Apple Still Has It

There will be plenty of bits spilled over the next few days about whether Apple is going extinct, whether Jobs’ touch was integral to the Apple experience, and whether this was “The.Worst.Keynote.Ever.” I posit, however, that Apple still has a few good years left and this keynote (now available here) – a precise and well-orchestrated experience dedicated mostly to software – is proof that the Apple vision runs far deeper than the efforts of a figurehead CEO.

To be clear, I despise the fawning adulation given Apple by the tech press. It’s made the company weird and twisted – at least when it comes to media relations – and it gives fans far too much currency in the game of “My computer is better.” Arguably no one else comes close to the ridiculous lengths fans and anti-fans will go to praise or excoriate this company and I assure you that Samsung or Sony execs would give up their private jets and personal chefs for just one ounce of the excitement associated with the Retina MacBook, but that’s another story.

Apple still has it for a number of reasons. First, they are still innovating on the hardware side. The smart among you will note that the Retina screen resolution and pixel density isn’t particularly new in theory but in practice, and in a laptop, it’s quite a stunning feat. There are plenty of high-resolution laptops but, like the iPad’s retina display, the implementation is far more exciting than the actual technology.

What people consistently fail to understand when it comes to hardware manufacturing is that the vast majority of high tech products produced by Samsung, Motorola, RIM, etc. are mostly built of off-the-shelf designs and are dictated by the vagaries of the market and by the decisions made by Microsoft, Intel, and other major suppliers. Apple hardware is dictated by part availability and price but, in most cases, they are not stymied by parts manufacturers. Apple never buys the “latest and greatest” i.e. the latest graphics cards and chipsets and the best processors. They buy what works for the line-up at that time. Apple also doesn’t have to emblazon their laptops with badges and stickers, either, because it doesn’t play by OEM rules.

So for the company to release a high-res laptop and to move entirely to SSD shows that it is still in the lead. Four months from now, for back-to-school season, you can be almost guaranteed to see a MacBook Pro clone from HP, Sony, and Dell with “HD Super Display” and “Super Fast Flash Drives.” Once Apple takes a technology mainstream, the rest of the manufacturers can easily inject it into their line-ups.

Second, the company is still innovating in software. Naysayers will point to Windows 8 and Metro as the best OS available but, arguably, it’s not yet available and isn’t expected for months – if not years. Mountain Lion adds a number of useful iterative features and supports the new hardware features. The Safari update brings features that power users have been looking for and while it probably won’t draw me away from Chrome, it definitely looks promising.

iOS 6, on the other hand, looks to be a must-have. The Map update looks amazing and the various syncing improvements as well as apps like PassBook (an NFC precursor if I’ve ever seen one) make sense in terms of software continuity.

We can complain all we want about the missing iPhone 5 and Apple’s refusal to respect their set top box or their desktop machines but in the end this is Apple doing what Apple does best: creating a spectacle around what at any other company would warrant maybe a team kegger and cookout for a software or hardware job well done. Apple’s magic is still there, whether we like it or not, and it will take an awful lot of failure to deplete the excitement, goodwill, and fanaticism the company has engendered over the past decade.

Image via Reddit