Watching the live stream of Apple’s 2016 World Wide Developer Conference keynote, with some exceptions where a couple of the presenters were under-rehearsed, and demo gremlins hit, I thought that this came the closest to a Steve Jobs’ keynote since his unfortunate departure. I’ve been concerned that Apple was going to spiral down like it did after Jobs departed the first time.
But at WWDC, the focus was on users and developers. Apple copied Microsoft a lot, well, sort of, but I actually don’t think that is a bad thing.
Linking Devices: Apple ‘Continuum’
Microsoft’s biggest cross-device effort is called Continuum; it promised that you could get the same experience from a Windows Phone attached to a monitor that you could from a PC. It had several problems, the biggest of which is that Microsoft didn’t use an Intel processor for its phones so you ended up with few apps and an experience much like the failed early ARM version of Microsoft Surface. Add to this the lack of successful Microsoft Phones and this was more of a “what could have been” than “what is.”
Well, Apple is linking its phones, PCs and AppleTV together. The connection is actually stronger between AppleTV and the iPhone because apps flow to both devices simultaneously. But with the PC, you can cut in the iPhone and then paste with the PC, which seems far less ambitions than Continuum but brings back the concept of the old Apple: Focus on the one or two things folks may want to do, not on putting the PC experience on the phone. This allows you to get it done and get to most of the value. In addition, the phone is now linked as the authentication feature for web and TV transactions so they can be made more securely and safely.
It’s not Continuum but it is the parts of the concept that likely would be the most used and Apple has the platform breadth to bring it to market.
If there was a discord to the feeling that the old Apple is back, it was with the Apple Watch, which continues to feel more like an old Microsoft product than a new Apple product. You see, the big difference between Apple and Microsoft with offerings like the iPod was that Apple focused on doing a few things well. Microsoft tended to overreach and the end result was a less than satisfying offering.
The Apple Watch was an “everything but the kitchen sink” product that folks complained was too complex to use. The changes announced at the WWDC should make the watch more reliable, but even more complex, as Apple has clearly added features instead of making the product easier to use.
I should point out that the exercise functions are some of the best in market, but I think the complexity will still give most buyers pause. And it won’t work with Android phones, which is the same mistake made with the initial iPod (a decision that Jobs reversed).
Here, Apple is emulating Microsoft, but not in a good way. However, the ability to use the watch more capably for things like making transactions should be well received by those who already have and like the product. It just likely won’t expand the market much.
Names are funny things and perhaps the biggest “in your face” Microsoft moment was when Apple renamed its PC OS the MacOS (which some of us have been calling the thing for decades). This seemed like a response to Microsoft naming Windows “Windows 10,” which was very similar to OS X (with the X=10). Now it has a consistent naming convention with OSs, though someone has still missed that boat with products (iPod, iPad, iPhone, AppleTV, Apple Watch…).
Business Features Underplayed
It’s interesting that there was no mention of IBM during this event, only Cisco, and it wasn’t mentioned as a major enterprise reseller but only as a partner for VoIP calling in the enterprise. Basically, you can use your iPhone as your business phone if you have a Cisco phone system. Given that much of the cost of these phone systems has traditionally been for handsets, this is potentially huge from a standpoint of interoperability and cost, but only if firms forego the handsets and have their employees use iPhones instead.
I think this was underplayed. Another iPhone capability that was unique was the ability to link to third-party anti-spam apps, which can notify the user that the call coming in is a spam call so they can disregard it. Ever since moving to AT&T, I’ve been receiving a ton of these and that alone might justify switching to an iPhone as it is huge pain in my backside.
But, otherwise, business content was low and I think understated the potential for change here.
Wrapping Up: Putting the Focus on Users Again
Overall, Apple is focusing back on users. I think its move with Cisco has a lot of potential to change how we do phones in business. We’ve had the ability to push calls to our cell phones with products like Ooma for small business and some connectivity capability in larger systems, but this is the first major attempt to fully integrate a smartphone with a VoIP PBX that I’m aware of and this could be a game changer.
There was a lot at the WWDC for Apple users to get excited about and if it could sort out the watch (particularly Android support) and provide an easier migration path from Windows for the MacOS, Apple could use this to gain share. For now, it is good enough for Apple to hold share and continue to compete aggressively for new users.
Long term, though, Microsoft may have to start taking Apple more seriously because if it continues to integrate phones with PCs, that effort could have the same result that a successful Continuum promised — a single vendor over both platforms — but, in this case, it would be Apple. Something to noodle on this week.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+