Commentaries and opinions on Apple and technology news by your friendly neighborhood Solowalker.

 

Debunking Apple's "need" for cheaper and bigger iPhones

The bit about Apple’s marketshare shrinking is misleading. While technically true, the way they pitch it makes it sound like iPhone sales are declining when they are not. “Second lowest year-over-year growth” is still growth. The “problem” is that the overall smartphone market is growing rapidly as feature phones are being replaced with smartphones, as in it’s getting harder and harder to find feature phones on sale in some markets. Their share is only shrinking because the market is growing faster than iPhone sales are growing, which again does NOT mean iPhone sales are not growing.

Apple does not “need” either a low-cost iPhone or an “iPhablet” just for the sake of having them and/or for the sake of market share. Reality is closer to the idea that there may be opportunities to reach different sub-markets and demographics by introducing new products, but these opportunities need to be considered very carefully and approached in a way that will allow the products to be both high quality and profitable. It takes time to carefully calculate and define what these will be. And Apple has experience in this department, having done something similar to this at very least 3 or 4 times before. 

For music players, Apple created entirely new products that fit the needs of people who wanted cheaper/smaller players in the Mini, Shuffle, and Nano. They weren’t just smaller or just made with crappier materials, but rather were still seen as quality and retained features each target group needed. They also allowed Apple to retain their profit margins, as just slashing the price on tweaked versions of the flagship model would not have done.

The same can be said for the iPad. “Apple needs a netbook,” was the cry. Oh how wrong and shortsighted was that cry. The need wasn’t for a netbook but for a more portable, approachable, and affordable computing offering. With 20/20 hindsight, we can clearly see Apple made the right choice in coming up with a completely different approach the problem by scaling up the iPhone experience instead of scaling down the Mac experience.

But in a way, they did scale down the Mac experience, too. Several times Skipping the original iBook/MacBook and Mac mini to a more recent period, many people wanted a less expensive Mac laptop. In this instance, the solution was a paring down of their super-premium/experimental product in the MacBook Air and mixing it with technologies from the 13” MacBook Pro—itself a bit of a child of the Air. Some features/ports were dropped and some cheaper parts used (i.e. the display), but the result is still a quality, popular, and profitable product.

There are other examples I could also give, the point is each situation is unique and has a unique solution. But these new entrants are never created out of “needs” fabricated by moneymen. Apple’s money and success comes by looking at things differently and attempting to solve people’s problems in an elegant way. People pay for quality and simplicity. Apple isn’t interested in shipping more units just to ship more units. If Apple does its job in making quality, desirable products that solve people’s problems then the money and market share will come. Just because other people are selling cheaper and bigger phones doesn’t mean Apple will, needs, or should, too. They don’t need to be targeting every aspect of every market and they most definitely should NOT enter a market/segment at the behest of analysts with their proposed solution.

 

That being said, a lower cost iPhone at this stage of the game may work out. I’ll try to post my thoughts on this later.

Thoughts on iPhone 5

As a follow up to my previous rant, here’s what I think about the iPhone 5 new iPhone (still hate the name).

It’s freaking awesome.

I stayed up until 1 AM on Friday to order the darn thing. I sold my iPhone 4 two days earlier. I’m phone less. And oh boy, I can’t wait to get my hands on the new one.

The thing is, Apple isn’t playing the same game as the rest of the industry. They’re not trying to flood the market with dozens of models in hoping one model might stick. They’re not trying to appease carriers and give them some random handset just to lock customers in for 2 years. What they’re trying to do is release moderate, thoughtful upgrades annually but provide continual value through software updates and other services. Why? So they don’t alienate customers.

People get locked into what’s generally a 2 year contract when they buy a new phone. Android users are frequently upset when a phone they just purchased is no longer the latest-and-greatest 3 months after they bought their phone. They then have a bare minimum of 15 months (for those carriers that do 18 month early upgrade programs) to live with an “outdated” phone. Apple gives people 12 months before releasing a new device. But while each iPhone is better than the last, they do it in a way that doesn’t make you curse them and instantly hate your phone because the new one is so mind blowingly better. Reaction is generally, “Well, that’s pretty cool. It’d be nice to have, but I still like the I got now.”

The real magic comes in when your 2 year contract nears its expiry. Take two good/moderate updates and combine them together and you suddenly have quite the massive reasons to fork over the cash and sign away 2 more years of your life to a carrier to get. Could you guess where I am now if I hadn’t have mentioned it earlier?

Yep, I just sold my 2 year old iPhone 4 and I’m upgrading to a 5 on day one. Why? Because it’s world of a difference compared to the 4. They say it’s 2x as fast as the 4S in CPU and graphics. The 4S was something like 2x CPU and 7x graphics performance. So I’m getting a 4x CPU and 14x graphics upgrade. The minuscule camera updates? I’m still blown away every time I see a 4S image compared to one from my 4 camera. The 5’s will be freaking amazing. Plus I’ll get Siri which I hadn’t had before. 4G data? Yep, I had lowly 3G, not even the “FauxG” 4G of the 4S.

I guarantee 4 to 5 will be like night to day. I’m counting down the hours until I get it in hand. All you haters can hate, but trust me when I say there are many reasons 2 million pre-orders were sold on the first day and it’s not because 2 million people are blind. It really is just that awesome.

iPhone 5 is 'boring' because it's the same old awesome?

The iPhone is boring only to the rumor mongers who published every blurry picture of a motherboard they could get their hands on and the simps who think a feature checklist determines a gadget’s merit. However, isn’t it hypocritical that the gadget blogs that drowned their readers with post after post containing every little unconfirmed detail leading up to the iPhone 5 announcement are now the same gadget blogs lamenting how boring it all is because “we’ve seen it all”?

These people are ridiculous. What were they expecting? The Verge’s Josh Topolsky also made a similar comment in the recent special edition of The Vergecast where he said he was expecting Apple to announce something totally new that no one could have seen coming. Seriously?

So Apple goes and totally refactors their entire manufacturing process for the iPhone. They accomplish major engineering feats by doing things like redesigning some components to be the same quality if not better but in a smaller package (e.g. rear camera). They upgrade absolutely every single part of the phone from CPU to cellular baseband processor to dock connector to audio system to screen (which is not just larger but has touch sensors integrated and full sRGB color) to antennas to Wifi. On top of that, it’s the thinnest and lightest phone but uses even more durable materials. It’s dual core CPU gets as good if not better benchmark scores than quad core Android phones and includes LTE while getting the same if not better battery life.

And this is apparently boring?

What else could you possibly want? Does Apple need to invent something totally new again because nobody else can*? Apple’s iPhone remains King of the Hill and the gold standard of smartphones. But this is boring because it’s still that awesome. It’s not less awesome and it’s not 10x that awesome. So ∆awesomeness = 0 : boring.

Great, thanks for summing that up for me, idiots. Better start spreading the word more. You’ve got 2 million and counting other people to explain it to. Hurry before sales actually become impressive…

*I’m actually all for competition. I want Apple to keep making things better and I would have loved for them to reinvent the phone again but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with the new iPhone. I’ve got an idea. How about ripping on Samsung, Nokia, HTC, and Motorola for not announcing some radically new blow-your-face-off features, too, huh?

(Source: daringfireball.net)

November launch for iPad mini? No.

There’s no way it would be released in November. That would be a bad move by Apple. There are many reasons why they have released new iPods (the stocking stuffer of choice) in September/October for years.

Speaking first-hand after working at an Apple Specialist for 2 years, a late September/early October launch is the most prime release schedule for holiday shopping. It gives Apple a couple weeks to disseminate initial stock to all their partners. We usually got literally only a handful of any item Apple released to last us for about 2 weeks as Apple reserves all necessary stock for their own sales channel. And then the first big load, that all goes to the half-early adopters, the people who want it as soon as possible but don’t want to order it online or try to beat the rush of the first week. Stock can struggle a bit through the end of October. It’s typically only about then or early November that inventory begins to be steady enough for the normal holiday shoppers.

A November launch would most definitely be bad press for Apple. People being people would whine and complain and moan about not getting their fancy new iPad in time for Christmas. There’s no way they could get the supply and demand to match up enough in one month. And if you’re going to wait until after Christmas, might as well just wait 2 more months until February when you’re going to announce the 4th gen iPad anyway and do them both at once.

I really don’t see Apple going against their years of wisdom to try to rush one more product out the door for Christmas. If it’s going to happen this year, it’ll happen with the iPhone/iPod announcement.

Apple's NFC = Bluetooth 4.0?

This definitely would be interesting, if it could be pulled off. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I see this actually being possible. This would be yet another thing for retailers to have to deal with. Not sure how many of them could afford it or at least think it was worth it. A lot of the old PayWave or whatever tap-to-pay systems are already compatible with Google’s NFC stuff, so I’ve been told by people who use it. Why force another system on people? The likely scenario would be that retailers would choose one or the other. Not sure they’d go this route, though.

But it would be cool.

Displays for Retina MacBook Pros to cost more

Yeah, of course they will cost more. I think I’d have been amazed if they didn’t. But here, I think, is a great opportunity for Apple to use its huge cash horde to their advantage and utilize their position to place themselves far, far ahead of the competition in computers; they can show everyone that they are still serious about laptops and desktops.

They should just eat the cost.

Nobody else can do that. It would add significant value and differentiation to their traditional computing offerings while keeping with their cemented position as being the premium, high quality brand. Even at their current resolutions, you can see this with the MacBook Air when compared to “ultrabooks.” Continuing to improve their features and quality at a faster rate than the competition can match is definitely what’s needed and would be a great use of their war chest. Over time, the costs will come down as production ramps up and margins can return back to their original percentage. 

Apple has done this before with iPads, iPhones, and Macs. Most recently we’ve seen it with the new iPad. But we forget things like the original unibody MacBooks and the first iPhone. It’s totally doable, entirely feasible, and would be quite a distinguishing factor.

C’mon, Apple! Make us proud. Can’t wait for WWDC.

Current Windows Phone 7 phones likely won't get WP8

Let’s get this straight out of the gate:

Microsoft, this is not a good idea.

Obviously this means you don’t like and/or don’t care about your customers. People buying your new free Nokia Lumia 900 that is supposed to be the new hotness that will put you back on the map are now locked into a contract for 2 years. Oh but guess what. The phone is a couple weeks old at most but now it’s already an old piece of junk because it will not get any updates. Windows Phone 7 is an okay OS now but could be better. In 2 years with no updates? Yeah, it’s going to be a piece of junk. When that new awesome Windows Phone 8 “Apollo” update comes this fall (or whenever), your customers will be like, “Oh, sweet! That’s awesome!! Where do I get it? … Wait, what?… I can’t? That stinks. BUT I JUST BOUGHT THIS PHONE!”

Does this really sound like a good idea to you? You’re alienating your customers you’re trying to woo into a lifelong branding romance. You’re spending millions and millions of dollars on advertising and partnerships to distribute and promote these devices (AT&T may spend $150 million on the 900 by itself) but now you want to blow all that away by not providing an upgrade path to your current customers. They signed their life away to AT&T to give you a chance and you’re sticking it to them. How lovely.

There goes your customer loyalty. At least with Android Google feigns update promises. False hope is better than no hope, Redmond. I’ll likely now stick with iOS permanently as Apple has proven to support iPhones for a relatively lengthy time, bare minimum 2 major updates per device with an average of 3 and max thus far of 4 (assuming 3GS will get iOS 6). And that’s not counting bug fix/maintenance releases. Oh, and all devices on all carriers get it the same day, usually the day it’s announced.

But all the WP7 apps they bought will still work… If that’s any consolation… Right…

AT&T to begin unlocking off-contract iPhones this Sunday, April 8th

This is HUGE news! I’ve ranted about this at least once before and I’m glad this is finally getting traction. With only iPhones being mentioned, this could be another thing that makes the iPhone more desirable than Android (until they start doing the same for all phones).

Will resale value of iPhones increase, decrease, or stay the same? I wonder… I should find out in a few months when I sell mine to upgrade to the new iPhone when it arrives. Should at least be much easier to sell.

I'm sick to death of Android

"I have always liked the fundamental concept of Android — an Open Source smartphone and tablet operating system that could be used on a variety of manufacturers devices with varying feature sets that gives consumers the added benefit of choosing exactly what product suits their specific needs.

And of course, there is also the ability for the base OS itself to be modified as well as the ability to side-load applications of your own design for use in vertical markets.

But at the same time, my tolerance for how Google loosely manages its ecosystem and has allowed the platform to mutate and fragment and permit its OEMs and Carriers to abandon its users by not providing timely updates to their handsets and tablets has made my blood boil.”

This dude wants his cake and to eat it, too. Can’t blame him, but I also can’t help but laugh.

You like Android because it’s “open” and people, companies, and carriers can do with it as they will. You want them to be able to make it so it suits their needs and can be put on all kinds of different devices. But you don’t like it because that’s how it’s being used… Well, duh. Hello, McFly!

Carriers and handset makers are using Android in just that way: taking it, changing it and tweaking it to be what they want it to be and to differentiate themselves from the mass of competitors selling the exact same products. They’re using Android to continue to assert control, the control they lost when Apple came in and flipped the whole wireless industry on its ear. Before iPhone you had locked down dumb phones that had different interfaces, functionality and features depending on what carrier you had it on. Some carriers disabled features and sold additional proprietary accessories to unlock others so they could nickel and dime you.

Firsthand example: I had two friends who had the same Motorola Razr phone, one on T-Mobile and the other Verizon. I helped the friend on T-Mobile send custom ringtones to his phone over Bluetooth from my Mac. The Verizon friend couldn’t do it because her phone had Bluetooth disabled and Verizon wouldn’t enable it. Her two options? Buy tones for $2.50 each from Verizon or pay $25 for a proprietary “media” cable that came with proprietary software that only worked on Windows. She HAD to use that cable, no other cable would work; she HAD to use that software as it was the ONLY program that would read the phone due to the custom software Verizon had.

Carriers made big money and had say over every tiny thing in regards to software and hardware design and functionality. Apple took that away with the iPhone. They miraculously negotiated this sweet deal with AT&T where Apple controlled everything from the hardware to the software to the support of the device. AT&T didn’t care so much because they got to require the data plan and didn’t have to pay any subsidies. The problem came when the iPhone became an explosive hit. Now everyone wanted an iPhone and Apple wanted subsidies. AT&T couldn’t really say no. Apple kept on improving the device with software and hardware upgrades.

Now everybody wants that kind of experience. A sexy device with great, capable software that delivers a smooth and pleasant experience, as well as the promise of updates to fix bugs and add functionality in the future. They want to see their phone as an investment, one they pay a fair amount of money for and keep for a number of years, yet one that also continuously improves with new and better apps and new OS revisions.

But that’s not what the carriers and other device manufacturers want. What do they want? To sell more devices. Carriers want you locked into contracts. If you’re not on contract, you’re at risk of leaving. Device makers want you to buy their newest hardware all the time. For both of them, it’s not worth the time and effort necessary to update and support “old” devices; you’re not spending more money, buying more devices and extending your contract if you’re happy with the phone you have. It’s not in their best interest to update your phone. Why do you think these kind of updates didn’t occur before the iPhone?

Apple is different. Apple actually cares about the end user. They care about you having a great experience with your device. The company has a fundamentally different business paradigm infused into its DNA by late co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs: they make good products for themselves and just so happen to sell it to you because you like it, too. And they way they make their products work together and the way the ecosystem is woven in the experience, if you have a good experience with one device you’re likely to buy another from them. This kind of experience is different from just general “brand recognition.”

So, Apple will continue to treat their customers well, selling the best quality products that last and providing long term updates and supports to them. Android handset manufacturers and carriers will continue to try to entice you into buying newer devices more frequently so they sell more units and keep you under contract. In other words…

They’ll never “fix” Android because this is how they want to use it.



We’ll welcome you to Apple’s greener pastures when you’re ready to make the switch. And you definitely won’t regret it.

Study: Smartphone owners demand bigger screens, prefer 4+ inches

This is ridiculous. It’s the other side of the same coin as the “smaller iPad” falsehoods being spread. I don’t understand this. Just like how you can’t easily work a 7” tablet because it’s too small, you cannot comfortably use a phone much larger than the iPhone one handed, and iOS and the vast majority of apps are designed with buttons and interactive options on every edge of the screen.

I have co-workers with the Galaxy S 2 and Galaxy Nexus and other monstrous phones and I’ve asked them to do some stuff one handed and it’s painful just to watch. What they did do one handed required all kinds of weird stretching and contorting and shifting of the device in their hand. What do they say about it? “I’ve just gotten used to using 2 hands.” Yikes. I have long fingers and it’s hard for me to work one of those things, what about those with average or small hands? What about accessibility that Apple is so into? You know, some people only have one hand.

And what about developers? Android gets (rightly) ripped on for fragmentation, which not only includes different CPU/GPU configurations and OS versions, but also screen sizes. How in the world do you properly scale an app’s UI to work well on 3.5” and 4” and 4.5” and 5” and 7” (original Galaxy Tab ran smartphone apps) and everything in between and still have it look nice function as intended? As much as it pains me to say it, there are plenty of apps that STILL have yet to be updated to Retina graphics and others that still don’t have an iPad/iPhone counterpart and exclusive to one or the other because the whole UI would take redesigning and retooling. As it stands now, you have 4(!) screens to design for on iOS: iPhone, iPhone Retina, iPad, iPad Retina. Why throw in a 4”+ iPhone and 7” iPad? A bigger iPhone screen would have to have a different resolution or Apple would have a hard time pitching its Retina marketing moniker with it. A 7” iPad even with the same resolution as iPad 1/2 might have to have apps redesigned for it so buttons weren’t so small. Devs and users both would have a heyday just like in the Android camp.

I’m seriously starting to think bigger iPhone and smaller iPad rumors are being perpetuated exclusively by Android device makers, planting a seed of doubt into iOS users’ minds while simultaneously trying to keep their own products relevant and making them feel better about themselves for making them because, “We made something that Apple will have to copy so that makes it good.”

I really really really really hope this doesn’t happen.