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Apple Event Recap: Fall 2022 Launch Event

From building bridges to AR interfaces to making niche products aspirational, here’s what brands can learn from the latest Apple event

Credit: Apple

The new iPhones are coming a little earlier this year, as Apple hosted its fall launch event a week earlier than it has done in previous years. At first glance, this “Far Out” event on Wednesday seemed to offer few real surprises, as the Cupertino company unveiled new lineups for the iPhone and Apple Watch, as well as an update to AirPods Pro. Yet, examining Apple’s announcements across devices and categories reveals some subtle but interesting strategic moves that the tech giant is making to further its dominance in consumer tech, offering interesting lessons for brands and marketers alike to heed.

Bridges to Hands-Free Interfaces

It is no secret at this point that we’re nearing a paradigm shift for computing interfaces with mobile device usage continuing to saturate while mixed reality devices itching closer to, well, reality. Apple itself is reportedly planning to introduce its next-gen AR headset sometime next year. And if you look closely, there are many new features introduced along with the new products that are all about laying the foundation for that interface shift from mobile touchscreens to hands-free headsets.

Dynamic Island feature; Credit:Apple

One of the most noticeable differentiating features between the new iPhone 14 Pro and the current Pro lineup is not in hardware design, but rather a new software-driven feature. The new Pro phones will come with a new pill-shaped notification bar that Apple is calling “Dynamic Island,” which covers the front camera system and can expand and contract based on the type of background activities, live updates, or incoming notifications it displays.

This new feature, along with the new always-on display on the new iPhone 14 Pro that uses a low-power model to eliminate the need to wake your phone before glancing at the time or notifications, are both designed to make it more convenient for users to receive bite-sized information in real time at a glance without having to touch the screen. This glance-oriented information delivery system will be an important part of acclimating iPhone users to the AR and VR headsets of the future, where hands-free interactions are the norm. Not for nothing, glance-based UI design has been at the core of the watchOS from its inception, and Apple Watch users are more familiar with this type of interactions than non-users.

Personalized Spatial Audio; Credit:Apple

Besides subtly training iPhone users to get used to hands-free, glance-based interactions, Apple is also preparing its best customers for the AR future via the audio route. AirPods Pro 2 comes with a new Spatial Audio feature, which allows users to customize how the surround sound system works by mapping out the shapes of their ears and head with the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone. Most AR experts agree that directional audio will play an important role in rounding out the functionality of AR interfaces, and Apple is clearly leveraging the popularity of AirPods to familiarize more users with it. The new AirPods Pro also comes with a new swipe-to-control volume gesture on its stems, which would be interesting gestures to implement for its mixed reality headset UI.

Taken together, these new features on the new iPhones and AirPods point to a future where we receive information by simply glancing at the screen without necessarily tapping it. Building bridges to its upcoming AR headset is no doubt a smart move by Apple to subtly accustom its customers to its “next big thing.”

For brand marketers, it is imperative to start preparing for the emergence of AR interfaces by understanding how user behavior is about to undergo a paradigm shift and engagement will be measured not by “clicks” or “likes,” but by glances, and how willing they will be to allow your notifications to pop up on the home screen.

Reinforcing Brand Trust & Loyalty

At a time when most people have lost their trust in public institutions, brands are stepping in to earn people’s trust and loyalty by addressing pressing concerns around issues like sustainability and data privacy. A recent survey by research firm Edelman found that most people trust businesses despite falling confidence in government and media, and believe that businesses need to do more to address climate change, economic inequality and other pressing issues.

Apple has one of the most valuable brands in the world, and the company has been growing its staple of services to maintain long-term relationships with its customers past the point of sale. For a few years now, Apple has made its privacy protection features a key selling point, and repeatedly tout its various sustainability initiatives in production and packaging to court an increasingly eco-conscious consumer base, and this launch event was no exception. Every new product came with a minute-long spiel on how it is made in an environmentally friendly fashion, and privacy features are frequently mentioned throughout the keynote event.

Apple Watch ovulation cycle tracking; Credit: Apple

In particular, the company took great pains to stress that the new body temperature-based ovulation tracking feature on Apple Watch Series 8 will be fully secure and encrypted, like all health data collected by the Watch, in the wake of the post-Roe reality where menstrual cycle tracking data could be misused to persecute women.

Perhaps more interestingly, Apple also introduced a couple of potentially life-saving safety features to the new iPhone, including a “Crash Detection” feature that will automatically dial 911 if it detects you’ve been in a car crash, and a new “SOS via Satelite” feature that will allow people lost in the wild to call for help via satellite connectivity.

SOS via Satelite

Apple Watch already has a reputation for saving lives, and Apple has certainly been leaning into this angle in its marketing materials as well. In fact, this keynote event opened with a video of Apple Watch users reading their thank-you letters to the company after Apple Watch saved their lives, or the lives of their loved ones. Now with more survival-oriented emergency contact features added to the iPhone and available to millions of users, Apple is making one thing clear — it wants to be a brand that you can trust your life with.

Taken together, Apple’s multifaceted loyalty play is a good case study in building brand trust. Not only is the company aiming to extend the life cycle loyalty of its products via various services and aligning with consumer value, it is also eager to hammer home its privacy and emergency contact features that make people feel safe and protected. Granted, not every brand is in a position to foster such intimate feelings via their products and services, but every brand marketer should at least consider leveraging sustainability and privacy initiatives to build brand trust.

Niche Products Made Aspirational

Apple is a mass market brand, especially given the popularity of its flagship product, the iPhone. Earlier this week, the Financial Times reported the iPhone overtook the entire Android ecosystem in June to claim 50% of the U.S. market share, the highest it has ever been. Yet, the one brand new product Apple introduced on Wednesday was decidedly a niche-market product — Apple Watch Ultra is a rugged smartwatch designed for professional athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. Some aptly called it “the SUV of smartwatches.” It came with a ton of features meant for extreme sports and outdoor explorations. For example, there’s a dual-frequency GPS that integrates new positioning algorithms for the most accurate GPS of any Apple Watch to date. It can be used as a companion device for hiking, mountain climbing, and even scuba diving. Of course, it also features a bigger screen and a longer battery life.

Apple Watch Ultra

By all accounts, Apple Watch Ultra is a niche product aimed at a small audience segment that may need those souped-up features. Yet, Apple keeps using words like “recreational” and “adventure” when introducing the product during the keynote, signaling that this could be positioned as an aspirational product that people would purchase as a motivator to get into a more active lifestyle, especially as an upgrade for the existing Apple Watch users. This is particularly relevant to a larger trend, which we identified in our 2022 Outlook trend report, of increasing consumer demand for escapist experiences after being confined to our homes for over two years. While some may seek refuge in the digital world, for those who already are constantly online, escaping into the great outdoors is also becoming more and more common.

Let’s put the Ultra edition aside for a minute. Seven years since its debut, the regular Apple Watch is still a relatively niche product compared to the ubiquitousness of iPhones, even as the most popular wrist-wearable product in the market. For many Apple users, its set of fitness and health-oriented features remains entirely optional and largely aspirational. Yet, coming out of the pandemic, more people are starting to prioritize their health and wellbeing, and Apple is smartly positioning the Watch as a wellness assistant. However, Apple has announced that the 9.99/month Fitness+ service will be made available to all iPhone users in 21 countries this fall, regardless of whether they own an Apple Watch, presumably positioning the service as a loss leader to draw more users into the Watch ecosystem.

New Action Mode for iPhone 14 Pro models

A similar argument could be made for the camera improvements on the new iPhones. For a few years now, Apple has been touting the iterative upgrades to its smartphone cameras as major selling points for upgrading your phone. The smartphone camera is at a place where most people would be happy with its quality for daily use, and most of the new computational photography features added in the latest iPhones are geared towards the “prosumers” and content creators who want to produce professional-grade video content without the expensive professional camera rigs and lighting equipment. The new video stabilization feature, Action Mode, coming to the new iPhone 14 Pro models is a latest example of such features designed to appeal to the aspirational consumers.

Want to Learn More?

If you are keen to learn more about Apple’s latest announcements and their marketing implications, or simply to chat broadly about how to adapt to changing user behaviors and future-proof your brand strategies, the Lab is here to help. You can start a conversation by reaching out to Josh Mallalieu (josh@ipglab.com).

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Richard Yao

Richard Yao

Manager of Strategy & Content, IPG Media Lab