You've seen the linkbait... er, headlines: "Apple loses ability to innovate"; "New Apple products tread water"; And, of course, the now-perennial: "Is a Jobs-less Apple doomed?"
Sure, Apple may have sold a record 9 million new iPhones during their first weekend on sale, but where's the excitement, where's the pizzazz, where's the frickin' innovation that the pundits demand?
After all, what does this year's crop of new products bring us? Iterated iOS devices, Macs, and operating systems. Each adds a sprinkling of new features, interface tweaks, and improved performance. Ho and hum, right?
Wrong. If you believe in a whiteboard strategy of planning your future in weeks, months, and years rather than simply reacting to what the other guy is doing, Apple is right on course.
This crop of products and updates reminds me of the release of OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). For those who don't recall, this was a point in OS X's life cycle when Apple put the brakes on new features and instead concentrated on under-the-hood technologies that would serve the Mac well in the future. For example, 64-bit processing became a big deal under Snow Leopard, thus allowing the Mac to take advantage of faster register and math routines as well as to access huge amounts of memory.
And today's products are similar how? Many of them make little difference now, but will do so in the coming years. Let's run them down.
Not just a newer and faster smartphone, the iPhone 5s has some interesting capabilities.
Fingerprint scanning: Apple has two plays here. First, the added level of security may help convince reluctant agencies and companies (and their IT departments) that the iPhone is a better bet than the all-but-dead BlackBerry and any phone running an "open" OS.
Second, the ability to purchase something with the press of a finger is incredibly powerful. Break away from the limitation of approving purchases just on the iStores, venture into the real world of walk-around shopping, and you've realized the dream of the iPhone as money.
M7 chip: The phone's M7 chip handles motion-related tasks--that is, how the phone is moving. Wonderful as this function is for operating fitness apps (and for taking stress off the main processor), I can envision it helping me as a parent. When my child eventually gets behind the wheel, it would be great if a chip like this reported to the OS, "She's driving. Shut down texts, calls, and other distractions. Her dad will thank us."
64-bit processor: The iPhone's A7 chip is fast because it's fast, not necessarily because it's 64-bit. But a 64-bit chip is useful for our future selves. Developers can start using a single 64-bit code base rather than working with both 32-bit and 64-bit (and using bridging software to allow old code to run on new hardware). Future apps developed in 64-bit should be able to run on the iPhone 5s even though it may be two generations behind the current model. And, of course, new apps will soon take advantage of the A7's advanced number crunching.
Broader LTE support: LTE comes in oodles of flavors, and running into one that's incompatible with your phone is a drag. We all want greater connectivity, even if that connectivity won't come to our region for a year or more. Having a phone that can talk to that new connection is a boon.
Love the interface or hate it, let's put that aside and concentrate on what the latest iOS bodes for the future.
Security: I've talked about security in regard to the fingerprint scanner, but all devices running iOS 7 have a greater level of security thanks to the Activation Lock feature, which locks down your device to the extent that no one can restore it without entering the associated Apple ID and password. It's another feature that makes iOS devices more attractive to those people who have resisted them over security concerns.
iBeacon: How exactly is the aforementioned walk-around shopping supposed to work? iOS 7 includes a feature called iBeacon. This technology allows the device to communicate with nearby sensors (and vice versa) over Bluetooth. Walk into a store, and iBeacon can tell the retailer that you purchased a life jacket there previously. The store sends a reply to the device saying that a new shipment of kayaks--which would go perfectly with that life jacket--just arrived. Simply head over to aisle 12, scan the kayak's bar code, press your thumb on the purchase screen that appears on your device, and drag your purchase out the door.
iTunes Radio: iTunes Radio is in its infancy and has some growing up to do. But as it does, a lot more people will be exposed to streaming music. This will be good for the labels and artists, as they will sell more music; good for Apple, as it will take a cut of every track sold; and good for consumers, as they will learn about a wealth of music worth listening to.
OS X Mavericks
Though we haven't seen the final version, the features announced so far are pleasant but not enthralling. Again, let's look under the hood.
Energy savings: When Apple created laptops (the largest segment of the Mac market) with nonremovable batteries, it made an unspoken promise: "We will make batteries that last long enough that you won't miss the extra battery you used to lug around." Better battery management has delivered and should continue to do so. And perhaps that management will one day be good enough to support a Retina display on a MacBook Air.
Greater integration of iOS features: Although some people believe that more iOS elements in the Mac OS merely "dumb down" the experience, the truth is that large numbers of new Mac users owned an iOS device before purchasing their Mac. They want to feel at home on their computer. Having a similar look and feel, as well as the same apps, will help gather more people into the fold.
And what about this product, last year's iPhone 5 packed into a colorful case? Where's the innovation? Heavens, the iteration? Colorful cases do not excitement make.
Except when they do. Innovation and iteration are all well and good, but when you're running a business there's no shame in making a boatload of cash by acknowledging fashion on occasion.