Apple's Latest Laptop Release May Hurt Sales
This past October, Apple announced its newest line of laptop computers. As with most new laptops, they featured faster performance, longer battery life and less weight to heft around. However, these were not the features that captured the attention of the audience.
Apple introduced something entirely new that enveloped two thirds of the event. These models deliver an unusual feature- a Touch Bar. It allows the user to have a more intuitive experience with applications by replacing the function keys with a control set that adapts to what features you are using in an application.
If you take the time to watch Apple’s event video, they demonstrate the Touch Bar and how it works with a wide array of applications. This Touch Bar replaces the traditional function keys and adapts to the features you are accessing in an application. For example, if you are editing a photo, it might show you a color adjustment bar but if you are cropping that same photo, it will change to present resizing tools. After watching these events for several years, I have to admit that this was one of the most compelling demonstrations I have seen since the original iPhone.
With that said, I see a significant problem for Apple concerning their timing. The new Apple MacBook Pro line, which takes advantage of the Touch Bar technology, will be released during the next three weeks. I am sure that Apple enjoyed a great many pre-orders. Where I see the problem is that there was no mention of their desktop line, the iMac.
The entire iMac lineup is based upon the old paradigm of function keys. If I were in the market for a new iMac, I would consider waiting until the desktops are refreshed with this new interaction paradigm. My atypical concern as a consumer is: how long will this expensive thing that I am buying last? By touting that the change is revolutionary (and many would of course agree), Apple is by definition saying that Macs without this interaction model are out of date.
The day after the event, I was in the Apple Store in Palo Alto looking at the systems and indeed, I heard people ask when iMacs were going to be refreshed with the new Touch Bar technology.
As a general rule for product managers, my advice to all is to shift usability paradigms as a fleet rather than by individual products. It avoids creating orphans out of various aspects of your product line and avoids revenue drop-offs.
This does not mean that iMac sales will fall off. There are lots of criteria that consumers apply for making a purchasing decision that can keep sales flying high…but…you will not see me betting money that sales will be as colorful and explosive as the future of the Touch Bar..