There's More Behind Apple's Blithe iPad Release Than Meets the Eye
Apple is not one of those companies that churns out a handful of press releases every week. Its press announcements are few and far between -- and they're typically adjuncts to the big smash events the company holds to dramatically unveil its latest wonder. So why did Apple just issue two press releases about incremental product updates? Who is Apple talking to, and what is it trying to say?
Apple's corporate communications department is an oxymoron -- it barely communicates at all, at least through traditional methods like press releases. If you consider the high-profile nature of Apple, the number of products, the competition, as well as the sheer size of the company, it's odd that it puts out just a handful of press releases a year. It's not like Apple is busy setting up interviews with members of the tech press, either.
Consequently, when Apple talks, people listen. In fact, when Apple talks, it's often after a vague invitation to come to California with a few hundred of your peers for a special presentation unveiling something new that you've all been guessing about but can count on surprising you anyway.
So, when Apple released two ho-hum press releases this week, I was scratching my head. The first was about iOS 6.1, which is a minuscule point release that doesn't really offer much of anything special to the average user.
The second announced the so-called "fat" 128-GB iPad with Retina Display. Apple upgraded its biggest iPad from 64 GB to 128 GB. That's it -- no new features, just more storage, and boom, we get a whole press release out of it.
With a 'Normal' Apple, There Wouldn't Have Been Press Releases
So why was I surprised? For the most part, Apple reserves press releases for very big changes, new products, major upgrades and milestones. So we might see a release for the App Store topping 40 billion downloads or iPhone 5 pre-orders topping 2 million in the first 24 hours. The press releases -- usually -- mark an important upgrade or new product, or they claim chest-thumping bragging rights.
A 128GB iPad is barely new at all -- and barely brag-worthy. Barely. What about iOS 6.1? It adds LTE support for 36 additional iPhone carriers worldwide. Nice, but hardly groundbreaking. What gives?
Is Apple Talking to Wall Street?
In years past, the gist of Apple press releases was usually that they were speaking to Apple product enthusiasts and the tech press. The events they accompanied set the stage for consumers to feel good about Apple's bountiful offerings.
These last two releases, coming on the heels of Apple's first fiscal quarterly report of 2013 -- over which it was busted left and right for having record results that failed to meet Wall Street expectations -- only really make sense when read between the lines. In fact, these two releases have the feel of something crafted for the naysayers rather than the enthusiasts.
In the case of iOS 6.1, the whole release seems to hinge on the point that Apple iOS users represent a huge collective force. To date, Apple reports, iOS users have uploaded more than 9 billion photos to Photo Stream, sent more than 450 billion iMessages, and received more than 4 trillion notifications.
In addition, Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of marketing, gets into the action by noting, "iOS 6 is the world's most advanced mobile operating system, and with nearly 300 million iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices on iOS 6 in just five months, it may be the most popular new version of an OS in history."
What's he really saying? A bit shrilly, he's saying the OS is more advanced -- but more to the point, there are 300 million iOS 6 users out there. The subtext? Apple's devices and users are not like other users -- like Android users who may be using a bunch of old, not-so-modern versions that might never, if it's even possible, get upgraded.
Take That, Microsoft
As for the 128-GB iPad, Apple didn't really have to put out a press release at all, but it did. Why? Seems to me this one was more multilayered. First, by putting out a press release, Apple could guarantee some measure of attention, particularly from the broader tech press that doesn't follow Apple with any sort of enthusiasm.
In this case, Apple gets to say, "Hey, while you guys are busy covering the release of the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, which comes in 64 GB and 128 GB, go ahead and compare it to our 128-GB iPad. While you're at it, mention the usable space on the so-called Pro -- 23 GB for the 64-GB model and 83 GB for the 128-GB model.
To take even more wind from Microsoft's sails, it seems as if Apple wanted to do more than let Schiller say, "With more than 120 million iPads sold, it's clear that customers around the world love their iPads, and every day they are finding more great reasons to work, learn, and play on their iPads rather than their old PCs."
Old PCs, he says -- clearly a dig.
While Apple most certainly times some announcements to reduce the efficacy of competitors' announcements, it usually elevates its message just a bit higher above the fray, using more subtle digs or none at all. Instead, with this 128-GB iPad announcement, Apple quotes three different companies that produce apps that require large amounts of data for business customers.
Be Happy, Wall Street
I haven't gone through Apple's archives of press releases, but Apple doesn't usually quote other businesses in its press releases. It might quote someone in the gaming industry from time to time, or maybe someone from Hollywood or a television network when Steve Jobs was trying to woo content producers -- but it's not often.
At the same time, Apple seems to feel a need to break out facts about the iPad in business, noting that "virtually all of the Fortune 500 and over 85 percent of the Global 500" are currently deploying or testing iPads. The companies are "regularly utilizing large amounts of data such as 3D CAD files, X-rays, film edits, music tracks, project blueprints, training videos and service manuals."
To me, this seems as if it's geared toward Wall Street analysts as a reminder that Apple's iPad isn't just another consumer device that has to play at the low-cost household kitchen table. Oh, and how do you like those margins? The 128-GB iPad isn't a low-cost iPad mini with smaller margins.
So Wall Street, don't worry about Apple. The margins will drop a little, but they'll hold. Virtually all Fortune 500 companies are using the iPad, did you hear that? Businesses are using them for things you can't imagine -- like analyzing football team film and creating digital playbooks.
It's too soon to know if this is a change in direction or a real change in tone for Apple, but after applying the question of audience to these press releases, they at least seem to make sense. Advisable? Good? Worth it? Harder to say.
I just hope Apple doesn't pay too much attention to Wall Street and its stock price. That's a sure way to slide into a mediocre decline followed by a lot of financial ninjutsu masquerading as success -- and I shudder to imagine those press releases.