Apple’s new design direction and product announcements: the message within

Apple made several announcements at the WWDC yesterday: a new MacBook Air, radical new design for Mac Pro, new Airport Extreme base station and Time Capsule, an update to OS X with several new features, iTunes Radio and the most anticipated, iOS7. But not surprisingly, the world’s attention is on iOS7. And the reviews are polarising: some viscerally hate the new design while others love it.

My take on the event and some of the announcements:

New found aggression: Apple has always been a confident company. It usually does not react to market speculation, competition claims, adverse commentary about the state of their  business, the myriad opinion from experts telling Apple what is wrong with their business & how to fix them, the Wall Street shenanigans and social media jibes. Over the last few years, tech media (and the resultant social media noise) has created the perception that Apple has ‘lost its magic’. The chorus of ‘Apple no longer innovates’ has grown louder. And Apple’s recent new launches (iPad Mini, iPhone 5) were dismissed as being ‘merely’ evolutionary.

In this context, the WWDC event was an opportunity to tell the world that Apple’s approach to products has not changed since Steve Jobs passed away. Phil Schiller’s ‘Can’t innovate, my ass!’ comment after the dramatic unveil of Mac Pro was testimony to that. Overall, there was quiet confidence (which Tim Cook normally exudes) right through the Keynote. As Dalrymple notesthe fun was coming from the confidence Apple had in the products they were announcing. It’s not hard to enjoy yourself when you know the products you are going to introduce will be accepted and applauded by the people you’re releasing them for. The easy banter (loved the Sea Lion joke), self deprecating humour sent a message that they were relaxed knowing that they have a good ‘product’.

New iOS – underwhelming design: frankly, I was appalled at the home screen and the icons there. I thought they were downright ugly. When 9to5 Mac announced the new designs before the event, I thought it was a red herring. But alas, it turned out to be true. Strangely, the very same icons I hate seem tolerable in Apple’s product page.

OS7

 Nevertheless, the rest of the system unification is pleasing to they eye. And there is a definite design language at work there.

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I hope Apple does something about those icons in the upcoming releases; I mean, just look at that Newsstand icon (ugh!) or even the one for Camera. Aside from the design, the new OS has some nifty features like Activation Lock and Control Centre. Maybe the OS will look great and work great in real life. But going by the first moment of truth – the reveal, iOS7 was underwhelming for me. But is that reason enough to switch from iOS? Not at all, not a chance.

Hardware design – the forte: the Mac Pro seems like an engineering marvel. And the design is truly out of the box. And with other hardware like Macbook Air, it is apparent that Apple’s strength is industrial, hardware design. In comparison, their software design output has been relatively inconsistent. The lack of unification of design across the system in iOS6, some odd icons in iPod nano, come to mind. In terms of web design though, Apple has always come up trumps. The individual product pages for iOS 7, Mac Pro and OS X Maverick are high on drool quotient.

The new Apple manifesto: Apple has rightly diagnosed the need to separate them from the competition by aiming higher in terms of a philosophy or higher order benefit to own. Of late, Samsung has done a fantastic job in product strategy & marketing strategy – so much so that people mention Apple & Samsung in the same breath. Android has been wildly successful too with its ‘lets be everywhere’ strategy. So Apple had to send a stimulus that there is something fundamental that separates them from the herd; something which has made them special and gave them the halo. In that context, ‘Designed by Apple in California‘ seems right. It aims to make Apple owners feel good (and they have been battered by social media & competitive noise over the last few years) about the brand and imbue the brand with a deeper ‘reason to be’.

Flawless execution: last but not least, this was again a flawlessly executed Keynote from Apple. None of the presenters went ‘er…um…ahh’ ever during the presentation.I don’t recall any of them using empty words like ‘Basically…’ and ‘like’. You will see that happen time and again with other company’s product launches. Not Apple. The slides were simple, visual and devoid of hundred bullet points. It makes you wonder how they do it every time – they must really obsess over the delivery as much over the content; and rehearse the hell out of every Keynote.

Of course, there will be criticism, accusations and mocking (haters gonna hate). Overall a positive Keynote that would please a majority of Apple fans. And more importantly, make the developers feel good about the future of OS X and iOS.

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