With the launch of the new iPhones and Apple Watch, the annual fall season of Apple’s latest technology is upon us all. But while the September event may be the first and most prominent in the lead-up to the holiday season, there’s almost certainly more waiting in the wings.
As we look at what to expect from Apple’s subsequent announcements, it may be worth looking at the way Apple lays out products already released this year. In particular, both the Apple Watch and iPhone lines have seen “flagship” models (iPhone 14 and Apple Watch Series 8) receive less substantial updates, while the company has taken on much bigger swings for its top models (iPhone 14 Pro and Apple Watch Ultra).
What Apple does with these groups of devices can help us understand how the company approaches the other products it sells — particularly when it comes to the extremes of low-end, high-end products.
lower the bar
Apple took a very different strategy with this year’s iPhone line: making the mainstream iPhone 14 an even more awesome update, including a slightly improved version of the previous year’s processor, incorporating both larger hardware and, most importantly, software offerings in the most expensive iPhone 14 Pro .
Meanwhile, on the Apple Watch side, the company has managed to create a low-end product, the Apple Watch SE, by dropping its latest wearable chip into a device that has most, but not all, of its latest key features. Model. And by dropping the price to $249, the company has made a very attractive entry-level product that is sure to drive more Apple Watch customers.
That’s why I’m more interested in seeing what this fall’s entry-level iPad revamp will bring. Apple is likely to take a page from the Apple Watch SE and iPhone SE Strategies, which includes a powerful chip — though perhaps an A-series model, to differentiate it from the M1 in the Air and Pro — as well as several more modern features from the rest of the line. iPad: Apple Pencil 2, USB-C, and possibly even a Smart Connector to enable use of the Magic Keyboard.
But all this raises a question about the design. Part of the way Apple can keep costs down on the Apple Watch SE and iPhone SE is to use older case designs that the company has become so efficient at making. But in the end, this has its own cost, as it means using outdated components and designs that you don’t use anywhere else. Plus, why are all these new features integrated into an old design?
The base-level iPad is the last model to have a home button, and its style isn’t quite in line with the rest of the iPad line. No doubt Apple would like to take it to the modern age; The question is simply whether the cost balance has finally reached a point where it is more efficient for all of its product lines to use the same case design. I think we might be there this year.
For me, the most interesting new product Apple introduced this fall is the Apple Watch Ultra. Previously, when Apple sold the high-end Apple Watch (often called Edition), it focused on case materials while excluding everything else: 24k gold, ceramic, titanium. These products sold with a focus on fashion, but in the past couple of years, the Apple Watch’s focus has settled on its primary health and fitness benefit, so instead of trying to sell a high-end watch to an entirely different audience, the company has chosen to dig deeper into the audience it already owns.
Jason Snell / Foundry
Unsurprisingly, the move also carried with it a premium price tag for Apple; This is, after all, a central tenet of the company’s brochure. But by playing down expectations for a device that looked like it could cost just under $1,000 — perhaps the most surprising price move since the original $499 iPad was revealed — Apple crafted the product to appeal to those who would never use it for mountaineering, Ultra Marathon running, or diving. At $799, the Ultra is only $50 more than the starting price of the larger, stainless-steel Apple Watch, and is often on par, depending on the range.
This pricing strategy is much closer to the way Apple actually deals with iPhones and iPads, tempting people to get more expensive products by putting them on hand. When the choice is between $500 for an Apple Watch and $1,000 for an Apple Watch, well, most customers wouldn’t double the amount just for owning a fancier device. But $50 over the current cap is affordable for many, and the idea of how much you get for that extra cost is certainly bewildering. This kind of price overlap, for example, helps move leads from the iPad Air to the iPad Pro.
Apple has always been very smart about pricing and positioning its products at scale. There was a time when you could easily categorize products made by Apple into good, better, and better (and a time when Apple used those same descriptors). In some ways, Apple has departed from this elegant arrangement, just as it has departed from simplicity Quad Quad Mac Product Strategy.
But given the Apple announcements we’ve seen so far this fall, it seems that the good-better-better strategy is back in force. And given that the iPad Air is the only model actually updated this year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Apple’s line of low-end and high-end tablets getting a lot of love, perhaps leaving the “flagship” model looking a little bit hum by comparison.