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Apple thrives when it’s iterative, even if you don’t care

After the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event in early August, I wrote that the company’s “reveal” of several well-leaked products was a pointless mess – too long and poorly organized mega-event that should have been broken down into multiple product-specific announcements. As a first step in the mini-events of September (Apple Watch / iPad), October (iPhone) and November (Mac), Apple yesterday showed everyone what the alternative to a giant dump of information should look like. But it also revealed the potential weaknesses of the smaller event strategy: If the fewer announcements are not big or concentrate too much on a narrow product category, some people don’t care whether they tune in.

By Apple standards, the September event had enough news to deserve attention, and I knew it beforehand. There would be new flagship and midrange Apple Watch models, new midrange and entry-level iPads, and two new or new subscription services. I was ready and able to share all of this news. But I was asked two questions that couldn̵

7;t be definitively answered before the event: Would one of the news? transformative level important? Would a business decision-maker audience care what Apple was announcing? Unless the answer to both questions was yes, the announcements weren’t worth treating as news.

If this wasn’t already obvious, it is very difficult to make a skeptical person realize that every single message – from Apple or someone else – is “transformatively” important. With the possible exception of the original iPhone launch in 2007, which almost everyone thought was huge even then, that’s a high bar. The big iPad unveiling in 2010 was probably on this level. The original Apple Watch debut in 2014 would make Magic 8-Ball say “hazy”. If the first device in a series isn’t important, what prayer does the Apple Watch Series 6 have to meet that standard? Without a complete redesign with a truly groundbreaking feature, it’s difficult for any sequel to be “transformative”.

Revolutionary products rarely appear out of nowhere. I’ve only had two or three opportunities to personally see examples of the opposite – like the first iPhone that came entirely out of Steve Jobs’ pocket – and I can say with some regret that many people fail to understand the meaning of what they are appreciate i see when it takes place. It’s very easy to downplay a large announcement. It is far more difficult to label a controversy as important for the future.

You may recall that some publications believed in Microsoft so strongly that they made then-CEO Steve Ballmer fart on the upcoming iPhone launch for claiming Apple had “no chance” of gaining “significant market share”. (Ballmer also suggested that Microsoft’s software would power 60-80% of phones while Apple could “capture” 2-3% of the market.) As important as the iPhone became, Apple ended up getting 1 trillion before that Microsoft, which made such a prediction in 2007, would have laughed everyone in the room.

Iteration was undoubtedly key to Apple’s success. It is actually noteworthy that there are so many physical and conceptual similarities between the original and current iPhone, even though Apple’s evolution from selling 10 million to over 200 million iPhones a year is due to the small changes. Price changes helped. Faster chips helped. Clearer and bigger screens helped. Stronger glass helped. Better cameras helped. These changes weren’t all at once, and in individual cases they might not seem “transformative,” but there is no question that they helped Apple – and its competitors – the way people used phones, and phones established as a major, completely changing dominant computer platform

At one point this was not widely understood by the business community. Apple’s stock chart looked like a pretty boring roller coaster with little peaks and valleys. But a few years after the iPhone launched, the graphics looked like a rocket, and smart investors got rich by betting on Apple – not against it. At the same time, iPhones, iPads and Macs made their way into Fortune 500, 100 and 50 companies. Quite a few executives swapped their Rolexes for Apple Watches, even without an 18-karat gold option to choose from. The Apple Watch was the best-selling watch in the world until 2017, and last year the Apple Watch sold the entire Swiss watch industry combined.

In other words, an event that is “small” by Apple standards and mostly focused on new watches is important as millions of people now rely on these very personal computers to track their health and help them work more efficiently every day. The addition of a blood oxygen sensor or a 20% faster chip might not be a big thing that changes everything, nor may the release of a midrange model that is between Apple’s flagship and the cheapest watches. But if each of these devices is likely to outperform every Rolex released this year, who will say which one is more interesting to corporate decision-makers?

Apple’s successes were not a direct response to “transformative” announcements. They were gradually gained over several years by continuously developing convincing but incomplete starting products. Additionally, the increasingly massive scale of these product launches suggests that they have become important to everyone, Apple customers and competitors alike.

I’ll be the first to admit that Apple’s “Time Flies” announcements yesterday were as iterative as they come. Watch news aside, the new iPads are basically old iPads with faster chips, and the subscription service announcements have been a bit overwhelming. It would be easy to discard all of yesterday’s news and wait for something obviously more important on the horizon.

But every piece of evidence I’ve seen suggests that interest in what Apple is doing is at an all-time high. Call the company boring or predictable, but people seem to care about the little updates more than ever as they can have a big impact on the way people live, work, and enjoy healthy lives. My favorite Apple Watch feature just announced is something small, but it makes me smile every time I look at my wrist, and that’s important – especially in times as turbulent as the ones we all go through.

If the reports are to be believed, there will be an iPhone event in October, followed by a Mac event in November. I’m looking forward to the announcements, only in part because I think they will be milestones. I firmly believe that they will be of interest to many people who use or compete with Apple products. If you are reading this, I would like to hear your thoughts, contrary or otherwise.

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