Sunday 25 September 2016

It's been a very long time since Apple hit the wow button

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

Apple CEO Tim Cook announcing his new products on Monday Photo: AP
Apple CEO Tim Cook announcing his new products on Monday Photo: AP

On Monday, Apple unveiled a new, four-inch iPhone and a smaller edition of its high-end iPad Pro. Both additions were welcomed by boffins as moves that made good "business sense", which they do.

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The 16GB iPhone SE sets a new standard for smaller phones, and the 9.7 inch iPad Pro accommodates tablet users who weren't too keen on its 13-inch bigger brother.

What frustrated tech enthusiasts about the launch, however, was the 'going-through-the-motions' approach the Cupertino giant took.

Due to a large amount of leaks, we were able to tell pretty much everything that was going to be presented to us before chief executive Tim Cook even took to the stage.

However, many will say that Monday's 'Let us Loop You In' event was nothing more than an intermediary event, prior to the next flagship launch in the autumn. That's highly likely.

Apple will be sure to send out invitations to a second event later this year with a suitably ambiguous tag line. The problem is it's all becoming a bit 'meh'.

In January, Apple shares dipped below $100 (€86) for the first time since August. Later that month, Apple compounded analysts' fears by forecasting its first fall in iPhone sales in 10 years.

Just to be clear, Apple is in anything but trouble. By the end of March, it expects to have collected between $50bn and $53bn in revenue so far this year.

It is also worth remembering that there are one billion Apple devices being actively used around the world, which works out at roughly one Apple device for every seven people - an astonishing statistic.

The company seems to be at a crossroads. The firm that previously championed almost every device category there was is now facing more intense competition than ever.

Not only competition from other brands but from the markets in which it is situated.

Take MacBook. The long-standing Apple laptop that has consistently been amongst the best (or the best, depending on who you ask) of its kind since its release in 2006.

Then, in 2008, at arguably the highest point of laptop use, the late Steve Jobs refreshed the whole space by pulling its latest incarnation, the MacBook Air, out of an envelope.

Its unveiling was met with applause and gasps and even a few OMGs at the keynote speech. It regenerated an entire market space and showed just how portable a personal computer could be.

We're still waiting for that moment in the smartphone market and its unlikely that moment will have anything to do with the depth of a new phone.

As it stands, phones are exceptionally thin and while manufacturers go to great lengths to shave off millimetres, they ultimately end up being wrapped in cheap plastic cases. While we're far from panic stations, it does seem that consumers' patience for small, speed-based upgrades is dwindling, placing potential pressure on the iPhone 7.

Pricing in Apple products has often varied across the world, with exchange rates typically playing havoc. Ireland has never been amongst the most desirable locations to buy an Apple device, with the US usually remaining the world's favoured market.

In the past, this hasn't proven much more than a mild annoyance, one that Irish consumers put up with and bought anyway.

Some more active Irish consumers may have cast their eye abroad on the more favourable dollar pricing.

However, with the SE, the pricing difference has been elevated above an annoyance to a point that it could stop a great deal of sales. The iPhone SE can be bought in America for $399, which works out at an exceptionally reasonable €357.

It was one of the major coups for Apple's latest device. It gives people access to a top-quality handset at a genuinely reasonable price. When you go on the Irish Apple Store, you're greeted with the less pleasing asking price of €500. That makes it €100 dearer than the previous entry model, the 5S, and also pits it against some strong, larger-screen competitors.

Due to its Irish pricing, the SE will now need to establish itself at a price point that is within €30 of the Samsung Galaxy S6, the HTC One M9, and within €50 of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. A big ask for a small phone.

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