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After Apple’s (AAPL) announcement in San Jose, Ashlee Vance left the California Theatre and set up at a local coffee shop, where he got on IM with Sam Grobart and had a postgame chat about today’s new products. Here is the transcript of that conversation.
SG: So, Ash, you were in the hands-on room after the press conference. What did you think after checking out the new Apple products in the flesh?
AV: Yeah, two things struck me. The first is that the iMac is one of the more striking products Apple has put out in awhile. It has this super-thin edge, so that the computer seems to melt away when you look at it from the side. The innards have all been packed into a case that’s slightly rounded in the back. It puts other All-in-Ones to shame. As for the iPad mini, well, it’s very, very, very light. And the new covers are much better than the ones for the larger iPads. The mini covers do not have the metal bits hanging off the edge.
Apple kept stressing that the iPad mini was built from the ground up and is not just a shrunken iPad. That strikes me as mostly hype. It feels and looks very much like a shrunken iPad. What was the online streaming vibe?
SG: The streaming was a little blotchy. It died on my desktop Mac, but I could watch it on my iPhone. I liked that, in one of Apple’s videos of the iPad mini (featuring an instrumental version of New Order’s “Age of Consent,” which took me way back), they showed someone holding an iPad mini while standing on a train. You could never do that with a standard iPad.
AV: Yeah, I think it will have its uses, but it’s hardly a radical idea. The mini seems like a nicer tablet than a lot of similar Android units that are out there. What struck me was that this seemed like a backward-looking product. It’s meant to foil the Android challengers. Apple had no response to Microsoft’s Surface, which was unveiled months ago. There was no slick new keyboard or a proper redesign of the iPad to make it more useful for work. Apple is taking pre-orders on the 26th, the same day that Windows 8 and the Surface launches. So, it’s aware of the competitive threat and wants to steal some of Microsoft’s thunder.
SG: I smell something funny about that new iPad refresh.
AV: Yeah, that was the other thing. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance to explain why this new iPad is better than the one that just arrived a couple months ago.
SG: I wonder if they are trying to address any power-consumption issues. That 3rd-Gen iPad used more power than a John Deere forage harvester.
AV: The power consumption stuff was the low light. I mean, okay, the old iPad lasts 10 hours. But then you’re getting this buildup about how awesome the new iPad is and how awesome the mini is and when they get to the battery life, it’s “And it comes with THE SAME 10-hour battery life that people love.” You know what people love more than 10 hours of battery life?
SG: A BILLION hours of battery life?
AV: That’s right. How’s about Apple’s engineers stop putting magnets in cases and making head phones for awhile and get on that.
AV: The Apple employees at the event were pretty funny. Cook kept rattling off how many iPads Apple has sold and how feeble the competition has been. One of the employees could not stop cackling. You go to more of these things than I do. Was Cook laying on the excitement extra thick? He seemed determined to say every adjective he knows.
SG: He seemed to be par for the course. He’s a mellow guy who tries to project excitement. It was only Cook and Schiller today, right? No Eddy Cue, no Scott Forstall? The Kremlinologist in me wants to know.
AV: Yeah, Cook dished all the sales figures and brought Schiller on to do all the demos. Some of the sales figures are getting insane: 100 million iPads, 35 billion app downloads, 200 million devices already running iOS 6. Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG), et al have to hear stuff like that and just weep.
SG: Is it me, or is the MacBook line getting confusing? Three 13-inch laptops?
AV: Yeah, there’s one for everyone, they say. Soon they will mean that literally.
SG: The desktop is, how you say, a maturing market, but that new iMac does look beautiful.
AV: It really gets down now to how you value a few millimeters here and a few there. I know the iPad mini will get all of the attention, but the new iMac was the coolest product they had today. It’s the one that you look at and start wondering, “How did they do that? Why can’t anyone else get close?” The iPad mini really is just a copycat product.
SG: I wonder if the iPad mini will eclipse the iPad in sales. Will it become the go-to iPad?
AV: I just can’t see it. It’s not THAT much cheaper than the iPad. I think if you’re going to buy one of these things, you buy the full machine.
SG: Fair enough.
AV: You do so much consuming on the iPad. It’s nice to have the big screen. The mini feels like a notebook, almost. I could see them pushing this hard at schools and the office.
SG: I like how they still had people in the video taking pictures with the iPad mini. Sure, you look slightly less ridiculous than using a standard iPad as a camera, but it still looks stupid.
AV: Yeah, it’s pretty comical. And they had a video glorifying people waiting in line for the iPhone at Apple Stores. I haven’t been to an Apple event in awhile, and you forget just how much of a production it is. It’s like psychological warfare.
SG: Don’t go all Nicholas Brody on us, Ash.
AV: With these iPads and the Surface coming, does anyone keep buying Android tablets? I’m struggling to see what purpose they serve.
SG: Can we say that Android tablets are lousy?
AV: Yes, yes we can.
AV: I mean, say what you will about Microsoft’s woeful presence in the mobile market, at least its products look different than Apple’s. I still feel like a lot of the Android stuff looks like iOS knockoffs. But, you know, Microsoft has sold about five phones, so people don’t seem to care. So, what’s your big takeaway from today?
SG: Apple’s defense is a good offense: new products to keep attention on them. One new device to cover their flank in case smaller tablets take off, but otherwise incremental improvements. You?
AV: I think that’s right. I also think that they’re about to face a massive challenge with corporations looking at the huge wave of Windows 8 tablets coming to market this week, and that Apple basically did not respond to that at all. That surprised me. I thought they would play to big business more.