Perhaps more than any other contemporary company, Apple generates the most buzz, scrutiny, and envy in its wake.
Every time a new Apple product comes off the assembly line, it gets put under the biggest magnifying glass imaginable as crowds of onlookers parse the announcement with Talmudic intensity, hoping to piece together the "bigger meaning" and the likely impact on the computing world and mankind. For your consideration, then: four takeaways that you won't find in Apple's advertising materials about the newest iPad.
Elvis has not left the building
Tim Cook was the casual impresario for Wednesday's festivities, but the guiding spirit was all Steve Jobs. In the days and weeks prior to the latest iPad debut, there was no shortage of speculation that Apple might introduce a smaller, cheaper version of its tablet device. No way, San Jose (Cupertino, actually). It was just another example of the chattering class flush with the scent or desire for new Apple products getting out ahead of itself.
Considering that Apple's former CEO expressed disdain for the competition's 7-inch tablets, this would have been the equivalent of a palace coup. Cook and his team weren't going there. Besides, why fiddle with a winning formula?
Jobs bequeathed both a successful product pipeline and a successful business strategy, and Apple is sticking with what apparently works. The company is the most valued in the world at this point, selling more than 300 million iOS devices in 2011. The new iPad, an incremental improvement over the previous incarnation, was the first product release since Jobs' death last October. It showed that Apple has become a finely tuned manufacturing and marketing machine, with a disciplined focus on continuous, mostly modest innovation and profitable revenue generation.
The image of the mercurial and mesmerizing Jobs pulling rabbits out of his hat on stage lingers, but the reality is that during the last 15 years, Jobs and team developed a finely honed formula. Other than the memory in its devices, there's little about this company that's random, mercurial, or soft anymore.
Anybody still in the rear view mirror?
Someday, sometime, Apple is going to stumble, and maybe the competition will finally take advantage of the misstep to close the gap. That day's not yet on the horizon. With the newest iPad featuring a sharper screen, the high-resolution 2048x1536-pixel Retina Display, as well as faster wireless connectivity, rapid-response touch-screen control and quad-core graphics, Apple has widened its lead in the tablet market. Again.
Between product and marketing and retail stores and the app business, the competitors are searching for ways to bring Apple down, other than the freely available Android mobile platform from Google. If you're the tablet sachem at Amazon, Google, or Microsoft, this is the point in the story where you excuse yourself, walk outside and ceremonially scratch, or more probably, smash your head repeatedly against the nearest brick wall.
Business to take the plunge
Middle managers are showing up for meetings with iPads in tow. Factory managers go about their floor checks carrying around iPads. Doctors and hospital administrators are incorporating the iPad into work flow. Similar stories abound, offering anecdotal evidence that something's afoot.
Now it's up to Apple to convince business that the new iPad is equipped to handle the sorts of apps that enterprise users depend upon. It shouldn't be that hard a conversation. During his keynote, Apple's Cook talked up the advent of a post-PC world where tablets are fast replacing personal computers and laptops. To be sure, his claim was self-serving and replete with no small amount of hype, but hey, this was a staged Apple PR event.
Besides, the raw numbers back him up. Last year, Apple sold 172 million of those devices (which also includes the iPhone and the iPod). That accounted for about 76 percent of the company's revenue. If it's not the end of the PC era, then it's clearly the start of the transition toward a much more mobile era and that's a fact of life IT managers long ago recognized.
(Check out Ted Schadler's post on ZDNet for a good take on what might happen next.)
Nobody cares what we didn't get
With the exception of hard-core fan boys, few people are going to pine about the rumored features that didn't make their way into the iPad. No, it wasn't a 'wow' announcement in the sense that the news shocked anyone. Still, it was good enough to satisfy the wants of most tablet buyers, especially those who crave pixels and 4G connectivity.
If past is prologue, my hunch is that the mild disappointment being expressed out there won't last long. Remember the tut-tutting that accompanied the iPhone 4S introduction? At the time, the big problem for some in the chattering class was that it wasn't the iPhone 5. Most of the critics focused too heavily on the exterior hardware and gave short shrift to the import of Apple's newest mobile operating system, iOS 5, and the debut of the Siri "intelligent assistant."
Consumers got it immediately and they've been buying the 4S in droves ever since, and the company is printing money. If there's a reason why a similar scenario won't play out this time also, I haven't seen it. (For a good rundown of what rumored features got left out, read David Carnoy's piece.