What we can learn about Apple from today’s event

Another month, another Apple event. However, this one told us a lot about how the company sees the future…

It’s a big week for tech announcements. Nokia had some news this morning, and we’ll look at that tomorrow, and Google has something planned for the end of the week. As ever, though, all eyes were on Apple as they held their second event in as many months.

It was a pretty wide-ranging event, covering Mac and iPad hardware and Mac and iOS software. They packed a whole lot more into this event than they did last month’s one about the phone. Everyone else will be breaking down the product announcements – let’s take a step back and look at the trends:

1. Software is free.

As one wag tweeted:

The old Microsoft business model of making all your money off the OS and the office apps looks in serious trouble. Google’s giving away its offerings on one side, and now Apple is making it’s OSes and its most commonly-used software free with the purchases of any of their devices. iWork, iLife and both OSX and iOS are all free. Microsoft is charging for its OS updates, and wants you to pay an annual fee for Office 365. It’s amazing how “good enough” products can be when their cost is zero against more expensive products.

This also makes Apple much more of a products + services company. Buy their hardware, and get all the services your really need with it for free. The received wisdom – which I’ve been guilty of repeating – is that Apple isn’t good at online services. They’re clearly trying to rectify that – and fast.

Significantly, I think this takes us even closer to the idea of the computing device as an appliance. It comes with all the core things you need, for free. You switch it on for the first time, and you can accomplish all the basic tasks you need to do with freely-provided software. However, unlike most appliances, it gets more capable over time, with free updates. As computing becomes ever more pervasive, that’s a compelling approach.

2. Two systems, one experience

Many people assume that iOS and OSX will eventually unify. Based on today’s presentation, I doubt that will be the case. Tim Cook went out of his way to mock Microsoft for being confused about the role of its Surface device – the inherent tablet/laptop tension in its make-up, which the Redmond company seems to see as a strength, and Apple sees as a major weakness.

I suspect Apple will keep its keyboard/mouse and touch-based systems completely separate. What it will do, though, is what it’s just done with the completely rewritten iLife and iWork – make the experience so seamless, you can switch between devices without any discontinuity in your work.

The iOS and Mac versions of Apple’s core apps haven’t played well with each other up until now. Allegedly, that changes today. With collaboration features, and the web apps too, they’re trying to build a seamless experience, that adapts to the device you’re using but is essentially agnostic to it. If it works, Apple’s poor record as an online services company might be over.

3. Apple’s Innovations are iterative

Today was all about iteration – most noticeably in the Mac Pro and iPad (now iPad Air). Apple has really only launched three brand new products in the last decade or so – the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Most everything else they do is iterations on the base idea. But they’re very, very good at those iterations. Occasionally, they make a big jump in their iterations. The new iPad Air looks to be a very significant improvement over its predecessor, for example.

Expecting regular, brand-new category redefining innovations from apple is a mug’s game. Their history does not bear that out. Expecting their products to get significantly better most years? That’s a bet you’d win.