What to expect from Apple’s product launch event today

October 15, 2014

Local resident Andreas Gibson celebrates with employees outside the Fifth Avenue Apple store after being the first to exit with an iPhone 6 in hand on the first day of sales in Manhattan, New York

After the widely acclaimed introduction of the iPhone 6, Apple Watch and Apple Pay a month ago, Tim Cook is ready to take a victory lap. But the energy surrounding this week’s expected roll out of a new slate of iPads and new MacBook and iMac models is significantly lower than that of a month ago.

Unlike September’s big iPhone, Apple Watch reveal, this time there don’t appear to be any paradigm shifting announcements in store.

Still, the comparative ennui of the tech community must be a little concerning for Apple. The company has seen iPad shipments fall nearly 14 percent in the first half of this year, according to sales figures from research firm International Data Corporation (IDC). Samsung tablet shipments, meanwhile, are up almost 17 percent in the same time frame. And despite the next line of iPads now standing in the warm up circle, none of the expected changes to the device seem likely to halt that slump.

Apple is still the biggest seller of tablets in the world, but there’s no denying the category isn’t as hot as it used to be. iPad sales came in vastly below expectations in the first and quarter of the year. And Best Buy’s CEO recently described the tablet industry as “crashing.”

That’s due primarily to the fact that tablets, on the whole, haven’t taken any big evolutionary steps since they were introduced. Processor speeds have climbed the ladder and models have gotten thinner, but many current owners don’t feel a pressing need to update them – especially with phone screens getting bigger.

Typically, that sort of slowdown prompts companies to pivot their thinking about a product. Barring any major surprises, though, there don’t seem to be any radical shifts planned for the iPad Air 2 (or whatever the device ends up being called).

We’ll see more horsepower in the tablet, obviously. And it’s likely a Touch ID fingerprint scanner will be added to the iPad’s feature-set, making the iPad part of the Apple Pay family of devices. But the odds of some major wrinkle we haven’t seen from Apple before are low.

That’s, in part, due to the fact that the iPad has always followed a few steps behind the iPhone. The use cases are different, but the systems (at their heart), are pretty much the same. And since the iPhone is the company’s bread and butter, it gets the cool features first.

Complicating things this time around is the success of the iPhone 6 Plus. Despite its higher price, the 5.5 inch phone is reportedly capturing 60 percent of all iPhone 6 sales. That could cannibalize sales of the iPad Mini, which has a screen about 8 inches on the diagonal.

Of course, there’s room to grow the line bigger – and there have been plenty of whispers about a larger 12.9 inch “iPad Pro” model. Unfortunately, the odds of Apple releasing this product in 2014 seem mixed, according to multiple reports — at best.

There will likely be a lot more to Apple’s event than iPads. We can also expect an official roll-out for OS X Yosemite and a new line of Mac laptop and desktops. And it’s been quite a while since Apple did any sort of significant refresh to its Apple TV set-top box, but none of those are the sort of thing that have historically excited a mass audience.

Perhaps the smartest thing Apple can do this Thursday is use it as an Act II to what we saw in September.

Apple Pay was one of the most exciting announcements last month – and it’s a virtual certainty that Apple will announce a firm launch date for the service at this week’s event. While the company rattled off an impressive list of bank, credit card and retail partners last month, adding a few more key names immediately before launch would be a welcome exclamation point – and give it extra momentum on Day One.

Given the interest in the Apple Watch – and company’s apparent slow burn approach to the device – it would also be nice to learn a bit more about what’s in store there – and how it might tie in with the iPad and Yosemite.

Of course, what many people are going to be hoping for is yet another “One More Thing” moment. That’s unlikely given how significant the Apple Watch introduction was.

But that’s the thing about Apple. Despite the declining interest in tablets and the lack of real buzz about this event, people will still obsessively monitor the liveblogs and read the news stories — because you’re never really sure what it’s going to pull out of its sleeve next.

 

 

PHOTO: Local resident Andreas Gibson celebrates with employees outside the Fifth Avenue Apple store after being the first to exit with an iPhone 6 in hand on the first day of sales in Manhattan, New York Sept. 19, 2014. REUTERS/Adrees Latif 

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