Stung by criticism, Apple rejuvenated its computers while launching a home voice assistant

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If you were expecting the traditional “and one more thing” from Apple’s big announcements this week, you would’ve been disappointed. Those days are long gone. Under the tyrannical rule of Steve Jobs, where suppliers and would-be leakers were terrified of the omerta imposed by the fanatical and secretive co-founder, such leaks would never be tolerated. This chokehold has slowly loosened under the less maniacal Tim Cook. Meanwhile Apple, reeling from accurate scorn of its lacklustre MacBook Pro update last year and harsh criticism about the lack of new high-end Mac desktops, this year took the unprecedented step of pre-announcing updates to these seemingly neglected product lines.

The Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) each June is generally where Apple announces updates to its various operating systems (OS), with the odd product announcement.

Monday’s night’s six major announcements were therefore widely known and predictable. In chronological order, leading up to the biggest, Cook and his team announced: new tvOS (including Amazon Prime Video now being available on the Apple TV); updates to the Apple Watch’s watchOS; a new version of the desktop macOS (called High Sierra, after last year’s Sierra); and updates to iOS, specifically with new features for iPads.

Apple announced the new US$4,999 (R63,000) iMac Pro, its most powerful all-in-one iMac yet, and its answer to accusations that it is ignoring its core market of video-editing professionals. Also amongst the updates to the desktop line-up, which Apple has been accused of overlooking for the iPhone (that accounts for two thirds of revenue) are revamped iMacs with boosted screen resolution and processors; as well as speed bumps for its MacBook laptops.

The much-rumoured iPad Pro 10.5 (for its 10.5-inch screen) was revealed, as well as an updated version of the much-larger 12.9-inch model. The software now includes a proper file manager, an app dock, app switcher, and the ability to drag and drop between apps. While MacOS has increasingly started feeling like iOS, the iPad version of the latter is looking more and more like the former.

The final and biggest announcement was another poorly-kept secret: an Amazon Alexa and Google Home voice assistant competitors called the HomePod. Looking typically Apple-eque and enabled for Apple’s own Siri, it contains numerous speakers and microphones and is being described in the usual hyperbole Jobs would appreciate as a “breakthrough home speaker” that will “rock the house”. It’s also designed to take on Sonos, the market leaders in wireless speaker systems. Both voice assistants and speakers have not Apple’s forte, but the $349 HomePod is its response. When it releases in December we’ll have a better idea of how good it is.

Meanwhile Apple has been keen to let us know how well its services division is doing. So far 180bn apps have been downloaded and it has paid $70bn to developers, who receive a 30% cut of the total cost of an app.

Apple has been stung in recent years by falling iPhone sales and criticism that it’s lost its mojo – which the neglected iMac, Mac Pro and MacBook Pro seemed to demonstrate. This week’s announcement is more focussed on restoring these computers to fighting fit – as Windows 10 and Microsoft’s own Surface tablets and laptops have given the Mac maker a serious run for its money. Apple needs a home run with this week’s news and new devices.

This column first appeared in Financial Mail

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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