Welcome to our weekly Apple Breakfast column, which includes all the Apple news you missed last week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a Monday morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.
Apples are not the only fruit
It’s been an odd and rather underwhelming fall for Apple watchers (and watches). Normally the hottest time of year at Cupertino, this September and October saw a cautious set of iPhone updates, an even more cautious set of Apple Watch updates, and one of the briefest and least dramatic Mac unveils in years. These are all high-quality products, but they represent extremely minor improvements on the ones already available from Apple’s stores. Tricks have outnumbered treats, and fireworks have been in short supply.
Given that the phones and watches have been on sale for just a few weeks and the Macs are still at the pre-order stage, it remains to be seen how the market will respond to these less-than-earth-shattering announcements. Maybe, as Apple presumably hoped, customers will feel that an iMac with a new processor and precisely zero other upgrades on the 2021 model is exactly what they’re looking for, that risk-free, glacially iterated smartphones are just the ticket, that smartwatches which make the most fractional improvements on their predecessors are just what the doctor ordered. Maybe, to those who are paid-up inhabitants of the Apple ecosystem, there simply aren’t any appealing alternatives from the worlds of Windows, Android, and WearOS. But I suspect that enthusiasm will begin to wane.
Indeed, there is evidence that even before these announcements enthusiasm was proving a finite resource. Near the end of last week, Apple reported another quarterly dip, with iPhone revenues slightly up but nearly every other department trending sharply down. Recent Mac sales, by Apple’s high standards, make ugly reading, down a whopping 34 percent on the same period last year.
The truth is that Apple has been testing customers’ patience for a while now, and these sorts of numbers shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone. This spring there was no press event at all, not because the company wanted to play it cool but because there was genuinely nothing of interest to talk about. Last year’s Apple Watch Ultra was an interesting enough launch but was clearly destined for niche appeal, while the Series 8 was the sort of dull, by-the-numbers iteration we’ve grown to expect. The iPhone department hasn’t pushed itself in years, the iPad has been phoning it in for some time, and as for the Mac… I was arguing back in January that the thrill of Apple silicon was already gone. But perhaps more importantly, Apple has simultaneously been pushing up prices wherever it can, at a time of widespread financial anxiety.
The company has been behaving, in other words, like the smug horse owner in a one-horse town. And now it’s acting surprised that some formerly loyal customers have gone out and bought mules.
The clannish and mutually incompatible nature of a lot of modern technology leads to inertia when switching from one platform or provider to another. If you own a Mac and an iPhone, it takes a lot to push you into buying a Samsung smartwatch. And Apple knows and understands this phenomenon better than anyone; hence the famous walled garden.
But the downside of that walled-garden effect is that you don’t truly know how unpopular your announcements are until too late. When Apple is reported as mistreating its employees, the PR effects aren’t going to immediately show up on a balance sheet, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The same is true when a bug causes iPhones to randomly shut down, an expensive leather-substitute case proves to be woefully substandard, or yet another stupid dongle comes along demanding our money. Dozens of small irritations, medium-sized embarrassments, major missteps, all ignored at the time because they didn’t seem to matter… until eventually when the snowflakes have combined into an avalanche, you notice that your revenue is through the floor and it’s too late to change course.
Everything, of course, is relative. Other companies would kill for Apple’s “disappointing” revenue numbers, and there was some good news in the latest report: the Services division is thriving, which augurs well for life after the iPhone. What’s more, a lot of the company’s developmental malaise can be traced to the resources being funneled into Vision Pro, which should bring fireworks of sorts–albeit in very small numbers at first–when it lands next year. Apple is not doomed. But it would do well to remember that customer loyalty cannot be taken for granted. And that the horse looked irreplaceable until someone invented the car.
iOS 17.1.1 has been spotted in the wild (by which we mean “visiting Macworld”), as its release looks to be imminent.
And with that, we’re done for this week’s Apple Breakfast. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Facebook, Threads, or Twitter for discussion of breaking Apple news stories. See you next Monday, and stay Appley.