The Pain of an Apple Enthusiast: When Will I Be Wowed?
Apple is firing on all cylinders. The company is excelling in so many ways, it's hard to keep track of it all. It's building an amazing new "spaceship" headquarters. It's building solar farms to power its data centers. It's cleaning up its supply chain, both environmentally and through better labor practices.
Apple produces the best-selling MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina display, which have helped to increase its PC market share in 32 of the last 33 quarters, despite generally lackluster U.S. and global economies.
The iPhone is holding strong market share numbers and is vastly more profitable than any other handset. Same goes for the iPad, which saw a bit of a sales slip -- but who can call selling 16.4 million tablets in a quarter a disappointment and keep a straight face? That's just plain silly.
But Wait... There's More
Apple has invested in sapphire glass, which seems crazy tough. Last year, it unveiled the 64-bit A7 processor, surprising everyone and catching the competition napping. It has forged relationships with more than two dozen car manufacturers to introduce CarPlay, a new method for letting manufacturers deliver cars and third-party audio systems work with iOS and iPhones.
The company is poised to do the same with HealthKit, working with the medical field to transform patient treatment. For the home, there's HomeKit, a framework that lets third-parties play in Apple's world make it easy for mere humans to get into home automation and connected appliances.
Apple will roll out Mac OS X Yosemite along with iOS 8, both of which offer dozens of welcome improvements. Better still, they offer a rationale for their existence -- iOS runs tablets and iPhones, while OS X runs a powerful PC -- and both seamlessly connect their users with documents and experiences. Continuity. Working together.
An iPad doesn't have to be all things to be worthy of existing. A MacBook doesn't have to do tablet stuff well. It's a vision of product and usage that makes sense, even if some consumers still pine for one device to support their lives.
The iPhone 6 is about to be released, and demand is high -- what Apple enthusiast doubts that it will sell like crazy? None. It will sell like no iPhone that ever came before. Ah, the virtues of a happy customer base and a craving for a bigger, 4.7-inch in screen.
Profits are high. WWDC delivered a more open, developer-friendly Apple, complete with a new programming language to make app development easier, faster -- and presumably, more profitable. iCloud. Apple is working on diversity.
Apple Retail Stores have a new leader who will put a fresh stamp on glass and presentation. IBM might sell a lot of iPads for Apple, boosting its enterprise play with little effort and zero risk. A genius business move.
Apple bought Beats, possibly securing hope for amazing music services amid a changing world for years to come.
Everywhere you look, Apple is striding forward, improving, evolving.
And Yet, and Yet... Is Something Missing?
I think I'm a reasonable Apple enthusiast -- maybe a little more critical than most -- and I'm always pleased to see Apple bust out an astounding new quarter of sales and profits, to hear Apple CEO Tim Cook tell idiots to get out of the stock, to show Apple enthusiasts that our precious iPhones and MacBooks and Apple TVs will continue to evolve.
This is a company that is firing on all cylinders. That is insanely competent. Yet it is just doing all the things that any company that rakes in US$170 billion or so a year ought to be able to do.
OK, didn't Apple take a leap of faith to see if sapphire glass would work? You bet your ass -- but why the heck not? What company has the ability to make this happen at this sort of scale? Apple.
HomeKit. HealthKit. CarPlay. These are all cool initiatives -- but mind-blowing? No way. Will they make our lives better, more fun, possibly more healthy? Definitely. Totally cool. But mind-blowing? No way.
They are really good, really profitable, really cool -- but they are all, at their heart, just natural extensions of a company using its assets in smart ways.
What I'm backing into is this: Even though as a die-hard Apple enthusiast, I'm more excited than ever for this year's fall lineup of evolutionary awesomeness, I'm desperate for something surprising. Ready for something that inspires a "wow."
I don't want to see a home run. I want to see a game-winning grand slam.
Enter the iWatch
In all likelihood, Apple's chance to cause people's jaws to drop open, to trigger a palm-to-forehead slap of dumbfounded amazement, to elicit a low wow, will come with the iWatch. Or iTime. Or some new name.
The anticipation has been years in the making -- a long, slow frenzy of rumor and hope. A smartwatch, a smartband, a device that already has been invented and found lacking... but remains somehow tantalizing. I want to want a watch. I want to use a smartband.
But it has to be amazing. It has to look and feel fantastic. It has to work. It has to tap into something primal, with a bit of fashion and the belief of need.
Perhaps Apple can introduce something no one has even suspected, something that is a new real product and not a component, not a tweak -- something that is both hardware and software and design and patently Apple.
So the iWatch is it. The iWatch is a product that has the potential to show Apple still has its mojo, that Apple is something more than a global company of astounding competence.
I don't envy Tim Cook or Apple. The better you are, the more people expect. The higher the stakes.
What are the stakes? They're not tangible. With so many incremental improvements hitting the market this fall, Apple is all but guaranteed to knock out a couple more gangbuster quarters.
If a slimmer MacBook Air based on Intel's Broadwell fanless processors manages to hit in late 2014, great. If not, it'll just boost early 2015 sales. For Apple, a company of extreme competence, a razor-thin MacBook Air with a Retina display isn't exactly new, is it?
Will I want an iWatch?
That's what it comes down to. The iWatch. Can Apple speak to something primal in us? I know I'd like to be a watch guy, but the practicality of a smartphone kills the need and some of the desire to bother with a watch. Can Apple spark irrational product lust once again?
If you're an Apple enthusiast like me, that's what you really want to know -- and what you want to see, come September.