder how coincidental the timing of today’s event was in light of Apple’s announcement of the HomePod mini during the middle of Amazon Prime day. The $99 price point is competitive enough to take on the upper-tier offerings from Amazon Echo and Google Home, with an assumption that we can enjoy Apple-quality fidelity. Apple also notably removed third party audio products like Sonos from their stores last week. It’s clear that Apple is going to want to win this category. They’ve got a late start, but didn’t we say the same thing about MP3 players when the iPod came around? The biggest challenge? Apple has been very good at operating within closed ecosystems that they control like the iPhone, iPad, and macOS. They haven’t been great at third-party integrations, and the HomePod is far behind competitors like Amazon and Google when it comes to integrating with streaming services and other products that don’t fit into Siri’s vision of the world.
What we didn’t hear
At WWDC last April, Apple announced their intention to migrate away from Intel processors in their Macbook lineup in favor of their own ARM based silicon. While many were hopeful that some of the new models would become available, it appears we’ll need to wait a little longer, possibly later in the year. There were also no notable updates about an upcoming revamp of Apple TV and rumored enhancements for gaming with Apple Arcade. I wonder if we might expect to hear something before the X-Mas buying season begins, especially since many consumer products will focus on activities that take place safely at home.
Apple wants to be the best in show
It’s very clear, when Apple launches a product, it not only has to be fully baked, it has to be best-in-class. Many competitors released 5G devices last year, but Apple waited until they had a comprehensive offering and prepared their entire ecosystem to be ready for higher speeds and lower latency, right down to the OS. They have the same aspirations, to be the best, with the HomePod, the Mac, Apple TV, the iPad, CarPlay, and more. In many cases they can claim “mission accomplished”, but in a few there is still much work to do. Still, it’s going to be a fun journey. When Steve Jobs passed, many thought that the era of innovation would come to the end, but in retrospect, it’s obvious that Apple has only just begun.