A Critical Reading of Yesterday's Apple Event

Image courtesy of Engadget

Yesterday afternoon, sitting in a darkened conference room, I vapidly made my way through a routine meeting. Staring at my phone, constantly refreshing Safari and switching between apps, I attempted to follow the closing moments of Apple's iPad event. Having heard the beginnings of the features and the information regarding the latest iteration of the Apple TV, I tore myself away from my computer and disjointedly grasped my iPhone to learn the final details and to pre-order the new iPad.

Absorbing the words of Tim Cook and Phil Schiller through glitch-riddled and inconsistent mediums, I felt excited for the products, but sustained a sincere sense that I had missed much of the sentiment of the keynote speech. Compressed photographs aside, I left my meeting yesterday with little visceral feeling regarding Apple's latest announcements. Later in the day, having returned home from the office, I sat down to watch the keynote speech and I picked up on a whole host of interesting items I had some how missed.

Perhaps the most subtle but important theme is the increased importance of interconnection between iOS devices. Whether it's Garageband's newfound interconnectivity with other iPads or iPhoto's new 'Beam' feature, Apple appears to have a renewed focus - beyond AirPlay - to foster a harmonious and connected world of iOS devices. As is implied by AirDrop in Lion, Apple is interested in facilitating a location-based ecosystem for the average Apple user. Unlike with the Mac, however, iOS devices stand to elicit greater benefit due to their increased portability and "always on" nature. iCloud may exist as the binding undergrowth of the Apple environment, but interconnectivity and seamless communication appears to be gaining important influence in the foreground of Apple's software. Furthermore, it removes the necessity of having one intermediary device or another. There is significantly less need for a Mac in the iOS world than ever before.

Apple is, in other words, seeking to reinforce and emboss the root sentiment of seamless unification and simplicity in its environment. Facilitating increased interconnectivity and aesthetic similarities on a backbone of iCloud makes for a post-PC world characterized by the device removing itself from view - the experience and the simplicity therein taking pole position at the forefront of the mind of the end-user.

In a similar vein, it's worth noting that iPhoto for iOS abandons some of the kitschy skeumorphic design tendencies apparent in its iLife brethren. Aside from some glass shelves and book effects, iPhoto boasts an interface bereft of an overarching metaphor akin to iBooks, Contacts, or Calendar. Instead of pretending to be something it's not, iPhoto puts the importance of the end-user's interactions at the height of its priorities. In doing so, Apple has demonstrated its willingness to innovate with a disregard for immediate unilateral consistency. Rather than doggedly abiding by the aesthetic conventions previously set out by OS X or iOS, with iPhoto, Apple has shown its capability to abandon a cross-platform concept when the need arises. Such is also the case with the apparent removal of Google Maps from iPhoto's location functions.

Amid the evident breakaway from some perceived Apple design paradigms, Apple has also reminded us of its intentions to increase the unification of experience across its environment with its update of the Apple TV. Showing what are, ostensibly, widescreen iOS icons, Apple is embracing the foundational values of the Apple TV's software. If there is to be an Apple television built upon a foundation of apps in the next year or two, I imagine this is a vague glimpse into what that might look like.

Through all of this, Apple has announced a message of rejuvenation and bold intentions to innovate and progress when achievable. Inconsistencies like Google Maps in iPhoto and AT&T's insistence over the placement of a "4G" moniker in the status bar for iPhone 4S users are mere casualties when considered in the long run. And the long run (perhaps somewhat obviously) is what I truly believe Apple to be pondering at this time.

Beneath the announcements made today is a growing stream leading toward the future. With each nugget of information, it becomes steadily more possible to discern the path Apple has adopted for the coming years - and it's certainly a compelling one.

For instance, many have taken issue with the apparent naming of the third-generation iPad as simply "iPad," as opposed to iPad 3 or the oft-rumored "iPad HD." The majority consensus is evidently in favor of some sort of qualifier to aid in the discerning of one product from another. But, in my eyes, such a naming convention is outdated. Considering Apple's business model, classifying a product as a "3," or "4S" for that matter, strikes me as unnecessary. Simply referring to it informally as the "new iPad" in stores will suffice for most and it will further simplify the later evolution of the line. Such a naming convention may also allay the recurrent problem of heightened consumer expectations for future models. Removing the ammunition of generational numbers, Apple simply touts one product with one title. Accordingly, I believe we can safely infer that the forthcoming iPhone will be simply named, "iPhone."

Of note, for the first time ever, there is now more than one iPad on the market. In Apple Stores around the world, store clerks will be selling the iPad 2 against the iPad. In my eyes, the qualifier will aid in the psychological push toward the newer product. When explained that the newer model is simply titled, iPad, the average consumer will be drawn to the inclusion of the qualifying "2." Why is the number there? Why is it cheaper? Such questions, in my opinion, will inevitably drive people toward the higher-specification iPad for $100 more. Simply put, the new iPad is simply the iPad, it lacks no further qualifying information - nor should it be required.

The sustenance of the iPad 2 provides purchasing security for many bulk buyers of iPads. Following Apple's iBooks Author event, many questioned the cost implications of iPads in educational environments and the longevity of the product. Yesterday, Apple demonstrated that iPads will have at least a two year retail life. Both this knowledge and the reduced cost of the product are of paramount importance in such a scenario.

On the topic of product juxtaposition, it was interesting to see Apple announce the new Apple TV - a device dedicated to consumption alone - in the same event as the new iPad. In doing so, Apple frames the iPad both as a means for competent media consumption (e.g., 1080p, iTunes in the Cloud, Retina) while also emphasizing its potential for productivity (e.g., iPhoto, Autodesk). Apple spent a relatively large chunk of its event discussing iPhoto and its significance for the platform. In other words, Apple embossed and underlined the dismissal of the inaccurate adage that the iPad excels purely as a consumption device. That role, in Apple's view, is filled by the Apple TV.

Apple's products are characterized by an overarching product name - not a number. There is no longer a devaluing of former products with qualifiers and additions. The Apple TV, as it has always been, is simply the Apple TV. The iPad, too, is now simply the iPad. Regardless of year of purchase, you own an iPad and it is equally supported and respected by the user and by Apple. As I already mentioned, I imagine the forthcoming iPhone will follow suit and, given the callous and misleading inclusion of "4G" in the status bar for AT&T users, I would imagine that 4G label will become far more universal by the end of the year.

Yesterday's Apple event was rife with allusion and intrigue, and it certainly bodes well for the coming months. With a subtle but significant focus on interconnectivity, simplicity in naming conventions, powerful new productivity software, design innovations, and the crowning of the iPad as the most highly purchased computing device of 4Q 2011, Apple has set out a compelling road map for the future. Now well ahead of the pack, Apple is in a position in which it can comfortably innovate for the benefit of the end-user, to create new products, and to build upon a simplified and fantastic product line.

The promising concluding screen of the keynote speech was immediately reminiscent of Shawn Blanc's post, Apple in 2012, in which Shawn concluded, "Apple isn't slowing down any time soon." I couldn't agree more.