Apple gets cheap

The company’s big spring announcement boils down to… lower prices.

Apple’s high-profile media events have grown into massive occasions where the whole world gathers to watch the company make important announcements about new products that change the face of the industry and how consumers use technology.

The big news at this weeks’ Apple event, however, wasn’t really about technology at all. Instead, the takeaway was lower prices. Specifically, a $100 price cut for the Apple Watch and a new smaller iPhone SE model with a sub-$400 price tag. Oh, and some new watchbands and a new iPad Pro for the world to try and figure out what to do with.

Really? That’s it? Watchbands?!

See also: The 11 most significant announcements made by Apple

Don’t get me wrong, I like lower prices. Less is more, if you know what I mean. And Apple prices have historically been too high for many people to afford. It’s about time the company made a concerted effort to share its premium products with a broader audience. But I see a couple of issues here.

A more affordable iPhone

First, let’s look at the iPhone SE, which seems designed to combat the proliferation of cheap but decent Android phones around the world. Depending on how you look at it, the $399 iPhone SE is the least expensive iPhone ever made, and yet it has pretty much the same internal components and performance as the top-of-the-line iPhone 6s.

See also: Apple challenges Android with a $399 iPhone and MS Surface with a smaller iPad Pro

Except, of course, for that relatively tiny 4-inch screen and the measly 16GB of memory. While small phones may have been acceptable a few years ago, these days most people want the biggest screen they can get, a fact even Apple must know with the release—and success— of the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus. And let’s face it, 16GB is simply not enough storage for a modern smartphone.

Sure, there’s no doubt a small subset of smartphone buyers with small hands and/or small pockets who actually want a small phone. But nobody wants 16GB. For most people, the iPhone SE will be the iPhone they can afford, not the one they really want.

See also: Why Apple's rumored 4-inch iPhone doesn't make sense

The Apple Watch gets cheaper

Then there’s the Apple Watch. The $100 price cut in the entry-level model here is real, not just a way to let folks pay less for an inferior product. That’s a good thing. Unless and until the Apple Watch—or any smartwatch—becomes a must-have accessory, the lower price is essential to help it compete with cheaper fitness bands that offer much of the same functionality with less complexity. And the WatchOS update doesn’t hurt, but seems unlikely to be the deciding factor in a purchase.

And then there’s the new watchbands. I have long maintained that when it comes to smartwatches, style is just as important as substance. And many of the new bands look significantly less junky than some of the original collection. But with prices starting at $49 and quickly topping $449, the bands kind of obliterate the Apple Watch’s affordability message. More importantly, is there actually a grand cohort of folks who really wanted to buy an Apple Watch but were holding off because they didn’t like the strap choices?

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the event though, is simply the perception that instead of creating groundbreaking new products, Apple is trying to create more affordable options. If that message resonates with people aspiring to the Apple brand who didn’t think they were affluent enough to buy into it, this could do well for the company. If it alienates a significant fraction of Apple’s incredibly loyal base of affluent customers who expect premium products in return for their piles of cash, then it could be a problem.

It’s just one event, and Apple may come back strong in the fall. But for now, an event like this leaves Apple looking like just another technology company. Perhaps naively, I hoped for much more.

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