Is Apple Playing Catch-up or Setting the Pace?

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Breathlessly, Apple fans around the globe await this coming Tuesday, Sept. 9, hoping their technology deity provides newer, better and faster products than the rest of the unwashed masses (i.e. everyone with Android products).  I'm betting there will be some disappointment on that day.

If the latest reports are to be believed, Apple will show two new iPhones with bigger screens, along with Apple's first wearable offering, the iWatch. I'm sure Apple-ites will find revolutionary trendsetting hardware because that's what they come to expect, but if you look past the hype, I think Apple will fall short on at least half of its introductions.

The iWatch will serve as the benchmark for the increasingly crowded wearable space.  Everyone from Huawei to Sony will have a product to clearly compare their offerings, with positioning falling into the buckets of "more affordable," "more features," and "better software, integration and services."

Apple's new wearable will reportedly have better, more accurate sensors for fitness and health tracking, have a flexible display covered by tougher sapphire instead of the industry-standard Gorilla Glass, and wireless charging.  Apple's Handoff software for sharing content seamlessly across devices will play a significant role.

After years of sitting on the fence, Apple is rolling out NFC in the new wearable and new phones.  It appears Apple has been less technically innovative and more deal savvy in (finally) creating an NFC ecosystem the credit card industry can support.  The company did the same thing for music and video with the iTunes Store, and I suspect recent credit card security issues have jumpstarted NFC usage in a "perfect storm."

Speaking of new phones, the biggest buzz is around bigger screen real estate. Current word is a 4.7-inch model and a 5.5-inch model Other leaks indicate a an iPhone case redesign with relocation of the power button from top to right side.

A more radical departure (or catch up with the rest of the world) from Apple tradition are rumors of a Lightning cable with a reversible USB connector. USB is ubiquitous while Lightning has been yet another proprietary "Gotcha!" by Apple engineers.  Designed to replace Apple's proprietary-but-easily-found 30-pin docking connector, official Lightning cables also contain an authentication chip because, well, better to ask Apple. 

Wave away the smoke for a moment and consider the purported improvements in the iPhone 6: NFC, bigger screen, better cable.   Do these sound like big leaps in innovation?  With the exception of the NFC billing ecosystem, there's not a lot of sizzle the iPhone 6.

Apple's iWatch wearable may be its best hope to establish the rules for the product category and generate excitement among the faithful.  The magic of the iPhone is gone and the iPad seems to be on the same path as the phone - incremental improvements, bigger screen, little sizzle.  Apple executives and shareholders will have to hope it is enough to keep the company moving forward and the stock price up.

 
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Contributing Editor

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