The Apple dance

Tue Jun 9, 2015

Yesterday, WWDC 2015 (Apple’s developer conference) showcased what’s new in OS X, iOS, and watchOS. There was also an unsurprising “one more thing” with the introduction of Apple Music. Unlike the massive redesign from last year, it was a pretty low-key affair, with Apple focusing on tweaking and stabilizing its evolving platforms. If there was one theme that emerged from the keynote, however, it would be this: Apple is no software company.

Nobody would argue that Apple doesn’t make beautiful products with unparalleled care and attention. And sometimes there is that magical moment that only Apple can conjure: That moment when their software and hardware work together to create a feature that would be impossible without Apple’s complete end-to-end control. There was a foreshadowing of such a thing at this year’s WWDC when Apple introduced multitasking for the iPad. But in this case the multitasking bride will have to wait for the 12-inch iPad Pro groom to walk down the aisle later this year before consummating their perfect marriage.

However, when Apple tries to go head-to-head with every other competing software platform out there, they start to spread themselves a little thin. Sure, Apple prides itself on not being first, but being the best. Except, they can’t be the best at everything.

For example, how can you compete with Google, when their sole purpose is to use increasingly sophisticated machine intelligence to manage and organize vast tracts of data? Apple is trying anyway by beefing up Siri’s AI with their new “proactive assistant”. So, just like Google Now does, she’ll tell you when to leave for appointments to beat the traffic, etc. (as an aside, I really have to question how accurate even this feature will be when using the infamous Apple Maps instead of the superior Google Maps). But then you have companies who are laser-focused only on parsing natural language, such as SoundHound, with a speed that leaves both Apple and Google choking in their dust.

I get it - in a sense, Apple is trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator: if it can cover all possible services under its umbrella, most of Apple’s users will probably just use the default. Apple’s Mail app on iOS, for example, is serviceable for many - but power users will almost certainly turn to Microsoft’s Outlook or Gmail. It doesn’t matter to Apple though because they don’t make much money off their software - their billions in revenue mostly come from the iPhone. All Apple needs to do is make the iPhone a more enticing purchase than the other guys by offering any service you could want. If they create more revenue on the side - then… gravy.

The new Apple Music streaming service takes on the exact same narrative - a purely defensive play to check another box and take on Spotify. Except, Apple has millions of dollars to buy Beats, pay off high-profile musicians (Hi Drake! I love your music - thanks to Google Play), and scale the service up almost immediately. After all, there are already millions of iPhones out there that will have Apple Music installed by default.

Nevermind the fact that Apple Music is almost useless without a web player. How else do people listen to music at work? Not on their 500MB data plans - I can tell you that much.

And since I’m ranting a bit, I also have my “one more thing”: How in all seven frozen hells did Apple Pay come to the UK before Canada? This probably isn’t Apple’s fault, but seriously, WTF. Our banking infrastructure is practically tailor-made for Apple Pay, but - alas - our regulatory bodies are not. But there were rumours, man! Solid rumours!

Anyway, I digress. When the dust settles after WWDC this year, precisely nobody will be blown away. Heck, some may even be slightly disgruntled, as I appear to be. But it won’t matter to Apple. Because Apple is a hardware company. Always was and always will be. Sure, they’ll talk the talk about how their software is “really great”, but they’ll do it with an amused smile on their faces because they’re just dancing around a marketing script. WWDC is a time to relax - to crack a few jokes about Californian hippie stereotypes and dance like goofball dads to some summer music.

The real stress will come later this year, when the weather turns cold, when the Christmas shopping season approaches, and Apple will reveal the shiny new cash cows that they hope will maintain their status as the world’s most valuable company.

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