Welcome to our weekend Apple Breakfast column, which includes all of the Apple news you missed this week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.
The power of low expectations
One of our most widely read articles this week was a minute-by-minute preview of the Far Out event, posted by our in-house psychic (me) the day before. This was partly an excuse to write jokes about Apple’s marketing mannerisms, but it ended up being reasonably accurate, predicting all eight of the products unveiled and quite a lot of the details.
This predictability was itself predictable, since the general feeling these days is that Apple can’t keep a secret. And it’s pretty difficult to conceal the existence of a massively hyped new product while manufacturing 95 million units in a supply chain on the other side of the world.
But against all odds Apple did find a way to spring a few surprises. Whereas the physical design of a product needs to be shared with your manufacturing partners, for example, the name of that product does not, and as far as I’m aware nobody predicted that the rugged Apple Watch would get the name Ultra. Nor did anyone leak its price, and here at Macworld we were pleasantly surprised that the Ultra costs $799 rather than $999 or more.
The biggest surprise of the keynote, however, was the Dynamic Island, a masterstroke that might just have turned a hardware defeat into a software victory. Like the notch before them, the cameras and sensors at the top of the iPhone 14 Pro are fundamentally a compromise: we give up a little screen space in a potentially distracting area because the alternatives—from the notch and Home button to weak under-screen cameras—are worse. Apple’s screen cutouts are a necessary disappointment customers need to swallow in order to get other good stuff. It’s the sort of thing, in other words, to breeze past in the keynote so to not make it a big deal.
Apple, though, made it the single biggest deal of the entire presentation. The name and the bravado with which it was introduced—including a mission statement about making notifications “rich and delightful”—seemed almost laughable until we saw the feature itself: a dynamic interface area that grows and shrinks to give relevant information while disguising the sensors. For once, the hype was fully justified. It’s a neat, cute and extremely clever way to make a virtue of necessity, giving the 14 Pro an instant sense of personality and huge potential for usability.
A design as smart as this would do well in any context. But the best thing about the Dynamic Island’s launch is the way it emerged to a background of zero expectations. Like a parent walking into the cinema to watch the second Frozen film, keynote viewers had been led to expect something actively bad and annoying. And just as that parent was delighted by the empowering storyline and killer tunes, iPhone buyers gained a source of pleasure where none was expected.
Regulatory filings, patent applications, supply-chain leaks and media hyper-scrutiny mean it’s unlikely that Apple will ever again manage to spring a completely surprising new product on an unsuspecting world. But at the Far Out event we got a glimpse of what the company can do instead, which is to under-promise and over-deliver. And keep launching the next right thing, of course.
Some of iOS 16’s best features won’t make it into Monday’s launch. You’ll need to wait a little longer.
And with that, we’re done for this week. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter for breaking news stories. See you next Saturday, enjoy your weekend, and stay Appley.