The iPhone 6 is here and for Apple chief executive Tim Cook, the two-hour presentation overnight wasn’t just about revealing the latest batch of shiny toys but also about making a statement that Apple hasn’t lost its innovation mojo.
Whether he was successful or not is debatable.
The iPhone 6’s larger screens, Apple Watch and Apple Pay with NFC integration: these concepts are not new to the market. Apple’s competitors have been playing in that space for some time; Samsung on the devices front and Google on payments.
However, Apple’s real appeal no longer lies in its devices, which are undoubtedly beautifully designed products, but rather the role they play in Apple’s view of the future.
That future won’t be built on hardware but rather software. And Apple has compelling software, as long as you are willing to be locked down into an unremitting ecosystem.
While seen as a shackle by some, for most consumers tying themselves to that ecosystem is a small price to pay for the convenience it provides.
The iPhone 6 sports a 4.7-inch Retina HD display, while the iPhone 6 Plus packs a whopping 5.5-inch display. Samsung might have started the so-called 'phablet' market but Apple certainly intends to finish it.
Given the market appetite for greater screen real estate, this was move a long time coming for Apple. But with that ticked off the checklist, what’s next?
For that, one needs to consider what’s under the hood.
Apple’s all-new A8 chip packs in 2 billion transistors -- that’s double of what the last iPhone had. According to Apple, not only is CPU performance boosted 25 per cent, graphics performance is up 50 per cent.
There’s also Metal, a new graphics technology in iOS 8 that will allow developers to push the performance of the A8 chip.
On the camera front, there’s faster autofocus capability via a new ‘Focus Pixels’ sensor and iPhone 6 Plus users get a more robust optical image stabilisation technology.
Coupled with the M8 motion co-processor, which will continuously monitoring incoming motion data from the phone's accelerometer, gyrosope and compass, Apple has its hardware bases covered.
The final piece to the puzzle is of course battery life and while Apple claims that the A8 chip is 50 per cent more efficient the market won’t be convinced easily.
With new Voice over LTE calling support and NFC for mobile payments, the iPhone 6 is on par with all of its rivals.
Making a dent on the wallet
The difference comes in the price. From next Friday the phones will be available in Australia, with the entry level offering the iPhone 6 (with 16 gigabytes of storage) starting at $869; the 64GB model weighing in at $999; and the 128GB model to set you back $1129.
The iPhone 6 Plus starts at $999 and the 128GB comes with an eye-popping $1249 price tag.
This is about as premium as it gets. The immediate response of the Apple’s rivals would be start dropping their prices and start bundling their wearable options quickly. It’s a trend that’s already in play at the market but the introduction of the iPhone 6 is likely to accelerate that trend.
Charging a premium for its devices has always been Apple’s DNA and given the iPhone upgrade cycle is primed and ready to go, the price tag is unlikely to drive Apple’s acolytes away chasing cheaper options.
Whether Android users (who have so far picked Samsung’s Note for its bigger screen) will come to the party remains to be seen.
The killer appeal
But Apple’s strength is its software and its ability to take a killer function and fully articulate it to the public. That’s why Apple no longer needs to be first with any hardware innovation. Apple isn’t solely in the business of building technology, it’s in the business of creating meaningful innovation and creating an intrinsic value proposition for the consumers and, in case of mobile payments, for merchants as well.
The iOS 8 operating system is going to form the bulwark of Apple’s short-term innovation strategy and, apart from enhancing the user experience, the iOS 8 becomes the unified platform to develop the extensive capabilities that the HealthKit (health) and HomeKit (home automation) software offers.
As far as Josh Guest, managing director of Australian mobile app developer b2cloud, the iOS operating system may no longer enjoy the market dominance it once had but when Apple talks people listen.
“Apple is still by far the most influential player in the smartphone landscape,” Guest says.
“The simple functionality of Apple devices and their faithful legion of supporters is what drives this influence and can deliver widespread adoption of new technology into the mainstream, with exciting opportunities for app developers and in turn, Australian businesses.”
Guest is particularly excited about the capabilities of the Apple Watch, saying that Health app and the HealthKit software provides a comprehensive canvas for developers to create offering that hone in on customer experience and provide a compelling service.
“It is part of a large trend of centralising data and making it easily accessible and digestible for the consumer,” he says.
From fitness, to diet and healthcare Apple’s software is what’s going to drive its dominance and that in turn helps the tech giant sell more iPhones and smartwatches to the public.
How does Samsung respond?
For Apple’s keenest rival, Samsung, all of this poses an interesting question.
For a company that has so far been more enamoured with gimmicks rather than innovation, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about where its long-term future lies.
It has a natural and a formidable advantage when it comes to hardware, especially displays, but it’s worth considering whether there’s more benefit in pursuing a strategy that’s focused on software rather than testing out another form factor.
Samsung’s relationship with Google is increasingly strained and the South Korean giant is spending plenty of money of in the Valley to bring software talent on board. All this would seem to suggest a sense of urgency within Samsung to push on with in-home software development.
But to make software the key focus may require Samsung to rethink its product line, which is in a desperate need of shortening. At some point Samsung has to start thinking about building fewer but far more meaningful products.