Apple appears to be on a kick of delivering product refreshes to punctuate its major release cycle, with changes to devices and tweaked versions that go beyond what it has done in terms of spec refreshes in the past. It looks like we could see a new era of light changes in direction to cater to market trends and optimize product viability under Tim Cook, which in many ways makes sense for a man known as a supply chain maestro.
“New” iPads, iMacs, MacBooks And iPods
If you review all the mid-cycle changes Apple has made this year, you come up with a pretty long list. There’s the Retina MacBook Pro and Air improvements it made in February for instance, which included new processors, is not really all that out of character; the company has been boosting internal specs on its Mac line for years. But the 128GB fourth generation iPad, the iMac with VESA mount, and the new 16GB iPod touch which lacks a rear camera are all big changes to the way Apple generally operates those product cycles.
All of these updates arrived with little fanfare, at least when compared to the lavish launch events Apple usually holds to trot out new hardware. At most they’ll get a press release, and in the case of some, like the iPod touch just launched today, they’ll simply update the online store. Press still flocks to these changes, regardless, and it’s true that they aren’t often ground-breaking enough to merit proper events, since they’d look paltry painted in that light. But the changes are a sign of a new commitment to continuous improvement, and one that seems like it could result in dramatic changes to how Apple views and operates its product release cycle.
Tim Cook used to be Apple’s COO, and in that role he essentially helped Apple build one of the most effective and efficiently run supply chains in the history of supply chains. That meant that Apple seldom had any inventory costing it money by sitting around in warehouses, that incidences of error in the manufacturing process were drastically reduced, and that improvements and adaptations were made continually to help keep profit margins high. Likely Cook is still directly responsible for a lot of continued optimization in that area, but it makes sense that he would also bring those skills to bear on actual Apple products themselves, instead of just on their manufacturing process.
The updates to the products mentioned above each constitute a specific optimization. In the case of the iPad, the storage bump helps it keep pace with other new-to-market devices including the Surface and better service education and enterprise users; with the iMac, it addresses the one big failing pointed out by reviewers of the iMac when comparing it to previous generations, and targets again business users; and with the iPod touch, it fills a gap in the company’s lineup, simplifies supply chain and makes it easier for developers to optimize their designs for screen sizes going forward.
The new approach to Apple’s products appears to reflect a greater flexibility; thinks are more mutable than they were before Cook took the reins, if only just. There’s still the question of keeping fair of angering early purchasers of products, as someone who has bought an iPad four months prior doesn’t want to see a new model and regret their earlier decision, but for the most part, these upgrades look like very specific tweaks designed to expand a potential audience, not alienate an existing one. So long as that kind of precision refreshing continues, I think Apple stands to gain a lot from this modified approach to product development.