Apple Special Event 2017

Apple Special Event 2017: A New Hope?

By Peng Xie

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(Originally written on Sep 19, 2017)

Last week, the Cupertino company opened the door of its new campus to guests with a special event led by a touching and inspiring tribute to Steve Jobs in the theater named after him. During the 2-hour keynote, CEO Tim Cook along with other familiar faces presented the world a fleet of next-gen Apple devices that immediately captured headlines of all major tech websites and publications regardless the leaks and speculations happened before the event. So, what does this special event mean for Apple and tech industry? And more importantly, what does it mean for us, the consumers?

In my opinion, this special event is the most important events for Apple in years. When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone and App Store, Apple virtually changed the whole smartphone industry and turned itself from a computer and music player manufacture into a leader in mobile devices, software and retail industries. Since then, even though there were still good yearly updates and new(ish) product releases from Apple, I felt a trend of slowing down…. until this year’s special event.

(I’ll be discussing the new products from the special event in the order of how I remembered them and how important I think they are, so pardon me if it is different from the order of how they were introduced.)

Apple Watch Series 3

Starting with Apple Watch Series 3, while mostly left unchanged in term of design, more powerful internals and the addition of LTE are definitely welcoming improvements. This is nothing new since there are already other Android Wear devices that have LTE capability. And given that the new Apple Watch’s LTE will only work in the country where it is purchased, I think Apple will continue to try to win over customers with the refinement of the Apple Watches instead of features. The thing that interests me most in the LTE Apple Watches is actually the internal SIM card. Apple is an active player in pushing new SIM card standard and has used similar technology in previous iPad models. I’d like to see Apple put this technology in future devices and make it another industrial standard just like what Apple did with micro and nano SIM cards in previous iPhone models. Telecom companies would welcome this feature since it can reduce cost of making SIM cards while give better control on devices activated on their networks. However, for consumers, an internal SIM card may not be preferred by some. Using a local SIM card while traveling will no longer be as easy as swap out SIM cards. To utilize the full benefit of an internal SIM card, phone manufactures and service providers should really come up with ways to streamline the activation experience for customers.

Apple TV 4K

Next one is Apple TV 4K. While the device itself is more like a catching up with other streaming devices to some people (Personally, I love tvOS and I think Apple TV has huge potentials.), the real exciting news is that Apple is making quality 4K contents more accessible than ever. Years ago, a format war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD backed by multiple big companies and studios like Sony and Warner Bros. made HD contents widely available to general publics. But today, even with the popularity of 4K TVs and YouTube videos, we rarely see 4K movies sold online or in stores. With Apple upgrading the movies in iTunes Store to 4K without raising the price, I believe other retailers and content providers will soon step up their games in 4K, which will in turn benefit consumers greatly with not only increased availability but (hopefully) also reduced cost of contents and devices.

iPhone 8 and iPhone X

Last but not the least are the iPhones. The same “magic” formula used in iPhone 6 is still being used in iPhone 8/8 Plus while Apple “revolutionized” the smartphone design with iPhone X. Funny enough the stunning glass back design on both iPhone 8 and the 10-year anniversary iPhone X is actually a throwback to iPhone 4 instead of the original iPhone. But this I think it is mostly due to the newly added wireless charging feature. The iPhones are using an older Qi standard so I don’t think there’s much to discuss on that. What’s most important to me is the heart of the new iPhones, the A11 Bionic chip. In an interview after the event, Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller said Apple started development of A11 chip 3 years ago when A8 chip was shipped with iPhone 6. The focus on graphics and neural networks processing in the design of A11 Bionic chip can give us a glimpse into Apple’s ambitions. Along with the introduction of ARKit and Core ML in iOS 11, Apple is obviously venturing into a future of augment reality and machine learning.

This is more or less a trend in the industry, but not all companies have the expertise across design, manufacturing and software development like Apple does. The Verge reported that the “notch” on iPhone X is as complex as a Microsoft Kinect. Packing all those components in an area that small is simply amazing. Paired with the powerful A11 chip, it will surely give iPhone X the ability to raise the bar for facial recognition technology. In addition, FaceID, AR and other processes will be great help in training Apple’s machine learning algorithm. A more intelligent device can significantly improve user experience with the help of Core ML framework.

Aside from all the praises, there are concerns over the brand new iPhone X. The “notch” design is not loved by all. The security of FaceID is yet to be tested by the public. And unsurprisingly there are privacy concerns regarding to the FaceID feature. To me, those are all valid concerns and healthy discussions. Not only Apple, but all manufactures and consumers should know what they’re dealing with and getting into. I’d like to see the big players like Apple, Google and Samsung work together to come up with an industrial standard to ensure the devices meet minimum security and privacy requirements.

Still a leader?

I believe the answer is positive. With a 50% sales growth, Apple replaced Rolex as the biggest watchmaker in the world. And the tech giant is now championing for a future of 4K contents. Even though iPhone 8/8 Plus mostly remain unchanged and iPhone X’s minimum bezel design is not a first in the industry, Apple will still be able to influence the design language for future smartphones. When we look back in a future of augment reality and devices with outstanding learning capabilities, I think we would all agree that this year’s Apple Special Event is as significant as the one where Steve Jobs introduced us to a legendary device called iPhone.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

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