Apple is increasingly shipping hardware products with specific features that are crazy overkill — far more power than is necessary or even usable.
Here’s why I think that when it comes to some technology features, too much is just right.
The most surprising feature of the iPhone 5S is its 64-bit A7 processor, the only smartphone to have a 64-bit chip of any kind. Let’s face it: A 64-bit processor is overkill for a smartphone.
One advantage of a chip like that is that it can use 4 GB of RAM, which is already way more than the iPhone 5s comes with (1 GB) or, for that matter, more than any smartphone comes with, to the best of my knowledge. There are almost no 64-bit, third-party apps available.
The Mac Pro is more computer than just about anybody needs — certainly more than the vast majority of the people who buy one need. It’s twice as fast as the old version, and features the ability to push more graphics out to more displays than any but a tiny minority of users will ever even attempt. For example, it can drive six 27-inch displays. More impressively, it can power three 4K screens simultaneously.
Benchmark numbers mean nothing to most users. One measure of Mac Pro’s overkill power is the price, which everyone is zeroing in on as an outrageous excess and an example of Apple gouging. However, Futurelooks’ Editor-In-Chief Stephen Fung speced out a $9,599 Mac Pro, then calculated what it would cost to build a comparably powered PC from parts available online. The price came out to $11,530.54.
So in PC terms, assuming a strong correlation between performance and price, the Mac Pro dream system is equivalent to an $11,500 Windows PC (actually, more if you add Windows…). That’s more power than just about anybody needs.
And finally, rumors suggest that Apple is testing or planning a 12.9-inch iPad with touch screen that’s “almost ultra high-definition (UHD).”
A 4K or near-4K screen on a 12.9-inch tablet would be conspicuously excessive, wouldn’t it? Come to think of it, isn’t a 12.9-inch iPad a bit much as well?
Why is Apple on such a power trip? Why sell hardware products with processing capabilities and specs that almost nobody needs, and that many can’t even take advantage of?
Why Too Much Is Just Right
The cynical, anti-Apple view about all this is that Apple sells grossly overpowered machines as a marketing gimmick. They just want to throw numbers around as part of their pitch to differentiate their products from the rest.
Another negative view is that while some Apple’s products are over-powered, others are under-powered. Handy examples include the iPhone’s tiny screen, or the fact that the iPad Air has only 1 GB of RAM.
I think Apple’s hardware overkill be madness, yet there is method in it.
The best example from the past I can think of was the premature introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) into the iPhone 4s, a product introduced in October 2011 when no other phone supported BLE and, more importantly, almost no connectable products existed.
Why add a connectivity feature when there’s nothing to connect with? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to wait until the iPhone 5, or even the iPhone 5s or 5c?
Launching hardware too advanced for anybody to use has three huge benefits:
1. Strongly set direction and encourage third-party support. It takes a village to raise a platform. By building BLE into the iPhone 4s (and every other subsequent phone, tablet and laptop), Apple very clearly made the world safe for BLE devices and support. Likewise for other extreme hardware features. Apple tells software developers and hardware makers: This is happening. Get busy and support this a.s.a.p.
2. Future-proofing. Apple is often accused of making “disposable” devices, and some of those criticisms are valid. But if we’re going to slam Apple for making devices with user non-removable batteries and put together with glue, rather than screws, we also need to give Apple credit for future proofing products when they do so. Over-specing the hardware is one way to future-proof. If you buy a Mac Pro for example, you’re probably set for a decade (especially given the fact that Mac Pro is CPU-upgradable). Advanced features extend the amount of time until you’ll feel the need to buy a replacement.
3. Laying the groundwork for broader future initiatives. Most importantly, overkill Apple hardware is always part of a larger strategy. For example, as we learned about Apple’s “indoor GPS” initiative, called iBeacon, it quickly became clear that any Apple device supporting BLE can function not only as a receiver, but as a beacon! Because Apple had been seeding the planet with BLE devices for more than two years, the hardware for Apple’s iBeacon system has already been deployed at scale. Instead of doing what companies normally do, which is to say that “we’ve got this amazing new system that will be wonderful once the necessary hardware eventually becomes mainstream,” Apple says: “We’ve got this amazing new system that’s wonderful NOW, because the necessary hardware is already mainstream.” The same goes for 64-bit phones, outrageously over-powered desktops and ridiculously high-resolution iPads.
Apple’s hardware overkill looks pointless at first but brilliant in hindsight. What’s too much today is just right tomorrow.
I only wish other companies did more of this, too.