A Few Hopefully Not-too-Redundant Thoughts on Apple’s Spring Forward Event

MacBook

Space. Simplicity. That old Jony Ive obsession with thinness, lightness, and, seemingly, reducing functionality in service of those superficially less-compute-friendly ideals (though portability is great and all). A price that doesn’t reflect much of Apple’s traditional “miniaturization penalty”, considering the $1799 original MacBook Air and $1299 2nd-generation 13″ MacBook Air.

As you probably know, Apple’s trick terraced battery technology (which couldn’t possibly find its way into every single new-design battery-powered Apple anything over time) does allow MacBook, despite its thinness, to house battery capacity of around 1.7 watt-hours greater than the slightly heavier 11(.6)” MacBook Air. (Plus.)

It has an 8GB RAM loadout and 256GB worth of flash storage, which costs $1199 to get in the 11″ MacBook Air. (Plus.)

Retina Display (up to 1440×900-type scaled resolution) which the Airs will almost certainly never have. (Obvious plus.) Color choices, nice but just aesthetic (though it’ll be a big draw assuming Space Gray and Gold are zero-cost options).

Intel 5300 graphics, which are…700 less than the updated MacBook Airs, plus Core M vs. Core i5/i7 options. (Two minuses.)

JUST ONE USB-C PORT, which can’t even charge today’s iPhones or iPads. (Significant minus, but expected with these kinds of redesigns, and there’s always that chance of “USB regular or USB-C” choices for future iOS devices, only if they can all charge from the 29W MacBook power adapter without frying.) On the other hand, USB-C has versatility via adapters (mixed bag), and, should you feel the need for whatever odd reason, can both video-mirror AND dual-display to a “consumer 4K” 3840×2160 display. (Plus, handy for USB-C-equipped TVs of the future).

Farewell, MagSafe. (If you relied on it to save your MacBook from falls, giant minus.)

It should do just fine, considering how fully-realized (and thin, and light!) a product it is relative to its 2008 MacBook Air ancestor. And if enough users let Apple know how much they’ve screwed up (Tim Cook asked for that feedback just the other day, after all), maybe a second USB-C port will be added to a future iteration, the same way MacBook Air ended up with two USB ports.

Related Backburner Topic: Future Haptics Patent Fights?

Force Touch/Taptic Engine. Sounds like haptics. Immersion apparently holds patents for haptic technology. Apple tends to get sued by patent holders who think their technology is being infringed upon. Exactly what haptics patents Immersion has, or Apple has, well, it’s beyond my “pay grade” anyway.

Obviously yet another patent suit wouldn’t sink Apple, and Apple hasn’t even begun selling Force Touch devices other than the refreshed 13″ retina MacBook. Still, worth following depending on your perspective. Did Apple license? Will it acquire? Will it fight it out in court? Are negotiations underway? Will there not even be any need for talks? Could be some months and millions of Force Touch device sales until we find out.

Mac Refresh Should Ensure Solid Mac Sales in Fiscal Q2

Three of the most popular models – both MacBook Airs and the 13″ retina MacBook Pro – got solid upgrades in time to make a measurable difference in Mac sales through March 27. Every little bit helps, given the high Wall Street expectations for the quarter.

Why wasn’t the 15″ retina MacBook Pro updated? Is it due for a more substantial refresh at WWDC?

Apple Watch Sophistication

Interactions may be fairly lightweight, but the overall UI experience is anything but. Apple saw fit to make Apple Watch more vibrant, more “alive” than even an iPhone. How else to explain the Steamboat-Willie-type Mickey watch face, butterflies, 3-D glove/face emoji, battery-straining animations when 30 fps or less flash might have done almost as well? “Borderline outrageous”, given the battery budget?

And then Apple decided to stuff Apple Pay into Watch.

Considering the lack of restraint and “feature list a mile long” (“The Watch Reimagined” ad does nothing to dispel Tim Cook’s statement back in September), Apple Watch will take some getting used to. It’s not iPhone 1 with all the apps right in front of you, one Home button and no real gestures other than tap and pinch. Then again, compromises have to be made for devices this small, and for people who remember watches, the UI to set alarms did take a little learning on your typical Timex or Casio. Good thing there’s a decent number of locations for curious consumers to demo Apple Watch first.

Much Ado About Edition, Plus One Mystery/Misconception Likely Settled

The last time Apple dared to tell a consumer-type product over $5,000, it was the super-special edition 20th Anniversary Mac (which Jony Ive designed, and which originally sold for around $7,500).

And now, Apple enters the $10,000-$17,000 arena with a smartwatch.

I’m guessing it will have its share of appeal, especially in Asia/China, and get its fair share of attention at those select Apple stores and some high(-end)-fashion specialty/department stores that don’t sell their own competing brand of watches. Given the starting price, there’s clearly zero expectations of it being the volume seller, and for as long as Apple “hides” Apple Watch within the Other Products revenue category, good luck getting any “official” information from Apple on average selling price (so it may be an extended stay + “anomalous growth” of the category formerly known as Accessories, and more recently Accessories + iPod).

If you follow Apple’s financials, the Edition pontification is complete noise, at least until Apple breaks out Watch into revenues and units per quarter – which my current guess is “maybe never, certainly not for several quarters”.

That precious talk about “obsolescence”? Let’s see one of two things first: (1) Apple Watch 2, which…is probably some ways off. (2) An analyst asking, or Apple otherwise providing, a deferred revenue amortization schedule for Watch. Granted, it’s not necessarily reflective of useful life or even OS support (2 years for iPad and iPhone, 4 years for Mac), but it’s better than wild guessing.

Oh, and about “Apple Magic Gold”? Well, it seems quite likely Apple isn’t using it. Instead, it’s using “compressed” gold, which is perfectly logical, given Jony Ive’s “

how the molecules in Apple gold are closer together, making it twice as hard as standard gold” in the recent Financial Times profile. You don’t get closer molecular distance without increased density.

Speaking of which, just as a quick example, the 38mm Edition yellow gold case (based on Apple and standard watch terminology, does not include the display or back) weighs 55 grams, meaning there’s 41.25 grams of gold content (based on 18K). Paired with the sport band clasp, which if I heard right is also comprised of some unknown (smaller) amount of solid gold, that’s $10,000 “MSRP” right there.

Of course it’s not the least bit apples-to-apples, but just for a quick “comparison”, the Piaget Altiplano (a thin watch design) contains 31.5 grams of 18K white gold (around 23.6 grams of gold), with an alligator strap and the traditional high-end jewel/mechnical movement design (48 hour power reserve) for $27,800.

So, gram for gram, Edition is hardly a price outlier. Just a tech company outlier, daring to slap a $10,000+ price on something that’s a different sort of investment, one not intended to relate to a collector’s item.

As a materials experiment unlikely to merit any conference call mention, or perceptible at the gross margin level, all there is left to do is track the overall trajectory of Apple Watch and its evolution/service/Edition upgrade options over the years, assuming the Watch product category lasts that long.

I suspect it will, and then some, but we’ll see.

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