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.
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’m normally not the first to jump in and defend Apple but in general I have to agree with Yoni Heisler from BGR. It is obvious that most media outlets and techsperts had an unrealistic expection for the Apple Watch. These were based on prejections using the success of unrelated product categories like the iPhone and iPad. Instead what they should have been focusing on is the actual demand for wearbles themselves as a category. As I have stated before wearbles suffer from a clear identity problem as all their primary functions can be carried out by existing technology and in most cases wearbles require a tethered device (iPhone) negating any real advantage.
This is largely the reason for unrealistic expectations but there are definitely things that Apple can change to help improve sales going forward. Yoni makes a comparison between the Apple Watch and iPod which he points out didn’t really start gain traction untill 2004. Unfortunately, Yoni doesn’t explain the steps taken by Apple, namely the release of iTunes for Windows in late 2003 and the release of the cheaper iPod Mini in 2004. This comparison provides a lesson for Apple as the solution seems simple, by shifting their strategy to provide a solution to Andriod users (like Windows years ago) they would greatly increase the size of their potential customer base. Obviously that doesn’t mean all Andriod users are going to jump at the opportunity to buy an Apple product but some will always be ready to look for the best product so if priced competively it would definitely improve sales.