Apple’s Phil Schiller may have put it best when, more than an hour into the company’s media event Thursday, he said there was yet another “small update” to share.
Because that’s essentially what the 80-minute presentation boiled down to: a series of small, incremental upgrades and minor announcements that were a stark comparison with the company’s media spectacle a month ago when it launched two new iPhones and the Apple Watch.
“Everyone has become a little inured to these events at this point and it’s hard to impress,” said J. P. Gownder, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “It sounded underwhelming, but ultimately there were some important things that will determine the future of how Apple’s business succeeds or fails in the next few months.”
As expected, there’s a new iPad — the iPad Air 2 — which is thinner and faster than ever, available in gold, and has an anti-reflective coating that reduces glare. The new tablet comes with more camera features and Touch ID, a fingertip scanner on the home button that can be used to unlock the tablet and approve online purchases.
Apple also brought Touch ID and a gold option to its iPad Mini 3.
Before showing off the new iPads, Chief Executive Tim Cook said Apple had sold more than 225 million iPads in the four years since its debut.
But sales of iPads — and tablets in general — have been cooling off. Year-over-year iPad sales have declined two quarters in a row, falling 9% to 13.3 million units sold in the three months ended June 28.
“The issue remains that Apple iPhones and larger-screen phones are cannibalizing iPad sales, and that’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Brian Colello, an analyst at Morningstar.
Although iPhones could be cutting into tablet sales, Gownder said his hunch is that the decline may be due more to a “refresh” problem: People who already own iPads don’t feel compelled to replace them with new ones.
“This could be the device that could convince people to upgrade their old iPads,” he said.
Others aren’t convinced. With only minimal changes to the iPad lineup, it’s “not enough to justify an upgrade,” said Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director for tablets at IDC.
Held on Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., campus, the event also had its share of disappointments, notably the absence of a specific release date for the Apple Watch — Cook stuck with his previous “early next year” time frame — and the lack of a 12.9-inch iPad, as had been rumored. The iPad Air 2 has a 9.7-inch display; a larger iPad is now expected in the first half of next year.
“Everyone is waiting for the bigger iPad. That will be game-changing,” Bouchard said. “You need multi-tasking or multi-screen, so the current-size screens are not allowing for true productivity.”
Customers hoping to get an update on Apple TV were also left to wait for the next event, or possibly even longer.
Cook did provide an update on Apple Pay, the new mobile payment system that will enable users to pay for purchases at retail stores with their iPhones and, eventually, Apple Watches using a technology called near-field communication. Apple Pay will also be integrated into certain apps, so consumers can use the feature to pay for their online purchases instead of reaching for a credit card.
“We believe Apple Pay is going to be huge,” Cook said. “It’s going to change the way we pay for things.”
Apple Pay will launch Monday at major retailers including McDonald’s, Macy’s, Walgreens, Office Depot, Nike, Bloomingdale’s and Petco and is being supported by Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Cook said an additional 500 banks had signed on to the platform since the company’s September launch event, where Apple Pay was introduced.
Apple also released its Yosemite OS X desktop operating system as a free update in the App Store on Thursday and unveiled the latest iMac, which boasts an incredibly sharp display that Apple called Retina 5K. The 27-inch display has 14.7 million pixels, which Apple said was seven times more pixels than a high-definition television. It comes at a premium price: $2,499.
All told, Cook said the various devices constituted “the strongest lineup of products that Apple has ever had.”
“We believe each one of these play a very important role. People need different types of technology for the way they live their lives,” Cook said. “This is our vision of personal technology.”
Shares of Apple fell $1.28, or 1.3%, to $96.26.