Apple customarily unveils several new software changes for its mobile and desktop products in June. This year’s WWDC19 event, held at the San Jose Convention Center with over 6,000 global attendees from 77 countries, didn’t disappoint and included some big hardware news for users who use Mac Pro desktops for professional video and media editing. There was a lot to absorb, but from my perspective, here are my top takeaways.
Was the Supreme Court watching?
Apple announced a whole host of privacy and security changes woven throughout the entire 2-hour presentation. I believe these were announced, in part, as a defense to the recent Supreme Court ruling that consumers were free to sue Apple for alleged anti-trust allegations. This is not to say that Apple’s privacy and security enhancements in its new iterations of iOS 13 and MacOS (Catalina) are not part of a genuine concern for consumers, but I almost got the sense that these updates were part of a defense of Apple’s ecosystem approach. In effect, Apple was stating, “Yes, we charge developers up to 30% in app commissions, but an ecosystem approach is the only real way we can protect customers from privacy and security-related problems with their mobile and PC devices.”
In doing so, Apple seems to challenge Google and imply Android users can’t possibly get the same security and privacy protection benefits because Android is so open. What’s more, Apple knows that implementing these same privacy changes would impact Google’s bottom line. Metadata becomes less valuable for remarketing and advertising purposes as it becomes less precise about your location and other person-specific metadata points (e.g., shopping history, etc.)
iPad gets it own variant of iOS to become a more robust general productivity platform
Apple recognizes the iPad is capable of becoming a more robust general productivity device and announced a new variant of iOS − dubbed iPadOS − that is focused on taking better advantage of bigger screens. Apple claims its iPadOS will provide better multitasking, multiple windows in apps with a split screen, folder sharing in iCloud Drive, snappier (shorter latency) Apple Pencil for better markup capability, USB thumb drive support and a desktop-like experience for Safari, just to name a few of the announced features.
While Apple continues to evolve the iPad into a worthy challenger to a traditional desktop or notebook, the company didn’t forget about MacOS at the event. Apple’s new version of MacOS Catalina was given a shot in the arm with many nifty new features including the ability to use an iPad as a secondary display (Sidecar), assistive voice control, and activation lock protection for your Mac. Apple also announced that its venerable iTunes app would be broken up into independent apps focusing on music, podcasts, and TV/video content. Many would agree iTunes has become a little long in the tooth, particularly from a usability standpoint, and should not be surprised by this announcement.
Apple had a Brexit-like moment at WWDC for the Apple Watch by announcing changes and enhancements it was making to WatchOS 6. The new WatchOS features are exciting as they allow the Apple Watch to function more independently without having to be wirelessly tethered to an Apple iPhone. A redesigned Health app with hearing monitor capability and fitness trend tracking, voice memo, and calculator apps, as well as new Apple Watch app store, are all signs that Apple Watch might one day become a truly standalone device, especially as more powerful models are introduced in the future.
New Mac Pro models offer potentially explosive performance
Less important to consumers (but newsworthy nonetheless) was Apple’s announcement of a new high-performance line of Intel Xeon-based workstations. Designed in the infamous “cheese grater” tower form factor, Apple claims it has blazing graphics performance and a 32” HDR display (Apple calls it “XDR”) with mind-blowing 6016X3384 resolution that is intended to challenge $40,000 reference monitors. The new Mac Pro and Apple Pro Display XDR announcements are undoubtedly exciting and welcome, since Apple had not refreshed its high-end Mac line in years. These products, however, are really targeted at high-end users–not big unit volumes, but very high margins that enhance Apple’s brand reputation with influential performance users (especially content creators and the Hollywood studio crowd).
Some closing thoughts
I should point out there were literally scores of other new and noteworthy features in the new versions of iOS and MacOS that Apple announced yesterday at WWDC that I don’t have sufficient space in this column to detail. Thematically, I found it interesting that CEO Tim Cook led the presentation off recapping Apple’s services announcement from March, a not-too-subtle sign that long term, Cook wants to continue evolving Apple as a services company. Hardware will always be vital to Apple, of course, but compelling tablets, mobile phones, and desktops with highly integrated software at the OS level will always be the company’s formula to capitalizing on its service business. That services business accounted for $11.5 billion in 1Q19, up from $9.9B in 4Q19 while hardware revenue was down over the same periods. Services are the name of the game, and Tim Cook knows that.
Finally, if Cook can continue to position Apple as the “good guys” when it comes to privacy and security protection facilitated by the Apple “walled garden” ecosystem business model, Google will have to play catch-up. The big question remaining is: will the Supreme Court upset the “Apple” cart? Time will tell.