Anyone who knows me will scoff when I say I’m not a fan of Apple, as if this was news but I do respect Cupertino’s impact on shaping technology as we know it today. The release of the original iPhone, 10 years ago, was an inventive leap forward as it combined a variety of different mobile functionality in a device that was easy to use and a eye catching. More importantly it changed the way people interact with the internet using applications that allowed people to complete a variety of task online rather than just the retrieval of information through a browser. Steve Jobs genius was however in the packaging not necessarily the concept as the iPhone has from it’s exception been an object attached with a certain status due in part to the existing main stream popularity of the iPod and the premium look of the device. In many ways this pathway to success hasn’t changed and persists in Apple’s latest announcements.
iPhone 8 and 8 plus
The incremental update, the iPhone 8 and its big brother from the outside are not all that different from the iPhone 7 with the same albeit reinforced chassis. However, as with all such updates it comes with more power under the hood with a new six core A11 “Bionic” chip which are made up two low performance cores and four high performance cores supposedly 25% and 75% respectably faster than the those in A10 chip. This is no where near enough to entice iPhone 7 owners to upgrade but those considering trading in an iPhone 6 or older to consider cashing in and is where the real value lies.
Beyond the additional power upgrade the iPhone 8 comes with the fairly standard additional changes common to such an upgrade. An improved 12 MP camera with better IR filter and ‘deeper pixels’ to improve image quality with AR functionality. In terms of features the major change is the introduction of wireless charging and the addition of fast charging which give 50% charge in 30 minutes. No doubt these are welcomed by iPhone uses but nothing ground breaking as they have been in Android phones for years. I know one thing that definitely wasn’t welcomed by fans was the $50 USD increase in price from the iPhone 7 launch as it seems that handset just keep getting more expensive.
The big news was Apple’s release of an extra “premium” handset named to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their original innovation. The phone boasts a new look following the lead of other handset makers like Samsung and LG to implement a bezel less display. However, it lacks the curved sides of the Galaxy 8 and the notch at the top of the screen for the camera and additional senses gives it a somewhat unique appearance. Interestingly Apple has also decided to go for a glass back to give the handset a premium feel, considering my own experience with the Galaxy 8 and it’s fragile finish I personally feel this is another example of design over functionality.
Of course there would be no point increasing the size of the screen without up grading the resolution with an OLED Super Retina display. The new panel brings a significant boast with 2436-by-1125-pixel resolution at 458 ppi however this is still well below the Quad HD and Super AMOLED 2960 by 1440 screen on the Galaxy 8 which boast a massive 570 ppi. Like the iPhone 8 the new handset is powered by the latest A11 ‘Bionic’ chip and of course the new charging capabilities. These impressive internals also drive the new facial recognition system which is the handsets main innovation as it takes the irises recognition of the Galaxy 8 and pushes it to the next level. The new technology is able to track facial features and use this not only to unlock your phone and authorise payments but also allow for the creation of ‘animojis’ (animated Emojis) based on your own expressions which I know is going to be a hit with kids at school.
Possibly Apple’s most courageous decision is the lose of the home button which is gone completely to allow for the new display. Interestingly they haven’t played it safe like Samsung who solved this dilemma on the Galaxy 8 through an on-screen home button. Instead Apple has chosen to change the way uses interact with the handset by creating a host of different swiping options to cover the functionality. Reading a run down of some of these commands and changes from Chris Smith at BGR it seems overly complicated. Apple may view the home button the same way as the headphone jack, no great lose, but since it does require people to relearn how to use the phone I’m sure it will be the source of criticism. I could be wrong but it reminds me a little of Microsoft’s decision to ditch the start menu with Windows 8 as users struggled to adjust and eventually the overwhelming criticism lead to the reintroduction of the familiar feature in Windows 10. However, Apple has a fanatically loyal fan base which has historically ignored many of the more recent little miss steps from the tech giant so it could amount to nothing.
The absence of the home button isn’t going to be the only thing that frustrates Apple fans as no doubt the price tag won’t be greeted with many fist pumps. At $999 USD ($1579 AUD) for 64 GB and $1149 USD ($1829 AUD) for the 256 GB option the it is the most expensive iPhone by a significant margin. $300 USD more expensive than the iPhone 8 and $200 USD more expensive than the 8 plus. It begs the question whether the screen and Face ID is worth the pain to the hip pocket.
10 years on and Apple has released something a little bit different from the old incremental update and have shown that they are still willing to take risks. Yet it isn’t the ‘revolution’ and ‘future’ of technology that some would have you believe as it neither does anything meaningful beyond existing competitors and has no real capacity to change the way we live. To suggest otherwise is really just an insult to what Steve Jobs achieved with the original iPhone 10 years ago, a device that really change the world and pushed technology forward.
After Microsoft first showed off HoloLens in January last year buried amongst a three hour Windows 10 event, I remember reading the criticism of a rather biased Apple fan who suggested that the gang from Cupertino showed off more substance in a similar length event. I found his argument flawed than when he was speaking about a new MacBook and iPhone compared to something like HoloLens. I can’t help but remember it now as Apple again tries to pass off branding as innovation with their two latest product announcements in the iPad Pro 9.7″and the iPhone SE. Now before the devotees jump on my back and defend the quality of these products I am not arguing that both don’t represent improvements on existing lines and offer something to consumers rather offering a criticism of the portal of either as ‘new’ or ‘revolutionary’.
iPad Pro 9.7 inch
Apple’s latest iPad follows on closely from the release of its larger brother and that is exactly how the team at Cupertino has tried to sell the latest attempt to stop its sliding market share. The new 9.7-inch tablet has been represented as the iPad Pro in a smaller package due to the inclusion of similar specs led by the new processor and access to ‘Pro’ access. In reality the device is just the newest vision of the tablet which Apple released in 2010 and have continued to upgrade over the years with each generation bringing significant improvements in power and additionally features. The ‘Pro’ is no different from the iPad 2 or any other Apple periodic update as consumers expect the company to release the same product with new specs the only difference here is that Apple has taken the opportunity to rebrand the device to improve their ability to compete in the current market. Not only are they using trends set by their competitors but Apple are dipping in to their MacBook line of laptops to try and target more of an enterprise market like they did with the addition of the ‘Air’ moniker to the 5th generation of the tablet. The ‘Pro’ 9.7 inch therefore doesn’t represent anything remotely ‘new’ either in the features which are all in line with its larger sibling, the product line or even Apple’s approach to its consumers. This doesn’t mean that it is not still a significant improvement on the iPad Air 2 in terms of performance and an excellent
Before the newest iPhone was official announced the rumour mill had it accurately described as the body of an iPhone 5 with the internal of a 6S. The only thing that is ‘new’ about the iPhone SE is the name which dumps the usual numbering scheme as Apple has previously released cheaper iPhones in the 5C and have started making different size handsets with the 6 and 6+. Personally, I’m actually really excited by the release of the iPhone SE as it bucks the current trend of phone makers producing larger handsets. A trend that is especially frustrating for anyone like myself who wants to keep their phone in a jeans pocket, I’m now only hoping some Android or Windows OEM’s follow suit. The only disappointing element of the iPhone SE is that it doesn’t include all of the latest features present in the 6S or offer anything ‘New’. If Apple is successful with the SE in influencing trends this unfortunate fact suggests that those of use that prefer smaller handsets will continue to be treated as second class citizens with the premium features reserved for 5.5 inch or larger devices.
Selective rhetoric and Stats
Besides the annoying and biased views of the devotees what frustrates me the most about an Apple event is their use of the same rhetoric or misrepresentation of stats which no one in the tech world seems willing to put under the microscope. Once again Apple took aim at Microsoft by mentioning the 600 million PC’s still using 5 year-old operating systems which in and of itself is a pointless stat and could be used equally well by Microsoft to suggest customer satisfaction and the longevity of its software. Regardless of this Apple repeating like to take such information out of context for example that most of those 600 PC’s are found in enterprise which resist updating their software because of the cost of retraining which is especially important considering the dramatic sifts in the last few visions of Windows. Additionally, the comparison with Apple’s own tactics regarding software updates is also left unexplored for instance their use of limited backwards compatibility of apps that force consumers to update to the newest versions of iOS and OSX. My own experience at work is evidence of this mentality when a student sent me a pages file after updating to iOS 8 required me to update my own Mac to Yosemite in order to open and correct the work. Apple are able to imply these tactics because people subscribe to the philosophy of the ‘world garden’ present in iOS and the don’t have a sizeable Mac presence in enterprise. Regardless it is a tactic which Microsoft cannot employ without losing customers so all new versions of Windows are purposefully made to be backwards compatibility eliminating this reason to upgrade. This has been recently highlighted in the debate over UWP with epic games’ Tim Sweeney critical of the platform as a threat to make Windows more like the closed sandbox of iOS. Thus the difference between Microsoft and Apple’s strategies and business model render the comparison utterly useless in judging the success of either company.
Alongside these pointless stats Apple has begun to sound a little like a broken record by continually suggesting that the iPad will replace the PC. A statement which is starting to seem increasingly contradictory to the facts as Windows tablet market share has increased by 11% largely at the expense of Apple’s iPad despite the release of the iPad Pro and the inclusion of multitasking in iOS 9. Maybe the iPad Pro 9.7-inch will finally make Apple’s statement true but the fact that it doesn’t offer anything ‘new’ suggests that it won’t stop the market share slide so maybe it will just end up being the same old story.
I’m sure Apple fans will disregard everything I have said as ‘Apple Bashing’ but if you read and consider everything I hope you can see past my criticism. Both products are well thought out to fulfil needs with in the current consumer market place by offering high end performance in a smaller package which will suit a lot of people’s needs. As a result, both will likely see strong sales if not anything ground breaking with many existing or past customers looking to upgrade their ageing devices. My frustration, outside the Apple philosophy represented by the ‘walled garden’, as anyone who knows me will recognise remains the Apple marketing machine which I have always felt tries to insult our intelligence with branding and inspiring statements rather than substance. Perhaps this point is misplaced and should be directed at the fans who take up this rhetoric rather than engaging in rational argument whenever their favourite tech giant is criticised. Maybe I’m being an idealist but criticism is never anything to fear as it helps us grow so hopefully the more pressure we apply to Apple and other tech companies for that matter will end up leading to something inspiring that truly is ‘new’ and ‘innovating’.
Zach Epstein’s article for BGR puts some perspective on the Smartphone market which no doubt is starting to feel all to familiar for Apple. I remember other commentators making similar observations after Microsoft bought the calander app Sunrise but it is probably becoming an even greater reality as the guys from Redmond are still buying up popular mobile applications like Groove (Ziker variety) and SwiftKey.
Epstein points out that the majority of apps he uses on his iPhone like Google Maps, Skype, Snapseed, Outlook, Google photos and Xbox One Smartglass to name a few are all made by Apple’s major competitors. In contrast the only in built options he uses are generally out of convenience like the camera app or because he sacrifices some useability for features in respect to Apple Music. Neither reason is something that would make software developers really happy. It does highlight Apple’s weakness that while they make great hardware they have never really deliverd the best services.
We don’t need to look far to see a pattern since even the most devoted Apple fan uses Microsoft Office on their Mac. However Apple’s problem goes beyond the failings of the iWorks suite as Safari is usef often just to download another browser like Chrome, Firefox or even Opera. Not to mention more specialised software like Skype, VLC and Adobe which pop up on most Mac’s despite Apple’s own offerings. Even when Apple has experienced success like iTunes it is normally out of necessity due to the popularity of the iPod and iPhone yet it made the simplest task to backup your phone and transfer files into a convoluted mess of wasted time.
The closed system of iOS and Microsoft’s previous strategy in mobile allowed Apple to protect it’s ecosystems from a similar fate for some time. Satya Nadella’s rise to the top job and his mobile first, cloud first made an instant impact with the release of Office for iPad. Their continued development of apps and recent purchaseing frenzy has only continued this momentum. Meanwhile other developers have given into Apple’s constraints and now offer their own services on iOS like Chrome and Firefox so that uses can injoy the same experience on their phone and computer.
It looks like Apple is just going to have to except that their ecosystem is never going to stop making money for their competitors.
I thought this was the perfect follow up to my last post about the tech worlds presentation of iPad Pro sales and market share. The main difference here is that the comparison isn’t based on hardware but software. This takes into account all of Apple’s hardware devices since they run iOS and recognises that Microsoft’s priority is Windows of which the Surface line is only one flagship device. It’s a comparison that is seen in the mobile market with iPhones (iOS) compared with all Andriod devices rather than just Samsung.
Personally I feel this is a more realistic measure of trends in the market place since it recognises both companies different strategies. Don’t just believe my opinion however read the article on slashgear and give it some serious thought. Especially since numbers can be used to say just about anything.
Some iSheep will buy anything, but that doesn’t mean everything Apple touches turns to gold the last couple of versions of the iPad has proven as their market share and sales have been disappointing. What Apple needs for the Apple watch to be a success is a perceived need for the category. The reason why most wearables have not run of the shelves is simply that people do not see value in having something on the wrist that is a limited version of their phone with a smaller screen.
The only area where they have got any real traction has been as a fitness device which is not going to encourage people to fork out $300 plus an iPhone. This is also an area where Apple’s own marketing strategy will be against them because the Apple watch will not convince more people to change from Android to iPhone and has simply just narrowed an already limited market.
Finally the idea that the apple watch will be fashion accessory is laughable as at this price point in the form of a watch it is competing with anything from Armani to Citizen so the only people who would actually think this as cool would be diehards and tech nerds. So it might sell reasonably well with the iSheep but they have already sold their soul to the ecosystem and just want new things to show off, so it does not translate to a mass market trend. Until it hits markets I’m only speculating but it think those who are expecting a run away success are a little delusional.
Apples most recent releases the iPhone 5 and iPad mini depicts a movement away from their previous willingness to innovate and capture new consumers. In fact, both these products demonstrate Apples complacency in the mobile market place and their reliance on maintaining their current users. These products are both good commercial performers and have the stereotypical build quality that the world associates with Apple. In fact both are highly competitive pieces of technology in terms of their physical specifications and performance with other devices but their existence shows an alarming trend for Apple Fan-boys.
Simply that Apple have begun to follow the lead of their competitors rather than provide the innovative leadership which brought them success with the original versions of the iPod, iPhone and eventually the iPad. In the case of the iPhone 5 the major change for consumers was a larger 4′ screen and a slimmer design. These changes were clearly following the lead of Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy which had already gained significant market share before the 5 was announced. In the same way Apple’s release of the iPad mini was reacting to the success of other small tablets in the market place like Amazon’s kindle line and other Android tablets.
Despite this both products have been successful and continue to add to Apple’s bottom-line. However, it would be interesting to know how many of these sales is due to the familiarity of IOS and existing costumers upgrading to the latest phone from an older model. this represents a logical reason to explain some of Apple’s more recent success as people familiar with an iPhone but not already iPad users could easily have considered purchasing the more affordable mini.
By no means is this doom and gloom but this strategy is unlikely to capture new uses for the Apple ecosystem and seems to focus on maintaining their existing costumer base with the expectation that they will buy new products when they are released. It’s obvious that these thoughts have been plaguing shareholders from the last 6 months of constant falls. After-all if the mobile industry has shown us anything it is that companies find it hard to stay on top for long. The clear example is Nokia which dominated the market as people went from snake to snake 2 and then Motorola made a dent with the V3 which introduced a bit of slick style to the game, even more recently RIM’s Blackberry had a clear advantage in the business sector and now has less than 3% of the market share.
Apple’s rumored upcoming releases could provide us with a statement of the company’s future direction. The much hyped iTV has been in the works for what seems like forever and the question is has the delay meant other companies have made the first move. Already smart TVs are becoming common place and the Xbox 360 is the most dominant living room accessory with 77 Million units sold compared to Apple TV’s 7 Million, while products have clear differences Microsoft are pushing the towards Steve Jobs vision of a single device in the living room with the up coming Xbox One. In this setting will the next big Apple release be an innovation or just a sheep.