Apple: Five takeaways from the iPad launch

October 23, 2013

Apple introduced a lot of new gadgets in San Francisco on Tuesday -- fresh iPads and laptops, a new desktop and a new OS. But the launch event also gave us a take on the company’s philosophy these days and how it plans to keep ahead. Here are five takeaways from Apple’s big event.

Yes, we still innovate: While consumers were probably most excited about the new iPads unveiled Tuesday, the product that Apple itself seemed most excited about was the Mac Pro — a powerful desktop aimed at the truly intensive user. At $2,999, this probably won’t even land on most consumers’ radars, but Apple’s rhetoric in describing the computer was aimed at assuring us that it’s still a major tech innovator.

Whether consumers are going to be willing to buy that assurance is another thing. Apart from the new desktop, the major watch words of the day were: thinner, faster and efficient. That’s pretty much what’s expected of all Apple products in their annual spec bump, along with a decent battery life (that’s an engineering challenge -- a huge one, but a necessary one).

With this latest event, one could argue that the company has done just enough to keep its edge in the market for tablets and laptops. But if all you got out of Apple’s announcement was news about new hardware, then you missed about half of what the company had to say.

Apple has a bigger vision than just new gadgets: Perhaps one of the most significant of the announcements was that Apple is making its operating system, OS X Mavericks, free to download. The company has been moving in this direction, having offered the last system upgrade, Mountain Lion, for a relatively low $19.99.

How the new Apple tablets compare to their predecessors.

So, what’s the company’s plan here?

For a long time, one of the core elements of Apple’s success has been its integrated approach to software and hardware — it's what gives the company such tight control over the apps and programs that run on iPhones, iPads and Macs. With this new pricing scheme — or non-pricing scheme — Apple is essentially blowing up that old division. The firm is now, more than ever, selling its full ecosystem rather than focusing on products that need to be loaded up with programs. Making iWork and iLife free with new purchases and charging nothing for OS updates illustrates that aim.

Apple’s attitude: It was also pretty clear Tuesday that Apple is, as usual, outwardly unconcerned about its competitors and its market share. Worrying about a dip in market share would be futile for Apple, anyway, as its top competitors steadily move in to claim some of the millions of new customers picking up tablets each year. But all the discussion about cutting-edge design and the emphasis on making the best products rather than just the first products was patent Apple.

(On a side note, several longtime company observers at the event commented that there’s been a small shift in the overall spirit at Apple these days, that the company has felt different under CEO Tim Cook — a bit freer, more frank and more open.)

Expanding beyond the consumer market: Apple also appears poised to make a bigger push for offices, schools and other enterprises, showing off its cloud editing and collaboration features in iWork and making a heavy pitch to professional users with the Mac Pro. That group-input poster that Apple’s Roger Rosen and Eddy Cue made on stage Tuesday was cute, but it was also a message to Microsoft and Google customers: “We can do productivity, too.”

Consumer IT and enterprise IT are continuing to come together in interesting ways all across the industry, and Apple appears to be preparing to meet those evolving tech needs.

The push for U.S. manufacturing: Mac Pro is being assembled in across 20 U.S. states, though that mention at the event was quickly overshadowed by all the gee-whiz gadgetry. That decision is significant. After Tim Cook said late last year that Apple would build some Macs in the United States, he wound up with a VIP seat at the State of the Union address, noted Yankee Group analyst Carl Howe.

While one could argue that the decision to build some products here at home is a political one, Howe said, the fact that Apple has spread the manufacturing of a product that it’s clearly proud of over so many parts of the country counts for a lot.

“You can claim it’s politics, but it’s also building skills. There are processes that they’re using on that that they had to build from scratch,” he said. “It’s a low-volume part [of the overall supply chain], but that’s where you start.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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