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September 12, 2016

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Apple takes a new bite from netizen wallets

APPLE Inc’s new product launch every year is often viewed in China as the “second Spring Festival Gala.” Indeed, the launches draw the same massive audience as the annual national TV extravaganza on New Year’s Eve and generate the same kind of elevated public discussion.

And so it was last week when Apple held its latest product launch in San Francisco. Everyone’s attention was riveted on “what’s new?”

Apple didn’t disappoint, unveiling waterproof iPhones, wireless headphones and a next-generation Apple Watch supporting Pokémon Go.

Apple products are more than just the latest gizmos on the market. They define what is hot in digital entertainment and spawn buzzwords that become part of daily parlance. In part, the company’s continuing success owes to controversial designs and functions, booming social networks and the guiding hand of CEO Tim Cook.

The iPhone 7 and larger iPhone 7 Plus, with dual cameras and optical steady shot, improved water resistance and wireless headphones, will sell at a starting price of US$649 when it debuts on the shelves next Friday, in the 25 countries including China.

We all know the legends surrounding the late CEO Steve Jobs, famous for his “One More Thing” and strict confidentiality ahead of produce launches. Under Cook, some technical features of the new iPhones were revealed online several weeks before the launch, though not overtly by Apple itself.

So it’s not strange that Reuters found “China’s online chatter muted ahead of the Apple iPhone 7 launch.”

China is of great concern to Apple. It is the world’s biggest phone market and home to millions of diehard netizens wedded to the latest gadgetry. It is also the headquarters of rival phone makers like Huawei, who are challenging Apple’s dominance.

But let’s put that all aside and look at what Apple is newly offering its legions of fans.

No headphone jacket and optional wireless headphones

The new iPhones have removed the headphone jack, requiring audio to be delivered via Apple’s proprietary lightning connector or by wireless, a dramatic change to a decades-old consumer habit. Among the top five smartphone vendors, Apple is the first to do undertake such an aggressive change.

Apple’s newly launched AirPod wireless earpieces have provoked considerable online debate, with some people saying the too-simple design makes the US$159 accessory easy to lose. Chinese netizens created funny cartoons and comments to press the point: “You don’t have to buy AirPods from Apple Stores. You can just pick up lost ones in parks or on the Metro.”

As an industry observer, I can easily understand the logic behind AirPods. They reflect the style of a supply-chain manager bent on saving process and cost. And, yes, Cook was a global supply chain executive at Apple before taking over as CEO.

Waterproof iPhone
and Apple Watch

Apple’s first waterproof iPhone may appeal to a much wider audience than just tech geeks.

I am not surprised to see enthusiasm among my WeChat friends who are fond of swimming, running and doing exercises every day with GPS and tracking features on Apple devices. The waterproof and dust-proof functions of the new phone will no doubt bind users even closer to the iPhone and Apple Watch, which also has a new special sports edition co-developed by Nike.

Nintendo star games
on Apple devices

Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto was a surprise guest at the recent Apple launch, announcing that a new “Super Mario Run” game is heading for the iPhone by the year-end holidays.

Even more exciting to some was the announcement that Pokémon Go, which has been downloaded globally more than 500 million times since its debut in July, is going to be available on Apple Watch later this month.

Many people like me have grown up with “Super Mario Run,” which ran on Nintendo game consoles more than a decade ago. I would willingly pay to play the re-designed game on iPhone to test my memory and skills — with my friends, of course, because it supports a multiplayer mode.

All these latest Apples features and services are not really “breakthroughs” in the IT sense of the word, like the touch screen that debuted with the iPhone 4.

Many of the new Apple features have existed for months or even years, such as the dual camera on Huawei models, the removal of the headphone jack on LeEco, waterproofing in Sony models and the optical steady shot on old-fashioned Nokias.

Some of us Apple fans would like to see something truly “cutting-edge” on iPhones, like wireless charging, OLED screens with better imaging quality, or Lytro imaging allowing users to re-focus after shooting pictures.

Under Steve Jobs, the mantra was “our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.”

Cook, on the other hand, seems more wedded to the more traditional marketing cliché “give the customer what he wants.” He does a great job of distributing products to people. He has expanded the product portfolio into entertainment (Apple Music), fashion (Apple Watch), sports (waterproofing), education (iPad), office (iWork) and home (HomeKit). He finds the best partners, like Nintendo and Nike, to add value.

Whether you admire him or not, Cook has certainly kept Apple as a main talking point in the technology realm. Whether you plan to buy a new iPhone or not, it’s hard to stop talking about it. Perhaps that’s Apple’s biggest magic.

Me? Yes, I°’ll be buying iPhone 7 Plus 128 GB model but without the surprise that usually drives me to Apple products.


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