Let’s not bury the lede here. Apple announced a variety of new hardware and software today at their October event with new iPads, Macs, iLife updates, and a free upgrade to OS X. Together these products show Apple still at the forefront of the rapidly changing personal computing experience heralded by the launch of the iPhone. But the most notable change for the world’s most valuable brand is a fundamental shift in how they present themselves and what that implies for the future of the company.
The next version of OS X, Mavericks 10.9, was made available today with the customary bevy of new features. Nothing will knock your socks off here because OS X is such a mature desktop operating system that major changes are increasingly less frequent, but improved battery life (even on older hardware) and new desktop apps such as Maps and iBooks are the top line additions. As always there are under the hood technology updates such as improved memory and video memory handling. And with incremental feature improvements such as inline replies for notifications, Finder tabs and tags, and clean new app interfaces, Mavericks continues Apple’s steady march of continuous improvement. But with one difference: It’s free.
Not to be outdone by Mavericks, the Apple productivity apps get an update with new versions of iLife on the desktop, tablet, and mobile. iMovie and Garageband are updated for iOS 7 and Mavericks, and the music recording software gains an exciting new feature in Drummer with pro-quality drum sampling and sequencing. Keynote, Pages, and Numbers are upgraded. And the entire suite of creation tools gets a new price tag: Free with purchase of a new device. Are you noticing a pattern here?
Mac hardware also sees steady and evolutionary updates with improvements to the entire MacBook Pro line. Both the 13” and 15” models slim down, losing weight and size while gaining next-gen Intel chips, newer and faster PCIe flash memory, 802.11ac wi-fi networking, and Thunderbolt 2 for faster peripheral connectivity. Meanwhile at the pro end of the spectrum, the Mac Pro continues to make geeks like us drool with its killer specs and aesthetic. This beast can drive up to three 4K (super HD) displays and is capable of real-time 4K video editing. Everything gets faster and the prices come down for each model.
Finally, the iPad sees a fairly major update, shrinking down in this generation to become the iPad Air and gaining the 64-bit A7 chip and M7 motion coprocessor. The iPad Air now has 72 times the graphics performance of the original iPad. The iPad mini (my favorite iPad) gains a much desired Retina display and the A7 chip as well. Oddly no Touch ID in either device, though Apple continues to widen the personalization and customization options of the iPad accessory ecosystem with new covers and cases. Though competitors may be ahead of Apple in terms of pricing, the iPad family continues to be gold standard for tablet computing.
While today’s updates may not impress the markets or the casual Apple watcher, they go hand in hand with the transition of the Apple brand that began with the Designed by Apple in California campaign several months ago. Taken one at a time, none of today or this quarter’s updates will change the world. But taken as a whole, Apple continues to push forward the state of engineering and art. Just as renowned brands such BMW or Mercedes offer deluxe concierge services for free with their luxury products, Apple is doing the same with Mavericks and iLife to engage consumers in the Apple way. The same can be seen in iOS 7 and the iPhone 5c and 5s as Apple skipped the expectations of a “cheap” iPhone for an ever more integrated and thoughtful product experience.
No other company in this industry asks “what do we want people to feel?” and then attempts to answer the question. Because Apple is no longer a tech, or hardware, or software company. Apple is a lifestyle brand.