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Apple’s latest event proves the value of its ecosystem bet

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils the iPad Pro

Apple has had another autumn event, announcing (the usual) iPhones. But it also showcased a new iPad, a game-changer for Apple TV, updates to Apple Watch, and – perhaps most importantly – a subtle reminder that it’s the biggest company in the world with important friends, and loyal user-advocates.

Starting with the iPad Pro… Make no mistake, Apple has announced a beautiful beast of a machine that is entirely designed to kill the enterprise’s reliance on the desktop. Apple hasn’t always played well with others but after successful deals with the likes of IBM and Cisco, it’s playing with – and being lauded by – the big boys. I mean, even Microsoft (yes, THAT Microsoft) came on stage yesterday and celebrated Apple hardware and software.

Apple TV is another progression that makes sense of the company’s power and strength. Years ago, rumours led us to believe that Apple would buy Nintendo. By leveraging its TV platform for gaming, it doesn’t need to. The ecosystem just got even stronger by linking all of your Apple devices to the big screen you use just as often. Embedding an app store environment, leveraging strong partners, and making the user experience easier (which, after all, is what Apple is famed for), will do the trick. Expect new direct subscriptions, exclusive partnerships, original content, and big hires in this space. I personally hope none of these remain too focused on the North American market.

The real star of the Apple TV announcement was Siri. She’s come of age – and is bloody smart. Every ecosystem needs bridging links – to hold everything together. We’ve been conditioned over the last decade that that was search (and by search, I mean Google). Now, search is personal – and it’ll be a race to the top for virtual personal assistants. Microsoft’s Cortana, OK Google, M by Facebook Messenger (etc) are all in the race – but Apple’s Siri is the only one that stretches across an entire hardware/software integration as large as Apple’s.

The updates for Apple Watch were exactly what we expected, with focus on watchOS, extending the capability of the still-new devices. Playing to the ecosystem further, the company’s ambition to merge technology and finance seems to be working. The durability of the big-buy item (the Apple Watch) plus the trend-led seasonality items (like new straps) echoes luxury brands well. Just think of Burberry’s ‘£1,200 trench plus £200 scarf’ strategy. There’s no denying Angela Ahrendts is helping here.

The other point of note from the Apple Watch section of the keynote was the partnership with Hermes. Hermes is one of the hardest-to-access luxury brands and the fact Apple has signed what looks to be an equal-control deal with such an iconic brand sets out its ambitions clearly. Apple is technology, Apple is fashion. People crave both.

The new iPhones are more of an upgrade than we usually expect from the ’S’ interstitial launch. Ground-up hardware changes are impressive (the new 12MP camera, 3DTouch, the faster TouchID etc) but the hook here is ecosystem integration. The new features plus iOS9 combine to make an upgrade attractive, even to people who forked out for an iPhone 6 less than a year ago. This, again, is an ecosystem play – pulling users more and more in to a perfect universe where – as Steve Jobs coined – everything just works.

Imagine:

Paying for your train home with ApplePay on Apple Watch, you start watching a Netflix episode on your iPhone. When you get home you hand-off seamlessly to your iPad where you split-screen with a recipe app while you cook dinner. After dinner, you switch again to Apple TV, where you finish your episodes, check sports results using Siri, then play a game, stopping to FaceTime your friend to arrange dinner the next night. Which you simultaneously book on your iPhone with Siri’s assistance. A quick run after dinner, using Apple Watch to record your distance and Apple Music to ensure you stick to the beat, you come home and share your Activity with your personal trainer, Doctor, and health insurance company.

You’re locked in to Apple. And, whilst that’s not for everyone, it certainly is for many people.

Apple is still – by far – the most profitable player in all of the spaces in which it operates. That all mostly comes back to its original bet of hardware+software, but this ecosystem has brought something else that attracts users and generates profits: important friends. The rally call for Apple on stage yesterday, from key influencers like Adobe and Gilt (not forgetting Microsoft, which is still hard to fathom!), was as impressive as the product strategy itself.

One more thing… Nobody missed Apple’s love affair with digital health yesterday. Whilst its corporate and enterprise deals are important, the R&D, discretionary spend, and total budgets in healthcare are huge. Every doctor on the planet will be buying an iPad Pro.

Craig Le Grice is founder of Hub And Lab. He tweets @CraigLeGrice

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