As a Data Specialist for two product categories tracked by gap intelligence, tablets and smartphones, I’ve always felt as though I’m in a unique position to observe the differences, similarities, and overlapping trends between the two markets more so than the average consumer would be. In fact, a lot of the data that I see come through on a weekly basis would probably never even be noticed by the casual observer. However, over the last few weeks following Apple’s recent press event announcing the iPhone SE and a 9.7-inch variant of the iPad Pro, I’ve been barraged with tons of data surrounding both new product offerings, where they’re available for purchase, and for how much. As the data was pouring in, one night I went home and told my wife, who uses multiple Apple devices on a regular basis, about the crazy week I was having because of the new iPhone and iPad. Her response spoke volumes… “What new iPhone and iPad?” That got me to thinking… Since I tend to see certain things that the average consumer might not, is this huge influx of iPhone SE and iPad Pro data I’ve experienced in recent weeks as visible and meaningful to the outside world as it is to me? Furthermore, have any of Apple’s recent product unveilings been as significant in terms of generating public excitement as their past launches?

Have the Mighty Fallen?

It doesn’t seem too long ago that Apple launch events were front page, top story news. The anticipation surrounding what technology the company would unveil next was legitimately exciting to general consumers and industry watchers alike and, once announced, people couldn’t wait to get their hands on Apple’s latest and greatest gadgetry. Footage of Apple Store customers lined-up around the block to be the first to own the next iPad or iPhone was standard, and feverish online preorders resulting in subsequent two-week back orders, albeit frustrating to impatient buyers, were simply to be expected.

iPad 4 consumers

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Nowadays, it seems as though the feeling has changed. Recent Apple unveiling events have still been covered thoroughly by tech reporters, but have also seemingly been met with ho-hum response from the national press and general public. Additionally, some of the latest iterations of the iPhone and iPad lines have been criticized for what some would consider a lack of features, improvements, and innovation over previous generations.

From Top-Line to Punchline

In the case of the aforementioned iPhone SE, for example, many found Apple’s decision to revert back to the smaller size of the iPhone 5 series, despite beefed-up hardware specs and capabilities, to be a step backwards in terms of design aesthetics. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel even recently aired a segment where random people on the street were asked to describe the difference between the older iPhone 5 and the new iPhone SE, but were actually just given two iPhone 5’s to compare. The results were, needless to say, hilarious, and also lent some credence to the idea that the general public is having a harder time than ever telling newer Apple products apart from older ones.

Following the company’s launch event, many also took to Twitter to offer their opinions on what the latest iPhone’s “SE” stands for (it really stands for Special Edition), with such entries as “smaller experience,” “senseless edition,” and “spares & extras.” Clearly such responses suggest that, at least for some, a product’s external design counts as much, if not more so, than what kind of guts it’s packing inside when it comes to its perceived innovation.

Pontiac Grand Prix SE

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As for the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, much like the iPhone SE that was announced alongside it, it represents the squeezing of a preexisting high-end device into a smaller, more familiar-looking body, in this case, that of the iPad Air 2. The smaller iPad Pro essentially offers the same core features as those of the original 12.9-inch model, Apple’s answer to the growing detachable 2-in-1 product segment, but in a more compact chassis which Apple claims to be its most popular size-class. Fair enough, but doesn’t this storyline sound slightly familiar?

Not long ago in May 2014, Microsoft introduced the game-changing Surface Pro 3 convertible, before following it up nearly a year later with the smaller and more affordable, albeit less powerful, Surface 3. Combined, the two Surface lines became extremely popular, appealing to a broad consumer base encompassing both entry-level and high-end budgets. Meanwhile, speculation surrounding a possible Apple launch of a detachable 2-in-1 device continued to swirl, until it finally came to fruition in September 2015, 16 months after the Surface Pro 3 was unveiled. Flash forward to the present day, and Apple has already launched a smaller version of its iPad Pro just 6 months later. Granted, the smaller iPad Pro packs the same punch as the larger model, whereas the Surface 3 was a stripped-down version of the Surface Pro 3, but the point here is that trends create perceptions. One criticism of the iPad Pro when it finally did launch was that it didn’t happen until nearly a year-and-a-half after the Surface Pro 3 debuted. And now, with the subsequent introduction of a smaller iPad Pro, it could appear as though Apple is, once again, following the lead of Microsoft’s Surface line rather than taking the lead itself. Apple used to be known as the company that set the trends, not followed them, so in terms of public perception, such trends could help explain why recent Apple launches have seemingly been met with less fanfare than in the past. Apple just hasn’t appeared to be the first to the party as of late.

The Paradox of Choice

And the iPad Pro and iPhone SE are just the latest examples of what seems to be a longer string than ever of misfires as far as products that generate public excitement are concerned, at least by Apple’s high standards. One could argue that the tide began to turn with the passing of former CEO Steve Jobs in 2011. Jobs was often praised for his simplistic approach to Apple’s product lineup, wherein the ease and styling of the company’s gadgetry was what was really a big hit with consumers, not coming up with a gazillion different products and ramming them down their throats. Now, however, under current CEO Tim Cook, it seemingly appears as though that model has somewhat changed. To use the iPhone and iPad lines as an example, Apple now currently offers five different models of each, all in an even more vast array of color and storage options. For the average consumer, so many options can become rather overwhelming and confusing, particularly if there aren’t always discernable differences between them, as, once again, has been the recent knock on Apple.

Compare iPhone and iPad models

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Another departure from Jobs’ philosophy can also be seen simply in the types of devices Apple now produces. In 2010, Jobs famously discussed his disdain for a new wave of smaller tablets hitting the market, arguing that a 10-inch display should be the minimum size required for tablet apps. A year after his passing, however, the iPad mini was introduced. Another famous Jobs rant concerned his criticism of the stylus, during which he argued that “God gave us 10 styluses. Let’s not invent another one.” Lo and behold, 4 years later, the iPad Pro was born with, you guessed it, Apple Pencil stylus compatibility. Of course, it’s worth noting that the iPad mini has been among Apple’s best-selling iPads, and that the Apple Pencil stylus’ success will be determined by that of the iPad Pro, but the advent of such devices just serves as another example of how the company’s strategies have changed since Jobs’ passing.

Ultimately, however, it’s perceived innovation that fuels public excitement. As previously mentioned, earlier generations of the iPad and iPhone lines were met with enormous response because, frankly, the world had never seen anything like them before, and every generation that followed seemed light years ahead of the previous one in terms of improvements and capabilities, leading to even more frenzy for the latest iterations. Nowadays, and with each Apple press event that passes, the improvements made to existing iPhone and iPad lines are regularly referred to as “incremental.” The dazzle of Apple’s innovation has been replaced by nominal enhancements to already-existing products, and the public either can’t seem to tell the difference, or it’s simply not exciting enough to care about in the first place.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

To be clear, though, Apple is not going anywhere. The company is calculated in its strategic plan, and these “incremental” improvements could very well all play into that strategy. In order to remain relevant and appeal to a larger consumer base, a company must continue to make improvements to existing product lines even if they are perceived to be minimal. In the cases of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the iPhone SE, both models represent more affordable alternatives to their most recent predecessors, also making them more attractive options to a wider range of consumers.

Furthermore, Apple could not feasibly just decide to take a year or two off from introducing any new products while it develops its next mind-blowing, frenzy-inducing device… And that’s the crazy thing, it could already be happening. While we’re here talking about how Apple’s recent product launches haven’t lived up to the company’s standards, for all we know they could be in the lab as we speak cooking up something that will change the world as we know it, again. In fact, they probably are. It’s Apple, that’s what they do.

For all of his famous quotes, one of Steve Jobs’ most well-known (and most popular at gap intelligence) was that Apple is here “to put a dent in the universe.” The company has already long since succeeded to that end, but it shouldn’t and wouldn’t shock anyone if that dent became exceeding larger in the foreseeable future. So while recent perceptions surrounding Apple’s latest product launches have felt somewhat lackluster compared to those of the past, rest assured that Apple Store lines will once again wrap around the block and multi-week back orders will just be part of the experience once “incremental” becomes “monumental” again.