Thoughts and Observations on This Week’s iPhone 7 / Apple Watch Series 2 Special Event

The show opened with a genuine surprise announcement: Nintendo has created a real game for the iPhone: Super Mario Run. And, there to announce it, was Shigeru Miyamoto. The applause for his appearance on stage was truly thunderous, raucous even. We, collectively, lost our shit. I honestly don’t think there’s anyone in the world would have gotten a stronger ovation from that crowd than Miyamoto. I mean, how can you not love the guy? He’s a Jobs-like figure, stature-wise, but with a contagious affability.

This is pretty much exactly what I’ve been suggesting Nintendo do for years. Here’s what I wrote three years ago:

Here is what I’d like to see Nintendo do.

Make two great games for iOS (iPhone-only if necessary, but universal iPhone/iPad if it works with the concept). Not ports of existing 3DS or Wii games, but two brand new games designed from the ground up with iOS’s touchscreen, accelerometer, (cameras?), and lack of D-pad/action buttons in mind. (“Mario Kart Touch” would be my suggestion; I’d buy that sight unseen.) Put the same amount of effort into these games that Nintendo does for their Wii and 3DS games. When they’re ready, promote the hell out of them. Steal Steve Jobs’s angle and position them not as in any way giving up on their own platforms but as some much-needed ice water for people in hell. Sell them for $14.99 or maybe even $19.99.

iOS users as a whole may not be used to paying $20, $15, or even $10 for a single game. But Nintendo customers are used to paying more, and millions of them own iPhones. Maybe no one can upset the race-to-the-bottom pricing structure of iOS games, but if anyone can do it, it’s Nintendo. (And it’s for this reason that I would recommend Nintendo specifically target iOS, not Android. If the endeavor succeeds on iOS, consider Android later. But I think it’s possible, if not probable, that the iOS market could support $15–20 Nintendo games but the Android market could not.)

If it works out, keep making more iOS games. In a year, when the second round of Nintendo iOS games are ready, drop the price on the old ones to, say, $7.99–$9.99. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I hate to say it,1 but the whole piece and its follow-up really stand up three years later.

I think Super Mario Run is going to be a smash hit. And I think Nintendo is going to charge a fair amount of money for it, and deservedly so. Free to start but maybe $20-30 for the whole thing, is my guess. And, unsurprisingly, Miyamoto said on stage that Nintendo will not be robbing people for a constant stream of coin packs and other such bullshit. A fair but flat price and that’s it. They could make a fortune with the Candy Crush IAP model, but Nintendo is smart enough to know that the money they’re leaving on the table is an investment in their stellar brand.

Super Mario Run isn’t available yet, but it has already broken new ground in the App Store. It’s listed, but in place of a “Buy” button, there’s a “Notify” button. This is not available to developers at large, but I’ll bet it will be eventually.

Also, consider this: the iPhone 7 (and probably 6S too) will be the most powerful computing hardware any Nintendo game has ever run on.

iWork Real-Time Collaboration

This sort of thing is the only reason Google Docs is used. Google Docs is ugly as sin and, to me, confusing as hell. Getting the same sort of real-time collaboration features in iWork apps — attractive, cohesive, elegant iWork apps2 — will be great, presuming it works as advertised.

VP of product marketing Susan Prescott demoed the feature by collaboratively editing the actual Keynote deck for the keynote itself. For me at least, this was terrifying. One thing every speaker I know believes is that you do not fuck around with your deck at the last minute — let alone edit it live on stage. It was impressive. One thing I noticed: Apple had a couple of dummy slides in the deck after the new slides they inserted during the demo. This was so the next real slides would not be revealed in the Keynote sidebar.

Apple Watch

Tim Cook claimed that in 2015 Apple was the number two watch maker by revenue in the world, second only to Rolex. And Apple Watch was only on sale for eight months in 2015. If you think Apple Watch is a flop you are a moron.

The improvements to Apple Watch Series 2 are mostly focused on fitness — GPS and swim-proof water resistance. That jibes with the improvements to WatchOS 3. The platform is like a pencil sketch turning into an inked illustration. I think what Apple understands now, but didn’t (and couldn’t) before Apple Watch launched is that fitness tracking is the biggest reason people buy an Apple Watch in the first place. After they buy it and start using it, they start appreciating things like notifications and setting timers and everything else that’s good about the watch, but it’s fitness tracking that gets people to break out their credit cards in the first place.

Gold is out. Taking its place as the Series 2 Apple Watch Edition is a white ceramic model. In person it is gorgeous, and feels great. The price is a non-ludicrous $1249/1299 (38/42 mm). It seems pretty clear that everyone who looked at the original Edition prices ($10,000–20,000) and said “No one is going to buy those” was proven correct. This $1,000–1,500 range feels about right for the high-end Apple Watches. I think it’s also clear that Apple Watch Edition could just as well be called Apple Watch Jony Ive Edition. Ive is famously fascinated with using new materials. The original Edition lineup may well have existed not so much because Apple believed they would sell in significant numbers but because Jony Ive wanted to work with gold, and the watch is the only Apple device to date where gold made even a lick of sense. This white ceramic has Jony Ive written all over it.

I would love to see future iPhones and other devices made out of this ceramic material.

The branding has been cleaned up smartly. There’s no more “Apple Watch Sport”. Just “Apple Watch”, with the entry-level models in aluminum cases and the higher-end models with stainless steel. It just never made sense with the original lineup that there was Apple Watch Sport at the entry level, Apple Watch Edition at the luxury level, and Apple Watch Nothing at a premium level. The sport bands are still called “sport bands”, but the watches are all just Apple Watches now. Smart.

Now that “Sport” has been eliminated from the standard lineup branding, in steps Nike to take its place as the “for athletes” models. The Nike Plus models are going to be huge. The perforated bands are striking, especially the ones with “volt” electric yellow accents. (“Volt” is the name Nike uses for that color.) The custom Nike watch faces use Nike’s iconic Futura extra bold condensed oblique font. They look totally Nike, and totally Apple at the same time. And there’s no premium — the Nike Plus watches cost the exact same as the regular aluminum Apple Watches.

Here’s a sign of how big Apple thinks these are going to be. The post-event hands-on area had four massive billboards on the walls. One showed the jet black iPhone 7 in profile. One emphasized the dual-camera unit on a jet black iPhone 7 Plus. One showed the new white ceramic Apple Watch Edition. And the fourth was devoted to the Nike Plus watches. It looked as much like a Nike ad as an Apple ad.

With Tim Cook serving on Nike’s board of directors, it’s entirely possible that this deal has been in the works for a long time, perhaps going all the way back to their decision to stop making the FuelBand in 2014. I’m convinced Nike will make more money from this partnership with Apple than they would have if they’d stayed the course with their own wholly-owned fitness bands. This partnership lets Nike do what Nike does best, and lets Apple do what Apple does best. Nike is never going to be better at either software or (electronic) hardware than Apple; Apple is never going to be more sporty than Nike.

Which brings us to Apple’s other co-branded watches: Hermès. These watches and bands seem to have succeeded where the original gold Edition models did not. It helps, of course, that the prices are around $1,500, not $15,000. But branding-wise it just feels cooler to me. In effect, Nike and Hermès bookend the Apple Watch lineup. Apple covers a wide range of the middle ground on its own. Hermès makes the luxury models more luxurious.

iPhones 7

Phil Schiller was on stage for 55 minutes talking about the new iPhones, and his presentation was tight. There is a lot to talk about these new phones. Yes, the fundamental form factor is largely unchanged from the 6/6S. The camera housing is larger and the bump is now truly part of the case back. If you have to have a bump, own the bump, I say. And the new iPhones own their bumps. Some of Apple’s product photography highlights the bump — the complete opposite of the iPhone 6 shots two years ago that hid the bump. And the antenna lines have been cleaned up significantly. But everything else about these phones — everything — is new and improved. There is a large contingent of pundits who apparently would be more excited about a new iPhone that looked entirely different but had the exact same components as the iPhone 6S than they are by the actual iPhones 7, which are shaped like the 6S but have amazing new components. I don’t get that mindset at all. It’s like being a car pundit and judging the new Porsche 911 with a “meh” because it looks like the previous 911, and never even considering what it’s like to actually drive the new car.

One surprise for me is that the new iPhones lack the True Tone color-balancing feature in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. At the March event introducing that iPad, Phil Schiller said of True Tone, “Once you get used to it, you can’t go back.” I took that as a hint that the new iPhones would get it too. Clearly, I was wrong. My guess as to why: space. True Tone requires extra sensors. iPads have room for those sensors; the iPhone doesn’t (yet). Too bad.

Miscellaneous

  • AirPods are so impressive they could have warranted their own segment of the event, rather than being a bullet item in the iPhone 7 segment. The pairing process makes regular Bluetooth pairing feel like a trip to the DMV. And “Bluetooth” is such a dirty word — so tied up with onerous pairing processes and flaky connections — that Phil Schiller never once said the word on stage. Not once. This left some people with the impression that AirPods work entirely via a proprietary protocol, or are not compatible with non-Apple devices. The truth is they work as regular Bluetooth headphones — the magic is a proprietary layer on top of Bluetooth.

  • My idle speculation that the new iPhones might support Apple Pencil was wrong.

  • iPhone supply chain leaks spoiled most of the iPhone features, and Mark Gurman had the scoop on AirPods back in January, but Apple kept several announcements as complete surprise: Nintendo making iOS games, the Nike Plus Apple Watch, the ceramic Apple Watch Edition, and the new iWork real-time collaboration features. (The existence of the high-gloss black iPhone leaked from Ming-Chi Kuo. But the name “jet black” did not leak. “Jet black” is a much better name than Kuo’s proposed “piano black”.)

  • Speaking of Gurman, he was in attendance at the event. It was fun to see him there. I’ll bet he’s the youngest person ever to get a media invitation to an Apple event. [Update: Marques “MKBHD” Brownlee and Gurman are the same age, but Brownlee was invited to last year’s event, so he’s probably the youngest. They’re both remarkable prodigies.]

  • Apple’s Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Adapter costs only $9. The 30-pin to Lightning Adapter costs an avaricious $29. The best I was hoping for was $19, so kudos to Apple for pricing this so low. I think at $9 it might be the single cheapest item in Apple’s stores.

  • The auditorium was very crowded. It was a scramble to get a seat.

  • It’s downright amazing how much of a building-in-a-building Apple constructs for these events at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. They even put in their own flooring. The hallway we walked through to get to the hands-on area was downright Kubrickian.

  • Speaking of Kubrick, I finally got to visit “Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition”, currently at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. So great. I could spend an entire day in there, but alas, only got an hour.

  • The Series 2 Apple Watches are 0.9 mm thicker than the original Apple Watches (and the new Series 1 models). The last time an Apple product got thicker than its predecessor was the iPad 3, which was thicker and heavier than the iPad 2 to power its retina display. [Update: I was wrong. I forgot that the iPhones 6S were 0.2 mm thicker than the iPhones 6.] The iPhones 7 are exactly the same thickness as their corresponding iPhones 6S. Good news for anyone who has wished that Apple would back off in its quest for ever-thinner devices in the name of extending battery life. The iPhone 6S was thin enough. (Also, it came as a surprise to me that the Series 2 watches are slightly thicker. I didn’t know this until after the event. In the hands-on area, I would have sworn they were the exact same size. With the iPad 3, it was obviously thicker and heavier. With the Series 2 watches, the difference seems imperceptible.)

  • Apple is slowly but surely weaning itself off Apple Myriad. Everything this week was set in San Francisco. Apple’s Keynote slides were set in San Francisco, not Myriad, for the first time. The word “iPhone” on the back of the iPhones 7 is set in San Francisco now. This has been a gradual transition, and Myriad still appears some places, most notably as a web font on Apple’s website. It doesn’t work well alongside San Francisco.

    When we look back decades from now, I think we’ll see Myriad as Apple’s Jobs-era typeface, and San Francisco as their Cook-era typeface. For this reason, even though I very much like San Francisco, I find it a little melancholy to watch their use of Myriad fade away.


  1. By which I mean I fucking love to say it. ↩︎

  2. Funny anecdote: I sat next to Horace Dediu during the event. At one point I looked over and he was editing a giant Numbers spreadsheet, chockablock at least half a dozen Asymco-style charts. This cracked me up for reasons I can’t quite explain.  ↩︎︎

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