I was shocked watching news roundtables on Sunday: there was plenty of talk about Apple's forthcoming announcements and the prognosticators all sounded as if they had spoken to sources walking the executive halls of Apple headquarters in Cupertino. There was no hedging with a "maybe" or an "according to sources" or "according to reports." Everything was certainty.
If there's any certainty about Tuesday, it's that there's little true certainty about all of the announcements. There is always a chance for error, even a great big error, when it comes to Apple and such announcements.
What announcements are said to be coming? Apple's reported invitation said the products (or announcements of products and services) will "brighten everyone's day." The list keeps growing:
A new model of the iPhone, perhaps the iPhone 5S or even iPhone 6 (more believe in the former than the latter);
A less-expensive iPhone with a number of different, colorful plastic enclosures. Perhaps Apple will bring back the flavored colors of the second-generation iMac G3: the original blueberry, strawberry, tangerine, grape, and lime, as well as the later graphite, ruby, sage, snow, indigo, Blue Dalmatian" and "Flower Power;"
A new set of iPods;
A larger iPhone, aka a phablet, which would correspond to the regular and mini models of the iPad;
A new edition of the AppleTV set-top box or even an Apple-branded, super-smart television;
a new flavor of iPad; and
Apple's first entry in wearable computing, the oft-rumored iWatch wrist-computing device.
Then there's the announcement of a deal with China Mobile for the iPhone — whatever iPhone that might be.
The word "brighten" could mean so many things. So, there's a great deal of room for disappointment in whatever the announcement or announcements prove to be. This won't be the first time.
In a post some five years ago, I recalled a strong rumor of a mobile computing, iPad-like device way, way back in 1997. Instead, Apple announced its first laptop with the PowerPC G3, which for the next half a year or so made it the fastest laptop on the market; a new desktop; and a total revamp of the company's store-within-a-store retail strategy — which was the genesis of the Apple retail stores.
But to the reporter from a national newsweekly sitting next to me in the auditorium on the De Anza campus, down the road from Apple headquarters, all of this was a "big waste of time." The "missing" announcements were now a "failure" on Apple's part.
No doubt, there will many calls of failure on Tuesday afternoon for products and strategies that have been noting but smoke.
The intersection of innovation and expectation can require a GPS to find. Shortly after the introduction of the iPad in the spring of 2010, I was on a conference call with financial analysts about the possibilities of the new mobile platform. I mentioned how strong a collaborative tool that the iPad would be for business.
The analysts responded that "of course, Apple would come out shortly with a mini iPad" line, perhaps even several small form factors aimed at different segments. They couldn't believe that Apple would neglect any chance to sew up the tablet market.
They didn't appreciate my response that I doubted this course of events for a number of reasons. First, Apple executives had said on several occasions that the larger form factor was the best for input and, in my view, as a collaborative tool. Secondly, Apple wanted to prove the category, which they did. The iPad mini came out two years later, in its own time.
Perhaps the same lackadaisical schedule will be seen with the iWatch. I was interested in Jean-Louis Gassée's Monday Note about the potential for wristwatch-style devices. He is doubtful.
Two elements appear to be missing for wearable technologies to have the economic impact that companies such as Apple would enjoy:
The device needs to be easily, naturally worn all the time, even more permanently than the watch we tend to take off at night.
It needs to capture more information than devices such as the Jawbone do.
A smartwatch that’s wirelessly linked to my smartphone and shows a subset of the screen in my pocket… I’m not sure this will break out of the novelty category where the devices have been confined thus far.
Maybe later than sooner for that iWatch?