Is it time to reappraise the idea that Apple is incapable of innovation in the post Jobs era? The company has failed to introduce a game changing consumer device since the iPad but its latest range contains some significant breakthroughs.
In a world where bloggers can offer to pay Apple factory line workers hundreds of dollars to leak a photograph of a shell or an internal component, the days of the surprise keynote reveal seem over, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the new operating systems, 64 bit chip designs and software updates that have just been announced are significant innovations in hardware and software.
In the latest keynote Apple completes its Christmas lineup. We get a slimmer, thinner iPad, a refreshed iPad mini, upgraded laptops and a new version of its desktop operating system OS X Mavericks. In a major departure for Apple, this will be available for free and immediate download.
iPad goes slimline
Conspiracy theorists are already suggesting that the timing of this keynote was specifically set to derail Microsoft and Nokia, who are also launching tablets. It is indeed the case that the tablet market has heated up significantly over the past year, so the pressure was on to produce something the would stand out.
Last year the iPad put on a little weight to accommodate the battery and technology needed to offer a retina display. This year’s renamed iPad Air has lost weight, narrowed, improved its capacity and speed and now comes with free iWorks and iLife software.
Weighing 1lb, Apple claims it to be the lightest full size tablet available. Just as iPhone 5 users are likely not to upgrade to the newer version immediately, the features on the iPad Air may not be enough to get users with last year’s iPad to switch up, but anyone with a pre-retina device will see significant performance increases. The iPad mini gets a retina display and the same A7 chip as the iPad Air, without losing its precious ten hours battery life.
Most users will be unaware of the technical complexities required in porting an operating system to a new 64bit chip design, but accomplishing this whilst simultaneously designing a new interface in iOS is a remarkable achievement. From a user perspective, the switch to a 64bit processor inside both devices will offer immediate speed advantages and an increase in the sophistication of the apps available.
Attempting all this in a year has meant that parts of the iOS transformation weren’t finished for the iPhone launch - iLife and iWorks have been updated on both the Mac and mobile platforms, abandoning leather stitching and wood panels, unifying the interface and ironing out some of the incompatibilities between versions.
Hardware back in fashion
Completing the announcements are hardware upgrades to the Mac computer line. Many have speculated that Apple would embrace the post-PC era by terminating its computer line, but such analysis fails to take account of Steve Jobs’ vision of a “virtuous circle”, where features developed on one platform migrate to another. They also fail to explain how developers would create mobile device applications if not with Mac platform development tools.
iOS and Mac OS X share a significant amount of under-the-bonnet code, so increases in functionality flow both ways. Techniques used to improve battery life in Apple laptops make their way into tablets and phones. This ability to advance hardware and software features in parallel offers Apple a significant advantage, which is why you now see companies like Microsoft manufacturing its own tablets, or purchasing Nokia to make its own phones.
The canister-shaped Mac Pro, to be released on the market in December, signals the return of Apple’s attention to its professional range after several years of neglect. Having failed to offer an upgrade for a long time, the company is gambling that most professional users would prefer easily switchable external storage connected through a super fast thunderbolt connector, rather than having a big case with internal components.
Apple famously decries market research, as it suggests that results can only ever be framed in terms of what people have experienced rather than what they could like. The jury is out on this one, but don’t be surprised to discover similar barrel style computers appearing from hardware manufacturers next year.