Apple put out a number of great products this year. The latest entrant is one that I have not seen, and will likely never be able to put through its paces. I am refering to the Mac Pro released just days ago. Though it does not win this year's award, it is an example of how great the offerings were. If the Mac Pro is the loser, what could posibly be the winner? Let's find out...
And the winner is...
the iPad Air.
I live on my iPhone 5s, so it was hard not to choose it. But utility alone, is not enough to claim a prestigious award such as this. All of Apple's products provide excellent utility. Innovation must also be taken into account. That said, I find Touch ID and the dual LED xenon flash to be to of the most innovative technologies of the year. Touch ID changes the way I enter act with my iPhone. The new flash system transforms flash photography. Even so, innovation only goes so far. Ultimately, it is all about experience. The experience of using an iPhone is improved. But the experience of using an iPad is improved even more.
Chopping a third of the weight from the iPad 4 was no small feat. Traditionally, the iPad is one of the most densely packed, consumer electronic items on the market. Inside is a giant battery with a mother board attached. There is hardly room for air to circulate. What happens when you take a device like that and double the power while increasing the battery life? If it was anyone but Apple, it would get bigger and heavier. Instead, Apple made it considerably smaller, and a third lighter. In the process, it also got a lot cooler under load. That's innovation and industrial design at its best.
The iPhone 5s, for all its power, utility, and innovation, is still a smartphone at the end of the day. The iPad Air redefines a category. With desktop-class processing that hit an entire industry in its gut, the A7-weilding iPad Air is legitimately, a notebook replacement. The hardware is ready. The ecosystem could still use a few more, desktop-class applications. Apple also needs to add full keyboard support for touch typists. I strongly suspect that these things will be coming with the rumored, iPad Pro early next year. In the meantime, for many people, the iPad Air is all the notebook they need.
From a competitive perspective, the iPad Air is the only tablet on the market that matters. For almost four years, competitors have thrown all of their engineering and marketing muscle against the iPad. Apple cannot make an iPad commercial that is not parodied, copied, or otherwise, ripped apart by other tablet makers. If a tablet is not like the iPad, who would want it? If it is like the iPad, why not just get the iPad? It is a horrible place to be for non-iPad manufacturers. The only oxygen in the competitive room is a the ultra-low end, where the air, and profits are both extremely thin.
We are presently in a transition where the tablet is becoming the new PC. The iPad is leading the way by a wide margin. Microsoft's tablet PC offerings run a distant second. Between Windows 8 and Windows RT, Microsoft's tablet strategy appears desperate, schizophrenic, and confused. Their problem? The iPad. For competitors, the iPad is a question with no good answers. Microsoft's approach to the problem looks something like this:
Microsoft believes that tablets should be hybrid notebooks running Windows and Office, only with awkward touch screens. That way, you can pretend to have something like an iPad, while actually being stuck with the only solution Microsoft offers for every problem: a PC running Windows and Office. Android manufacturers, on the other hand, are content to just offer cheap, iPad knockoffs. Their slogan seems to be, "It's just like an iPad, only crappier. But, hey, at least it's cheap!" Another slogan they could use is, "Put a case on it, and people will not be able to tell that you don't really have an iPad." For its part, Google has done little to help its partners answer the iPad question.
Finally, I want to briefly mention HP. In a very real sense, the iPad single-handedly took down that mighty empire. For the longest time, HP has been the hardware fulfillment of Redmond's software vision. Every HP tablet failure (which is every HP tablet) was brought to you by Microsoft. Faced with the iPad, HP was forced to try something radically different. They bought Palm, and WebOS. They presented a product that so closely cloned the iPad, they actually altered the dimensions and specs at the last minute so that the TouchPad would fit in the iPad case that Apple was shipping at the time. HP sold their already lost soul for a handful of magic beans. In their effort to become Apple, they nearly lost the company.
In the face of the iPad Air, HP waves the white flag. They are out of the iPad cloning game, and are reduced to making Chromebooks, poorly. Dell has gone private, and can no longer be bothered to pretend to care what is going on in the broader, consumer electronics market. Like HP, the company formerly known as RIM tried to take a bite out of the iPad, and bit the dust instead. Amazon is reduced to parodying Jony Ive and Bob Mansfield: two of the greatest tech talents on the planet, and producing misleading ads about the size of their tablet offering compared to the iPad Air. Utterly shameful!
This is why the iPad Air is the product of the year. It stands alone atop the mountain of PC transition. It has caused giants to become dwarves, and dwarves to become fools. Every non-iPad, marketing dollar has been aimed squarely at the iPad Air. Competitors have fired everything to no avail. They can only watch, gobsmacked, as the distance between their products and the iPad increases. The iPad Air has left competitors without strategy or clue. No other product has so flummoxed the industry since the iPhone. If the iPad has left competitors desperate and confused, the iPad Air has left them completely pantsed and defeated.